Starting a smallholding - find the right property

PUBLISHED: 08:11 28 March 2014 | UPDATED: 14:28 12 May 2014

Many people who would love to have a smallholding are excluded from the outset – because they can’t afford a suitable property.

Many people who would love to have a smallholding are excluded from the outset – because they can’t afford a suitable property.

Prices vary enormously from area to area, but an average price for a typical smallholding these days would probably be about £500,000. That could buy you a reasonable three or four-bedroom house with five or six acres and a small range of outbuildings.

As reported recently in CS, the most popular areas tend to be West Wales and East Anglia – simply because properties tend to be more affordable there.

Big demand

Edward Oldrey, of specialist agent Rural Scene, said lenders are also becoming more reluctant to offer high percentage mortgages. But he said there is big demand for smallholdings, with many people seeking to move to the country from the Home Counties and the cities.

Former CS columnist Katie Thear looks at the buying process in her excellent book The Smallholder’s Manual. Some of the same considerations apply as when buying any property – how far is the nearest town, what is public transport like, are there local shops, and so on. But potential smallholders might also consider access to ready markets if they want to sell farm produce, says Katie.

There may be cultural and linguistic factors to consider. Some areas of  Wales are completely Welsh speaking, for example. Culture and language will be even more relevant if you plan an even bigger leap and want to buy a cheap property abroad.

Climate and land topography are imporant considerations if you plan to grow crops and rear livestock – prevailing winds, for example, can have a major effect on both. Hill farms may only be suitable for mountain sheep and may be dangerous for tractors. North-facing slopes can cause problems because of the lack of sun. Careful study of a good map is advisable. Climate change is making considerations of future weather patterns even more relevant.

Quality of land

Another factor is the quality of the land itself. The better the soil, the better the crops you will end up with. So results may vary hugely, depending whether the soil is heavy clay, quick-draining sand, thin, chalky soil, acid peat or, ideally, a friable medium-loam soil. This, of course, will be reflected in the price being asked for the property.
A good tip is to see what neighbouring farmers are doing with their land. They depend on it for their livelihood, and so will be growing crops best suited to the environment.

Part of the equation in buying is likely to be income-generating ideas. A home office will probably be an essential if you plan to work part-time on another enterprise.

Can’t afford it? Then be imaginative

If you don’t have much capital and a massive mortgage is a pipedream, there are other ways to enjoy the Good Life.

With a bit of imagination and some hard work, you can achieve a great deal in your own modest back garden. It is generally true that the less land one has, the more carefully managed and productive it is in relation to its size. You may, for instance, establish a productive kitchen garden, put up a greenhouse, have a hive of bees, some rabbits, chickens or ducks.

Another possibility would be to rent a small field to keep goats or pigs. About 2.5 acres of good pasture would enable you to keep a small breeding flock of sheep.

Other avenues to explore might include auctions as a result of repossession, derelict properties, or government sales of abandoned land.
Long-term tenancies of whole smallholdings sometimes come up, or you might come across a job on a country estate which includes accommodation and land.

To find out more

Register with a specialist smallholding estate agent, like Rural Scene

For mortgages on smallholdings, try AMC at or the Ecology Building Society at links individuals or businesses wanting to buy, sell or rent farm, equestrian and country property.

Interact with other smallholders and post your questions

Visit our forums

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