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.

Kiddington Hall sold – but as a home or an investment?

Kiddington Manor, Oxfordshire (Image: Country Life)

After many viewings and some speculation, the Sunday Times is reporting that Kiddington Hall has finally been sold for £15m to Jemima Goldsmith, the wealthy socialite.  The grade-II listed house, originally built in 1673 but largely rebuilt to designs by Sir Charles Barry, comes with 466-acres of gardens and parkland designed by ‘Capability’ Brown.  The Sunday Times quotes a ‘property source’ as saying “It was a romance. She just fell in love with it.”.

The sale was ordered by the court to fund the divorce settlement of the owner, Erik Maurice Robson, who needed to raise £8m to provide for his ex-wife (for a detailed estimation of the likely proceeds see the comments on a previous post: ‘The economics of selling a country house‘).  The estate, described as a ‘jewel in the heart of Oxfordshire’, was one of the most important estates to be launched onto the market last year as rarely do prime estates with a manageable house, fine gardens and a productive estate, come up for sale in the prime Home Counties and this was reflected in the original asking price of £42m for the entire 2,000-acres and house.

However, considering Jemima’s previous successful forays into property development, is Kiddington Hall to be a family home or will she take the advice of some who say that if she spends a couple of million on refurbishment the property could be worth £20m?  It will certainly be one to watch as if it is relaunched in a year or two, it will provide a useful barometer as to the recovery of prime country property.

The sale of the main house will also mean that the sale of the remainder of the estate, encompassing 1,600-acres plus several farms and houses can proceed.  These sales were contingent on the main sale as without the sale of the main house the rest of the estate could not be sold.  The Sunday Times is reporting that Alec Reed, founder of the Reed recruitment agency, is the purchaser.

More details: ‘Jemima Goldsmith jumps on £15m stately home‘ [The Sunday Times]