Christmas has come early in the country-house market, with the number of houses sold dwindling to almost zero in the past few weeks. Country-house rentals, on the other hand, seem to be enjoying an unseasonal boom. In recent years, a large proportion of prospective country-house tenants have come from the ranks of vendors who have either sold their own properties but not found anything they want to buy, or are waiting, cannily, for house prices to fall even further before diving back into the market.
With fewer successful sales this year and more unsold properties being offered to rent, the choice of lettings available is wider than for years, and many landlords are being forced to review their expectations in order to secure a tenant, says Jill Mitchenall of Jackson-Stops & Staff in Sevenoaks. She has accumulated a sizeable portfolio of smart country houses for sale or rent, including elegant No 2, Everlands in the pretty village of Ide Hill, which is five miles from Sevenoaks and has spectacular views over the Weald of Kent.
It comprises the beautifully refurbished, four-bedroom central portion of a substantial country house, which is for sale through Savills (01732 789700) at £1.295 million, or to let for a year at £5,000 per calendar month (pcm) through Jackson-Stops (01732 740600). With twice the number of rural properties to find tenants for compared with the same period last year, Vanessa Carter of Butler Sherborn’s lettings division, based in Burford, Gloucestershire, has been rushed off her feet in recent weeks, but she sounds a warning note for new entrants to the lettings market.
‘The sudden influx of unsold properties for rent means that tenants are now in the driving seat, and some prospective landlords may be quite shocked to find that, even in the Cotswolds, rentals are no longer as high as they used to be, even for the very best houses.’ She cites the recent example of Rowan at Fulbrook, near Burford, a quintessential Cotswold country cottage that came on the market at a monthly rental of £1,350 some six weeks ago. With no initial takers, the rental was reduced to £1,000 pcm, which attracted three competing tenants, and eventually led to the house being let for £1,250 pcm.
From a tenant’s point of view, one advantage of the current slump in sales is that they can now sample the joys of living in houses which, under normal circumstances, would never be seen on the rentals market. The grand, Grade II-listed, Georgian Coach House at Dowdeswell, near Cheltenham, which has wonderful views over the glorious Dowdeswell valley to the Malvern Hills, is one of these.
Currently for sale through Knight Frank (01242 246959) and Butler Sherborn (01285 883740) at a guide price of £2.45m (and not £3.5m as advertised in Country Life, November 12), or to let through Butler Sherborn (01993 822325) at a guide rent of £3,600 pcm, The Coach House shares access with neighbouring Dowdeswell Court (also for sale through Knight Frank and Savills, at £8.5m) and has three reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, five bedrooms, four bathrooms and enchanting wooded gardens and grounds. Included in the sale, but for rental by separate negotiation, are 36 acres of land, a barn with stabling, and a pony shelter. Generally speaking, however, whatever happens to the market in the next 12 months, most vendors will eventually want to sell, and most tenants will want to buy.
David Froggatt of Jackson-Stops and Staff believes that some renters-in-waiting are already coming out of the woodwork in the belief that the market has reached, or is close to, the bottom. He recently agreed the sale of a house where all three bidders were living in rented accommodation. ‘One such applicant told me that she was bored with renting and anxious to buy and make a real home again not only for emotional reasons, but because the recent fall in interest rates meant that the reduced return on her invested capital meant that it was no longer worthwhile renting.’ Mr Froggatt adds hopefully: ‘Perhaps this is the first glimmer of a returning market?’