Castle for sale. Offers in the region of £1m – £35m

ShakenhurstThis week I’ve been on the look-out for a castle, though a country house, or manor would do.. It’s a pretty loose brief. Frankly if it’s big and old, it’s worth a look. Long story, and may come to nothing but it’s been an interesting excursion in to this fairytale world and worth sharing I thought.
So, for those with a crenellation fixation here’s what you can get for your millions, how you can get a castle on the cheap and how you can make your country mansion pay.

Castles are cheaper than you think

Sure, they’re expensive to run and insure, there are strict rules about what you can and can’t do to them, they fall apart if not maintained and they’re not exactly convenient for nipping down to the Kings Road for a latte but all this means is that there are some really good deals to be had.

Take Woodlands Vale, Ryde, Isle of Wight for instance. At £2.65m, OK it only has a meagre 9.5 acres but what a place! and it’s a 20 min speed boat ride to Portsmouth and just 1.5 hrs to Waterloo.

Then there’s Quernmore Park. Lancashire. Quernmore is a grade II listed Georgian House, was built in 1795, has 10 bedrooms and comes with 20.6 acres of land. A steal surely at £2.5m

But don’t take my word for it. This is what £2.5m gets you in St James, London
Need I say more…

Good things come to those who wait
You can snap up a great castle deal if you’re willing to play a waiting game. Selling castles is a tricky business. Yes there’s been an influx of foreign money, but sellers still well-outnumber buyers. There is no ‘going rate’ when it comes to castles. Agents price speculatively and if nothing comes back, the price is often dropped a few months in. For those with patience and a bit of trust, holding your nerve can save you £millions

country-house-art-mainTake Westbury castle, Prestatyn, North Wales.
Described as a late regency manor, with 7 acres of open parkland, 14 bedrooms, a 3 bed detached lodge, stables (soon to be a 5-bed house) & beautiful sea views, at £5m it’s a absolute bargain right?
But wait. Move forwards 4 months and what’s that? It’s down to £1.59m (well done Zoopla on the ‘new-build’ tag on the picture by the way)

The deal to beat all deals though – Bovey Castle, Devon. Bovey_Castle_1A 64-bedroom country house hotel on Dartmoor. Bought for £26.4m in 2006 from Peter de Savery by a property investment company and ‘Hotels & Resorts’. Things didn’t go well. 6 years later they sold for £14m. Ouch! ..and it’s now one of the top hotels in the South West.

Lose a bit of land and save you a fortune
Quenby Hall in Leicestershire is a Grade 1 Jacobean Manor owned by the de Lisle family. It’s a 1000 acre estate and until recently, was home to a 200 year-old stilton dairy. Things went bad a couple of years ago. The dairy folded with £250k debt thanks in part, to a Listeria outbreak.
It’s listed at £12m for the house and all the land, but settle for 250 acres and it’s yours for just £5.5m

It may pay to buy the business too
Nowadays your average castle owner, whether it be a family, investment firm or Hollywood a-lister (ok perhaps not) is trying all sorts of interesting ways to make their property pay. Choose carefully and there’s an exciting array of businesses opportunities on offer.

How about a Hotel, Spa or wedding venue?:
Otterburn Hall, Newcastle. £2m.
..or my personal favourite.. The Elms, Worcestershire. £5m.
Perhaps the cheese-making business at Quenby? which comes with a right to use the coveted ‘Stilton’ badge.

A Scottish country pursuit estate maybe? Gledfield Hall is an 8 bedroom house with 5,000 acres of moor and heath on the banks of the River Carron in Sutherland. Here you can enjoy duck flighting, pheasant and grouse shooting, deer stalking and salmon fishing

Or a former school and one-time nursing home? Cransford Hall is a 1910 Edwardian mansion in Norfolk. It’s been an 18 bedroom girls boarding house in the past and more recently a residential care home.

Unknown ..and what if money’s no object?

Well, there are a few £20m-£30m country piles on the market. The priciest  and arguably the best- Kingstone Lisle House, Oxfordshire at £35m. Nice of Strutt & Parker to point out Waitrose – a free morning coffee and paper for the lucky owners!
Meanwhile, to indulge you one last time. What £32.5m gets you in Mayfair

                                                                                Oxfordshire for me I think. I’ll get the train in..

It’s grim down south! My look at York and the north.

York wallI took a trip to York before Christmas; the first time for over 20 years and I wasn’t disappointed. If you’ve not been there, York’s a thriving University town with ancient Viking remains, walk-able Roman wall, narrow medieval streets (the Shambles is the crowning glory) and an impressive railway museum documenting York’s long transport heritage. With the North York Moors and pretty coastal towns like Whitby nearby, it’s surely got to be up there as one of our best cities.

