Living on a country-house estate, surrounded by its rolling acres, ancient farmhouses and roaming wildlife, captures the very essence of a British Arcadia. And although few people can hope to buy their own Downton Abbey-if only because few ever come to the open market-they have another, more workable option: renting a house in the grounds of a large estate.
‘Properties to rent range from apartments within the main house to annexes, cottages and large, substantial homes,’ explains June Inglis of boutique letting agents Finders Keepers. For the estate owners, lettings represent a relatively easy way to put old buildings to good use and bolster revenues-a survey by Savills shows that, in 2011, residential property accounted for 38% of gross income. For tenants-often academics, artists or people trying out a change in lifestyle, as well as busy professionals looking for a rural refuge at the weekend- ‘the appeal is primarily that you rent something that would never be on the selling market,’ says Miss Inglis. Today, you can rent a house in some of Britain’s most beautiful grounds, from Blenheim, Althorp and Waddesdon to Wormsley, Belvoir Castle and Parham.
Even better, the rental contract often includes access to part of the grounds for walking, cycling and riding, to riverbanks or trout lakes for fishing, and to a range of other amenities. At the Lutyens-designed Middleton Park, Oxfordshire, for example, ‘tenants also get the use of tennis courts, an outdoor swimming pool and a private cricket club, as well as a church,’ offers Miss Inglis. Sometimes, as at Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire, properties come fully serviced, so tenants don’t even have to worry about maintenance.
‘Our experienced team of gardeners and contractors is able to deal with any issue properly, so leaking taps or broken fences are no longer a problem,’ points out the Duchess of Rutland, the estate’s chatelaine.
And because the landlord is unlikely to sell off the properties in the future, notes Tanya Sutton of Chesterton Humberts, ‘renting in the grounds of an estate offers more security of tenure, and properties tend to be long-term lets’. This is of particular appeal to young families ‘because they can really make it their home,’ adds Gayle Ratcliffe of Smiths Gore.
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But perhaps the greatest draw for prospective tenants is that you genuinely become part of the estate’s life. At Belvoir, for example, ‘tenants are invited to our chapel service on the third Thursday of each month, as well as our harvest festival, the candlelit carol service at Christmas and other fun events,’ explains the Duchess. You can also join the local cricket trust, take an art class with artist-in-residence Laury Dizengremel, or volunteer to restore ancient artefacts-teenagers can even get the odd day’s work beating for Belvoir’s shoot.
However, agents warn, renting a property on a country estate is not for everyone. Some houses can be very remote, especially in bad weather, although that’s often why people like them, believes Cathy Moore from Guy Leonard & Co, who deals with properties on the Arundel and Parham estates in Sussex. Landlords can place specific restrictions on contracts: for example, Mrs Sutton is working with an estate that has grey partridges, so tenants aren’t allowed to keep cats.
The most frequent issue, however, is that estate properties ‘are nearly always unfurnished and come with perhaps basic white goods, plus curtains and flooring,’ says Miss Inglis. ‘It would be fair to say that many are unlikely to have the latest kitchens and bathrooms.’
For instance, the cottage she rented in the grounds of a large country house for a few years had ‘pretty basic’ heating ‘and visiting friends brought extra jumpers in winter’. Nonetheless, she counters, many tenants are willing to sacrifice mod cons ‘for the location, character, atmosphere and cachet of the address’.
Charlie Wells of Prime Purchase adds ‘estates have increasingly invested in capital improvements on residential stock in order to be able to charge a full rent’, and some houses now compete with London’s best.
At Wormsley in Buckinghamshire, the Chiltern estate owned by the Getty family, there are ‘several beautifully appointed houses, first renovated for family or friends, which have been let on the open market,’ adds Jackie Smith of John D. Wood. With such an enormous difference in the condition, setting and size of estate properties, it’s difficult to say how much tenants will pay in rent. As a rough guide, Mark Charter of Carter Jonas quotes £1,000pcm for a ‘cute’ cottage, all the way up to £10,000 for the dower house in a top Home Counties or Cotswolds location.
A Blenheim Property (pictured)
Overlooking the lake at Blenheim Park lies this three-bedroom period stone lodge with its own garden. Available through Finders Keepers (01865 311011)