According to a report by Savills Research, one in every 223 properties sold in England and Wales during the first half of 2006 fetched £1 million or more; in 2001, the ratio was one house in 559.
?The biggest winners in the current house-price lottery are homeowners in London and the South-East,? comments Yolande Barnes of Savills, adding ?one in every 44 houses in Greater London has a price-tag of more than £1m, as does every 169th house sold in the South-East?.
The latest Land Registry figures show that the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea had the highest proportion of million-pound homes in the first six months of 2006, with more than one in every five houses and flats in the borough selling for more than £1m.
Outside London, the districts with the highest numbers of sales over £1m were Elmbridge in Surrey, Runnymede in Berkshire, South Buckinghamshire, and Chiltern in Buckinghamshire. The southern ?super-towns? of Guildford, Sevenoaks, Oxford, St Albans and Winchester also ranked high in the ratings with one in 50 sales topping the million mark. To a lesser extent, villages south of Manchester and north of Newcastle also had a high proportion of million-pound house sales.
As recently as 10 years ago, a buyer coming out of London with £1m to spend on a house in the Home Counties would have been ?king of the castle, top of the heap?. In 2006, however, £1m will just about secure him a toehold on the second rung of the country-property ladder, bearing in mind that a property sold at that price is liable to stamp duty and legal costs of about £50,000.
A budget of £1m begins to look even more puny when seen in the light of the latest figures from the Country Life Elite Property Index, which show that of 1,396 country properties advertised in the magazine in the first six months of 2006, only 88 properties 6.3% of the total offered for sale were priced at £950,000 to £1m. In fact, about two-thirds of all properties advertised were priced at more than £1m.
So what can you get for £1m in Britain these days? The answer is very little or quite a lot, depending on where, and what, you choose to buy. In prime central London Kensington & Chelsea, Mayfair and Belgravia £1m will buy you a smart two-bedroom apartment with a share of the freehold of a mansion block within walking distance of Harrods. It is extremely rare to find a house in central London for £1m these days, although in recent weeks Savills sold a three-bedroom terraced house at 57, Walham Grove, Fulham, SW6, for precisely that sum.
Millionaire buyers moving out of London are also learning to scale down their expectations. As Serena Brown of Surrey agents Browns explains: ?A few years ago, £1m would have bought the classic village rectory with a generous parcel of land. However, with increasing City bonuses and the rise in popularity of West Sussex in particular, things have changed: the price of the classic rectory is now more likely to be a seven-figure sum starting with a ?2? and West Sussex is no longer Surrey?s poor relation. At the same time, £1m can still buy a family?s dream home, although nowadays this is more likely to be a four to five bedroom period cottage with an acre or so of land, or a four-bedroom detached town house near good schools and a mainline station.?
Browns (01483 267070) quote a guide price of £975,000 for pretty Beetlehook Cottage at Kirdford, West Sussex, an extended 16th-century cottage with three reception rooms, five bedrooms and three-quarters of an acre adjoining National Trust land on the edge of the village.
Across the county border in Kent, £995,000 is the price quoted by Cluttons (01622 756000) and Calcutt Maclean Standen (01580 713250) for Great Ivy Cottage at Broomfield on the edge of the Leeds Castle estate: the immaculate five-bedroom farmhouse, listed Grade II, has three acres of spectacular gardens, a swimming pool and a grass tennis court.
Some buyers are not prepared to compromise on their ultimate dream, and it is no coincidence that six of 33 properties sold at £1m through Country Life in the first half of 2006 should be period farmhouses or old rectories in need of serious renovation. Currently on the market is the 17th-century Tithe House at Barnsley, Gloucestershire, a charming former vicarage which ?would benefit from some sympathetic modernisation?, say selling agents Butler Sherborn (01285 883740) who invite ?offers in the region of £950,000?.
The rise and rise of house values in the West Country has been a feature of the country-house market in recent years, and the classic old rectory or manor house is now well beyond the reach of the average property millionaire in that part of the country. But it could be worse, as £1m still buys a classic Devon longhouse or Somerset farmhouse with 40?50 acres on Exmoor or Dartmoor, such as picturesque Oaktrow Farm at Timberscombe, near Minehead, Somerset which is currently for sale through Savills (01392 253344) at a guide price of £1m.
In the Midlands, East Anglia, and the North and North-East, a £1m house is still a badge of respectability which its owner wears with pride. In Yorkshire, for example, £1m may not buy a classic Georgian country house ring-fenced within its own acreage, but it will buy an elegant town house in Harrogate or York, or a Victorian manor house such as Folkton Manor at Folkton, North Yorkshire, currently for sale through Carter Jonas (01904 558200) at £985,000.
A million pounds no longer buys a classic country house with 100 acres of land anywhere in England?for that you have to cross the border into Scotland, where Savills (0131?247 3700) are offering a taste of forgotten Highland grandeur at Shandwick House, Kildary, Easter Ross. Set in 140 acres of parkland over- looking Cromarty Firth, the eight-bedroom mansion was built by Lord Ankerville in 1936, using stone reclaimed from an earlier main house. The agents invite ?offers in excess of £950,000.
This article first appeared in Country Life magazine on September 7, 2006