Arabella Youens takes the temperature of the country house market at this half point in the year, talking to experts about what buyers and sellers can expect in the coming months.

Crispin Holborow, Savills

‘There’s a real buzz at the top end of the market. Outside of London and the Home Counties, Savills have seen a 70% increase in applicants registering in April this year for £5 million-plus properties.

In this bracket, it’s all about the return of the British, who are back and buying again, and are responsible for the majority of the most recent transactions.

They appear keen to get on with it before prices rise-which they believe will happen. Another indication of positive sentiment in the market is the fact that, in the past few years, little has sold privately. However, we think the gap between buyer and seller expectations is reducing and the private market is gaining strength. Geographically, early signs suggest that the Hampshire market is back and the Cotswolds continues to be strong.

The Wiltshire market, stretching from Salisbury to Bath, is attracting buyer attention as it still looks like fair value compared to, say, parts of the Cotswolds plus it benefits from a number of well-known good schools and it doesn’t take much longer to get into London.’

Mark Charter, Carter Jonas

‘This time last year, demand was rampant for properties below £1 million and beautiful cottages in desirable villages just flew. This spring, however, as the price differential between London and the country hit boiling point, we’ve seen a surge of activity in the prime country-house market, specifically in the £1.25 million to £2 million bracket.

Confidence in the “commutable” country-house market is almost fully restored and there is insatiable appetite from London buyers seeking the perfect family house in Oxfordshire. Cotman House (which had a guide price of £1.95 million) was marketed as the “perfect country house”, offering the three Ps (pretty, proportional and private) and was launched in COUNTRY LIFE on April 23. There were more than 30 viewings, dominated by London-centric families. We received a superb response and it sold for significantly over the asking price.’

 
Cotman House in Oxfordshire, launched in Country Life on April 23 with a guide of £1.95m, was marketed as ‘the perfect country house’. There were more than 30 viewings adn it sold for significantly more than the asking price.

Rupert Sweeting, Knight Frank

‘Although Land Registry figures show a 26% increase for sales of £2 million-plus homes, Knight Frank’s sale of property priced at more than £5 million has exceeded this: 31% up on the same six-month period a year on.

There are several areas where there have been recognisable increases and these include Hampshire, where sales of properties going for more than £2 million are up 40% for the first half of 2014, compared to the first half of 2013.

This is possibly a reflection of a return of buyers from City-based jobs; there has been an increasing number of sales in north Oxford, with demand from those looking to take advantage of the good schools.

And lastly, there have been some large estate sales, including that of Shakenhurst, under competition. In addition, there have been a number of off-market deals of property where vendors have been keen to avoid the “hassle” of an open-market campaign.

One could argue that house prices are hardly shooting up in the country market, but what we have seen is a return of confidence, with competitive bidding becoming less of a rarity. Advertised in COUNTRY LIFE on April 23, with a guide of excess £6 million, Charles Hill Court had three parties bidding and it sold for considerably more.’

James Mackenzie, Strutt & Parker

‘In the prime country-house market, we’re almost completely beholden to international buyers- or to expatriates based overseas. We launched Cliff House near Dover in Kent with a guide price of £4.5 million. We were close to a deal with a Belgian, when, at the last minute, a Russian buyer flew down on his helicopter and paid the full asking price.

For UK buyers, places such as Bath, Cambridge, Winchester and, of course, Oxford are doing really well-city living seems to be very popular at the top end of the market.

We’re telling everyone to get on with selling now, however, as, come October and party-conference season, we’re likely to hear about the General Election and “mansion tax”-that’s on everyone’s radar now. I can’t remember the last time I talked to a buyer who hasn’t mentioned it.’

Dawn Carritt, Jackson-Stops & Staff

‘What we’re really seeing emerge in this market are well-researched buyers. They’ve thought about what they want and what they can afford. There might be fewer viewings, but they’re of much higher calibre. I think this is down to the cost of moving- these days, everyone is mindful of that.

The mid-sector country-house market- that is, good family houses in good condition and with some land-is brisk, whereas at the very top end of the market, people are pickier and more price-sensitive. They’re more thoughtful about whether they need all the extras.

Hotspots are those areas with good links to London. Most people these days feel they need to be seen in the office, so areas such as Winchester, around Haslemere, Canterbury, parts of East Anglia that have good services to Liverpool Street and anywhere within easy distance of Milton Keynes are popular.’

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