Country houses for sale

The property market in Kent

A fresh indication of pent-up demand in the rural property market was provided by several hundred hardy home-buyers who braved lashing rain to visit 150 houses listed by Strutt & Parker as part of their Kent Open Day on Sunday, January 25.

A mix of London and local buyers many currently living in rented accommodation cast their eyes over an eclectic mix of properties, ranging from a pretty brick-and-flint cottage at St Margaret’s Bay, near Dover, on offer at £150,000 for a new National Trust lease, to a 36-acre residential farm near Canterbury, with a five-bedroom farmhouse, stabling and outbuildings, for sale at £1.75 million.

According to Knight Frank’s Prime Property Index, the Kent country-house market has been one of the areas hardest hit by the credit crunch showing a 28% drop in prices from its 2007 peak, compared with an average fall of 16% for the rest of the country largely due to its reliance on the banking and financial-services sector. Yet the same credit crunch can now be seen working in Kent’s favour, due to a series of benefits that only this often-undervalued county can offer.

The excellence of Kent’s private and State-run schools sector is well known. Now, grammar-school places at establishments such as Cranbrook School are even more keenly fought for by parents for whom the cost of private education has become a commitment too far. Houses within the strictly enforced Cranbrook School catchment area have been much sought-after for some time, but, unsurprisingly, premium prices are less readily achieved than they were a year ago, says Denise Julian of Calcutt Maclean Standen’s local office (01580 713250).

She invites ‘offers around £795,000’ (reduced from £850,000) for charming, Grade II-listed Little Critt at Benenden, two miles from Cranbrook a 16th-century timber-framed and weather-boarded house with entrance and inner halls, two reception rooms, a large studio extension, three bedrooms, a bathroom and attics suitable for conversion, set in more than an acre of delightful gardens.

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As British parents feel the pinch, others based in France and elsewhere within the Euro-zone now find an English education (and an English home) much more accessible, thanks to the recent massive fall in the value of sterling. As Jill Mitchenall of Jackson-Stops & Staff in Sevenoaks (01732 740600) confirms: ‘The schools in the area are undoubtedly a focus for parents, who will think about buying once they know for sure that their children have been accepted at the school of their choice.

But they are extremely price-conscious and will usually bid well below the guide price even where this has already been reduced. This has led to a game of cat and mouse, with vendors often reluctant to lower their original asking price, given that buyers are expected to under-bid by 15%–20% in any case.’ A typical scenario, she says, is that of Old Tiles at Ivy Hatch, near Sevenoaks, a renovated and extended 1930s house, which was launched on the market last summer at a guide price of £1.25m. Despite 40-odd viewings, it failed to sell, and the price was reduced to £1.15m. At this point, two bidders stepped in at just over the £1m mark; the house is now under offer and expected to exchange within a matter of weeks.

The opening of the new high-speed rail link between London and Ashford, scheduled for completion next year, has been talked about for so long that many people have almost forgotten that it’s happening. But as Edward Church of Strutt & Parker in Canterbury points out: ‘The new line will add a whole new dimension to Kent’s commuter scene, by providing frequent 37-minute services between Ashford and London St Pancras an area of London not normally associated with living in Kent.

In addition, the provision of fast local links from towns in east Kent such as Canterbury and Ramsgate will eventually benefit the whole of the region in terms of property values.’ Not right now, perhaps, but buyers looking to the long term might do well to take advantage of the numerous price reductions currently being applied across the board.