Country houses for sale

2020 was off to a flying start with country house sales — but what can buyers and sellers expect now?

Things were going so well, but the health of the housing market before the coronavirus crisis hit indicates that it can and will recover, says Penny Churchill.

It was a sign of the strength of the housing market when Liam Bailey’s morning market update from Knight Frank Research on March 31 — is that really less than three weeks ago? — highlighted the announcement from the Bank of England that mortgage approvals for house purchase had climbed to 73,500 in February.

This was the highest monthly level recorded since January 2014, signalling, Mr Bailey believes, ‘the potential pool of demand once conditions improve’. His contention is supported by the experience of leading country-house agents who have seen buyers, sellers and lawyers working at remarkable speed to seal high-level deals despite the lockdown.

A prime example was the sale of Garlands at 12, Nuns Walk in Surrey’s prestigious Wentworth Estate. This newly-built, fully furnished, 10,000sq ft mansion set in four-fifths of an acre of grounds came to the market at the back end of last year, at a guide price of £7.5 million through Savills, Knight Frank and local agents Barton Wyatt.

‘The eventual purchaser, an international buyer, viewed the house a week before the lockdown and swiftly agreed a sale for close to the guide price, whereupon the parties involved pulled out all the stops to exchange and complete simultaneously in the first week of April,’ reveals Trevor Kearney, of Savills.

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In contrast, it’s been a long haul to the finish line for Knight Frank’s country department and receivers Sanderson Weatherall, who, following best and final bids on tragic, Grade I-listed Parnham House, near Beaminster, Dorset, managed to exchange and complete on the deal, even after the outbreak of Covid-19.

The magnificent Elizabethan stone mansion, remodelled by John Nash in 1810 and lavishly restored in the early 2000s, was largely destroyed by a catastrophic fire that swept through the building in April 2017, leaving only the outer walls and part of a wing standing.

Selling agent James McKillop comments: ‘We were delighted to exchange and complete contracts on Parnham House in March after securing best and final bids in excess of £2m from five parties. The new owner is pulling together a crack team to restore the house and open the door to a fresh chapter in the history of one of Dorset’s best known houses.’

Parnham House

With schools unlikely to reopen in the near future, buyers looking to move house in time for the autumn term have also been working overtime. Rupert Sweeting, head of Knight Frank’s Country Department, cites the example of the London-based buyers of idyllic Honnington Farm House, 2.5 miles from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, whose children are set to attend one of the excellent local schools.

Although contracts were exchanged on Honnington, set in 22 acres of gardens, woodland and pasture, in early March at £2.45m, against a guide price of £2.5m, and the sale completed on March 30, that wasn’t the end of the matter. The owners then had to speak to 30 removal firms — yes, 30 — before they found one prepared to move them to the country.

Timing was also of the essence in the sale of handsome, Grade II-listed Hall Court at Midgham Green, West Berkshire, a village much sought after for its proximity to well-regarded schools such as Elstree prep school, Downe House and Pangbourne.

For sale through Savills and Knight Frank at a guide price of £3.85m, contracts were exchanged on the substantial former vicarage at the end of February, with completion due at the end of April, Ed Sugden of Savills reveals.

Despite the uncertainty hanging over the market, an exciting future seems assured for the beautifully restored, Grade II*-listed Cholderton House at Cholderton, near Salisbury, Wiltshire, following its purchase by a European buyer at a guide price of £4m through Strutt & Parker.

The imposing, 17th-century, William and Mary country house, set in 23 acres of gardens, park-like grounds and paddocks, has outstanding equestrian facilities that include indoor and outdoor arenas, a granary barn, 16 loose boxes and a six-stable coach house, once leased by New Zealand’s dual Olympic gold medal-winning eventer Sir Mark Todd.

Following a devastating fire in 2012, the original house was comprehensively rebuilt by renowned conservation architects Donald Insall Associates, who have retained the essence of the house by employing traditional artisan skills, as well as discreetly incorporating up-to-date insulation, wiring, plumbing, heating, fire-proofing and security systems.

The main house — surely one of Wiltshire’s finest — has elegant accommodation on three floors, including four fine reception rooms, a conservatory, a kitchen/breakfast room, two main bedroom suites, seven further bedrooms and five further bathrooms.

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