Re: Spring 2013 - Page 62

Where the grass is always greener Moving to the country is on the rise in England according to DEFRA figures. Internal migration to rural areas is at 54,000, compared to -74,000 for urban areas annually. Not everyone thinks this is a good thing. A national campaign called Over the Hill? is warning older people against retiring to the country, talking about the dangers of isolation in communities with limited social services and hopeless public transport. While dreams of pastoral bliss are particularly attractive in springtime, rural life demands hardiness and often a fair bit of money, especially with petrol prices showing no signs of easing. Yet the rewards can be great. Having lived in the countryside and rural towns for virtually my whole life I am pleased the Over the Hill? campaign is lobbying policy makers and helping small communities improve services, but I hope it doesn’t deter people from their retirement dreams. As well as peace, freedom and beauty, country living can offer an incredibly strong sense of community. This matters even more when the children have moved out and you are free to leave work behind. If you are considering moving to the country here are three issues to think about - whatever your age: If there is a working farm nearby it may impact on your life in all sorts of ways. You need to know what livestock are reared on the farm, what crops are grown and whether there’s a dairy. Bear in mind that agricultural life is completely seasonal. If there’s no smell in February there might still be one in July! There is also the possibility of high noise levels. Is there a grain dryer that will run at night during the summer? What other heavy machinery is involved and where is it? It is a case of learning how nearby working farmland is used and understanding the consequences for you. Taking time to understand how people live in the local community and how well your vision fits in will go a long way to helping you realise the kind of country life you’re looking for. It is also worth thinking about boundaries. Land registry plans are rarely accurate, and it can be difficult to identify exactly where boundaries lie. While this is easy to deal with in towns with clear fences it can be a bit trickier in rural areas with wide hedges and lines of trees. Buyers in the countryside have to be more relaxed about this and cooperate with neighbours over maintenance. Going against this local culture can cause unnecessary and expensive disputes. If you are looking to buy a property with a few acres of land it is likely that land has an established agricultural use which is recognised by the local planning authority. This can make it difficult to develop a property with extensions, additions like tennis courts, swimming pools or new stables or even taking more land into the garden. Many difficulties can be overcome, but you need to get all this checked out before deciding how much the land is worth to you. A good land agent with local knowledge can be invaluable in assisting with this before you commit. There can also be issues with more subtle changes of land. For example if you want to set up an equestrian enterprise on traditional sheep or cattle grazing you may well need planning permission even if no new buildings go up. Work out all the ways you might like to change the property and check out what’s possible before making an offer. 3 Tax issues The way land and buildings are used has consequences for both income tax and inheritance tax. For example if you let some of your land to a neighbouring farmer the rent you receive will be treated as investment income. Whereas if you farm it yourself, or share farm it by dividing the costs and the profits it may well be treated as earned income which can have advantages. Property that qualifies for Agricultural Property Relief (APR) will usually be free from inheritance tax when it passes through the generations. However qualification is restricted to properties with genuine working farms and where the farmhouse is of a size and quality considered appropriate by the revenue. For example where a family owns and farms 300 acres of working land and lives in the four or five bedroom farmhouse both the farm and the farmhouse would almost certainly qualify for APR if the owner dies. By contrast a beautiful Georgian mansion with six bedrooms, but only 50 acres of park land, would almost certainly not. In essence the definition of a farmhouse is subject to what’s colloquially known as the elephant test. That is, you known an elephant when you see one, even if they defy description. If it looks like a farmhouse it probably is one! By Simon Baillie-Hamilton 1 The neighbours A good solicitor will make sure the land is free from problems over access, services, restrictive covenants or other title issues but when you are buying property in the middle of working farmland you need to think through possible issues arising from neighbouring properties. 2 Planning permission You could be forgiven for thinking planning issues would be easier in the country with all the extra space but this is not necessarily the case. It is just different. 60 61