The state of the country house market: Autumn 2010

Noseley Hall, Leicestershire (Image: Knight Frank)
Noseley Hall, Leicestershire (Image: Knight Frank)

Throughout September, the increasing weight of each week’s ‘Country Life‘ magazine heralds the starts of one of the busy periods for launches of country houses.  As an relatively unscientific barometer it would appear that the market is doing well with some impressive estates and houses being offered up to tantalise the armchair enthusiast and serious purchaser alike – but a few houses are still proving difficult to shift.

The September 1 magazine provided a summary of the successes of the year-to-date with glowing reports from estate agents who, despite some fears in January about an uncertain year ahead, are happy to highlight their successes.  The article quotes Crispin Holborow of Savills who rightly points out that ‘best in class‘ houses will always sell quickly and for above their guide price if the right buyers start competing.  He cites Ropley House in Hampshire which sold at over it’s guide price of £4.25m, as did the grade-I listed Shanks House in Somerset which was offered with 70-acres for £5.5m, but their biggest success was the coveted Chadacre estate in Suffolk with 680-acres which reputedly sold for more than double it’s £10m asking price.  Other houses such as the elegant grade-I Worlingham Hall – regarded by Norman Scarfe as ‘the most beautiful house of manageable size in Suffolk’ – also sold over it’s guide price of £3.9m.

Other houses sold close to their guide include Peatling Hall in Leicestershire (mentioned on this blog in July) which was offered at £4.75m, whilst the stunning Compton Pauncefoot Castle in Somerset suffered from an unfortunately timed launch in September 2008 at £17m which knocked buyer confidence meaning that it hung around until Febuary 2010 before selling at £15m.  Others had to drop their prices or accept being sold in lots with Kiddington Hall in Oxfordshire selling for £15m to Jemima Khan once the rest of the 2,000-acre estate had been sold (originally offered as one for £42m), whilst Fillongley Hall in Warwickshire has yet to find a buyer even after selling 400- out of the original 500-acres originally offered when it went on the market in 2005 (£3.5m, Savills).  Pusey House in Oxfordshire, which was originally launched with 643-acres but when featured as the lead property advert in the September 15 magazine it was offered with just 67.

So who are the awkward squad?  Grade-I listed Noseley Hall in Leicestershire is still with Knight Frank with the same acreage; though now at £12m rather than the original £14m asking price, and Iver Grove in Buckinghamshire, a pocket Palladian gem, is still being offered (again with Knight Frank) – though mysteriously with no price, so probably less that the £4.5m guide in February 2010; and way down from it’s original price of £6.5m when it was first launched in 2007.  Up country, Yester House in Scotland is still available despite having had it’s price halved from £15m to £8m since the original launch in August 2008.

So, although the property market does seem buoyant, it does seem that some are struggling.  Perhaps the flurry of launches will bring an influx of new buyers who may take a renewed interest in the harder-to-sell properties, but they equally may well wonder why they are still available and pass them over.  It seems that some owners who are keen to sell are being flexible, either dropping the price or selling in lots, but for owners who refuse to budge the market may take a very long time to rise to meet what they think their property is worth.  It seems flexibility is still a vital attribute whatever rung of the property ladder you are on.

If I won the lottery…Fillongley Hall

Fillongley Hall, Warwickshire (Image: Weddington Castle website)

Considering the difficulties faced by country house owners with death duties and a changed society, it’s always remarkable when a house is passed down through the generations; particularly so when it’s the same family for nearly 200 years.  Fillongley Hall designed by George Woolcott and was built in 1824-25 for the uncle of the 1st Lord Norton, extended in 1840-1, and now for sale again by the 8th Lord Norton after an unsuccessful attempt to sell in 2005.

The grade-II listed house is considered to be one of the best examples of smaller scale Greek Revival architecture which demonstrated the good taste of the Grand tourist with it’s fine interiors and classical exterior with recessed Corinthian columns on the main entrance front.    Bearing some resemblance to the now-demolished Thirkleby Park in Yorkshire, the house is a compact essay in elegant classicism with a restraint all too often lacking in modern country house architecture.  The house was inherited by Lord Norton in 1993 since when he and his wife have lovingly maintained and updated the house.  More images of the interior and exterior can be seen either on this fascinating local history website or on the Savills website.

When Fillongley Hall was put up for sale in 2005 the guide price was £5m but this included 400-acres as opposed to the 114 plus the house which are available now for £4.5m.  [The house subsequently sold in 2006]

This is a beautiful house and deserves and owner who understands the house and is sympathetic to its status as one of the best houses of its type in the region.

Property details: ‘Fillongley Hall‘ [Savills]