When she was looking for a new home in the south-west of England, Emma Turner says she was very open-minded about location as long as there were good transport links and schools. “We seized the chance to move out of London because my husband’s hospitality job is headquartered in Cornwall, and I started working from home as an interior designer,” says the mother of two boys.
In July 2020, the family from suburban Hampton ended up moving to a seven-bedroom Georgian house in Washfield in the picturesque Exe Valley of the Mid Devon district. “I wanted to be close to a city [Exeter] so that the leap to the country didn’t feel too big,” Turner says. “The Tiverton area appeared accessible to so many things — Exmoor, Dartmoor, the north and south Devon coast beaches — but clearly we are not the only ones who decided that. Six months later, and we would probably not have found the house we did.”
Demand for houses in Mid Devon, especially around the market town of Tiverton, has risen significantly during the pandemic, driven by the direct train links to London from Tiverton Parkway, the area’s proximity to the M5 motorway and the independent school Blundell’s.
Edward Clarkson, a buying agent with Property Vision, says that substantial family homes within a 10-mile radius of the school have been in short supply. “Last year the headmaster of Blundell’s rang me up in a panic, asking me whether all the new families applying to the school would find somewhere to live,” he says.
Blundell’s prep school cohort increased from 205 in the autumn of 2019 to 275 in the summer of 2021, with their senior school accepting 83 per cent more applications from London families between 2020 and 2021. “Some new families have had to withdraw applications or stay in Airbnb accommodation because they couldn’t find a suitable property,” says Bart Wielenga, the headteacher.
Between 2019 and 2021, the average house price in the Mid Devon district increased by 20 per cent to about £313,000, according to Hamptons, using Land Registry data. In the town of Tiverton — the district’s main town — properties are cheaper: the average price rose 23 per cent to about £277,000.
Properties in sought-after villages are selling as soon as they come up, says Tom Bedford of Savills Exeter — especially those in the Exe Valley between Tiverton and Exeter, such as Thorverton, Silverton, Cadeleigh and Bickleigh. “A four-bedroom property needing updating in Hockworthy priced at £700,000 has had 30 viewings over a weekend,” he says. “In March, a five-bedroom house on the outskirts of Tiverton on at £1.25mn went for £1.33mn”.
Verity Panter, a voiceover artist and stadium announcer, moved to the area in 2019 with her film-maker husband Harry and two children, swapping their home in Newington Green, north London, for a five-bedroom house a mile from Blundell’s school.
“We considered Exeter for the [good] schools but we felt we would be swapping one city for another, when we suddenly pulled 10 minutes off the M5 to look at Blundell’s and fell in love with the facilities,” she says. “We rented a home near the school first and realised it was so practical that we decided against going more rural.”
The practicality of the area appealed to Summer Bradshaw too. Together with her husband and two boys, Bradshaw, a positive psychology coach, moved to a hamlet near Sampford Peverell close to Tiverton Parkway station and the M5. “We are both Cornish but here is just more workable. There’s no point in spending great chunks of your week driving up the A30 [to Cornwall from London]. My husband works abroad a lot and Exeter airport is 30 minutes away, Bristol an hour.”
Good schools — especially Uffculme School, a co-ed state academy rated outstanding by schools inspectorate Ofsted — are also a draw for buyers to the villages east of the M5, says Oliver Custance Baker of estate agents Strutt & Parker. Buyers who do not need to be near the station look to the north-west of Tiverton. These include Cove, Stoodleigh, and Bampton — where the average sold property price in 2021 was £401,300, with 24 per cent of sales over £500,000.
In Tiverton itself, there seems no shortage of three- and four-bedroom family homes advertised for £300,000-£500,000 — but it seems that many newly arriving families prefer living out of town. Emma Turner says the lack of high-quality restaurants there means she heads to Exeter instead, or to The Lost Kitchen, a contemporary restaurant serving wood-fired fare in Chettiscombe. “But there are some good new shops opening on Gold Street in Tiverton. The town is very functional but it’s improving.”
What you can buy . . .
Three-bedroom cottage, Stoodleigh, £500,000
A three-bedroom Grade-II listed cottage with outbuildings and 0.34 acres of garden in the village of Stoodleigh, six miles north of Tiverton. On the market with local estate agent Stags
Six-bedroom house, Uplowman, £825,000
A six-bedroom house on the outskirts of the village of Uplowman has a spacious living room, separate dining room, conservatory, three bathrooms and extensive garden with driveway. On sale with Welden Edwards
Four-bedroom house, Bampton, £1.4mn
This four-bedroom, four-bathroom stone-built house in the village of Bampton, north of Tiverton, has two barns and 15 acres of land. On the market with estate agents Strutt & Parker
The average property price in Mid Devon last year was £313,412, up 9 per cent on 2020 and 43 per cent on 2011. In 2021, 11 per cent of properties sold in the area went for more than £500,000.