Country houses for sale

How to make good use of your outbuildings

For country-house buyers, outbuildings with the potential for conversion are increasingly becoming an essential requirement. ‘Barns are never just barns any more-they’re a deal clincher,’ says Adrian Wright of Strutt & Parker’s Private Property Search (07774 254749). ‘People’s lifestyles have progressed with technology; they work from home and require offices, gyms, and large entertaining spaces that simply can’t be squeezed into the floor plan of an average house.’ He’s encountered barns housing shooting ranges, classic-car collections and, most recently, a wine cellar masquerading as a vehicle-inspection pit.

‘It was only when I climbed into the pit that I discovered a door into an enormous temperature-controlled room.’ Conversions usually fall into one of four categories; sporting (gyms, swimming pools, games rooms and equestrian facilities); income streams (offices, light industrial spaces, studios, storage and wedding venues); lifestyle (home cinemas, play rooms, party rooms, wine cellars, machinery or classic-car stores) and accommodation (family, staff, guest, holiday or long-term rentals).

Not all are worth the effort: although planning laws have been relaxed for converting unlisted barns within close proximity to the main house, development can still be a long and arduous process. ‘If buildings are in poor condition, or listed, it can cost a fortune,’ explains Hugh Petter of Adam
architects (01962 843843). ‘I often find myself scratching my head to find a revenue stream to justify the huge expense of restoration.’

The Old Rectory

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If you have an unlisted building in good condition, however, there are plenty of ways to make it pay for itself. Accommodation is by far the most lucrative, according to Rob Jones-Davies of buying agents Middleton Advisors (01235 436272). ‘Not only can you rent the property out, but when you come to sell, the additional properties will be far more valuable than, say, stables or even offices.’
But holiday lets and long-term rentals aren’t for everyone-including the local planning authorities in many rural areas. Owners lucky enough to be granted permission to create accommodation within outbuildings may be required to sign a Section 106 legal agreement preventing their conversion from being rented commercially or sold as a separate dwelling.

Moreover, adds Martin Lamb of Savills in Exeter (01392 455740), you have to plan for a future resale: some buyers are put off by the prospect of too many holiday cottages. ‘Most people want just one or perhaps two cottages for staff, relatives or guests,’ he says. To cater to the various whims of potential buyers, home owners and property developers are increasingly hedging their bets and creating ‘reversible’ conversions. With minimum upheaval, for example, what is currently the ‘party room’ at the Old Rectory in Biddestone, Wiltshire (£2.5 million through Knight Frank, 01225 325994), can become an indoor pool-key plant equipment and infra-structure elements are concealed beneath a sprung floor.

By far the most practical and cost-effective rooms, however, are those with multiple uses: a games room that is also a cinema, say, or a combined play room and party room, which can be rented out for shoot lunches. ‘Party barns that double up as play rooms are a particularly safe bet,’
says Mr Jones-Davies. ‘Parents appreciate having space for their children, and enjoy using the area themselves for entertaining.’ But amid the current fervour for home cinemas and media rooms, are we in danger of forgetting the simple beauty of an untouched outbuilding?

A medieval barn with a mud floor and cob walls at Sowton Barton in Devon, owned by Paul and Linda Kingdon, has been the venue for many memorable family parties-despite the fact that it’s unheated. ‘It’s Grade II* listed, so we’re not allowed to do anything to it except prevent it from falling down and rethatch it,’ Mrs Kingdon says. ‘But its untouched state gives it a unique atmosphere.’

Top UK outbuildings

Most fashionable

Party room

Most useful
Guest accommodation
Play room

Most sought-after
Home office
Games room/home cinema

Most lucrative
Holiday cottages
Long-term lets

Most affordable
Home cinema

Most expensive
Indoor swimming pool

Most obscure

Cricket nets
BMX tracks

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