Here we are again. In December 2012, a late flurry of activity in the country-house market had everyone buzzing with excitement in anticipation of a bright start to the new year. But, for whatever reason, the ‘country-house spring’ didn’t happen in 2013, and it was midsummer before the market finally slipped into gear, although thereafter it kept going all the way to Christmas.

So what will 2014 bring? Will we see a re-run of last year’s slow burn, as buyers and vendors dither and deals fall apart? Or will the country market carry on where it left off last month, and finally wipe the mud of five years of recession off its feet? Certainly, there are signs of recovery, but most experts agree that, post-recession, the UK country-house market will be a very different place.

According to Nick Leeming, chairman of Jackson-Stops & Staff, ‘two distinct markets have emerged from the downturn. London’s occupancy profile has altered significantly. Mobility has become more important for young professionals who need to move around for work reasons and may opt, or be forced, to rent rather than buy. People are working longer hours and want to be relatively close to work. They also want to be seen to be working-the notion of working from home for two days a week and staying in London for the rest of the time has become less attractive. As a result, the London influence on the country market remains weak’.

However, it’s not all bad news, says Mr Leeming, pointing out that the London suburbs and places within an hour of London by train are already benefiting from the rise in prices in the capital. Good transport links, excellent schools and a country lifestyle will be the main reasons for moving out of London in 2014-whether to the suburbs or to pleasant towns and villages around the UK.

‘International demand will continue to underpin central London and service-sector growth will continue to sustain demand in the South-East. Elsewhere, the main drivers will be regional economic growth,’ he concludes.

An interesting knock-on effect of the increasingly globalised UK property market is the gradual erosion of the traditional spring and autumn selling seasons, especially in heritage cities such as Bath, Cambridge, Oxford, Salisbury and Winchester. A striking illustration of the growing trend is the launch through Savills (020-7016 3780), at a guide price of £6.5 million, of historic Mulberry House at 9, St Thomas Street in Winchester, Hampshire-arguably the best private house in this exciting cathedral city.

 Mulberry House, Winchester, Savills, £6.5m

Although predominantly Georgian, Mulberry House, listed Grade II, has 17th-century origins and takes its name from an ancient mulberry tree supposedly planted by Charles II and sadly uprooted in the October 1987 storm. The house, which boasts inspiring views of the exquisite 16th-century cathedral, has had a succession of distinguished owners, among them bankers, academics and, in the early 20th century, Admiral Sir E. E. Bradford, who lived at Mulberry House from 1929 until his death, aged 77, in 1935.

The present owners, who bought in 2010, have extended and renovated the house, creating more than 8000sq ft of impressive living space on three floors, including three fine reception rooms, a library, a study, eight bedrooms, five bathrooms anda splendid orangery-style kitchen extension that makes the most of the views of the cathedral. The gardens were designed by Chelsea gold-medal winners Hilliers of Romsey.

* Subscribe to Country Life and save up to 40% in our January sale

One of the main drivers of the market for country houses priced between £1m and £2m is the desire of families to live within the catchment area of one of Britain’s best schools. A recent survey by Knight Frank reveals that the average value of a home located within a mile of one of England’s top-performing schools is 30% higher than average values in the surrounding local-authority area.

With 13 grammar schools and 21 upper schools, Buckinghamshire is one of the last remaining counties where education is fully selective. Approximately 30% of children qualify for a grammar-school place each year, with school places allocated by distance from the school gates. With privateschool fees increasingly overtaking the mortgage as the major long-term financial commitment for many families, South Bucks is a brilliantly commutable first choice for many professionals moving out of London.



  Further Pegs, Knight Frank, £1.9m

A recent launch onto the market, at a guide price of £1.9m through Knight Frank (01494 675368), is Grade II-listed Further Pegs in the former Quaker stronghold of Jordans, three miles from Beaconsfield and 23 minutes by train from London Marylebone. One of the original Jordans houses, designed and built in the 1920s by Frederick Rowntree, a noted Arts-and-Crafts architect and one of the village’s founders, Further Pegs was originally known as Cocoa Cottage, the place where workers came in the evenings to enjoy a steaming mug with Mr Rowntree, Jordans being a strictly alcohol-free zone. The pretty, red-brick house stands in almost an acre of impeccably maintained gardens and grounds, and has three reception rooms, a kitchen/ breakfast room, five bedrooms, three bathrooms and a garage with room for an office above.

