We escaped London and found our dream second home in Norfolk for £1.4m – iNews
In our new money series, we’re finding out exactly how people spend, save and invest their money to meet their costs and achieve their goals.
This week we speak to retired lawyer Simon Dickens, 53, who with his wife Nancy, 60, bought a second home in tranquil Norfolk where they now mainly live. They say using a professional ‘house hunter’ brought many benefits.
According to the property consultant the couple used, 85 per cent of his business is carried out where he finds houses that fit his client’s brief, then he approaches the owners to sell up.
First home in London:£1.5 million
Second home in Norfolk: £650,000 purchase price plus £800,000 on renovation. Total: £1.45m
I was somewhat hesitant for many years over my wife’s suggestion we move to the countryside, until I developed a neurological disorder that has caused me a lot of pain. Then I began to share her dream of an idyllic life in peaceful Norfolk.
We wanted a project – an old barn we could renovate so we could put our own stamp on it to ensure it reflected our style. We also wanted land, but not so much that it would be difficult to manage.
So in 2010, Nancy and I began seriously looking for our dream second home. We spent many hours looking in estate agent windows and driving around the county looking for villages and houses we liked. But we felt we weren’t seeing everything available or we found the barns had already been converted.
It was three years later that we bought Summer Green Barn (we later changed the name to Sheepwash Cottage), which needed a total renovation. It’s located in Hindringham, a pretty Norfolk village just eight miles inland and a short drive to the beach at Wells-next-the-Sea.
Life has changed for the better
I retired shortly after and life is markedly different now. We are spending more time in Norfolk than we had envisaged when we thought about buying a second home, and much of our time now is spent outside. Nancy has become enamoured with country life – she loves keeping chickens, growing our own fresh food in the kitchen garden, and half the garage has been turned into a potting shed.
From a health perspective too, life here is calm, pleasant and easy. The local people were incredibly welcoming from day one. We’re 120 miles from London, so it’s not too far to go stay in our house in Kennington, south London, where our son and his girlfriend are now living.
Sheepwash Cottage: The original building is believed to date back to 1789 and was originally built as three workers’ cottages with ¾ acre of land. It was used as a barn until the 1950s and sat empty until the early 1970s when it was turned into a home (Photo: Simon Dickens)
Why we opted for a house hunter
We had very specific requirements and, living and working in London, we needed help. I was born in England, but I grew up in Canada and Nancy in America, where it’s commonplace for both the buyer and seller to have their own real estate agent. So we decided to go to a professional house hunter.
Most people forget that estate agents exist to service vendors – they don’t owe the buyer anything and you have to been sceptical about what they are telling you about the property. Having your own property consultant means you have an expert focusing entirely on your needs and your requirements.
We were struggling for two years finding anything that had ticked the boxes for us, and that’s where our house hunter, Jamie Jameson, was a god send. He explained to us that our dream house may not be on the market and we were most likely to get it by approaching the owner of somewhere we fell in love with and approaching them to sell up.
More from our How I bought it series:
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Jamie had a huge amount of local knowledge. When we drove round Norfolk and spotted something we think had potential, we’d call him and he’d know where we were talking about. He often knew the people who lived there and would already have an idea if they’d be keen to sell or not. In fact he did all the donkey work, and spent ages driving round looking for us.
A lot of the type of properties we were looking at involved a sealed-bid auction. Bidders put their offer in an envelope, without knowing what the competition is, and hope that they can beat their rivals. We did put an offer on a house in this way, and it was really helpful that Jamie knew the competing buyers and could give us some background on them to help us know how much we should bid. For various reasons, that house fell through for us and we were back to searching again.
Our consultant helped us to keep an more open mind. We had been hell bent on finding somewhere that needed a total renovation and had almost written off Sheepwash Cottage as it had been converted in the 1970s. But he helped us see that it could be transformed into exactly what we wanted.
The property has undergone significant renovation including a large side extension, which includes an entrance hall, a boot room, a kitchen, dining and seating area, a larder and a WC. Every pipe, wire and floorboard had to be replaced, although the footprint of the second floor of the existing building remained untouched. The Dickens also excavated down in order to enjoy higher ceilings in the living room. There is even a dog shower in the boot room to hose down their long-haired dogs after a muddy countryside walk (Photo: Simon Dickens)
House hunter Jamie Jamieson’s five tips for buyers
Avoid classic budgeting mistakes – People almost always end up doing more work to a property than they originally planned. And remember stamp study has to be paid out of cash, not through a mortgage.
Be prepared to be surprised – Try to view houses of all styles – modern, listed and refurbished. I’ve lost count of the times clients have dismissed a property on paper only to fall in love with it at first sight.
Remember if you want quiet, you’ll need surrounding land – If peace and quiet are high on your priorities then the property may well need a bit more land than you think. Bear in mind that noise varies with wind direction, so if serenity is vital, view a property in all conditions.
Get the family involved – If you’re looking for a family house, take (well-behaved!) kids to second viewings. When there’s competition for the property, people who have been happy in their house like to sell to others they think will be just as content there.
Consider engaging a house hunter – Particularly if your dream house is not on the market. I’ve found 85 per cent of my clients move into properties that were never advertised.
Jamie introduced us to an architect who viewed a number of possible properties with us and ended up designing the property that we ultimately found.
When we decided to make an offer on the cottage, Jamie came in useful for various reasons. When it was accepted, he convinced the seller to stop marketing the property and taking other viewings, reducing our risk of being gazumped – which we were happy to pay an £5,000 to happen.
Our consultant also helped with a problematic holiday home restrictive covenant that dictated we could not reside in the property for more than 28 days in a 56-day period, which is not uncommon in Norfolk. Jamie knew the ins and outs about how to make a proposal to challenge this and was successful, meaning we could spend longer there which we wanted.
We love the house and we love the space. It’s a place for people to gather, where friends and family from around the globe can stay and where we can host dinner parties. And its somewhere our son and his girlfriend can come for the weekend just to recharge their batteries.Buying this property has turned out to be the smartest thing we’ve ever done and we spend most of our time in Norfolk now.
Jamie is still our first port of call when we have questions, if we need advice on finding a house sitter or if we would like to acquire more land for example.
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