I HAD recently received some fantastic news; I had been offered a job as a reporter at the Okehampton and Tavistock Times and after 18 months of intense job hunting, I was eager to start as soon as possible. The only problem was I lived near Taunton and needed to relocate. So, I began house-hunting; it did not go well.
There was nothing on Rightmove; nothing on Zoopla; and nothing on any other property website I could think of within my price range. When I phoned the estate agents directly, I kept hearing variations of: ’I’m sorry, there’s nothing available at the moment’, ’That’s just be taken, I’m afraid’, ’We’ve had a lot of interest in that property, so we’re not accepting any more viewings.’ I was beginning to panic.
Eventually, I started looking further east and found a small flat on the western edge of Exeter. My panic subsided; I finally had a place to live but it left me with a long commute into Tavistock each morning.
Now I am getting to know the community, I have learned that the lack of rental properties in West Devon is a well-known problem and it is a serious one.
Last week the Times reported that the number of rental properties had fallen by three-quarters on pre-pandemic levels and the council of West Devon were considering taking action to resolve the situation by working with housing associations, developers, other councils and the government.
Nick Godfrey, director of Godfrey Short and Squire, told me that there are currently only two rental properties available in the three mile radius around Okehampton. ’Normally, we have 15-20 available each month,’ he said.
It is not just the lack of properties but the affordability of the properties that is also causing issues â?? an issue which I found out for myself all too quickly while house-hunting. Nick said: ’Rents have risen by 10-20% in the last 12 months. We are now renting out properties at £650 per month which we could have rented out at £575 before.’
It is true that Devon and Cornwall are popular locations both for tourists and those wanting to move out of the big cities, but why has it got to such extreme levels?
The first idea that popped into my head was that covid had somehow intensified the existing problems of second homes and an increasing number of people choosing to work from home. I’m half-right. Nick did put part of it down to people working from home, but did not blame covid for this, and Sarah Cooper echoed his thoughts. She said: ’I believe it’s because some people realise that they can work from home.’
What I had not considered was the impact of rising stamp duty and the effect this has on landlords â?? landlords have started to sell their second properties in order to avoid paying the extra stamp duty.
Furthermore, there seems to be a trend of ’families following families,’ according to Nick. He added: ’People realise that they only need to be in the office once a week and choose to live closer to mum who’s now in her eighties and lives alone in Devon. Or grandparents think "we haven’t seen the grandchildren for nearly two years. We’ll move closer so we can visit".’
Yet, I have found a very small plus side; Nick said that, contrary to popular opinion, that there had been very few people moving down from London. In fact, Godfrey Short and Squire have not seen an increase in the number of Londoners renting properties in the area.
As Nick said: ’Why should we rent to Steve from London when we have a local family in need of a home and who can move in straight away?’
But is it likely to get any better soon â?? it seems like it is an long-running problem?
Sarah said she had noticed a change and predicted that there might be some more properties on the market by early spring.
This is good news for me â?? with rising fuel prices, a shorter journey will mean extra cash in the bank.
Whether the council’s efforts make any difference or not, we will have to wait and see. Meanwhile, I have resigned myself to waiting patiently for spring when hopefully, properties will start to become available in the Tavistock and Okehampton area again.