York industrialised more slowly than other northern cities; the reason it was able to hold on to it’s historic charm. At the time of the industrial revolution it became known for it’s fast expanding banking and insurance sectors. The coming of the railways then further revolutionised things and by the 1850s trains were leaving for London up to 13 times a day.

Today, the North is struggling. According to Zoopla’s house price index, 7 out of 10 of the worst performing towns in 2013 were north of Birmingham. Rotherham and Bolton suffering the most. There ‘s higher unemployment in the north, lower investment, greater health problems, higher teenage pregnancy, greater alcoholism. This list unfortunately, goes on

So is it all bad news? No, is the simple answer. House prices aren’t suffering in York, for example, like many northern cities. Indeed they performed quite well this year. According to Zoopla York came 10th in the best performing of 2013 with a rise of 6.6%. According to Nationwide, Manchester too, saw a massive 21% annual increase. (though to be fair they had fallen a VERY long way since the 2009 crash). There are signs of recovery in other northern towns and plenty of news to bring encouragement.

Walking past the Minster, York’s hugely impressive cathedral, I reflected on the unfairness of just focusing on the economics. How much is the North responsible for it’s changing fortunes after all, and not a victim of national and global circumstances?
Take the economics out of the equation and the north becomes hugely attractive.
The estate agents, landlords, shopkeepers, even car salesmen, (thanks Ray Chapman motors for the new car by the way!) that I meet, do a great promotional job. Put simply, northerners are seriously friendly, welcoming and humorous people. Communities ARE a bit tighter here. People DO talk to each other more and they DO look out for one another – fact!

I might point out that I was born and grew up in the Midlands, have lived in Yorkshire and thanks to the Youth Hostelling Association and a dogged determination by my parents to keep 4 spirited children occupied over the school holidays, have spent much time walking almost every corner of ‘the North’. On that basis I feel qualified to comment.

What about the North/South debate then? It’s all a bit old hat in my view. Yes, the north has a rough deal. The disparity in almost every indicator of wealth and prosperity between north and south is striking.
That aside, any sensible minded person only has to ‘go north’ to see why making derogatory remarks is frankly a bit silly. The North is ‘great’ in the both senses. Great in terms of it’s breathtaking industrial heritage and economic contribution for which we should all be grateful but great too because it really is a fantastic place to live, work, bring up a family, explore and enjoy
My advice; get yourself up there, see what your missing and if it’s quality of life you’re after, you won’t do any better. As for what you get for you money compared with the south, no contest.


Useful links 

Hull. City of culture 2017:


Young, demanding and with money to spend; The Chinese are in town and they need somewhere to live

A quick glance around Waitrose last night and it’s clear Exeter’s leading the way in the quest for the foreign-student dollar – or is it now the Yen?

Gone are the days of 7 students in 3 rooms in ropey old terrace houses down in St Davids. The terraces remain but if landlords think they can still get away with piece of grotty lino and a paper lampshade, they’d better think again. Next door, swanky new-builds are going up, the foreign students are moving in and it’s the Chinese who are leading the charge.

Attracted by combination of a slick University recruitment drive, great results and Exeter’s recent nomination as Sunday Times University of the Year 2013, Exeter is winning the race to pull in these bright young things. Add to this, the insatiable desire of the Chinese for a taste of the historic and there you have it, a 7,500 strong influx of demanding property dwellers and a large opportunity for the canny investor. Appealing to the young, wealthy and happy-to-pay, the Universities can’t build fast enough (or get others to), rushing to keep students in the manner to which they’re plainly accustomed. Smart new buildings and cool, sleek interiors abound, students here have never had it so good.

Go to the promotional pages of the new wave of student property investment companies and you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re talking about an apartment block in Belgravia, not Exeter student digs – “secure, self-contained luxury apartments” and at a “level of quality never seen before” go the slogans.

Times have changed and investors are seeing an opportunity. Rents have been rising steadily against prices so ‘yield’ is finally making a comeback – especially in the student towns of the North of England where property values are lower. Along with the growing private investor sector, companies like ‘Vita’ in Exeter are appealing to less hands-on landlords, offering fully managed apartments and minimum-income guarantees – beats the returns offered by banks like RBS – assuming their systems aren’t down!

With David Cameron in China as I write, enthusiastically promoting all that little ‘ol Britain has to offer, wise investors should perhaps take note. “Wei shuang fang you li” he announced yesterday, to a business community lunch.

“In both sides’ interests” might be all the wise investor needs to hear.
As for me, I’m off to the University to see if they do courses in Mandarin.

May I suggest in the meantime Mr Waitrose, that you start investing a little more in your ‘Chinese’ ranges – or they’ll be off to Aldi for their noodles like the rest of us!

Check out this article on the subject

..and for developments in Exeter:

New Website Launched

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