According to the latest update from Knight Frank‘s Prime Country House Index, rural property prices slipped by 1.2% in the final quarter of 2012, taking the annual decline to 3.8%. The only locations to buck the trend were Esher (+3.6%), Guildford (1.3%) and Oxford (3.3%). On a more positive note, demand from buyers remained steady, and supply also rose, with the number of houses offered for sale increasing by 15% in the final three months of the year. ‘However, the prevailing feeling in the market is still one of uncertainty,’ say Knight Frank, who forecast ‘another small dip in prime country-house prices this year, with some exceptions in “hotspots” such as Oxford and Guildford, where we expect prices to rise modestly in the next 12 months’.

On the ground, it all boils down to the fact that this year’s country-property buyers will be keener than ever to get value for money, with many taking time and trouble to find a ‘pocket hotspot’ of their own. A little local knowledge is always useful in these situations, and leading country agents are happy to share their thoughts on locations that are likely to shine in 2013. Nick Loweth of Knight Frank in Hungerford underlines the credentials of the area between Newbury and Hungerford in scenic west Berkshire.

Already established as a commuter area, with direct trains to London taking about an hour, it also caters for families who want good schooling for their children, with an excellent choice of preparatory, State and public schools. With no Jubilee celebrations or Olympic Games to interrupt the sales process this year, the next big thing in west Berkshire will probably be the launch of the new series of Downton Abbey, which will focus attention on Highclere village and its north Hampshire neighbour, Burghclere. Knight Frank (01488 682726) are about to launch attractive, Grade II-listed Budds Farm at Burghclere, five miles south of Newbury, on the market at a guide price of about £1.75 million. The pretty, sixbedroom, Georgian farmhouse stands in 17 acres of gardens, grounds and paddocks on the edge of the village, and has useful outbuildings, including period barns and stabling. It also has some interesting literary connections, having been the starting point of William Cobbett’s Rural Rides in 1821. It was also the home of the late Roger Mortimer, the former Sunday Times racing correspondent, whose collection of letters to his wayward son Charlie-published last year as the widely acclaimed book Dear Lupin-was penned here.

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As travel costs by car or train continue to soar, the duration and cost of commuting to London, and the time and distance taken up by the daily school run, are now critical factors in the decision-making process when it comes to buying a home in the country. As Luke Morgan of Strutt & Parker points out, recent improvements in Chiltern Railways’ service between Banbury and London have increased the appeal of the area around the Oxfordshire town-not just for commuters, but also for families with children at school in north Oxford. For Virginia Gilmore of Savills, Banbury’s newly improved train service is also proving popular with families buying in the villages around Shipston-on- Stour, which, she says, ‘offers value for money in the Cotswolds, being smaller and less fashionable than the likes of Chipping Norton and Stow-on-the-Wold’. Banbury station, which has excellent parking facilities, is 25 minutes away, and the thriving market town also offers good schooling and a Waitrose. Savills (01295 228000) have substantially reduced the guide price of one of the area’s most captivating historic houses, Grade II*-listed Tysoe Manor, between Shipston-on-Stour and Banbury, from £2.95m to £2.6m. The delightful medieval manor house stands in 111⁄2 acres of landscaped grounds below Edge Hill, within the Cotswolds AONB. It has 11,000sq ft of living space, including two reception halls, four reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, 11 bedrooms, nine bathrooms, attics and a wonderful period stable yard that has potential for conversion.

Further west in Wiltshire Andrew Grice of Strutt & Parker (01722 328741) highlights the attractions of the area around Salisbury, ‘universally regarded as the quintessential English cathedral city: large enough to cater for most appetites yet small enough to retain a distinctly rural feel. This is largely due to the fact that it falls outside the magic one-hour commuting time to London, yet is still within a very respectable hour and a half from Waterloo’. Mr Grice recommends the stretch of countryside to the west of Salisbury that includes the Cranborne Chase, the Chalke and Nadder Valleys and the Shaftesbury area. Strutt & Parker are currently offering The Old Rectory at Sixpenny Handley, Dorset, in the heart of the Cranborne Chase AONB, 13 miles from Salisbury, at a guide price of ‘excess £1.375m’. The handsome Victorian former rectory, built in 1886, stands in 2.3 acres of gardens and paddock, and has three reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, seven bedrooms and three bathrooms, with a separate coach house and stabling.

The much-hyped opening of the Hindhead tunnel on the A3 in 2011 has confounded the skeptics by significantly reducing congestionboth in the town and in surrounding Hampshire villages such as Grayshott and Liphook, says Rory McKenzie of Savills in Farnham (01252 729000), who expects to see prices in the area grow by some 25% in the next five years.

Typical of the value to be found in the area is idyllic, Grade II-listed The Old Thatch at Blackmoor, five miles south of Hindhead, now under offer at a guide price of £895,000. This beautifully renovated, early-17thcentury house has three reception rooms, four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a separate office/summer house and a swimming pool. Over in East Anglia, Caroline Edwards of Carter Jonas in Long Melford predicts a continued rise in Suffolk’s popularity in 2013: ‘Although Suffolk has been fashionable with London buyers in recent years, we are now seeing an influx of buyers who were previously looking bin Kent, Surrey and Sussex.

Vale Farm in Suffolk

In addition, buyers moving south from Yorkshire and Scotland quickly discover that Suffolk remains the most competitively priced county within the critical 60-mile radius of London. A golden triangle served by Manningtree and Colchester stations stretches from picture-perfect Kersey in the north to the highly commutable East Bergholt in the southeast corner and Wakes and White Colne in the south-west, just over the border in Essex.’ Carter Jonas (01787 882881) have just launched charming, Grade II-listed Vale Farm at East Bergholt, three miles from Manningtree, on the market at a guide price of £1.95m. A Defra-registered smallholding with 21 acres of gardens, paddocks and meadows, Vale Farm has been exquisitely renovated by its current owners, and has four/five reception rooms, four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a two-bedroom barn annexe.

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