Worries about the state of the property market in hunting country have been circulating recently in the press: are prices going to fall? Are hunting kennels and cottages going to come onto the market for the first time in hundreds of years?
Countrylife.co.uk talked to agents in the South West, the Cotswolds, and Leicestershire to gauge the feeling in these hunting strongholds; their feedback seems to be optimistic.
First to the Cotswolds, where opposition to the hunt ban is strong. Many incomers to the area traditionally saw hunting as an attraction. Are they going to be put off by the prospect of drag hunting only? Jasper Fielding Head of Residential Sales at Strutt and Parker, Moreton in Marsh thinks not.
‘I don’t know that people are really so hunting mad that they are going to sell up and go elsewhere because they can’t, at the moment, hunt in this area,’ he says.
‘And therefore I don’t think as far as property values are concerned it is going to make a difference. There is considerable breadth in the country house market here in the Cotswolds.’
WAITING FOR THE APPEAL
But he does concede that it is early days and a long term ban could have adverse effects on morale, at least: ‘However it may yet happen because hunting people have not yet given up hope, and really it depends on the appeal at the House of Lords,’ he adds.
The advantage with the Cotswolds is that well-placed country houses will always command a premium whether one can hunt or not, because of the natural attractions of the area, as well as its proximity to London. This is a huge advantage to agents, who generally seem to think it would take a real disaster in the area to put people off living there.
So are hunts about to sell up to raise funds? Some buildings like hunt kennels, tied cottages and so on would be worth a lot on the open market, and hunts short cashflow and playing the long game might need to convert some of their existing real estate if things get hard, surely?
‘In terms of the search to continue running hunts, I think it is likely that we will see some of these assets being redeveloped for the purposes of raising cash, and in this case I think we could see some opportunities to buy outstanding property in this area in the future,’ says Mr Fielding.
Things may be different further north, however. Leicestershire is home to the Quorn Hunt, one of the best-known in the country, and one of the biggest rural employers in the area.
Richard Trustram Eve from Strutt and Parker in Market Harborough, told Countrylife.co.uk that he saw Leicestershire as less likely to be affected than other, more remote, counties.
‘The main reasons people buy here involve a good commute to London, where people work in the week. Then they come out hunting at weekends,’ he says.
‘Leicestershire is not really a second homes kind of county, and I don’t think you will find many people lucky enough to be able to sell their main residence and relocate completely to Ireland or France. So really I don’t see many people selling up and moving.’
THE CLIMATE MAY CHANGE
However, this may not be the case forever. The political climate may change after the election, and a weaker Labour Government, or a new Conservative Government (however unlikely that looks) may change things considerably, thinks Mr Trustram Eve.
‘Personally I haven’t seen a single house come on to the market because of the hunting ban, but I can’t promise that it won’t happen. My suspicion is that some people, thinking of selling, are minded to sit tight and see where the wind blows.’
In terms of hunts selling off some of their property he would be surprised if that were to happen any time soon, because it’s difficult to recoup that kind of ‘shedding of the family silver’, although he did point out that the Cottismore sold their kennels a couple of years back. ‘It just depends how long this government is going to continue. Hopefully not too long!’.
As Mr Trustram Eve points out, one would expect the further-flung areas of the country may be the worst-affected by a ban, but James Baker from Strutt and Parker in Exeter begs to differ: ‘Exmoor and Dartmoor are both strong hunting areas and it is true that a large part of the population is connected in some way with hunting, and find it difficult to understand why the ban came into place, but these people are not just going to stop hunting and sell up overnight,’ he says.
‘There are undoubtedly a number of properties which may well have been in the same family for generations, and it will be interesting to see what comes onto the market when the real purists decide to move over to Ireland.
‘I have spoken to a couple of people who really do live to hunt, and they are considering going, but I have to say I do not think that prices are going to be affected in the least by this very small number of potential sales.’
‘We have a constant demand for good country house properties, and not just for second homes. There seems to be a growing trend of people who have been living in the home counties, but are looking for a higher quality of life, moving down to live on the moor.’
And it seems they are arriving from the most unlikely places: ‘The last two really nice properties I sold were to families from Essex, who were selling up their businesses and moving down to bring up their children here. I don’t know what is happening in Essex, but people seem to be coming here from there in droves!’
‘The thing is that, particularly with equestrian properties, you will always find people who want to move to places like this, maybe just to have a couple of ponies for fun, or maybe they are showjumpers, or eventers,’ Mr Baker points out.
However, as a Horse & Hound journalist indicated, more central locations tend to prove popular with professionals because distances are so much longer from remote areas like Exmoor to get to competitions. So serious equestrian people may not be as keen to buy there as people who ride for pleasure.
SUPPLY AND DEMAND
Then there is the amount of good houses actually for sale: a lack of good country houses in the £750,000 to £1.5m bracket is keeping prices healthy in the south west, says Simon Jenkins from Cluttons in Bath. ‘It’s supply and demand again,’ he said. ‘And besides, the idea that everybody is just going to pack up and stop hunting is plain naïve,’ he adds.
In short, indications are that agents are, by large, feeling positive. And are they not always?
It is indeed early days, and it makes sense to think that lots of people are waiting the situation out to see how they can make the best of their circumstances.
We may see no immediate changes to the market by the end of this season, but by this autumn you can bet that an equestrian property in Ireland, or in a pretty part of France, with some land will not be available for love nor money. How regions like Exmoor will be looking come the winter is really anyone’s guess.