The ultimate in decluttering
Once upon a time, it was assumed that when you moved into a house, the previous owners would have stripped the place of everything but the light fittings. That’s no longer the case. In fact, an increasing number of vendors are prepared to sell you not just their house, but its contents: everything from sculptures to sofas, from carpets to curtains. “We’ve lived here for nearly 20 years, and we are moving to a smaller cottage,” says Mike Thomas, who with wife Maureen is selling the lovely, sixbedroom Milton Lodge, in Buckinghamshire, which is on the market for £1.395 million (01494 731950; savills.co.uk).
“We’ve spent all this time collecting things that suit the house. Our dining-room table seats 12, we’ve a big collection of political memorabilia, and in the hall, we’ve 78 Hindu drawings of everyday life in India, in 1849.
“We’ve cast-iron gates that were made in Kerala, and in the garden we’ve two rosewood pillars we found in a junkyard in Singapore.
“On top of which, we have a vast hay loft stacked with yet more stuff. We are nature’s hoarders, no doubt about it. I trace it all back to the time my mother sold my train set without telling me!”
The good news is that both Mike and Maureen know what they want to take with them. The even better news is that potential buyers of their house get the chance to choose, from a price list, which fixtures and fittings they want, and which the Thomases have spent two decades amassing.
There is a huge range to choose from, too: ornaments, paintings, curtains, blinds, clocks, mirrors, standard lamps and even garden chairs.
“A lot of the stuff is going to be too big for our next place,” says Maureen. “Which means we have a pretty clear idea of what we do want to take with us. Things that mean something to us, and which we can fit into our next home.”
The question is, how much can you ask for a dining table or set of 19th-century illustrations that physically won’t fit into your new home? That’s a subject currently being mulled over by Edmondo di Robilant, founder of the Dover Street Art Gallery, in Mayfair.
He and his wife are selling £5.95million Woodborough Lodge, in Putney (020 8778 9900; savills. co.uk), a vast, seven-bedroom mansion with a large garden and a separate flat in the grounds. Since it was built in 1895, the di Robilants are only the third family to have owned it.
The couple have two other properties that could house some of the furniture and antiques they have accumulated over the years. Even so, they still can’t accommodate all their antiques and artworks.
Which means there’s only one solution. Whatever the new buyers don’t want to make an offer for, the di Robilants will catalogue and sell at auction with Christie’s.
“At the same time, part of me wants to send a card out to all our friends, telling them to come around, choose what they want, and agree a price with us,” says Edmondo.
Sometimes, of course, that’s easier said than done. If you buy Blae Grove House, at Up Nately in Hampshire, you might spend £3million on the house and outbuildings (01256 350600; knightfrank.co.uk) and at the same time make the owner an offer for one of the lovely classic cars sitting in his garage (you can choose from yellow, red or blue).
If you’re the buyer, how much do you offer? The going rate, or the I’ll-take-it-off-your-hands rate? And if you’re the seller, do you accept a knock-down price just because you want to sell the thing, or do you hold out for the kind of value you might get at an open auction?
Such mathematical exertions aren’t always necessary. For example, if you decide to buy (for £1.75million) another Knight Frank property, Bosryn, at Port Navas beside the Helford River in Cornwall, you get (at no extra cost) a three-year-old Scorpion rib boat (value new £85,000), plus canoes and an inflatable dinghy (01392 423111; knightfrank.co.uk).
And when you put your deposit down on Island Barn, at Bransford in Worcestershire (01905 723438; knightfrank.co.uk), you don’t just get a 3,000sq ft house, you get your own private, uninhabited five-acre island in the middle of the River Teme.
Then again, if you prefer to stick to dry land and buy Spread Eagles at Melbury Abbas in Dorset (£525,000, 01747 850858; jacksonstops.co.uk), included in the deal is a Grade-II listed house, views over unspoilt countryside – and a fully working train set in one of the upstairs rooms.
Meanwhile, 748-acre Kilmelford Farm, near Oban in Argyll, has seven bedrooms, two staff cottages, three holiday cottages, a boathouse, pier and views out over Loch Melfort (£2.25million, 0131 718 4592; struttandparker.com). And if you’ve still got a bit of change left over, you can put in a bid for three rowing boats, a tractor, 300 sheep and 12 tons of ready-chopped logs.
An even more practical course of action, though, is to buy the furniture already in the property. Not only will it suit the house, but the chances are, you’ll get it at a reasonable price; the people living there are – more likely than not – going to be getting furniture that suits their new home.
Indeed, rather than loading it all
on to the back of a lorry and getting a disappointingly low return at auction, the current owners will be far happier selling it to you, knowing that their lovingly picked-out chattels will be not so much going to a good home as staying in one.
On top of which, having cupboards, chairs and tables that already sit comfortably where they are is a big boost to the new owners, saving them endless weekends scouring the country for furniture that fits.
Mind you, sometimes you get rather more thrown in than you bargained for. Anyone, for example, who buys Bridge Cottage at Ratford, near Calne in Wiltshire (£1.495million, 01249 444557; humberts.com), gets four bedrooms, a private chapel, nine acres of land, fishing rights on one bank – plus an entire flock of geese.
Unlike flat-pack furniture, these birds need no complicated assembly instructions. You just feed them and, in return, they honk and add atmosphere. It’s the perfect arrangement.
Mike Taylor is selling a collection of art and memorabilia with his house (top); classic cars are available with Blae Grove House, Hampshire (above)