Country houses for sale

A gorgeously-converted water pumping station in Sussex that could literally pay for itself

An old waterworks might not sound like the ideal starting point to create a beautiful house, but Studio Fold in West Sussex proves that it can be done. And while it would make a great family home, it has been such a successful holiday let in recent years that another enticing option has presented itself. Toby Keel takes a look.

Economists will tell you a lot things. They’ll explain why things cost the price they do, why people will (or won’t) do things, and even how criminals pull off daring heists.  They’ll go on for hours about how there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and insist  and that ‘money on the table’ will almost certainly be gone by the time that you’ve noticed it.

So it’s always intriguing to come across something which seems too good for an economist to believe it’s true. And that is the case with the property we’re taking a look at today: the gloriously beautiful Studio Fold, in a village called Nutbourne, near the West Sussex town of Pulborough. It’s for sale at £1.425 million — not an outlandish price tag for this part of the world (especially considering that Pulborough has a station with direct, albeit slow, trains to Waterloo).

Studio Fold, West Sussex. Credit: Dan Curran for Unique Homestays

You could pay an awful lot less if you’re simply after a country house in the area with plenty of charm — this place nearby, at just under £1 million, for example — but Studio Fold’s price tag comes with an asterisk. For the past few years it’s been rented out by the Unique Homestays website (who are also helping sell it), and they suggest that with a bit of work it could bring in £100,000 a year in rental income — and perhaps as much as £135,000, if you’re happy to build an outdoor pool.

Studio Fold, West Sussex. ©Unique Homestays / Mark Watts

If that sounds like a lot, read on. Let’s assume for a moment that we’re in a world where a bank would lend you £1.5 million — which should be plenty to buy the house and get the work done. Mortgage rates are at rock-bottom right now, but let’s say for the sake of argument that they give you a rate of 3% on that money. Repayments on a standard 25-year repayment mortgage for that sum are a whisker over £7,000 a month — or £84,000 a year. That leaves you more than £50,000 in the black on an annual basis to cover your costs while your new house is sitting there, making people happy on their holidays, and paying for itself on your behalf.

Studio Fold, West Sussex. Credit: Dan Curran for Unique Homestays

Any place that’s looking to average £2,500 a week as a holiday rental throughout the year needs to have something rather special about it, and Studio Fold certainly ticks that box.  This is no conventional country house: it’s actually a converted water pumping station that’s been completely stripped out and rebuilt within.

Studio Fold, West Sussex. Credit: Dan Curran for Unique Homestays

The result is the quite beautiful place that you see on this page. It’s a five-bedroom house with huge living spaces, and surrounded by lovely gardens, and furnished and decorated in bold and exciting fashion, without its cosy touches.

If you’re worried about how you’d ever find the furniture and objets d’art to recreate its present appearance, you’ll be happy to know that the owners are open to negotiating the sale of all the contents as well as the house itself.

Studio Fold, West Sussex. Credit: Dan Curran for Unique Homestays

So are there any flaws in the plan? Well, of course. You’d have to be confident that £1,000 or so a week was plenty for your expenses, and that you have a Plan B in case anything interrupts the flow of holidaymakers’ money — god forbid a new pandemic, for example.  Like anything, it’s a risk.

But it’s clearly the case that people have been taking this exact risk for some time via sites such as uniquehomestays.com and airbnb.com, and when you come across an opportunity such as this one it’s not hard to see why.

And if you are keen, probably best to move quickly. Another house for rental via Unique Homestays — a place called Siren, in Cornwall — was on the market recently via Stags, a delightful two-bedroom bolthole in a very pretty village called Coverack.

Siren, Cornwall. Credit: Mark Watts / Unique Homestays

Siren had a £520,000 asking price, and potential annual income of over £50,000 a year. It was snapped up almost immediately.

Studio Fold is for sale via Unique Homestays — see more pictures and details, or take a look for other houses for sale in West Sussex.