Buying or selling your home can be daunting prospects. Investing your life savings or taking out a mortgage that takes you a quarter century or more to pay back have been identified as one of the most stressful events in your life.

And if your dream home is in a rural area like the Lake District, there are hidden risks which may put you off completely. What are the rules surrounding septic tanks? What if there are public rights of way crossing your property? Did that cottage in the garden have planning permission – and if not, what do you do about it?

These, and other barriers to buying your dream home, are grist to the mill for a new breed of professional adviser. And leading the way is 38-year-old Gemma Dawe, who is the only property finder operating solely in the Lake District.

Born and brought up in Windermere, and educated at Lakes School, her local knowledge and contacts have put her at the forefront of the secret property market. Being mentored by Channel 4’s Phil Spencer, of Location, Location, Location fame has also helped.

She had the idea when working for an established estate agency for whom Gemma spent a decade in traditional roles, including office manager. When she was made redundant during the Covid lockdown, she saw a gap in the market and launched her own business.

‘I realised there were a lot of people who wanted to move into the area but were struggling,’ she says. ‘They only came to the area occasionally and when they did their dream home had gone or they couldn’t find what they wanted.

Great British Life: Property finder Gemma Dawes. Photo: Steven BarberProperty finder Gemma Dawes. Photo: Steven Barber

‘Property finders have been seen to be only for the wealthy – there are lots of them in London and the south east – but I knew it wasn’t just people like that who wanted to live here. A lot of my customers are local people who want help finding an ideal home.

‘I video and view houses from the buyers’ perspective and there can be issues I can see as a professional that someone who only buys one or two properties in their lifetime would miss.’

Gemma is paid by buyers not only to help find the right property but also to help them find their way through the minefield of potential obstacles.

Her success coincides with a change of attitude from established estate agents. Their strategy used to be to get as many properties on their books as possible, then add them to their listings. The more they had, the more successful they looked.

But an increasing number of people want to maintain privacy about selling their homes, perhaps to protect local business interests, or because of security concerns. They don’t necessarily want a succession of people coming to view. And even if they find a buyer, they may not persevere to completion.

‘A lot of people want privacy but they were never catered for before,’ Gemma says. ‘But now estate agents have got on the bandwagon and are catering for this off market service.’

Gemma herself is a Fellow of the National Association of Estate Agents and has just been appointed as their representative for Lancashire and the Lake District.

She helps locals as well, such as an 86-year-old woman who had lived in a mansion for 50 years and wanted to downsize and a couple who lived in Kendal and wanted to remain local.

‘If you don’t buy a new house often – and who does? – it can be a frustrating and bewildering experience. Finding the right house can often be the easy bit and I can help with all the scary bits between that initial interest and the contract being signed.’

The use of a property finder is still most common among the well-to-do.

‘The highest bidders generally want exclusive access to homes in the area seeking private deals. I have often been described as a property matchmaker as I am able to introduce buyers and sellers to each other. I have a list of people who are looking for homes in the area.

‘I would say the majority of homes in the Lakes worth more than £2 million are sold this way and most of the lake frontage homes will never go on the open market.

‘Many sellers of unique homes struggle to find their next property and don’t want to sell their own home until they have found the perfect property themselves, in these challenging times the fast-paced nature of the current property market is not for everyone, many homeowners in this position turn to the services of a property finder,’ she added.

Over the last three years her business, Lake District Relocation, has helped many buyers with new houses in the South Lakes area, dealing with everything from small family homes to properties worth millions.

‘It’s a bit like the buyers have a really clued up and helpful friend doing all the hard work on the ground to save them some of the stress. I only deal with a few clients and so it’s a very personal service and I really care about doing the very best for them.’