As the buy-to-let sector implodes, and luxury houses and apartments lose their lustre, investors who buy wisely in the country during the current downturn can expect to reap substantial rewards when the market turns again. With farmland almost the only UK property asset to have held its value since the credit crunch began, country houses with land or land with country-house potential probably represent the best hedge of all against the rising tide of uncertainty in the City. Added value is the name of the game, and the biggest losers in the current market will be vendors who have overspent on makeovers of less-than-perfect houses.
The sale of Notcliffe Estate at Deerhurst, west Gloucestershire, will set the tone of the market for farms and estates for the rest of 2008. Knight Frank (0207629 8171) quote a guide price of £3 million for the traditional 180-acre farming estate with its Grade II-listed, eight-bedroom Georgian house and original farmyard, both of which offer ample room for improvement. More modern amenities include a swimming pool, tennis court, stables and a range of modern farm buildings, and the secluded valley setting, eight miles from Cheltenham, with views to the Malvern Hills on one side and the Cotswolds on the other, is to die for.
The purchase of the Manor House at Church Oakley, near Basingstoke, Hampshire on sale for the first time since the early 1960s offers some lucky investor a chance to buy an unspoilt classic Georgian country house with 51.7 acres of pasture and woodland in this fashionable county. Knight Frank (0207629 8171) and Savills (0207499 8644) quote a guide price of £4m for the rambling, 9,434sq ft, brick-built manor, once part of the historic Oakley Hall Estate, which stands on the edge of Church Oakley village, looking south over immaculate gardens and grounds to the rolling Hampshire countryside beyond.
Built in the 18th century with 20th-century alterations, the Manor House, listed Grade II, has four main reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, a butlers sitting room and pantry, seven bedrooms, six bathrooms and two attic rooms, plus two cottages and a self-contained annexe. The matching brick outbuildings in the estate yard, which has its own entrance off the main drive, include a large barn, the continuation of the annexe, two stable blocks, various workshops and three garages.
Its not much fun in the City these days, but a banker with £6.25m to spend on the Hoplands Estate at Kings Somborne, near Stockbridge, can eat, drink, shoot, and be merry in Hampshire and still make money. Savills (0207499 8644) are handling the sale of the sporting and residential estate, which has an award-winning 22-acre vineyard (with a lucrative Waitrose contract already in place), a 11,325sq ft, six-bedroom main house including buildings around a courtyard, four cottages, a four-bedroom oast house, and a range of modern farm buildings. Hoplands 583 acres of land include 410 acres of woodland a commodity currently much prized by specialist funds involved in carbon-offset trading, agent Jessica Simpson points out.
Mark Wiggin of Strutt & Parkers Shrewsbury office (01743 284200) expects the continuing strength of the farmland market to bolster rural-property values in Shropshire, where residential values have fallen by 1015% from their peak last year, and many overpriced properties remain unsold. There are plenty of buyers looking for country houses, but vendors need to be realistic they cant expect to get yesterdays prices today, Mr Wiggin adds.
On the other hand, a well-organised small country estate, such as the 160-acre Broome Farm at Chatwall, in the south Shropshire hills, gives buyers
a choice of additional options, which take much of the worry out of buying in an uncertain market. For sale at £2.35m through Strutt & Parker and Knight Frank (0207629 8171), Broome Farm comprises a modernised, 17th-century, six-bedroom farmhouse with an excellent range of outbuildings, including a staff annexe, two holiday cottages and a range of modern farm buildings. The land is registered for the Single Farm Payment, and currently let on a farm business tenancy.
Up in the Lake District, Andrew Holmes of Carter Jonas in Kendal (01539 722592) cant understand whatall the fuss is about. The market here is flying weve sold 25% more houses this year than last, exclaims Mr Holmes, who launches the idyllic, 55-acre, Knott End Estate at Eskdale in todays Country Life, at a guide price of £2m. The original Cumbrian farmhouse, Knott Ends cottage and barn have been converted into an eight-bedroom country house, but, for the sportsman, the estates appeal lies in its half-mile of single-bank fishing on the Esk, one of Englands most prolific trout rivers, made famous by the writings and antics of Hugh Falkus, who lived at nearby Cragg Cottage, and published his seminal Sea Trout Fishing: A Guide to Success in June 1962. After all, theres more to country life than merely making money.