After five torrid years, the country-house market finally slipped into gear in the second half of 2013, finishing the year in style with a succession of landmark sales. Crispin Holborow of Savills reflects on a campaign of two halves, which started out as ?a bit of a damp squib, when, contrary to expectations, things just didn’t happen in the spring’, but then gradually gained momentum in the summer and autumn, finishing with a flourish right up to Christmas, with last-minute deals still being done. He believes that ?it all bodes well for 2014, which could provide a window of opportunity for the country-house market before the inevitable distraction of the General Election in 2015′.

The great and the good

The perennial strength at the top end of the Hampshire country market was highlighted by the discreet launch in March-followed by the sale in May-of historic Hall Place at West Meon, near Petersfield, Hampshire, at a guide price of £15 million through Knight Frank and Strutt & Parker. A classic small country estate with 283 acres of parkland, paddocks, rolling farmland and woodland, it boasted an imposing, Grade II*-listed, late-17th-century mansion with early-18th-century wings, remodelled and extended in about 1900.



 Hall Place sold for £15m through Knight Frank and Strutt & Parker

A sign of the burgeoning recovery in the market for elite country properties in the South-East was the sale in July-after almost a year on the market-of the idyllic, 449-acre Franchise Manor estate at Burwash, East Sussex, at a guide price of £11m through Knight Frank.



 The Franchise Manor estate sold for £11m through Knight Frank

Its focal point is a handsome, six-bedroom, late-Georgian manor, listed Grade II, recently refurbished by its former owners and set amid spectacular gardens and grounds.

Another hard-won feather in Knight Frank‘s cap was the sale in February 2013-some two years after its launch-of illustrious The Manor House at Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, at a guide price of £13.5m. Set in 10 acres of grounds within a Capability Brown-landscaped park, The Manor House has had a succession of distinguished owners, including Sir Edward Coke, who is said to have entertained Elizabeth I there, and several generations of the Penn family, who oversaw the demolition and remodelling of much of the house.

  The Manor House had a guide price of £13.5m and sold through Knight Frank in February 

Sir Edwin Landseer was a frequent visitor and rented it as a studio for a time, using the deer in the park as models. Classic sporting estates were rare birds in 2013, and Savills scored a hit with a June launch in Country Life of the picturesque, 538-acre Buttermere estate on the Wiltshire/ Hampshire border, six miles from Hungerford. It found a buyer in July at a guide price of ?excess £9m’. Set in an AONB, the estate offered a substantial, six-bedroom, brick-and-flint main house with three staff/guest properties, stabling and outbuildings, and an established family-run pheasant and partridge shoot.

The ?double whammy’ of the 7% top rate of Stamp Duty introduced in the March 2012 Budget for properties sold for more than £2m, allied to the spectre of a future ?mansion tax’ on properties of a similar value, meant that prospective buyers were reluctant to pay more than £2m for a house in the country. However, a courageous few-including some local buyers, others who had realised substantial profits on their London homes and expatriates returning from overseas who saw the value to be found in the country compared with the capital-were coming to terms with the new order, and a market for houses worth more than £2m began to re-emerge.

The Cotswolds sets the pace

As usual, it all began in the Cotswolds, where Savills launched handsome, late-Georgian Haughton House with 11 acres of land at Churchill, near Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, on the market in May at a ?realistic’ guide price of £3.3m.

 

 Haughton house sold through Savills, within weeks, in excess of its guide price of £3.3m 

Described by selling agent Giles Lawton as ?the perfect Georgian rectory, within easy reach of the Oxford schools, and five minutes’ drive from the Daylesford farm shop’, Haughton House, listed Grade II, was built as the curate’s house in 1830 by James Haughton Langston, who inherited the surrounding Sarsden estate bought by his grandfather, a merchant banker, in 1792. The house attracted mainly English buyers and sold within weeks for considerably more than its original asking price.

For the eminent Arts-and-Crafts architect Norman Jewson, traditional Cotswold architecture was ?a noble inheritance’, which inspired him throughout his long career. Strutt & Parker, who sold some 20 country properties for more than £2m this year, struck gold with a classic of the genre, Grade II*-listed Holcombe House at Painswick, near Stroud, Gloucestershire.

 Holcombe House quickly found an owner for more than its guide price with Strutt & Parker

A timeless Cotswold clothier’s house, originally built in about 1600, it was owned in the 19th century by the Loveday milling family, who sold it to the architect Detmar Blow, of nearby Hilles House. Launched in the Cotswold issue of Country Life on May 1, at a guide price of ?excess £2.25m’ that reflected its need of ?a comprehensive makeover’, Holcombe House quickly found a new owner at close to £3m.

 Fyfield Manor had eighty five viewings with Strutt & Parker

The same agents went one better with the launch onto the market in June of the exquisite early-Georgian Fyfield Manor at Southrop, near Lechlade, Gloucestershire, at a guide price of £3.25m. Eighty-five potential purchasers came to view it and contracts were exchanged in August. ?Following the arrival of some high-profile media people, the Slad Valley is now perceived to be cool and this quiet area of the Cotswolds is becoming increasingly popular,’ says James Mackenzie of Strutt & Parker.

Influence of the international buyer

The return of the international buyer, whether returning expatriates or high-net-worth individuals from South-East Asia and elsewhere, has been a major factor in the recovery of the market for houses priced at £2m-plus. The sale of several important country houses that had been languishing on the market for some time was due to the arrival ?out of the blue’ of a buyer from overseas, Rupert Sweeting of Knight Frank reveals. ?In fact, several homegrown buyers who had been tracking the downward pressure on country-house values in the hope of securing the house of their dreams at a bargain price were pipped at the post when a foreign buyer suddenly appeared on the scene.’

