According to the latest figures from Savills Research, house prices in prime central London fell by 1.5% in the first quarter of 2008, due to growing anxiety among City workers over job security and future earnings, uncertainty regarding the introduction of the ‘non-dom’ tax changes, and the ‘as yet unknown outcome of the credit crunch’. Research director Lucian Cook believes: ‘It’s no longer a case of one or two quarters of price falls, with values bouncing back shortly thereafter, as was the case in 1998 and 2001.

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The situation is looking more like that of 2002 and 2003, with slightly more prolonged falls in prices and a period of low price growth for the following 12 to 24 months.’ What happens in the City one day has a knock-on effect on the country-house market the day after, and the slowdown in the London market in the first quarter of this year is reflected in a similar drop in the volume of country properties coming to the market through Country Life in the same period. After three years of intense early activity in the country market, following record City bonus payouts, the volume of property offered for sale has reverted to the more traditional levels seen in 2003 and 2004.

‘People don’t want the hassle of putting their property on the market in case it doesn’t sell,’ Crispin Holborow of Savills explains. But with three £10 million-plus sales already in the bag this year, he expects the top end of the market to hold its own, although lack of supply will continue to be a problem for buyers and estate agents alike. Houses in the £1m to £3m price bracket are the most likely to feel the pinch in the short term, but Mr Holborow expects normal service to be resumed once vendors and buyers have adjusted to the new realities of the marketplace.

Yet deals are still being done in the country, although some may take longer than others to conclude. With the Cotswolds and Devon both reporting a slow start to the year, Wiltshire is this year’s hottest county by far, where the gap between the number of prospective buyers and the number of properties available continues to widen. The Salisbury office of Savills now has 2,429 buyers on its books prepared to spend more than £1m on a house in the county. Evidence of ‘the Salisbury effect’ was provided recently by the rapid sale of the Manor House at Coombe Bissett, four miles south of Salisbury, for which Savills found a buyer at ‘well in excess’ of the £1.4m guide price within days of its launch in Country Life on March 13.

At least one of the remaining 2,428 frustrated buyers may find comfort in the arms of Strutt & Parker (01722 328741), who quote a guide price of £1.75m for the delightful Old Parsonage on the edge of Ashmore, in the heart of ‘Madonna country’, 20 miles south-west of Salisbury. The six-bedroom former vicarage, built in the early 1800s, stands in 2.8 acres of gardens and grounds, with glorious views across the Cranborne Chase to the Purbeck Hills; the nearby converted Grade II-listed former chapel is on offer at £500,000.

Many Wiltshire buyers these days are refugees from Hampshire, driven ever further westwards by soaring country-house prices in the county most favoured by wealthy City buyers, many of whom will be salivating over idyllic Longparish House (Fig 1) near Andover, the first major sporting property to come on the market in Hampshire this year. Savills (01962 841842) quote a guide price of £9m for the Grade II*-listed château-style house with 176 acres of gardens, farmland and watermeadows on the banks of the River Test. In the late 18th and 19th centuries, Long-parish House was owned by the sporting Hawker family, whose best-known member was Col Peter Hawker. His Advice to Young Sportsmen, first published in 1814, is still regarded as one of the best guides for young people taking up shooting or fishing. With its combination of weirs, glides and riffled water, the river at Long-parish is a fisherman’s dream.

In 1989, most of the estate was sold by the Dawnay family to Roger Smee, chairman of Reading football club, who carried out major renovations to the house, but never lived there. The present owners, who bought Longparish in 1993, have carried on the good work, further renovating the house and restoring the gardens and grounds to their current splendour. In addition to the grand entrance and staircase halls, Longparish House has four splendid reception rooms, a billiard room, extensive wine cellars, five bedroom suites, four further bedrooms and a family bathroom, plus three cottages, an annexe and outbuildings. Leisure amenities include a swimming pool, a tennis court, excellent stabling and an all-weather outdoor manège.

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