Properties with Potential

The ?dream factor? is an important element of any buyer?s decision to take on a country house in need of serious renovation. But even Mark Wiggin of Lane Fox was amazed at the reaction to his advertisement in Country Life (March 9, 2006) for Yatton Court at Aymestrey, Herefordshire ?an attractive Grade II-listed Georgian house in need of restoration fronting onto the River Lugg with 55 acres of garden, pasture and woodland?. Some 850 enquiries produced more than 300 viewings and 13 offers on the property, which sold within a month for almost double the £650,000 guide price.

These days, it is extremely rare for a house such as Yatton Court to come to the market virtually untouched by time, having been in the hands of the same family for more than 200 years, and those that do invariably cause a stir. Julian Bunkall of Jackson-Stops & Staff (01305 262123) will be hoping for a similarly enthusiastic response to the sale by auction at the Kings Arms Hotel, Dorchester, on Wednesday, November 29, of the Manor House at Buckland Ripers, Dorset, which has belonged to the same family since the 1970s, and seen little updating.

A guide price of £500,000 is quoted for the house, which is listed Grade II, and was probably rebuilt in the late 17th century, before being remodelled and extended in Victorian times. Once owned by the Frampton family, the Manor House was sold in 1704 to Joseph Damer, who later became the Earl of Dorchester. For Mr Bunkall, its setting next to the church in this small Dorset village, described by Pevsner as ?happily placed in the fold of the downs?, is ?pure Jane Austen?.

The house has three reception rooms, four bedrooms, a bathroom and two attic rooms; 2.03 acres of wooded grounds include a partly walled garden, a pond and a woodland walk bordering a tributary of the River Wey. History and mystery can be a potent cocktail for house-buyers, and Grade II-listed Monkscombe, near the medieval village of Curry Rivel, Somerset, has plenty of both. Like many old houses in this timeless and unspoilt part of Somerset, Monkscombe was probably once part of the 14th-century Benedictine abbey of Muchelney, although the present house, built for a prominent local banking family, is mainly 17th century with 18th-century additions.

Having had only two owners since 1927, it has been spared the horrors of a 20th-century makeover, although it now needs renovating throughout. Monks-combe stands in 7.81 acres of garden, paddocks and orchards, half a mile from the centre of the village, and has two reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, five bedrooms and a bathroom, plus a separate two-bedroom cottage, stabling and outbuildings. Jackson-Stops & Staff (01935 810141) and Stags (01823 256625) quote a guide price of £650,000 for the freehold.

Michael and Donna Smith know all about the power of dreams when it comes to restoring a country house. ?When heart rules head, expect your original budget to double along the way,? Mr Smith advises. Having successfully renovated their previous house in the Cotswold village of Upper Slaughter, Mr and Mrs Smith bought dilapidated Highlands, near Broadway, Worcestershire, two years ago.

The rambling 17th-century stone house had been converted to a bed-and-breakfast establishment in the worst possible way, with tacky stud-walls used to create a warren of bedrooms and bath-rooms. ?Outside, the gardens were so overgrown that you could hardly see out of the windows,? Mr Smith recalls. Bravely, the Smiths decided to live in the adjoining cottage while Highlands was being rebuilt. ?Unfortunately, the builders had inadvertently removed its roof when replacing the flat roof on the drawing room of the main house, so we lived under tarpaulin for four months while it was repaired; our heating bill was £3,000 for the year,? Mr Smith laughs.

But they soldiered on, and the project was completed within 18 months. Dreamy Highlands has been transformed into an elegant Cotswold house with four reception rooms, four bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms, surrounded by 2.6 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens and grounds and the glorious Cotswold countryside. Unfortunately, Mr Smith, a dental consultant, has found the three-hour daily round trip to his new practice in Thame too much to cope with, so he and his wife are on the move again. Highlands is for sale through Butler Sherborn (01451 830731) at a guide price of £2.25 million.

This article first appeared in Country Life magazine on October 26 2006