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I'm close to a world-famous centre of academia. You're thinking
I can only be in one of two places. Yes, but which one?
'In today's show I'll be helping a couple downsize to find a retirement home in the country,
'although I'm not sure who wears the trousers in this house hunt.'
-Let's look at the master bedroom because...
-Because he thinks he's the master.
Ooh, after you.
'But I think we might just achieve house harmony.'
-Very matter of fact.
-We both like.
So which one did you punt for? Sorry. Today I'm in Oxfordshire, and this is the River Cherwell.
People have been punting here since Victorian times,
but it became most popular in the Edwardian era, where I'd wear a straw boater and stripy jacket.
Clearly I'm not observing that tradition today, but I am adhering to a strict local rule.
When in Oxford, unlike Cambridge, where they punt from the box end,
here one stands inside the boat. It gives you a much lower centre of gravity.
And it's a delightful way of discovering the countryside.
Oxfordshire is the most rural and least populated of the south-east counties
with over three-quarters of the land devoted to agriculture. The Chiltern Hills run right through it,
stretching all the way from Hertfordshire to Oxfordshire.
The county is home to spectacular sights like the ancient sculpture at Uffington,
which overlooks the Vale of the White Horse.
Oxfordshire has lots of pretty villages. Those in the south-east
have houses built from the flint cut straight from the Chilterns,
whilst in the north many traditional buildings feature the distinctive yellow limestone of the Cotswolds.
Time to meet today's buyers
and find out why they're ready to escape to the country.
Stuart and Sharon retired from running their own dry cleaning business six and a half years ago.
Their children have flown the nest, so now they want to downsize from four bedrooms in Buckinghamshire
and head for more peaceful surroundings.
The current home has just got too big. We don't ever sit in here.
We have four bedrooms and we only sleep in one.
-We've got three bedrooms...
-To store my clothes.
-..to store clothes.
Since their retirement, they've been keen to see more of the world.
We'd like to downsize to really give us the opportunity to travel more.
-We'd just like to go off and do a bit more.
-And have a smaller place
that it's easier to lock up and travel from.
-We really like walking, don't we? You like the golf.
-As long as it's near a golf club, fine!
So the world is their oyster, but family ties are shaping where they want to move.
We'd like an Oxfordshire village, preferably so we're within distance of all the grandkids, the children,
-so we can visit everyone.
-Neighbours are important to me.
-I'd like to live close to some people. Stuart would live on his own in the middle of a field!
Such a happy soul!
These two are not always of the same thinking,
-especially when they describe what they want from their new home.
-We both have different ideas.
I'd like two bedrooms, two bathrooms, open plan, folding doors.
I think you might need three bedrooms or a study, with how much clothes you've got.
-I hate gardening.
-So we'd like a smaller garden.
-And preferably a garage.
It can be a modern property or a character property, but modern inside.
At least they're sure on their finances.
Ideally, our budget for the next property will be... £450,000 to £490,000.
Any move to the countryside doesn't have to be about the quiet life.
They both want to remain sociable, so I don't want anything isolated.
But as long as I find Stuart something close to his golf club, he'll be fairly happy,
but I get the inkling that Sharon wears the trousers, so she's the one I need to please. Wish me luck.
Stuart and Sharon have asked us to look in Oxfordshire,
where there are plenty of pretty rural villages and heaps of culture.
We've found three fantastic houses to whet our buyers' appetite,
but I won't tell them the price until they've had a guess first.
As ever, our last property is our mystery house and we've got something special up our sleeves.
-So why do you want to move?
-Em, basically, my parents are getting very old now
and seeing what they haven't done, they haven't moved, and are now too old to move,
it's made us think about doing it while we can.
And we can still see the grandchildren without our suitcases.
House-wise, this is why we're here. What do you want from the house?
-What does your ideal house look like?
-Just something we could lock up easily so we could travel more.
That's interesting. So this is a low-maintenance house.
Something with a smaller garden, something to lock up.
-We're surrounded by period cottages. Are we looking for old or new?
-Something newer, really.
-OK, why is that?
-Just easier to maintain and it's a bit lighter. They're not so dark, are they?
-Older properties have smaller windows.
Let's talk about the budget. How much are you looking to spend?
-Sharon said we'll go to £490,000.
OK, good. Hopefully, the first house is fantastic, but, if not, shout out why it's not.
-That sounds good.
Stuart and Sharon have a budget of £490,000.
They are open to either a new build or a character property if it has a contemporary interior.
They want two bedrooms, but I think they'll need more for all those clothes and shoes.
