Why a thatch still seduces buyers
Ken Kirkland knows more than most just how romantic a thatched cottage can be. “About 15 years ago my wife Pamela asked me to build her a thatched cottage. It was what she always wanted. Then she passed away, but I continued with the project, building it as she wanted and as I promised her,” he says.
Fulfilling that romantic pledge took Ken, an engineer, three years. He scoured the country for a derelict bungalow, secured agreement to demolish it, and then designed and built a spectacular, eco-friendly five-bedroom cottage in its place in half an acre of grounds in rural Hampshire.
Ken even took time off work to do the labouring himself. The result is Lantern Cottage, a brick and flint home with – of course – a thatch on top.
“The roof is a wonderful feature, a touch of tradition in a new property. But there’s a modern twist because I’ve installed a 60-minute fireretardant blanket beneath the thatch, plus a firebreak. It’s extremely safe and extremely strong,” says Ken, who is now selling Lantern Cottage in Upper Chute through Evans & Partridge (01264 810702) for £995,000.
Aside from being a loving gesture, Ken’s choice shows that thatch – although a symbol of the quintessential period English country home – is far from being an outdated material.
Indeed NBS, a consultancy run by the Royal Institute of British Architects, says of Britain’s estimated 30,000 thatched homes, around 10 per cent are modern. Yet it is the chocolate box image of the older cottage, wisteria on the trellis and birds perched atop the thatch that endures in the memory.
Estate agents admit that a thatch is something of a Marmite feature. Some people love it, others hate it.
“Thatched properties are photogenic – especially if recently rethatched. Normally, thatch is used on smaller houses and cottages, but they are attractive as both a holiday or main home. The quintessential holiday property will often be a thatched cottage next to a lane,” suggests Rupert Sweeting, of Knight Frank.
“Creepy crawlies, the worry of fires and the cost of roof maintenance come up as excuses against owning a thatched property. However, period features and the stunning look and character of a recently thatched cottage add up to their strong demand and a diehard following,” says Rupert Lawson Johnston of Hamptons International.
So what exactly are the problems that are off-putting to some, yet such a turn-on to others?
First, there is the challenge of rethatching. There are three different materials used to thatch a roof, and, not surprisingly, the longer you want it to last, the more you have to pay.
Water reed is the most durable, historically coming from Norfolk but now commonly imported from eastern Europe. It can last up to 80 years, say experts. Wheat reed – as used by Ken Kirkland on his Hampshire home – lasts up to 45 years, while long straw may well need to be replaced after as little as 15 to 20 years.
The cost will vary according to size, location and material, but a patch once a year can typically set you back £1,000 while a complete re-roof can hit £50,000 plus VAT – meaning buyers of thatched cottages must check the current roof life.
Then there is the issue of insurance, which can be difficult and expensive to secure because of the risk of fire, especially in older properties. The National Society of Master Thatchers says 50 thatched homes suffer serious fires each year, and specialist insurers will require you to fit enhanced fire precautions – a good idea, anyway.
“Insulate the chimney flue to prevent heat transferring into the thatch. This is especially important when a solid fuel or wood burner is installed. Consider forming a fireproof barrier between the roof timbers and the thatch layer when renovating or undertaking reroofing,” advises Marc House, a safety prevention manager at Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue.
Third, and finally, there is the lesser problem of infestation – mice, rats, and birds get into thatch, especially older examples where reeds have broken or moved to allow entrances to appear. That is why older thatched roofs often have netting on top.
So far, so expensive and awkward. But there are many positives to owning a thatch, too. Not least, that some buyers will pay more for them.
“Thatch is often associated with dream homes, and in a village setting they can be particularly attractive to buyers. Likewise, for a holiday home or holiday let I would expect a thatched cottage to attract a premium,” explains Nick Rickett from the Stamford estate agency Norton Rickett.
“A thatched roof can really sell a house, especially smaller properties suitable as holiday homes within a two-hour drive of London. London- based buyers now in their 30s and 40s want a complete break at weekends, and the thatch typifies their move from city to rural,” says Neal Mitchell, a buying agent in Hampshire.
“We have sold countless thatched homes to applicants that had said ‘no thatch’ but then fell in love with a thatched property. They add character, not to mention excellent insulation in the winter while being cool in the summer,” says Nick Loweth of Knight Frank’s Hungerford office. And then there is the romance. Letting agencies say thatched cottages are the favourite weekend getaway choices for renters around Valentine’s Day, while Boscundle Manor in Cornwall has installed a thatched gazebo where couples can make their vows, and in Cambridgeshire there is The Thatch Barn Wedding Venue – the clue is in the name.
It may not be for everybody but some, it seems, really do love the image of a thatched roof. And that’s not just clutching at straws.
Thorpe Road, Peterborough. Grade II listed, 18th-century three-bedroom cottage with private garden in a favourite suburb of Peterborough, £425,000 (01780 782999; nortonrickett. co.uk).
The last straw: Ken Kirkland spent three years building Lantern Cottage. The Hampshire property is now on sale for £995,000 (evansandpartridge.co.uk)