Country houses for sale

West Country cash-rich buyers

Country-house agents in Devon and Cornwall are putting on a brave face. Having agreed sales on two houses that very same day, Robin Thomas of Strutt & Parker in Exeter was in a positive mood when we spoke early last week. ‘Despite the challenging situation and a substantial drop in prices, houses are still coming to the market, although in far fewer numbers: some because the vendors are divorcing, some are executors’ sales, others because the owners or their businesses have been hit by the credit crunch. On the plus side, there are plenty of cash buyers out there who have lost confidence in the banks and come to the conclusion that property is the safest place for their money.’

The reality of life in the new age of austerity is reflected in the £2 million guide price quoted by Strutt & Parker (01392 215631) for the classic Georgian Millaton House at Bridstowe, near Okehampton, a mile or so north of the Dartmoor National Park. The present house, listed Grade II, was built in about 1700 on the site of an earlier mansion, enlarged in the early 1800s and altered again in the mid 19th century. Millaton House was the childhood home of former Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington, whose father bought the property in 1924 and created his celebrated MCC (Millaton Cricket Club) in the grounds.

Millaton was a nursing home when the present owners took it on in 1997, and they embarked on a serious programme of restoration and refurbishment. It now has five reception rooms, a first-floor billiards room,  a conservatory, seven bedrooms, six bathrooms, an indoor  swimming-pool complex and a self-contained two-bedroom flat, and stands in 6.3 acres  of beautifully landscaped gardens around a lake, sheltered by majestic woodland. On December 4, Knight Frank will conduct the sale by auction of the late-Georgian-style Muddifords Court with 14 acres of landscaped gardens and paddocks at Willand, near Cullompton, 18 miles from Exeter, at a guide price of £1.5m. Muddifords was a total wreck when the current owners bought it a year or so ago, since when they have completely restored and renovated the six-bedroom house and its charming courtyard of historic stables and farm buildings.

The start of the new shooting season traditionally a quiet time for the West Country property market has brought an unexpected bonus this year in the shape of cash rich investors who liquidated their equity and commodity-based assets last autumn, thus avoiding the recent 30% fall in stockmarket values, says Martin Lamb of Savills in Exeter. ‘There are people out there with £500,000-plus in cash who would rather have property than put their money in a bank right now; added to that, such buyers are in a stronger position to negotiate price reductions than those who need mortgages.’ Clearly priced to sell at a guide price of £625,000, through Savills (01392 455755) and Seddons (01398 332006) is the charmingly restored Dipford House at Shillingford, near Tiverton, north Devon, which sits in 2.5 acres of pretty landscaped gardens, close to the Somerset border, the Brendon hills and the Exmoor National Park.

The delightful period farmhouse, which stands at the end of a quiet country lane, has three reception rooms, a large kitchen/family room, five bedrooms and two bathrooms. Across the county border in Cornwall, the country-house market seems to have got off quite lightly this year. As a result, vendors who are serious about selling are still putting good rural properties on the market. Savills in Truro (01872 243222) are offering the enchanting, 243-acre Browda farming and sporting estate at Linkinhorne in the Lynher valley, close to the Devon border, at a guide price of £2.5m.

The estate comprises a fine, Grade II-listed, seven/eight-bedroom manor farmhouse with delightful gardens and grounds, a range of traditional stone barns, good modern farm buildings and excellent arable and pasture land, along with river meadows, lakes and woodland. It also has 1,643 acres of salmon and sea-trout fishing on the Lynher and potential to develop the existing shoot. Stratton Creber in Truro (01872 240999) quote a guide price of £1.3m for tranquil Colan Barton Farm at Colan, a few miles inland from the north Cornish hotspot of Newquay.

Originally part of the Figg Hoblyn estate, the beautiful Grade II-listed farmhouse, built in 1632, nestles within this peaceful rural hamlet, and has retained all of its original charm and character. Lovingly restored by its present owners, the house has seven bedrooms (two of which have been split from the main building to form a separate cottage), two reception rooms, a fabulous farmhouse kitchen, a sitting room and a study. It also has two holiday cottages, a heated outdoor pool, a summer house, and 10.5 acres of paddocks and grounds.