They'd also like a place they could easily lock up and leave
so a manageable garden is a must.
For our first house, we're taking them to the village of Bletchingdon, 8.5 miles north of Oxford.
Many of its houses are built of the yellow-hued Cotswold stone.
This is a classic rural village with a green and attractive pub.
The house is a delightful period cottage that started life as three small farmworkers' houses
which have been knocked into one.
Now then. Property number one... is this one right here.
You can't see a great deal of it from here.
-You access it really round the back.
-I want to get a first impression.
-Not bad at all.
-It's a nice village as well. Nice area.
-It's lovely. Really nice.
-No. Excited. Let's go and have a look.
'Well, I'd call that a thumbs up. Let's hope the inside will keep the positives coming.'
-Just a slight step down there.
-Straight into the kitchen first.
-Oh, that's nice.
-I quite like the kitchen.
-And it's got a range.
-Yeah. Do you like a range?
-It's interesting that you focus on an old piece of machinery rather than the house...
-I've got an old piece of machinery!
-I'm glad you like it.
-I like the kitchen. Seriously, I really like it.
-Not bad? Faint praise from Stuart.
-I think it needs a new range.
-OK, all right.
-But I like it.
-I like the oak doors.
-But she'd change it completely.
-Go on, Sharon. Talk me through it.
-It's a good space for a cottage.
-It is a good space.
-Once she's ripped it all out, yeah.
-What would you rip out?
-No, I wouldn't change...
No, I wouldn't change the cupboards. And I quite like the centre island.
-And this is big enough for you?
-Has it got a dining room?
It could have. There's two reception rooms. One could be a dining room.
Cos it's a nice space as a kitchen, but not big enough to entertain.
-A dining room, possibly, at the far end. Let's see the living room.
So then, the living room. Tell me what you think, cos I know you will.
-It's just a bit dark for my tastes, I think.
I like things a bit lighter.
Could you make this better for yourselves? Liveable for yourselves?
You certainly could make it a lot lighter. I'd lighten the fireplace and lighten up the curtains.
I'd like to see the rest of the house and how we go from there.
OK, well, let's do just that.
'A cool response, but I still think the upstairs might win them over.
'On the first floor there are two modestly-sized double bedrooms and a sweet little single room
'that could work as a wardrobe. There's also a fair-sized family bathroom by the master bedroom.'
Come right in. I rather like this bedroom. See what you think.
This is a nice size.
-Isn't it brighter up here?
-Much lighter. Shows the difference paint can make.
-That's all it is.
-You've got lighter floor coverings.
-This is lovely.
-We're still not blown away.
-Would you like a bigger bedroom?
-No, the bedroom size is nice.
-Wasn't the bathroom next to this?
-So you could open a door there for an en-suite.
-That's a really good idea.
So that becomes an en-suite and maybe you could make a separate bathroom down here?
-She used to be a designer.
'Things are looking up now Sharon can see the possibilities of this house.
'I'm going to show them another room which could be the second bathroom.'
In total, there's four bedrooms in this house.
-Now you only need two double rooms.
-We do, yeah.
So, as it stands, this bathroom,
whilst it faces the road, it might be easier to put it here.
-It's a possibility.
-We wouldn't mind if we were in love with the house.
The big question is whether or not you are in love with it.
'I'm getting the feeling they're still a bit lukewarm about it.
'Let's see if the price sways them.'
-The sun's come back out.
-It's nice and bright.
-You said you didn't want a massive one.
-It's a lovely size. Just right for going away, leaving.
So look, how would you place this, price-wise?
I'd probably think in today's market it's about £450,000.
-Em, I think about 435.
Not bad guesses. This is on the market for offers around £449,950.
-So good guess!
So for just under £450,000, this characterful 18th-century cottage
has a beautifully modernised kitchen and breakfast room with beams and a range.
There are two reception rooms, one with an open fire,
three double bedrooms and a single.
There's also an enclosed south-facing rear garden.
-Well, onward and upward. Follow me.
Oxford and Cambridge have been competing against each other in an annual boat race since 1829.
The event has become an international sporting occasion, watched by millions round the world.
I'm here to meet Karl Hudspith, president of the Oxford University Boat Club,
who's going to teach me some much-needed rowing skills.
Karl, thanks very much for seeing me today. What would I need to do, you know,
if I was to try and go out on a boat from this club? What would the process be?
The main thing to think about today is keeping your hands level.
-If you keep your hands apart, the boat will tip over.
-We'll get in a double and go down on the river.
