Sunday, November 15, 2020

The New Squires

 Sales of £15m-plus English country homes breaking records as wealthy families ‘recalibrate their priorities’. The world’s super-rich are seeking to escape from coronavirus lockdowns in cities by buying multimillion-pound English country estates to create Downton Abbey lifestyles, complete with butlers, cooks, housekeepers and armies of gardeners.

Savills, which has 320 staff in a special unit dedicated to such estates, said it had sold – or was on the verge of selling – 21 estates valued at £15m-plus since the first nationwide lockdown in March. For comparison, just one such property sold in the whole of 2019. Rival high-end estate agents also reported record sales and soaring prices. Knight Frank said a “record-breaking run of activity driven by a race for space post-lockdown” had “translated into the strongest price growth seen in more than four years”.

Crispin Holborow, Savills’ country director, said “Very rich people have often been thinking of buying a place in the country and doing something environmental, but the first lockdown really was the slam-dunk catalyst that caused them to actually buy. The pandemic has made people realise how important family is, and they are wanting a big place where they can all live together with space and activities. They were busy jumping on planes travelling the world running businesses, and they didn’t need a country place. But they’ve realised they can now settle, and they like it.”

“£15m-plus gets you a lot. There’s always a pool, always stables, a tennis court, and outbuilding for cars or whatever the passion of the owner is. There’s also often shooting for entertaining guests...These houses need anything from three to eight or 10 staff,” Holborow said. “You need at least one housekeeper, whose husband might be chef. Or a husband and wife team working as cleaner and driver. You’ll also need outside staff, from two-to-five gardeners depending on how immaculate you want it to look. Horses need grooms, and you definitely need someone on maintenance duties, which is not a luxury.”

Among those up for grabs is the Bowden Park estate, near Chippenham in Wiltshire, on the market with a guide price of £35m. For that the buyer will get a Grade I-listed 18th-century country house set in 1,450 acres of park and farmland. It has formal gardens, a swimming pool, tennis court, eight farmhouses, a “historic grotto”, and 12 cottages on the boundaries of the estate that could provide “excellent accommodation for extended family members, guests and staff”.

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