After a decade of domination by new City money, 2009 will see the country-house market revert to the less flamboyant, more risk-averse ways of the traditional ‘old money’ brigade. And life will carry on, although at a less frenetic pace. Meanwhile, a new mood of realism among vendors and buyers should lead to a lot of perfectly good country properties, which fell through the net for whatever reason last year, changing hands at what now appear to be bargain prices. For Peter Edwards of Knight Frank (020–7629 8171), the worst hit areas of the Home Counties have been the south-eastern fringes of London and north Kent, both traditionally reliant on City buyers.
A real bargain here is Grade II-listed Cookham Dene at Chislehurst, a substantial 7,460sq ft, Arts-and-Crafts-style house built by Sir Aston Webb in 1882, set in four acres of grounds within the private Manor Park estate. It came onto the market in June at a guide price of £5.3 million, and is now for sale at £3.95m. Predictably, Surrey’s commuter belt has also been feeling the pinch, and Mr Edwards underlines the value for money of secluded South House with 14.4 acres of wooded grounds at Oxted, close to the M25 between Westerham and Godstone: it launched through Knight Frank in September with a guide price of £3.5m, since reduced to £2.85m.
Originally built in about 1740 and later extended, South House has four reception rooms, eight bedrooms, four bathrooms, a cottage, a coach house, a swimming pool and a tennis court. The classic, Grade II-listed, Queen Anne Hill House at Appleshaw, near Andover, Hampshire, is
described by selling agents Strutt & Parker (020–7629 7282) and Knight Frank (020–7829 8171) as both ‘the best bargain and the finest home currently for sale in Hampshire’. Originally launched on the market at £4.25m and now for sale at £3.5m, the lovely early-18th-century village house, with its trademark ‘doll’s house’ façade and early-19th-century extension, stands in 11 acres of beautifully landscaped walled gardens and grounds.
A sensibly pitched offer would be in order now, although I’m told that the price could drop even further if the property remains unsold. Sam Butler of Cotswold agents Butler Sherborn is always keen to remind us that the Cotswolds was the last place to succumb to the recession of the early 1990s, and the first to come out of it. This time round, he maintains, buyers could find investing in a property in the Cotswolds a lot more rewarding than placing their money with a bank.
With long-term value in mind, few properties, he says, represent a better bargain in the current market than the Grade II-listed, four-bedroom Briar Cottage at Eastington, near North-leach, Gloucestershire, which has chased the market down from a launch price of £850,000 in April, to £795,000 in June, and £765,000 in August. Butler Sherborn (01285 883740) and Knight Frank (01285 659771) now invite offers around £695,000. Picking up on the investment theme, David Hebditch of Humberts points out that, for the first time in many years, the return from agricultural land, which has increased in value by 12%–15% in the past 12 months, is now better than that offered by banks.
As Mr Hebditch explains: ‘There are great advantages in owning land as a capital asset, and with current values, you can achieve between 2% and 2.5% a better return than that offered by most savings accounts. ‘Also, land values are unlikely to collapse overnight, and there are other long-term advantages, such as exemption from Inheritance Tax, if the land is farmed.’ Fairly bristling with investment potential, and for sale at a guide price of £1.5m through Humberts (01823 331234), is the dual-purpose 198-acre Helescane Stud and Crockers Hele livestock farm at Meeth, near Okehampton, Devon. It comprises a period five-bedroom Devon longhouse, a range of traditional barns with previous planning consent for three dwellings, stabling and equestrian facilities, modern and traditional livestock buildings, and a ring-fenced grassland holding with frontage to the River Torridge. An influx of incomers to Cornwall has sent prices in the county soaring in the past few years, and recent buyers can expect to take a hit if they want to sell in the present downturn.
The owners of secluded Higher Tregidden at St Martin, near Helston, moved there from London some three years ago, but now need to move back east for family reasons, and the property was put on the market through Lillicrap Chilcott (01872 273473) in late March 2008, at a guide price of £1.15m. A revised guide price of £975,000 means that whoever buys the beautifully restored 18th-century farmhouse, with its two pretty holiday cottages, traditional barn with planning consent for conversion, and 6.6 acres of paddocks, orchard and woodland, could be getting the bargain of a lifetime. There are real bargains to be found in East Anglia, too.
One of the most interesting is rambling Georgian Pettistree House at Pettistree, a popular hamlet five miles from Woodbridge, and close to Suffolk’s dreamy heritage coast. The house was built in the mid 1700s for the Johnson family, one of whom, Isaac Johnson, was a renowned cartographer. Later owners enlarged it, but it retains many of its original Georgian features. This is a serious family country house, which can best be described as not so much tired as ‘elegantly weary’. It stands in 13 acres of gardens and grounds, and has four reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, various family and service rooms, a conservatory, master and guest suites, seven further bedrooms, a three-bedroom carriage house, plus stabling, a tennis court, a croquet lawn and a swimming pool. Launched in spring 2007 at £2.4m as the owners needed to downsize, Pettistree House looks a ‘steal’ now at £1.3m through Bidwells (01223 841842) and Jackson-Stops & Staff (01473 218218).
For 37 years, Barfield, in the pretty North Yorkshire village of Brandsby, on the fringe of the Howardian Hills near York, has been a much-loved family home. Having reluctantly accepted the need to downsize, the owners put the charming stone house on the market in May last year, at
a guide price of £1.3m through Strutt & Parker (01423 561274). ‘Under normal circumstances, a house such as this would have been snapped up in no time, but these are not normal times, and the price has been reduced to £1.1m as the owners need to move on,’ says selling agent Philippa Faith. Barfield stands in more than two acres of beautifully landscaped gardens and grounds, and has four reception rooms, a conservatory, a study, a breakfast kitchen, four double bedrooms and three bathrooms, plus outbuildings, stabling and an outdoor Prop comment