 Toddington Manor was sold by Knight Frank to an international buyer in April

This was the scenario behind the sale, through Knight Frank, of Grade II-listed Toddington Manor with 176 acres near Woburn, Bedfordshire, to an international buyer in April 2013. The manor, mostly rebuilt in 1745, with 1850 additions, a cricket pitch and famous gardens (not to be confused with Damien Hirst’s gargantuan Gloucestershire manor of the same name) was launched in April, 2010, at £6.5m and eventually sold for about £5m.

 

 Strutt & Parker sold Michelmersh Court near Romsey in 2013

The current iconic status of the international buyer in the English country marketplace is reflected in the fact that Savills‘ website is now translated into 22 different languages. But whatever his chosen tongue, it was an anglophile international buyer who bought the late Sir David Frost’s lovely, Grade II*-listed, Queen Anne Michelmersh Court with 21 acres near Romsey, Hampshire, in 2013. Launched on the market in March at a guide price of ?excess £6m’, it sold through Strutt & Parker in June for a reputed £5.25m.

Local buyers stand their ground

Despite the domination of international money in the more fashionable areas of the countryside in 2013, many quintessentially English houses were snapped up by quintessentially English buyers, especially in quiet areas far from the madding crowds. Worcestershire- based Andrew Grant, whose fiefdom extends into neighbouring Herefordshire, launched Grade II*- listed Caradoc Court at Sellack, near Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, at a guide price of £2.5m in September.

 

 Caradoc Court was sold to a local buyer by Andrew Grant

Within three weeks, the splendid Jacobean house, set in 13. acres of landscaped gardens, paddocks and woodland overlooking the Wye, and meticulously refurbished following a fire in the 1980s, was sold to a local buyer who had been waiting on the sidelines for some time.

A London-based English buyer with a young family is the proud new owner of Martin Lane Fox’s dreamy Bloxworth House, near Wareham, Dorset, which launched through Savills at a guide price of £4m in May, and saw contracts exchanged in September.

 Savills exchanged contracts on Bloxworth House in September

One of the earliest examples of a brick-built country house in Dorset, Bloxworth House-originally built in 1608 and altered in the 18th and 19th centuries- stands in eight acres of gardens and grounds designed by the doyen of landscape gardeners himself.

Another English buyer with farming links in west Norfolk was the eventual purchaser of one of the county’s most desirable and historically significant houses, tranquil Keswick Old Hall, at Keswick, three miles south of Norwich, which came to the market in January at a guide price of £1.75m through Jackson-Stops & Staff and Savills, and sold in November for a figure not far short of the guide.

 Keswick Old Hall sold in November for close to its guide of £1.75m through Savills and Jackson-Stops & Staff

Set in 10 acres of beautifully maintained walled gardens and grounds, the hall- built in about 1600 and re-modelled in the late 18th century – with a substantial input from Sir John Soane – has been home to some of Norfolk’s most distinguished families, including the Gurneys of local banking fame and, more recently, Michael Gascoigne Falcon, a former Norwich Union chairman and High Sheriff of the county

Hares and tortoises

For no apparent reason, some houses seem to fly off the shelves the moment they come onto the market, while others tend to stick around. Among the ?hares’ of 2013 was the distinguished Bacres, with 10 acres of gardens, paddocks and pasture at Hambleden, near Henley-on-Thames and on the Oxfordshire/Buckinghamshire border.

 Bacres, near Henley-on-Thames sold very quickly at its guide of £6.7m through Knight Frank

The former home of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, Bacres was launched by Knight Frank in May at a guide price of £6.7m and sold for about that figure in July.

 

 Strutt & Parker sold Meysey Hampton Manor twice in 2012-2013

Sam Trounson of Strutt & Parker presided over the sale of charming Meysey Hampton Manor, between Fairford and Cirencester, Gloucestershire, not once, but twice in 2012-13, having already sold it previously in 2003.

In August 2012, he sold the impeccably refurbished Georgian village house to buyers from the Home Counties for £3.25m. But the new owners changed tack soon after moving in, and Strutts were instructed to find a new buyer in January at the price they had paid. This they duly did, and a new owner was installed in November.

 

 An international buyer took Beaurepaire Park, listed with Knight Frank, off the market

Other vendors were not so lucky, and it took an international buyer to rescue historic Beaurepaire Park with its wonderful moated manor house and ancient park at Bramley, Hampshire, from limbo in May, after almost three years on the market, having been launched by Knight Frank in June 2010, at a guide price of £6.5m

The power of the press

There was no room for shrinking violets in 2013, and Strutt & Parker were among the leading agents who came out with all guns blazing, booking no fewer than 33 double-page spreads in Country Life for their most special properties, compared with an average of 10 per year in the previous four years, James Mackenzie reveals.

The strategy proved particularly successful in the case of Grade II*-listed Brownshill Court near Painswick, Gloucestershire, which launched in the Cotswold number of Country Life in May at a guide price of £2m-a reflection of the estimated £2m worth of renovation costs required. ?The house looked a million dollars on the page, attracting massive interest and 80 viewings; it eventually sold in June for £1m more than the asking price,’ a delighted Mr Mackenzie reports.

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