Why a thatch still se­duces buy­ers

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

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)

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