Country houses for sale

Spring early to buy or sell property

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a seller in possession of a good country house must wait
until spring to advertise it. However, holding fire until the hyacinths, daffodils and tulips are bursting into bloom could actually be detrimental to the sale of your home. Mark Jamieson from Strutt & Parker believes the spring property season now begins as early as January. ‘The autumn market, which has shrunk over the past few years as the summer holidays seem to get longer, promises much, but delivers little. By the time January arrives after a damp squib of an autumn, buyers are hungry to get on with it.’

This is certainly the truth online, where most property searches begin these days. Visits to property sites go through the roof at the beginning of every year, driven by people who have resolved over Christmas to move house. Although the weather has not been clement over the past two winters, with snow and ice having a negative impact on the number of viewings that agents have been able to arrange, buyers who act now will find themselves at a distinct advantage.

Plucky agent Nigel Steele from Jackson-Stops & Staff in Norwich, who braved the elements and picked up interested parties in his 4×4, says that getting out to see properties as others stayed at home gave his more intrepid purchasers the edge. ‘Some even got the opportunity to view country houses before they formally went on the market.’

A likely rise in interest rates is another good reason for buyers to get to the starting line first, argues James Grillo from Chesterton Humberts’ country-house department. Equally, the 1% increase in Stamp Duty Land Tax applicable from April 5 to houses costing more than £1 million should prompt savvy purchasers to buy early in the year. ‘Why pay the Chancellor more than you have to?’ he asks, noting that instead of paying an extra £40,000 in tax on a £4 million house, you could spend it on a new kitchen.

Attracting the attention of these early buyers is key, according to Jasper Feilding, head of Carter Jonas’s country-house department. Easter is late this year, coming at the end of April, and with the Royal Wedding immediately afterwards, waiting for that perfect spring photo opportunity could be costly.

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‘The main pro of launching early is getting the pick of new buyers, and this may include top-end purchasers with bonus money to spend.’ Mr Steele agrees. He says 2011 is one of the most difficult markets to call in his 40-odd years of working in estate agency, so his advice to vendors is to start getting particulars drawn up now, as properties not marketed until later could miss the boat and find themselves competing with many others.

But isn’t it worth waiting for a glorious array of colour in the garden to create brochure and website images that could capture buyers’ hearts? Mr Steele doesn’t think so: ‘It’s better to get your country house on the market early, even if it’s grey and soggy. You can always update pictures on the web weekly, and a sensible buyer will know that a good house is a good house, no matter what time of year you sell it.’

Spring into action

Property-search agents Chris White (of Garrington) and Charles Birtles (of Charles Birtles Property Search) recommend

  • Agreeing a sale on the basis of a delayed, or long, completion, securing the right house now, but without

having to finance it until later in the year

  • Suggesting that a vendor unable to complete before April 5, when the rise in Stamp Duty comes into effect, pays compensation for the additional duty paid by the purchaser