Country houses for sale

London buyers move to the country

John Denney, of Hamptons International in Guildford, is in ebullient mood, thanks to a recent influx of London buyers looking to buy village and country houses in Surrey within the critical £3 million to £5 million price bracket- a sector of the market that has languished on the sidelines since the start of the recession in 2008. As predicted in our Autumn Preview (August 28), one of the first beneficiaries of the recent surge of activity was the vendor of the classic Georgian Grayswood House, at Grayswood, near Haslemere, which came to the market, for the first time in 30 years, at a guide price of £3.5m.

The charming village house, set in 28 acres of gardens and parkland, attracted no fewer than 35 enquiries through Country Life, 20 of whom-among them, the eventual purchaser-were London based, Mr Denney reveals. Hamptons (01483 572864) are set to repeat the process with the launch onto the market of one of the Surrey Hills’ hidden gems: South House in Knowle Lane, Cranleigh, at a guide price of £3.75m. Billed as ‘a small gentleman’s estate’ (or, perhaps, ‘a gentleman’s small estate’?), the delightful, early-20th-century house, set in 23 acres of formal gardens and grounds overlooking the village of Cranleigh, has glorious views over the surrounding acres of rolling Surrey farmland.

 South House, Hamptons, £3.75m

Built in the Edwardian style and impeccably refurbished by its present owners, who are scaling down, the elegant, 3,700sq ft house has an impressive entrance hall, three fine reception rooms, five good-sized bedrooms, four bath/shower rooms and a separate guest cottage. Outbuildings include garaging and stabling plus-a nice historic touch-one of Surrey’s few surviving ‘crinkle-crankle’ walls, which runs along the boundary of the garden.

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Across the county border in Kent, Simon Backhouse of Strutt & Parker in Canterbury (01227 451123) reports a significant increase in the number of London buyers selling their houses in south-west London and moving to west Kent. Meanwhile, east Kent, whose profile has been ‘totally transformed’ by the advent of high-speed rail, continues to enjoy a mini-boom. Elsewhere in the county, however, the market is less active, and vendors of houses in mid Kent have had to make some ‘quite significant’ price reductions in order to achieve a sale.

An interesting trend in recent years, says Mr Backhouse, has been the number of British expatriates working overseas who have been looking to buy in Canterbury in advance of their retirement to the UK. Having been heavily bombed during the Second World War, the city is desperately short of grand family houses, and when Grade II-listed The Capuchins, in King Street, arguably one of the finest detached period houses within the city walls, came onto the market recently, it was immediately snapped up by not one, but three overseas buyers in quick succession.

 The Capuchins, Strutt & Parker, £1.2m

Built in the 17th century, close to Canterbury’s famous cathedral, The Capuchins was re-faced in the mid-1700s with a classic Queen Anne façade. For many years, the building was run by the Jesuits as a retreat house, or rented from time to time by nearby The King’s School, before being sold by the order eight or nine years ago. Sympathetically upgraded by the present owners, it has three reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, seven bedrooms and three bath/shower rooms. The garden to the rear is an oasis of tranquillity, and includes a studio converted from a derelict building in 2006. The agents quote a guide price of offers in excess of £1.2m.

Mr Backhouse is bemused by the fact that this landmark house is coming back to the market for a fourth time ‘through no fault of its own’: ‘Sales were agreed, at the full asking price, first by a British expatriate working in Singapore, then by a buyer from Kuwait and finally one from New Zealand. But all pulled out at the last hurdle, having realised, belatedly perhaps, that a historic house such as The Capuchins needs someone living there full-time, whereas, initially, they would be spending only part of the year in England.’

Winchester is another great cathedral city that has long been a favoured first stop for families moving to the Hampshire countryside from south-west London. Here, too, the London buyers are back in numbers, says Simon North of Strutt & Parker (01962 869999), who is currently negotiating the sale of no fewer than five houses with buyers from the capital who have ‘suddenly appeared out of the blue’. Mr North has just launched onto the market the lovely, Grade II-listed Freelands in sought-after Edgar Road, a few minutes’ walk from Winchester’s historic centre, at a guide price of £2.495m. For sale for the first time in 30 years, the imposing 5,231sq ft house was rebuilt in the early 18th century in classic Queen Anne style, and predates the vast majority of houses in the unspoilt residential area of St Cross.

Freelands, Strutt & Parker, £2.35m

The surviving earlier part of the house suggests that it was originally a farmhouse, servicing a swathe of land to the south and west of the city walls and bounded to the east by Winchester College. It was later an inn, and then, for many years, the residence of the headmaster of Winchester College. Freelands has a traditional light and airy Georgian interior with four reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, a conservatory, five main bedrooms, four bath/shower rooms, two attic bedrooms and a double garage, with precious off-road parking for several more cars. But its pièce de résistance is its secluded, half-acre of walled garden, where an eclectic array of mature trees provides a haven for wildlife, including 55 different species of birds identified by its present owner in recent years.

For Jasper Feilding, head of country house sales at Carter Jonas, a measure of the long-awaited recovery is that many good houses that have been on the market for up to two years are, at last, finding buyers. A prime example is the recent sale of The Bishop’s House, near Colchester, Essex, at a guide price of £1.75m.

The Marlborough office of Carter Jonas (01672 514916) has launched Hailstone House at Hailstone Hill, near Cricklade, Wiltshire, a mere nine miles from Swindon Station (London-Paddington: 58 minutes), on the market at a guide price of £1.75m.

 Hailstone House, Carter Jonas, £1.75m

A substantial country house built in the 1920s, Hailstone House stands on high ground overlooking the fledgling River Thames, and comes with 7.3 acres of gardens and pasture, including 229 yards of river frontage with fishing rights.

The house has 6,765sq ft of living accommodation, including a reception hall, three main reception rooms, two kitchens, eight bedrooms, four bathrooms and a charming south wing that could be used as a separate two-bedroom annexe.

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