Rural house prices in England and Wales rise twice as fast as in cities

Rural house prices in England and Wales are increasing twice as fast as in cities, triggering a fresh affordability crisis for young people, with hot spots flaring up across the country from Lincolnshire to Lancashire as people seek more space post-pandemic.

Robert Booth

Prices are rising 14.2% a year in countryside locations on average compared with less than 7% in urban areas, figures analysed by Hamptons estate agency for the Guardian show. It is compounding existing affordability problems in places such as Cornwall and Devon, but the biggest percentage increases of up to 30% were in Broxtowe in Nottinghamshire, around Lancaster, in Arun in West Sussex and Amber Valley in Derbyshire.

Hamptons said registrations to buy in its rural offices were up by 50% on the same period for 2019, while city buyer registrations rose just 9%.

“People struggle to stay because of the affordability and there is not much turnover of housing,” said Elizabeth Williamson, an independent councillor in Broxtowe, whose three children aged 24 to 30 have have left the area partly due to local housing being unaffordable.

The average rural house price in the borough rose from £234,150 last May to £303,780 a year later.

In Arun, close to the West Sussex coast and the South Downs National Park, Chris Morgan, 46, a sales manager who rents and has a budget to buy of about £200,000, said people moving from London and working from home on higher salaries than locally had driven prices further out of reach. Rural house prices in the area rose more than 29% to £387,510 in the last year.

“The only way I will get on the housing ladder is when my parents are no longer alive and I inherit their house,” she said. “I could be in my sixties by then.”

Merryn Voysey, 32, a gardener who has lived in a Renault minibus for the last two years in Cornwall, where already high prices have increased a further 12% in the year to May, said he has no prospect of housing unless he moves to an urban area like Plymouth.

“I saw a bedroom in a shared house for £650 per month, but that wouldn’t be affordable for me at the moment,” he said. “I could probably afford housing if I worked every day of every week but I want to enjoy my life.”

Research by the Labour party suggests that even before the pandemic young people in the countryside were struggling most to get on the housing ladder outside London. Rural house prices were nearly nine times higher than a person’s annual earnings, whereas in predominately urban areas outside London they were seven-and-a-half times higher. By 2020, it was estimated there were 132,000 fewer young homeowners in rural areas in England than in 2010.

The party has also said that standards of housing are lower in rural settings, with official figures showing the number of homes classed as non-decent is more than double in suburban residential areas.

“It is fundamentally unfair that so many young people who want to live and work in rural areas are priced out of staying in their community,” said Luke Pollard, the shadow environment, food and rural affairs secretary. “People should not be forced to move away from where they grew up to get on the property ladder, and nor should they have to live in below standard housing in order to stay.”

Jenny Fox, 31, a community support worker and parish councillor in Kingsand on the Rame peninsula in south-east Cornwall, said villages in the area had become “totally unaffordable for local families”. House prices have been soaring and there is a new shortage of rental properties as more owners turn to more lucrative short-term holiday lets on platforms like Airbnb.

She lives with her partner in a shared house at below market rent, but if she had to find a home on the open market she said she would “have to move back with my parents and hope something comes available in line with local wages”.

“Most friends who grew up in the village are already priced out having moved to neighbouring villages,” she said. “The impacts of second homes and holiday lets are starting to become apparent there too. I am early thirties and want to have children soon but I am worrying about where I am going to live and whether my children will be able to live down here.”