According to Andrew Shirley of Knight Frank’s rural research team, an unexpected rebound in City confidence is boosting sales of country houses throughout the Home Counties. ‘Ironically,’ says Mr Shirley, ‘it appears that London, which initially looked likely to be the hardest hit by the credit crunch following the collapse of financial giants such as Lehman Brothers, has recovered in confidence the quickest of all the regions. Well-paid City workers now feel more secure in their jobs, and sizeable bonuses already seem to be back on the agenda. This effect has rippled out into the Home Counties, where many of those working in the financial and associated sectors tend to live.’

Despite the new mood of optimism, however, most country-house agents echo the view of buying agent Russell Hill of Haringtons UK that, although the market may have stabilised and the dramatic downward slide halted, the recent spring surge is unlikely to lead to an autumn gold rush. ‘People will be looking at the headlines and comparing the market to the recession of the early 1990s. This market has collapsed in 18 months rather than the three years it took last time, so owners who aren’t forced to sell may need at least 18 months of good news before they feel comfortable about putting their houses on the market,’ Mr Hill suggests.

At least the good news is already filtering through, with most agents reporting June country-house sales at levels last seen pre-2007. Shortage of stock is a major problem (who can remember a time when it wasn’t?), but, even in mid-July, there are still some very nice houses coming fresh to the market. ‘There’s no time like the present’, says a buoyant Christopher Bailey of Knight Frank (020–7629 8171) as he launches elegant, Grade II*-listed Egginton House at Eggington near Leighton Buzzard, on the Bedfordshire/Buckinghamshire borders, at a guide price of £2.25 million.

An exquisite example of rare William III architecture, Eggigton House was built in 1696 for John Renouille, a Huguenot who later became Sheriff of Bedfordshire. Since then, it has had a succession of distinguished owners, including Sir Gilbert Inglefield, a Lord Mayor of London, from 1950 to 1976, and, more recently, the eminent international judge the late Lord Slynn, and his widow, Lady Slynn, the current vendor.

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Egginton House

 

Built of brick under a tiled roof with a panelled parapet, the beautifully understated house stands at the end of a gravelled drive on the edge of the village, surrounded on three sides by its own gardens, land and woodland, 31½ acres in all. It has 6,222sq ft of gracious living space, including four splendid, light-filled reception rooms, a fine reception hall and main staircase, 10 bedrooms and four bathrooms. Ancillary buildings include a gardener’s cottage, a two-bedroom mews flat, garaging and stabling.

Having seen plenty of action at or around the £1m mark, Tim Pearce of Strutt & Parker in Harpenden (01582 764343) is raising his game with the launch of two serious country houses: The Little Manor at Mackerye End, near Harpenden, at a guide price of £4.6m, and Kimpton Grange at Kimpton, near Hitchin, at a guide of £6.25m.

The Little Manor was built in the Georgian style in the late 1920s and has four reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, six bedrooms and four bathrooms; later additions include a luxurious indoor swimming pool and a stable and garage block, part of which has been converted to a studio. Set at the end of a long gravelled drive, the 4,043sq ft manor has 4¼ acres of beautifully landscaped gardens and grounds, plus a 10-acre grass field. Kimpton Grange sits in 22 acres of formal gardens and parkland in a conservation area on the edge of the thriving village of Kimpton, four miles from Harpenden and six miles from the cathedral city of St Albans.

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Built in the early 18th century with mid-18th-century and 19th-century additions, the 13,000sq ft main house has five reception rooms, a study, six bedrooms, six bathrooms, a gym, two cottages, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and a floodlit tennis court.South of the Thames, there’s lots going on in Surrey’s commuter heartland, with plenty of interest from buyers in any good country house that comes to the market, says James Cleland of Knight Frank (020–7629 8171).

Following the owners’ decision to move further out into the country, he recently launched the charming medieval Manor House at Pirbright, six miles from Guild-ford, on the market at a guide price of £3.95m. Previously known as the Court House, the original 15th-century manor, listed Grade II, was built on the moated site of an early-14th-century house, and was part of Catherine of Aragon’s marriage portion. Much of the present timber-framed house dates from the 17th and 18th centuries, with extensions from the 19th century and 2000. It has 9,232sq ft of living space, including five reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, seven bedrooms, five bathrooms, an indoor pool complex and a 1,377sq ft, two-bedroom coach house, and stands in 18 acres of gardens, fields and woodland on the edge of this quintessential Surrey village.

* Country Houses for sale