Now the political landscape is more settled, how will estates fare?
What with last September’s Independence Referendum, the introduction of Land and Building Transaction Tax (LBTT) in April and the UK General Election in May, recent political events have thrown a hefty spanner in the normally sedate workings of the Scottish country-house market.
Robert McCulloch of Strutt & Parker attributes a ‘marked reduction’ in the number of large country houses sold in Scotland this summer less to buyers’ concerns about the dominance of an SNP government north of the border and more to the introduction of LBTT, which has made houses in the £1 million-plus category much more expensive, and thus less attractive to buy. But, given the spate of pre-emptive transactions that took place in the normally quiet months of January, February and March, ‘the fact that the summer selling season is a bit quieter than usual comes as no real surprise, as it’s bound to take a little while for competitive demand to build up again’, he says optimistically.
Unexpectedly perhaps, the market for Scottish country estates has stood its ground remarkably well, with the publication of the Holyrood government’s Land Reform Bill in late June proving to be ‘much less terrifying than many feared, with, for example, no restriction on foreign ownership or on the amount of land that may be owned by an individual’.
‘The evidence of estate transactions concluded so far this year suggests that buyers from overseas are more relaxed about the implications of land reform and Scottish politics than those from within the UK. Since January, eight estate sales have been agreed or completed, compared to seven in the whole of 2014. At least five of the eight purchasers were from overseas, mainly Europe; normally, only one in four buyers of Scottish estates comes from overseas,’ Mr McCulloch adds.
The estates in question are Braemore, Wester Ross (10,775 acres), Cluanie, Inverness-shire (10,000 acres), East Glenquoich, Inverness-shire (9,800 acres), Balavil, Inverness-shire (6,846 acres), Glenbeich, Perthshire (3,800 acres), Monachyle Beag, Perthshire (1,054 acres), Kilchoan, Argyll (748 acres) and Kinpurnie Castle, Angus (742 acres).
Today’s Scottish-estate buyer wants an investment that is accessible, affordable, productive and risk-free. Add to that ‘secluded’, ‘picturesque’ ‘romantic’ and ‘historic’, and you have, in a nutshell, the Craigallian estate (Fig 1) at Milngavie, which sits in peaceful countryside on the eastern edge of the Kilpatrick Hills in Strathblane, a gateway to the Western Highlands, yet only 12 miles from Glasgow city centre. ‘I’ve lived in this area all my life, yet never even knew this place existed,’ says Andrew Perratt of Savills in Glasgow (0141–222 5874), who wants offers over £2.95 million for the estate as a whole.
The first house at Craigallian (the name means ‘beautiful rock’, a reference to the romantic cliffs that overhang the side of the estate’s loch) was built between 1696 and 1714, but fell into disrepair after the estate was sold in 1751; it was finally demolished in 1850. The second house was ‘a convenient farmhouse’, similar in style to the first house, and occupied for many years by the tenant farmer.
In 1875, A. G. Barnes-Graham inherited the estate and, in 1883, replaced the house, by then riddled with dry rot, with the present handsome house being designed by a Mr Ritchie of Glasgow.
The present vendors, who bought the estate in the 1990s, are only the third family to own Craigallian House, which stands almost centrally within its 340 acres of gardens, grounds, woodland, pasture and trout loch. The 10,820sq ft main house has six reception rooms, a conservatory, 11 bedrooms, five bath/shower rooms, extensive service rooms, tower rooms and a two-bedroom housekeeper’s flat. Other buildings include a stable courtyard and a charming, two-bedroom, sandstone gatehouse.
With the price of historic houses and estates still some 15% below their pre-recession peak, there are ‘some real bargains’ to be had in the Scottish countryside, says Robert la Terriere of Savills-Smiths Gore in Edinburgh (0131–344 0888), who seeks ‘offers over £1.25m’ for the Fortune family’s 762-acre Bengairn estate (Fig 4) at Auchencairn on Kirkcudbrightshire’s south coast, following the death, in 2013, of Sue Fortune, at the age of 95.
Like many of his victorian peers, her husband’s grandfather, John Fortune, bought the Bengairn estate on his return from India in 1892 and, in 1905–06, expanded the existing 1820s mansion eastwards and upwards to create the present Bengairn House.
Unoccupied since Mrs Fortune’s death, the house—which has five reception rooms, seven bedrooms, two dressing rooms, three bathrooms, a tower room, attics and a large basement—now needs updating.
A range of traditional estate buildings includes stabling, workshops and garaging and plans have been drawn up to convert some of these into accommodation. The hill grazings—366 acres of heather hill, 208 acres of rough pasture and 39 acres of parkland fields around the house— are currently let under a limited Partnership arrangement. Bengairn is being sold as a whole or in three lots that include a pair of semi-detached estate cottages.
Contrary to impressions circulating south of the border, the Holyrood government is generally supportive of a thriving rural economy and the protection of Scotland’s historic buildings, Mr La Terriere maintains. To this end, the LBTT legislation includes a ‘mixed use’ rate of a maximum of 4.5% on the purchase of rural properties with viable commercial elements. Although it’s too early for the provision to have been tested in practice just yet, it seems likely that an estate such as Bengairn, given its letting arrangement, would qualify for the lower rate of transaction tax.
Savills-Smiths Gore (0131–344 0880) quote a guide of ‘excess £1.5 million’ for the enchanting Spottes estate (Fig 2), in Kirkcudbrightshire, three miles from Castle Douglas and seven miles from the Solway coast at Kippford. The estate’s 66 acres of surrounding land were originally bought in 1785 and are now being offered for sale for the first time.
The main house, then known as Spottes Hall, was completed in about 1790, with major extensions in 1873 and 1887. Listed Category B, it has four principal reception rooms, six bedrooms, four bathrooms and a recently modernised kitchen. The rest of the house was renovated in the late 1990s, when the roof was replaced and the electrics and central heating updated. Caretaker’s and guest flats are located in the adjoin- ing annexe.
A substantial second house, the six-bedroom Courtyard House, is located within the grounds and could be purchased separately from the rest of the estate, which comes with 35 acres of productive grassland and fishing rights on the Urr Water, which forms the southern boundary.
Despite the current slowdown in the Scottish country-house market, historic houses of manageable size within commuting distance of Scotland’s major cities are still in demand, says Malcolm Leslie of Strutt & Parker in Edinburgh (0131–226 2500). He’s currently handling the sale of the charming, Category A-listed, Auchleeks House (Fig 5) with 30 acres of land at Calvine, near Pitlochry, three miles north of Perth, at ‘offers over £1.8m’ as well as the restored and extended 15th-century Cleish Castle (Fig 3), with 26 acres of magnificent gardens and woodland near the conservation village of Cleish, Kinross-shire, 25 miles from Edinburgh city centre, at ‘offers over £1.5m’.
Auchleeks House stands amid glorious Highland scenery at the heart of Glen Errochty and was originally part of the family estate of the Robertsons, staunch Jacobites who, after 1745, fled to the West Indies, where they rebuilt their fortune, returning to build Auchleeks House in about 1820. The present owners, who bought it in the 1990s, have painstakingly restored the 9,736sq ft house, which has five reception rooms, nine bedrooms and five bathrooms.
Cleish Castle started out as a single tower house, enlarged in the early 1600s and cleverly extended by its current owners to form a 6,469sq ft, L-shaped house with four reception rooms, eight bedrooms and five bathrooms. The formal gardens, originally laid out in the early 1600s, boast Scotland’s oldest yew walk, dating from 1620–40.