Country houses for sale

Short term lets to Hollywood

Following the BAFTAs and looking forward to the Academy Awards on Sunday, the newspapers are full of speculation and the bookies busy taking bets on which films will secure the coveted statuettes this year. Excellent studio facilities and tax incentives mean that many big-budget Hollywood movies are choosing to shoot in the UK. Parts of War Horse, which is up for six Oscars, were shot in the South-West during the summer of 2010, introducing director Steven Spielberg and his leading actors to the area.

Meanwhile, many scenes from Joe Wright’s forthcoming adaptation of Anna Karenina, which stars Keira Knightley and Jude Law, were shot near Didcot, Oxfordshire, last autumn, and the third series of Downton Abbey will have the cast and crew yo-yoing between Highclere Castle near Newbury, Berkshire, and Bampton in Oxfordshire.

When the production budget stretches, as in these cases, to shooting outside the confines of the M25 and London’s film studios, inevitably the question arises of where to house the film’s leading actors and director. ‘We have a variety of clients looking for short-term country-house lets,’ explains Olivia Pegrum of Hamptons International in Guildford (01483 789457). ‘Celebrities and film stars like taking a country house on a short-term basis because not only are they private, but, at this top end of the market, they come with all the comforts of a hotel-housekeeper, gardener, linen and amenities-and yet they’re also a home from home where they can cook or entertain friends.’

For landlords of the types of houses that appeal to these clients, there are considerable sums to be earned. ‘For short-term lets, you normally look at an uplift of between 40% and 50%,’ says Miss Pegrum. ‘On the houses that we handle that means, on some occasions, doubling the long-let guide, which ranges between £6,000 and £20,000 a month.’ On very exceptional occasions, this price can rise substantially. ‘We’re about to launch a house that is only available for the 21⁄2 weeks of the Olympics, which will cost £50,000 a week.’

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Short-term rentals work best with owners who either spend six months of the year abroad or use the house as a second home. When aiming for this top-end, short-term rental market, there are certain issues that need to be understood. Melanie Benson, senior property lawyer at media and entertainment law firm Harbottle & Lewis (020-7667 5000), explains: ‘Owners of good properties need to be very careful when renting to anyone who is likely to make significant demands-when money is not a particular object, people will make requests. In our experience, this can range from providing top-spec entertainment systems or adding high-quality children’s play equipment, gyms and even beauty salons.’ Owners may also have to upgrade satellite-TV packages to include different languages, improve kitchens, create a screening room and tighten security.

If any requests call for structural modifications, it’s vital to ensure that changes don’t fall foul of listed-building regulations, and you must make it clear who is responsible for the costs in the event of a dispute with the local council arising from the tenancy. ‘There are also issues around whether alterations should be reversed, or whether changes that might add considerable value to your home should be left,’ explains Mrs Benson. ‘These are all negotiable, but can become contested if not agreed beforehand.’ Flexibility in terms of availability and alterations command a premium in this market.

With big names, you’ll also be required to sign a confidentiality agreement, promising not to reveal the name of the tenant. Other clients might not be as security sensitive, but it’s important to think in advance about any extras that they might require, advises Edmund Cohen of Landed Houses ( ‘When trying to attract this type of tenant, think what his business might be and what you could provide, such as viewing rooms, meeting rooms with projector screens, details of your nearest private airport and what size of plane it can accommodate.’