The key to clinching the sale of a country house is so much more than having bread baking in the oven. Arabella Youens asks the experts for their top tips

Top tips for selling your house, from Country Life.
1. Set the scene

When selling a country house, think about selling the lifestyle‚ ‘particularly if your potential market might be the weekend buyer,’ says Luke Morgan of Strutt & Parker. ‘People aren’t just choosing a house, they’re also buying into the surrounding area and amenities. Things to do are particularly important for weekend buyers.’ Do the same for the inside of the house, especially when selling over the winter. ‘You have to show key assets‚ which may be the lighting system, music system in the background or roaring log fires burning away,’ Luke explains.

You should also think about its potential to a new buyer, adds Ed Sugden of Savills (020–7016 3820). ‘In order to sell your property, you need to appeal to as wide a market as possible, so it’s important to bring its potential to life. Seek the advice of an architect to see what’s doable, whether it’s enlarging the kitchen or increasing the number of bedrooms.’

2. Plan ahead for mixed-use properties

It’s almost exactly a year since George Osborne surprised everyone by restructuring Stamp Duty (SDLT) and introducing the new 12% rate for sales over £1.5 million. ‘That means that everyone’s now had a year to get their heads around the new rates, so we’re anticipating that 2016 will be a better year than 2015 in the country-house market,’ says Rupert Sweeting of Knight Frank (020–7861 1078).

‘However,’ he continues, ‘one of the things you must do if you’re planning to put your house on the market in the New Year is formalize any grazing agreements now, so that the property will be deemed “mixed use” and qualify for the flat 4% SDLT rate. ‘If you’re letting 20 acres to the local farmer, even if the arrangement is cordial and relaxed, it’s vital to get a written legal document with an annual renewal date specified. That way, you’re not at the mercy of a farmer who realises he can take advantage of the situation and you can offer vacant possession to the incoming buyer—vital if they’ve got three children and five ponies and need to be reassured that the paddocks will be free by, say, the end of September,’ Rupert advises.

3. Lean on the lawyers

One of the most frustrating aspects of the market this year has been the increasingly long time it’s taken for contracts to exchange, continues Rupert. ‘Most often, this is because the solicitor won’t be inclined to lift a finger until the buyer has been found. We insist, where possible, that, as soon as a vendor has instructed us on the sale, they ask their lawyers to carry out the searches.

They’re “live” for about three months and, if a buyer is found in that time, it’ll speed up the process and will throw up any difficulties that the property might have. The most important thing in today’s market is this: once you’ve found a buyer, move to exchange within 10 days.’

Presentation

The quality of the photographs is of the utmost importance,’ believes David King of Winkworth (07823 772351). Get the photography done when the light is right for the interiors and when the garden is at its best: spring with the daffodils and leaves coming out or summer for the roses. Really, if you’re selling your house, you should plan 12 months in advance.’

Richard Addington of Savills in Exeter (01392 455745) agrees: ‘Don’t leave it until spring—start now. By the time the property launches onto the market, the gardens should look their best and that can’t be achieved overnight.’

David also advises that decorating  touch-ups—such as covering water marks from leaks, peeling wallpaper and stained paintwork—should be done now, too, ‘so that the place looks immaculate’.

Finally, ‘tidy up inside—however, don’t try to present a show house, but a smart, comfortable and welcoming family home’. Luke Morgan of Strutt & Parker (020–7318 5095) agrees and adds: ‘The time of year at which you decide to sell is becoming less important, but the photographs and first impressions are vital.’

The price is right

The agent will be the key to the sale, ‘so appoint a good, locally represented one whom you trust and like,’ says James Grillo of Henry Adams (01428 644002). ‘Don’t make your choice based on flattery (such as a high guide price) or savings (a low commission)—you get what you pay for!’

On that note, adds James, setting the right guide price is key to a good sale. ‘There are great buyers around as money is cheap to borrow right now, but there aren’t very many of them and they are price sensitive, so be realistic with the guide price, attract competition and you might be pleasantly surprised by the eventual sale price.’

Why wait?

Finally, says James Mackenzie of Strutt & Parker (020–7318 5190), there’s no need to wait until spring. ‘This year, the idea of a seasonal  marketplace has dissipated, affected by politics more than any other external factor. Therefore, rather than leaving the house “in the bottom drawer” for the winter months, keep your property active, online and open to viewings. You’ll also catch the usual peak of property-portal visits between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. The market waits for  no man‚ so don’t miss it!’

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