 Bullsland Farm, Savills, £5.5m

In the new age of austerity, strategic and practical considerations are likely to outweigh aspiration when it comes to buying a house in the country, although 179-acre Bullsland Farm at Chorleywood, Hertfordshire-for sale through Savills (020-7409 8877) at a guide price of £5.5m-offers the chance to enjoy the best of both worlds. Not only will the farm have easy access to London’s new Crossrail service from 2018, but, in addition to its Grade II-listed, 17th-century farmhouse, it comes with planning consent for a 7000sq ft new main house, incorporating several historic farm buildings. Good transport connections with the City have always been a major factor in persuading Londoners to buy a country home in Essex and Suffolk.

Now, after five or six years of sticking close to their desks for fear of losing their jobs, ‘the young things are finally coming out of London’, says Tim Dansie of Jackson-Stops & Staff in Ipswich (01473 218218), who agreed one of the biggest deals done in Suffolk last year with Ackworth House at East Bergholt, which launched in the spring at a guide price of £3.85m.

Anyone who needs to clock in at the coalface by 7am will find lots of kindred spirits on the 5.25am train from Manningtree each morning, with plenty of later trains also there to take the strain, Mr Dansie advises. Boosted by the projected transfer of the pharmaceutical giant Astra Zeneca to Addenbrooke’s Biomedical Campus in 2016, the Cambridge boom goes on, reports Chris Carey of Bidwells, who is bursting with optimism after ‘a quite incredible year’ in 2013, when sales of new houses (‘always the litmus test of the strength of the market’) far exceeded developers’ expectations.

Sales of traditional houses were also strong and Bidwells agreed a price ‘substantially in excess’ of its £1.75m guide for the iconic, Modernist 26 Millington Road in the exclusive academic enclave of Newnham. Built for a professor of classical archaeology in 1934 and-unusually for a property of the period-listed Grade II, the house was being sold for the first time in 80 years and, despite needing refurbishment, it provoked intense competition.

There was still honey for tea in the nearby village of Grantchester, too, where Bidwells found a buyer for imposing Manor Field on Vicarage Drive. Built in the 1920s on land belonging to King’s College, the secluded, 3,350sq ft, five-bedroom house, owned by the same family since 1954 and also in need of updating, sold for ‘considerably more’ than its £2.25m guide price.

‘We’re still not seeing the City boys in the Cotswolds, but entrepreneurs from other walks of life, from media to retail, more than made up for their absence in 2013,’ says a chirpy Atty Beor-Roberts of Knight Frank in Cirencester, who was doing deals and pitching for new business all the way to Christmas.

 Willowbrook House exchanged contracts in September at a guide of £4.95m

The gradual recovery at the upper end of the market was highlighted by the sale (jointly with Savills) of the immaculate Willowbrook House at Turkdean, Gloucestershire, which launched in Country Life on September 18-contracts were exchanged within a month at a guide price of £4.95m.

But, even in the Cotswolds, the mood is one of realism as cautious buyers concentrate their fire on properties priced at less than £2m. There is now great value to be found in those woolly hills, says Sam Trounson of Strutt & Parker (01285 653101), who quotes a guide price of £1m for the remarkable Grade II-listed Rodbourne House, which dominates the village of Rodbourne near Malmesbury, Wiltshire.

 

 Rodbourne, Wiltshire, Knight Frank £1m

In fact, Rodbourne House can rightly claim to be two houses in one, as it combines two contrasting façades- the original, early-Georgian garden front to the south and the Victorian- Gothic entrance front, added in 1859 for Sir Hungerford Pollen, whose family were close associates of the Pre-Raphaelites.

The house needs ‘a complete overhaul’ at an estimated cost of a further half a million, but the views from its eyrie on top of the hill are ‘out of this world’, enthuses Mr Trounson.

With the dreaded £2m threshold uppermost in everyone’s minds, the owners of stately Burton Hill House, near Malmesbury, have found an ingenious solution to the Stamp Duty conundrum, splitting the battlemented mansion, built to an exacting Victorian specification in a Tudor-Gothic style, into three substantial family homes.

 Burton Hill, Butler Sherborn, properties from £650,000

These are being offered, in need of modernisation, through Cotswold agents Butler Sherborn (01285 883 740) at a guide price of ‘offers in the region of £650,000′ for Park House and Garden House (left and centre) with Burton Hill House (right) already under offer at £675,000.

* Follow Country Life on Twitter