Once upon a time, the suggestion of buying a newly built country house was met with a look of disdain and quickly dismissed with an upturned nose. Even Classical designs trying hard to tick all the boxes would sit uncomfortably in their recently disturbed surroundings and interiors were altogether too perfectly square and devoid of quirky charm and character. Today, when most of us dream about finding that perfect family house, rarely does the picture conjured up depict something brand new, but the canvas is beginning to change as improvements by house builders take effect and the question of running costs becomes more of a concern.
‘When I first started working in the country-house market, no one wanted to buy modern properties,’ explains Paul Finnegan of Savills. ‘Building standards and quality of construction and design in those days still had the stigma of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, but things have considerably improved now, and, in the past 10 years, attitudes have completely changed.’ This turnaround is based on a number of factors: house-builders upping their game and consulting heavily with agents about what today’s country-house buyers want; buyers can move straight in without taking on costly and drawn-out renovation work; the fact that they’re often far cheaper to run thanks to energy-saving devices; and the floorplans are designed for the modern family, disposing of sculleries in favour of dens and media rooms.
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As a rule of thumb, all agents agree that the better new-build country houses will be the ones built to the specification of end users rather than by a developer, as the quality is often better, due to an absence of any form of profit margin. ‘But for those who don’t have the time or inclin-ation to take on such a project, there are a number of newly built ‘neo-Geo’ or Classical country houses that are worth a look,’ says Bobby Hall of The Buying Solution. Fairfax Properties is responsible for building a number of houses in the Classical style throughout Hampshire and Berkshire, which sit in grounds of between five and 60 acres and sell for between £2.5 million and £4.5 million.
‘Our method is as follows: we’ll spend up to £1.5 million finding the right “wrong” house to tear down and start again,’ explains John McLean, CEO of Fairfax. ‘We then focus on getting the right views from the house, choose a design that respects the vernacular of the area, use handmade bricks and clay tiles, install Agas in our eat-in kitchens, and ensure there’s a nanny flat on site.’ The other concern that seems to have fallen by the wayside is that of new-builds holding their value to the same extent that period country houses do.
John Young of Chesterton Humberts has just sold five-year-old Thornicombe Lodge near Blandford. ‘We bought it for the first owners, who have added cleverly to the landscaping and styling of the house. People underestimate quite what effect the landscaping can have, but it’s very worthwhile to get it right. When this happens, new houses prove just as good investments as period.’ Of course, for some buyers, ‘there will never be a substitute for the real McCoy,’ says Mr Finnegan. ‘But for lots of busy business people looking in the Home Counties with commutes to consider, a ready made new-build with all the modern trimmings is now a good option.’
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