-Or down in the river!
-OK, let's go.
'For 182 years, the boat racing crews of Oxford and Cambridge have battled it out on the water.
'The famous annual boat race takes place on the Thames between the bridges of Putney and Chiswick.
'Traditionally, both crews are known as the Blues, with Cambridge favouring light blue shirts,
'while Oxford has the dark blue. Sean Bowden, head coach, is going to put me through my paces.'
Jonnie, when you start to slide forward, keep your knees reasonably close together
-and let your arms come either side to let your knees bend.
-When you're ready.
'So with my first run out drawing to a close, there's only one thing left to ask.'
-It'll be a while before I'm selected?
We continue our property search in the village of Fringford, just over 18 miles north of Oxford.
There are pretty thatched cottages, but no shop. The nearest one is just up the road in Hardwick,
which also has this charming pub.
The house I'm showing them is an impressive detached property,
which I think might appeal to our buyers' modern tastes.
So...the second property is this one.
Straightaway you can see it's obviously a lot younger.
-It looks nice.
-Quite nice, that.
What you see is off-street parking, your own garage. What do you think?
-It's really nice.
-Good. All right.
-Let's get inside and see what you think.
-What do you think of this?
-This is lovely.
-Nice, bright, airy. Lovely.
-Wow! Straight out.
-Really lovely. Very nice.
-Show us more.
-I'm glad you said that!
-This is a very different reaction.
-It's a different house.
-The owners have done a very clever extension over here.
They've extended it out and put a pitch roof on,
-to give you this amazing room.
Really nice. Airy, spacious. Everything we asked for.
-Everything you asked for.
-So far. So far.
-Trust me! Go with me.
Now, listen, you liked the kitchen in the first house.
This is a different style of kitchen,
but it has features I think you'll like. So, follow me.
'So far, so good.
'I think the open-plan layout is working for them.
'Let's hope the kitchen keeps that momentum going.'
OK, then. So...
-..very modern kitchen.
-Yeah, I really like it.
-Why? Why do you like it?
It's nice, clean lines. Big enough to eat in.
Everything you could ask for.
-Madam would like this.
-"Madam", did you say?!
But so far, this feels like it's working for you. Am I right?
-It does work. Yeah. We like.
-Very matter of fact.
-We both like. See? Both.
-All right, let's go and discover the upstairs.
You're going to hit me soon.
'Well, they both like this property.'
Up here on the first floor, this is the master bedroom.
-You look scared!
-I am scared! In case I like it too much.
-Just checking the size.
-Is it big enough?
-What do you think?
-Plenty of storage space.
You said you were worried that you might like it too much.
Yeah. I really do like it.
-It's getting better by the minute.
-It's going all right.
-And you look quietly impressed by this place.
-You got it right.
-We are. I am. You are.
-I am quietly impressed.
Let's see if we can take a peek at the garden
and then we'll start talking about price
-and whether or not you can afford it.
'This house just keeps getting better.
'On this floor, there's a family bathroom,
'two single bedrooms and another double bedroom.'
So, low-maintenance garden was a task you charged me with.
This is just right. Just the right size.
OK, how impressed are you?
You guessed pretty much on the money at the first house.
-How much do you think this house is on the market for?
-A bit more.
-I think it's probably at the top end of the budget - about £500,000.
-I was going to go 499, but...
-You still can, if you like.
-There's a pound separating you.
-I'll go 499.
-We'll toss for the pound!
OK. This house is on the market for...
-offers around £475,000.
-God, I'm surprised.
-So, what do you think?
-I think it's a good price, good house.
So for around £475,000,
this modern build has a stylish kitchen/diner,
a huge open plan living room with floor-to-ceiling French doors,
four bedrooms and a low-maintenance garden they said they were after.
-How did you get on?
-Yeah, pretty good.
Pretty good. Well, hopefully this has been a good end to the day.
-A brilliant end to the day.
-This is promising.
As the sun sets over the rolling hills of Oxfordshire,
the first day of our property search is over.
Today, we're off to see the mystery house.
As ever, it's here to challenge the expectations of our buyers,
but I don't know what a great reaction to a house looks like.
Hopefully, I'll find out today.
For the mystery house, we're taking them to Kingston Bagpuize,
ten miles south of Oxford.
The village has a beautiful 17th-century manor house,
and also a Post Office, a pub and a tennis court.
Stuart and Sharon don't mind a character home,
but the absolute essential is a contemporary interior.
Our mystery house has an interesting mix of old and new.
