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Country House Market – A Perfect Storm?

12.05.21

The demand for million pound family houses in the more sought-after counties has certainly spiked, with certain agents quoting upwards of 10 buyers for every house they market. In certain areas there is even competitive bidding for those exceptional houses, leading to sales at 20-30% in excess of the guide prices.

A sure sign of a raging bull-market is that even the slightly ‘under par’ houses – which suffer from aircraft or road noise, are blighted by pylons or new build village expansion – are selling, and selling strongly. So, why the gold rush after years of relatively flat prices and a steady supply? Is it all down to a quality of life re-think post Covid?

The first factor is that outside of London is a largely domestic market, where the buyers are mostly Brits, who have a traditional vision of what they want; ideally a pretty Georgian or Victorian rectory or farmhouse, on the fringe of a village, but with enough land to provide privacy and space. Of course, the bulk of the houses in the country are either cottages, bungalows or barn conversions, so the reality is that the supply of this ideal country house has always been finite.

Secondly, we’re now seeing the result of nearly six years pent-up demand; 2014 saw the introduction of the revised levels of Stamp Duty, we then had an election followed by a referendum (which resulted in Brexit), another election which resulted in the very real possibility of a hard left Corbyn-led government and then a Covid lockdown. It cannot surprise anyone that the simultaneous release of 6 years-worth of buyers has resulted in a mad spending spree; remember, most of these buyers spent the spring 2020 lockdown looking out of their windows at the longest period of unbroken sunshine in living memory, wishing that they lived somewhere else.

Thirdly - we’ve now missed two spring selling seasons worth of houses. The country market operates to a strict timetable, which is centred around the optimum time to photograph and sell country houses – traditionally when gardens start to bloom and look their best. Sadly, spring 2020 coincided with a three-month national lockdown so, needless to say, very few of the houses we’d expected to see actually came to the market. Buyers were left to bicker over the ‘also rans’ from 2019, which were the houses that the 2019 buyers had picked over and rejected.

Spring 2021 hasn’t been much better as we’ve had yet another lockdown and with children at home and Zoom work unsurprisingly, few sellers have chosen to endure the upheaval of putting their houses on the market.

London, by contrast, is a far more sedate marketplace, with many British buyers still reluctant to buy on the quick in a city in the grips of lockdown, and most international buyers unable get here as a result of Covid travel restrictions. With continuing chaos on that front in Europe, this won’t change in the immediate future. Perhaps most importantly however, when all is said and done – is that not everyone can do their jobs from home and a significant number of Londoners are dyed-in-the-wool urbanites who – whilst they love to visit the British countryside – have absolutely no intention of living there.

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