De­spite last year’s stag­nant prop­erty mar­ket, a sud­den surge in in­ter­ested buy­ers is now cre­at­ing a flurry of se­ri­ous bids, says Caro­line McGhie

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Property -

We had al­most stopped hop­ing it could hap­pen. Dur­ing the slump, some home own­ers de­spaired of ever sell­ing their houses and felt they could never move on. Then in De­cem­ber, when the mar­ket should have been as quiet as a hi­ber­nat­ing dor­mouse, po­ten­tial buy­ers ap­peared in large num­bers. Hamp­tons In­ter­na­tional says new ap­pli­cants are up 42 per cent com­pared with the same time last year. Peo­ple whose prop­er­ties had lan­guished in es­tate agents’ win­dows for one, two, or even three years are now sur­prised by the num­ber of view­ings. Rake Hill House, a clas­sic Ge­or­gian house with pad­docks at Liss in Hamp­shire, which has been on the mar­ket since May last year, sud­denly had 98 view­ings and has just sold through Jack­son-Stops & Staff. Sim­i­lar sto­ries are be­ing told across the coun­try, and own­ers are switch­ing agents and re­duc­ing their prices to catch the wave of in­ter­est. It’s not that th­ese houses had any­thing wrong with them in the first place. Vine Cot­tage, with five bed­rooms in Chilton Fo­liat near Hunger­ford, is full of charm and close enough to trains into Lon­don, but still couldn’t find a buyer last year. Af­ter it had been on the mar­ket at £1.1mil­lion for six months with Ch­ester­ton Hum­berts, Ed­ward Hall of Smiths Gore stepped in as joint agent. “Last sum­mer a lot of peo­ple were look­ing but not mak­ing of­fers and they seemed to think that things might get worse,” he says. “So a lot of stuff just sat around. We de­cided the price here had to be re­duced to £995,000 but the sad thing was that the seller had turned down an early of­fer of over £1mil­lion. This is a lovely house with a barn made into a one-bed­room an­nex so that it can earn an in­come and help pay for it­self.” Sud­denly in De­cem­ber there were five view­ings and re­peat view­ings are con­tin­u­ing. “It is as if peo­ple have sud­denly re­alised we haven’t fallen off the world and they still need to move,” he says. Even so, there isn’t a huge choice. Ea­ger buy­ers spurred on by talk of eco­nomic re­cov­ery and ris­ing prices can find them­selves sud­denly pitched into com­pet­i­tive bid­ding. Johnny Mor­ris, head of re­search at Hamp­tons In­ter­na­tional, says stock is down on last year by five per cent across Eng­land and Wales, and down by 17 per cent in Lon­don and across the south. “It now takes al­most two weeks less to agree a sale than at the same time last year,” he says. Tim­ing, price and in­tel­li­gent sell­ing can come to­gether nicely in a mar­ket like this. For lawyer Ed­ward Henry, sell­ing a fourbed­room cot­tage called Gear­ings in Fair­ford, Glouces­ter­shire, the so­lu­tion was very care­ful pre­sen­ta­tion. The pretty stone house went on the mar­ket in 2011 at £650,000, was later re­duced to £575,000, then taken off the mar­ket and went back on again a week be­fore Christ­mas with Strutt & Parker (01285 653101). Within days it had gone un­der of­fer at £595,000. “I had it prop­erly styled and it gave it a much bet­ter chance,” says Ed­ward. “We kept it very sim­ple, took pic­tures off the walls, cleared the place of the im­ped­i­menta of a life. There are peo­ple def­i­nitely in­tend­ing to buy. They feel we are on the brink of a surge in the coun­try. Three buy­ers came through the door im­me­di­ately.” De­vel­op­ers have felt the sharp cut of the re­ces­sion more than most. Many schemes were moth­balled. In 2008, Barry Paul and Hazel Moul­der put their cot­tage in Lit­tle Kine­ton, War­wick­shire, on the mar­ket last May. Af­ter re­duc­ing the price from £485,000 to £450,000 they had 11 view­ings through Hamp­tons In­ter­na­tional (01295 203038) in the first week of 2014. “There are more se­ri­ous buy­ers look­ing now,” said Paul. Tyrrell of Ro­mark Homes con­verted a spec­tac­u­lar group of barns be­side the church in the vil­lage of Comp­ton in West Berk­shire into five houses. “All five were re­served and the de­posits had been paid. Then four of the five buy­ers with­drew be­cause they couldn’t sell their own houses,” he says. Th­ese were the dark days with the col­lapse of Lehman Brothers and the world liq­uid­ity cri­sis. But Barry was re­source­ful. “We made the de­ci­sion to let all the houses for two or three years, and that has worked re­ally well. As they have be­come avail­able we have sold them.” The last one, with four bed­rooms, on the mar­ket for most of last year at £625,000, was then taken on by Strutt & Parker and the price was re­duced to £595,000 in De­cem­ber. Three buy­ers in­stantly emerged and Barry has ac­cepted an of­fer. “There is a fear now, I think, that prices will rise and sell­ers will hope to get a bit more,” he says. Some prop­er­ties stranded by chal­leng­ing eco­nomic con­di­tions should now be sold. Chris­tian Gross bought the Bridge Ho­tel in Helms­dale, Suther­land, to turn into a bou­tique foodie ho­tel with fish­ing on the River Helms­dale. But then he met and fell in love with a Swiss doc­tor and to­gether they de­cided to launch an air res­cue ser­vice in the Kala­hari re­gion of Africa. They put the ho­tel on the mar­ket just as the econ­omy turned and it sat there from 2008 to 2012 with a price tag of £1.25mil­lion. “There aren’t many places in Europe where lob­sters, An­gus beef, veni­son and snipe are lit­er­ally at your doorstep,” says Chris­tian from his new home in Africa. Last year he put it back on the mar­ket at £595,000, a big drop be­cause the ho­tel was no longer trad­ing and it was dif­fi­cult for buy­ers to bor­row against it. “This is such in­cred­i­ble value now, and the sad thing is that Chris­tian had an of­fer of £1mil­lion early on which he turned down,” says Mark Atkin­son (01875 341768), who is han­dling the sale with CKD Gal­braith (0131 240 6960). “It has all that sort of Vic­to­rian Bal­moral charm but is sit­ting empty and costs the same as a flat in Bat­tersea.”

High hopes: Bridge Ho­tel, Helms­dale, is back on the mar­ket

Wait and see: Rake Hill House, Liss, Hamp­shire, at­tracted 98 view­ings

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