I just hope it's not too quirky for them,
as it's the perfect "lock up and leave" property.
So welcome to Kingston Bagpuize.
The house that will help you decide whether to live here or not
-is this one here.
-That looks nice.
-Looks very nice.
Now, it's a converted barn. It was converted in around the 1960s,
but it's thought the property dates back to the 1700s.
-What do you think?
-Can't wait to look inside.
-OK, off we go.
OK, let's go.
'Let's hope Jenny's not too quiet when she sees the inside.'
-In we come.
-Oh! It's not what I expected.
Really? What were you expecting?
I expected it to be a lot darker than it actually is.
-That bodes well.
-I expected it to be a lot, lot darker.
-What do you think, Stuart?
-It's different. Yeah.
-It is different.
You've got a downstairs loo, but I'll take you to the kitchen.
Hopefully, this light feeling continues in the kitchen.
Everything is really surprising, from inside to outside.
It's really surprising.
-You were expecting a very dark...
Dark oak beams, no lights. This is a nice surprise.
-And the kitchen's much more modern than I thought.
-It doesn't, sort of, inspire me so far.
-Right. Why is that?
I don't think it's us, but we'll go on a bit more.
I probably like it a bit more than you do. It's a bit quirky.
-Let's see the living room. It has got a flow, which you liked.
Let's take a wander through here. The living room's a good size,
-but it's what you think.
-It is a nice size, yeah.
-I like how it opens up into the garden.
-That's one thing you wanted.
-What do you think of this?
-I don't think a Zimmer frame
-will go up there!
-No! This is...an occasional room.
The grandchildren would like climbing up there.
It doesn't do much for me at all. None of it.
Let's look at the master bedroom, because, well...
-Cos he thinks he's the master.
-Oooh! After you.
'So, opinion seems to be divided, but let's see if I can win them
'both over with the master bedroom.'
Now, the master bedroom is on the ground floor.
-It's quite dark.
-I don't mind the bedroom being on the ground floor.
-I just think this is a bit dark for a bedroom.
this is the biggest room, as well.
So I think this is actually your master, so it's en suite.
-Which you clearly love, Stuart(!)
-I love it. Yeah. I don't think.
Isn't it amazing? You liked it up until this point.
I did, until this bedroom.
-But for you...
-I can't get enthused about anything so far.
Have a think about the price when we go outside.
-We'll go back through the living room.
Upstairs, there's ample room for two further bedrooms,
but I feel the tide has turned against it.
So this could be your garden. There's another to the back.
-It is fabulous.
-Best part of the house!
So, with that in mind,
-how much do you think this house is on the market for?
-It's quite an expensive village around here.
-I'll go first.
-Go on, then.
-So you think it's over budget?
-No. I think it's less.
-How much less?
-I think it's about 465.
Good guess from you. It's on the market for offers around £475,000.
This unusual and attractive take on a barn conversion
is priced at around £475,000.
It has a modern kitchen/diner,
a reception room, with a vaulted ceiling and period beams,
three bedrooms and a south-facing garden
with stunning views over parkland.
-Good. We need to find somewhere
-for you guys to have a chat and then we'll discuss it all.
So how have you enjoyed your time looking in Oxfordshire?
-You've shown us some nice houses.
-Is it the place for you to relocate?
-It is. We like the area.
-Cast your minds back to yesterday morning.
-The first property.
-From outside, I thought it looked really nice.
It just didn't flow nicely for us once we were inside.
I think we can write off house number one.
-It just wasn't for you. House number two went down very well.
We were really pleased when we saw it.
We're just trying to think, "Can we live here?"
-We really liked it.
-Good. Now the mystery house is always
-something to challenge you.
-I didn't like it at all.
-Nothing at all appealed.
-OK. Well, it's always a gamble.
So, as I suspected, it's down to the second house, is it?
-We'd like to go back to look at it.
-You do want to go back?
-We will have a look.
I wish you the best of luck. Let us know how you get on.
-We will, indeed.
I think, now, for them a second viewing is essential.
If it is their favourite, they need to go back to that house,
not only to look around it, but also to investigate the area.
Have a chat with friends who live locally
and see what it's like to live there full-time.
They need to be happy there for the rest of their retirement.
I'm sure, like me, you'll wish them the best of luck.
And I'll see you next time.
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Jonnie Irwin helps a newly retired couple downsize to a smaller home in rural Oxfordshire, with a budget of £500,000. While in Oxfordshire, Jonnie is put through his paces by the head coach of the world-famous Oxford University rowing team.