It has been a very good year in the country-house market. And were it not for the storm clouds hanging over the City, which have tended to obscure the wider vision, most country-house agents would declare it a vintage one. Of course, what happens in the City of London will always have a profound effect on the country-house and estates market generally, and the South-East and the Cotswolds in particular, but although the big City bonus-earner has undoubtedly been a defining force in the rural property market in recent years, he has by no means been the only one.
Quite apart from the elite market for properties priced at more than £5 million, where overseas money continues to dominate, a month-by-month review of some of this year’s most significant sales shows how few, rather than how many, of the UK’s most interesting country properties were bought by City buyers. These days, supply, not demand, is the country-house agent’s biggest headache. Some 20% more country properties came to the market through Country Life in 2007 than in 2006, but there still weren’t enough to go round, and prices rose yet again. So whether City bonus-earners spend £5 billion or £2 billion of their total bonus pot buying rural retreats in 2008, the country market will continue to go its merry way, albeit at a slightly less frenetic pace.
For the third year in succession, this traditionally quiet month was ushered in to the clink of red trouser pockets stuffed with City gold. Excellent communications by road and rail, high-flying schools and a choice of pretty villages have made Guildford, Surrey, a Mecca for London buyers over the years, but it was a local buyer who bought idyllic Millwater at Ripley, near Guildford, within eight weeks of its launch on the market in Country Life (January 11) through Strutt & Parker at a guide price of £4.65m.
Crispin Holborow of Savills was already urging vendors to ‘to get in early to take advantage of the sustained demand, in case history repeats itself later on a reference to the stockmarket ‘blip’ of May, June, 2006. Savills’ Salisbury office kicked off a spectacular year with the launch in Country Life (February 1) of the exquisite, Grade I-listed, Walton Canonry in Salisbury’s Cathedral Close at a guide price of £3.5m. The Georgian gem, built for Canon Isaac Walton in 1720, was sold in August to a local buyer with children at school in the area.
Pristine Georgian, Grade I-listed Ven House at Milborne Port on the Dorset/ Somerset border, had been on the market since September 2005, when it was relaunched in Country Life (March 8) by Knight Frank and Savills with a guide price of £8.5m. It sold the same month to a buyer from the fashion industry.
The first of a series of major estate sales took off when Savills launched the magnificent, 349-acre Heathfield Park estate at Heathfield, East Sussex, in Country Life (April 5) with a guide price of £12m. It was sold within a month for more than the guide price to a buyer from within the property industry.
Historically one of the busiest months of the country-property calendar, May this year was no exception, with 57% more properties being offered for sale in Country Life than in May 2006. After two years on the market, historic Tythrop Park at Thame, Oxfordshire, listed Grade I, was relaunched by Knight Frank in Country Life (May 17) and found a buyer unconnected with the City within weeks at £14m. A week later, Humberts launched the delightful, Grade II-listed Chailey Moat at Chailey Green, near Lewes, East Sussex, at a guide price of £3.5m; its sale to a buyer from north Norfolk with children at Brighton College was completed by August.
Dishy Hollywood actor Nicolas Cage hit the headlines when he bought Somerset’s ‘house of cards’, the Grade I-listed, 18th-century Midford Castle and estate near Bath, which was launched by Humberts in the spring (Country Life, March 22) with a guide price of £5m.
Every Scottish country estate has its own unique character, and whoever buys it takes on not only its future, but also its past. The Ridley family’s historic Findynate estate near Strathtay, Perthshire, attracted dozens of potential purchasers when it was launched on the market in late July, with ‘offers over £4m’ sought by joint selling agents CKD Galbraith and Sale & Partners. Eight potential purchasers were left in the hunt by the mid-September closing date, and Findynate was eventually bought for ‘significantly more than the guide price’ by a family whose roots are firmly fixed in the countryside.
The relentless spread of the international mega-millions beyond the limits of the M25 continued in August, with the sale to a Russian buyer of glitzy Kingsmead at Frensham, Surrey weeks after it was launched on the market at a guide price of £10m by Knight Frank and Hamptons International.
City skies were already darkening when a fresh batch of country houses hit the market in mid-September, and reports of reduced bonus expectations stopped some City buyers in their tracks. But out-of-town buyers stepped in to pick up some of the autumn’s plum properties, among them dreamy St Andrew’s House at Wilton, near Salisbury, Wiltshire, a charming Grade II-listed former rectory launched by Savills in Country Life (September 13) at a guide price of £2.25m. Unusually, the buyer wanted to move ‘back east’ from his existing country home in deepest Dorset.
Deals were done on several major estates in October, with Savills tying up the sale of the prestigious Downlands estate in Hampshire for more than £9m to an international buyer with mining interests. And Knight Frank clinched the sale of the picturesque, 286-acre Wyelands estate near Chepstow, Gwent (Country Life, July 26) for more than the £5.5m guide price. It was bought by a Welsh property developer as a private home.
The sale in November of another architectural heavyweight, tranquil Treemans at Horsted Keynes, near Haywards Heath, West Sussex, which launched in mid-September at a guide price of £3.25m, rounded off a memorable year for Humberts, who see the outlook for 2008 as anything but gloomy.
Treemans has been bought as a weekend retreat by a London family, who plan to eventually live there full-time
It has been year-end celebrations all round at Savills in Salisbury, where this month sees the completion of the quick-fire sale of the peerless, Grade I-listed Myles Place in Salisbury’s Cathedral Close, which launched in Country Life on October 18 and was immediately snapped up by a locally based buyer who is currently working abroad.
What the Agents Said
February 2007: ‘We have been urging vendors to get in early to take advantage of the sustained demand, in case history repeats itself later on’ Crispin Holborow, Savills
August 2007: ‘There are no signs of buyers, City-based or otherwise, putting their purchasing on hold, and although the City bonus net may not be spread as wide this time round, at worst I can see the market changing down a gear, not coming to a grinding halt’
Patrick Ramsay, Knight Frank
August 2007: ‘People tend to forget that whenever a “crisis” occurs in the financial sector, it’s never one-way traffic – there is always someone who is making money out of it’
Michael Fiddes, Strutt & Parker
September 2007: ‘We have seen no fall-out in demand from London buyers as a result of the recent unrest in the financial markets. On the contrary, City buyers are facing increased competition from provincial buyers whose wealth is being generated in the business parks of cities such as Oxford and Cambridge’
Edward Sugden, Property Vision
December 2007: ‘I still believe that the fundamentals of the country-house market are sound, although prices may dip a bit next year. But buyers who find a house they can see themselves living in for the next 20 years will go ahead whatever happens. Those looking for a short-term investment will probably hold back’
Patrick Ramsay, Knight Frank
December 2007: ‘If we can get the houses to sell, we can sell them’
John Young, Humberts