Country houses in Dorset are cheaper than the Cotswolds, but supply can be an issue finds Holly Kirkwood
Located between the holiday-home havens of Devon and Cornwall and the commuter hotspots of the Home Counties and the Cotswolds, Dorset has a charm entirely of its own, which ensures that, once people have settled there, they rarely choose to leave. The county ticks all the boxes for a family home, so many buyers move there from London, the South- East and the Cotswolds, drawn by its winning combination of top schools, beautiful countryside, pretty villages with vibrant communities, good food and excellent transport links.
Many Dorset family estates are still intact, which has prevented overdevelopment in the county. This ensures that it remains extremely beautiful, but it also means that incomers looking for good family homes don’t always have the choice they’d prefer-supply for desirable country houses can be low.
Georgian properties, in particular, are not as plentiful as they are in Hampshire or Oxfordshire, largely because Dorset wasn’t fashionable in Georgian times. ‘In counties such as Gloucestershire, there could be 10 houses in a small village area worth £2 million, but here, you’re more likely to have a small handful- the manor house, a rectory and a couple of good farmhouses- and this can generate competition,’ explains George Wade of buying agents Property Vision (01635 813138). In other words, you won’t get much change from £2 million for a good Georgian country house in Dorset with more than 10 acres.
The county has two separate markets. Families cluster inland, around Sherborne and Shaftesbury, where good villages have excellent links that take you into London in just over two hours-most Dorset buyers want easy access to the capital, but don’t need to get there every day, or they have a small London property they use during the week. Cerne Abbas, Sandford Orcas and Donhead St Andrew on the Wiltshire/Dorset border are particularly popular villages for this class of property hunter. London is harder to reach from the Jurassic Coast towns, and here buyers tend to be looking for holiday properties, usually around West Bay, Bridport and Lyme Regis. But even second homes are hardly plentiful. Dorset’s coastline isn’t elongated by estuaries in the same way as Devon’s and Cornwall’s, and 200 years ago architects were just as suspicious of building a country house on a cliff as they are today. Despite this lack of stock, Simon Barker of Knight Frank in Sherborne says that, although his core market of up to £1.1 million has been quite active so far this year, ‘pricing has to be realistic, not opportunistic.
‘The market is very price-led, and even when supply is short, you have to start with an attractive price-it can always increase if you draw in a few interested parties.’ Mr Barker is currently selling a four-bedroom property just five miles from Sherborne for £695,000 (01935 812236).
The limited supply also means that privately available properties make up a considerable portion of what’s for sale this year. But, adds Richard Field from Richard Field Property Search (01300 321406), ‘you do pay a premium if you buy privately, because the vendor needs to be reassured they couldn’t have achieved a better price on the open market’. Looking ahead, Nick Evans of Chesterton Humberts in Sherborne (01935 812323) believes that what happens in London still makes a difference in Dorset. ‘Our fortunes go, as do many, hand-in-glove with London.’
Despite this link, Dorset certainly feels a long way from the capital. ‘It’s still a secret county to a lot of people,’ says Simon Neville-Jones from Savills in Wimborne (01202 856800), ‘Dorset retains such charm and character because it’s not overly commercialised.’