Neil Shorten, 42, a business owner from Cambridgeshire, has just realised a long-held dream of moving to Norfolk, and now lives in the coastal resort of Sheringham.
“We were thinking about doing it in five to 10 years’ time,” said Shorten. “Then when Covid kicked in and working from home was productive, the question was, why wait, why not get on with life? There is always a reason to put it off a year.”
So Shorten has swapped a 25-minute daily commute to his company’s headquarters for a four-hour return journey, but one he needs to make only once a week.
For Spalding & Co, a chartered surveyors and estate agents with offices in Fakenham and Wells-next-the-Sea in north Norfolk, the weeks following lockdown were “pretty frantic”, recalled the firm’s managing director, Nick Glaister.
He described those looking to move to the area as “urban-dwellers seeking the sanctuary of north Norfolk”, adding that his home county is “on the road to nowhere, and that has sustained the quality of life”.
Several properties advertised by Spalding & Co have been the subject of bidding wars, which has pushed up average prices. Houses are selling for around 20% above asking price.
A rural cottage in need of a serious revamp attracted 40 viewings before it sold to a buyer from London, who secured it by offering 40% more than the advertised price.
The incomers are not just spending money on houses. An increase in the number of people moving to the area has also resulted in a record year of sales at Neil Thompson Boats.
At the boatyard outside Wells, Neil Thompson and his wife Richenda have just taken on an extra member of staff to cope with the workload. They put the surge in orders down to customers from London who have decided to move to Norfolk for good.
“The workload has been phenomenal,” said Thompson. “The new customers are younger than normal: they’re not retired like everyone up here, and buying a boat isn’t such a big expense when they haven’t spent as usual on holidays this year.”
On the outskirts of the market town of Aylsham, a four-bedroom detached house at the end of a long driveway has gone on the market with Arnolds Keys estate agents for just under £600,000.
Overlooking farmland, with a garden full of fruit trees, the property is attracting attention from buyers who currently live several hours’ drive away.
Aylsham doesn’t have a mainline station, and commuters travelling to London would need to get to Cromer, 10 miles away, to catch a train to the capital via Norwich, a journey of almost three hours.
However, without a daily commute, “the sky’s the limit”, said Jan Hÿtch, residential partner at Arnolds Keys. “Some are saying, ‘I have a two-bedroom flat in east London, what can I get in Norfolk?’”