Country houses for sale

Country house market picks up for spring

With leading estate agents reporting a significant increase in the number of prospective purchasers lining up to view this year’s new country properties, suddenly the market has got a spring in its step. Rupert Sweeting of Knight Frank’s country department, which handles sales of houses valued at £1.75 million or more, reports an 80% jump in the number of viewings that have taken place since January 5, compared with the same period last year, with Kent (+57.2%), Buckinghamshire (+49.3%) and Oxfordshire (+16.9%) currently showing the way.

Colleague Ed Cunningham is encouraged both by the number of new buyers coming into the market and the prospect of some ‘very decent’ country properties being offered for sale in the coming weeks. ‘This could be a great time to buy, provided you have access to finance, as many renters who have sold their previous house almost certainly do; after all, money is still cheap, especially for those on tracker mortgages.’ Meanwhile, he’s offering COUNTRY LIFE readers a sneak preview of a real Hampshire gem, the charming Wivelrod Farm House near Medstead, three miles from Alton, which Knight Frank (020–7861 1080) will launch on the market next week at a guide price of £2.5 million.

Set in almost five acres of land-scaped gardens and parkland, with panoramic views of the surrounding Hampshire countryside, Wivelrod was meticulously rebuilt following a fire in the 1990s. Impeccably maintained by the current owners who bought the property in 2000, the classic Hampshire farmhouse has three reception rooms, a master suite, three/four more bedrooms and three more bathrooms. The sale includes pretty Rose Cottage, which has its own garden, two reception rooms, three bedrooms, and lapsed planning consent for a conservatory.

Back in the jetstream, Savills (020–7409 8823) and CKD Ken-nedy Macpherson (020–7409 1944) quote a guide price of £3.25m for pristine Bestwall Park, near Wareham, Dorset, which sits in its own magical private ‘oasis’, with dramatic southerly views across its lake and grounds to the Purbeck Hills and the western shore of Poole harbour. Set in 99 acres of gardens, paddocks, woodland and pasture, the exquisite Arts-and-Crafts house was built in 1911, probably by a student of C. F. A. Voysey. Bought by its present owners some eight years ago, Bestwall Park has been extensively, and sumptuously, renovated, with the addition of a Moroccan-style heated outdoor pool and equestrian facilities. The house has four main reception rooms, a vast state-of-the-art kitchen/diner, six bedrooms, three bathrooms, and a large attic room.

In spite of or perhaps encouraged by a 20%–25% drop in Devon country-house prices, compared with their 2007 peak, buyers will still come running for the right house in the right place, as shown by the recent sale of Venn House at Ugborough, near Ivybridge in the South Hams. Launched in COUNTRY LIFE on October 22, 2008, at a guide price of £1.1m by the Exeter office of Strutt & Parker (01392 215631), the elegant Georgian house, built in the early 1800s and listed Grade II, was sold, after a spate of viewings, for close to the original guide.

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Selling agent Robin Thomas will be hoping for a similar outcome to the launch, in this week’s COUNTRY LIFE, of imposing Victorian Stowford Grange at Stowford, near Oke-hampton, Devon, at a similar £1.1m guide price. Set in 2.1 acres of wooded gardens and grounds on the edge of Dart-moor, Stowford Grange has five reception rooms, a kitchen/break-fast room, a conservatory, five bedrooms, four bath/shower rooms, and a self-contained two/three bedroom wing.

Although business remains quiet on the western front, as it normally does at this time of year, over in the east, Jonathan Penn of Jackson-Stops & Staff in Ipswich (01473 218218) reports an ‘encouraging’ start to 2009. With a distinct increase in purchaser enquiries, viewings and offers, and four sales concluded in January (more than in January 2007), Mr Penn thinks that the ‘horribly quiet’ months of November and December may well have plumbed the bottom of the market in Suffolk. ‘Certainly, many purchasers faced with dwindling returns from money held on deposit are motivated to act now rather than wait,’ he says optimistically.

Mr Penn is currently handling the launch of the beautifully renovated Manor House at Bawdsey, near Woodbridge, on Suffolk’s idyllic ‘sunrise coast’, at £845,000. For sale for the first time in 60 years, the charming timber-framed manor dates from 1575, with substantial additions dating from 1620. It served as a traditional farmhouse for centuries before becoming part of the Quilter estates in the late 1890s, after which it was rebuilt and gentrified as a home for Sir Cuthbert Quilter’s two unmarried sisters. Improvements included the installation of more ornate fireplaces, a grander staircase and Edwardian panelled doors; at the same time, the gardens were landscaped and the house reconfigured to face out onto the surrounding estate.

In the 1950s, Norman Simper, a former Quilter estate tenant, bought the Manor House with its historic farm buildings and 360 acres of land. In late 2006, Mr Simper moved out of the manor, and his family, who had established the successful Ravens-wood restoration company, set about completely renovating the house, which now has entrance and reception halls, a double drawing room and study, a kitchen/dining conservatory, a family room, seven bedrooms, a shower room and a family bathroom. It stands in three acres of gardens and grounds on the north bank of the River Deben; additional land and outbuildings including a brick-and-flint granary with planning consent for conversion to a second home are available by separate negotiation.