Property: Working from home

For a life-change, move to the country and live `above the shop'. By Fiona Brandhorst dydydydydydydydydyddydydydydydydydyydyd

A HOUSE with character which also doubles as a business opportunity? They are out there - and there is more to choose from than just sub post offices in sleepy backwaters. Fortysomethings looking to capitalise on the increased value of their property, and seeking a change of lifestyle as well as a challenge, can take their pick of guesthouses, restaurants and pubs, as well as those ever- popular post offices.

The small country estate of Eggesford Barton in Devon is situated on the Tarka Trail (so named becuase Henry Williamson's novel Tarka the Otter was set locally) between Exeter and Barnstaple.

Its owners, Jean and Peter Heyes, spent six years renovating and restoring the main nine-bedroom, 18th-century farmhouse and its adjoining buildings, which include a dovecote, roundhouse, great barn and a milking parlour that now seats 100 people. The stone and slate buildings are arranged around an enclosed courtyard set amid 29 acres.

"We've held art exhibitions, courses and concerts in the milk parlour," says Mrs Heyes. "We found it had excellent acoustics and you actually sit in the old stalls." The Heyes have chosen to combine living at Eggesford Barton with running a variety of business activities, including residential seminars, conferences and weddings (they hold a civil licence) as well as bed and breakfast.

"It's important to believe in what you are doing," says Mr Heyes. "Identify your market and get on with it." Now they are moving on, West Country estate agent Stags is marketing the property with a price guide of pounds 750,000: with a footnote that the income-earning potential has only been partially realised.

Serious animal lovers may feel drawn towards Heath House, near Worlington in Suffolk. The contemporary six-bedroom home is set within seven acres and is being sold with a number of outbuildings which currently operate as a UK quarantine facility for more than 100 cats and dogs.

Good motorway links will take purchasers to Stansted Airport and London, and the racecourse at Newmarket is within a 10-minute drive. Bedfords estate agent is asking around pounds 335,000.

The popular holiday county of Dorset offers numerous business opportunities based on the tourist trade. Higher Pound Farm at Monkton Wyld, Charmouth, has an 18th-century, four-bedroom farmhouse, seven letting cottages and an equestrian centre as well a view out to sea. It is currently on sale for around pounds 825,000 through Humberts.

Colin Dixon from Peagrams estate agents in Clacton-on-Sea in Essex has many enquiries during the summer season from holiday makers contemplating buying a house to run as a B&B. "Many people come here from London with redundancy money or after early retirement with a view to making a living. The key to it is the size of the property. Up to five rooms to let makes the business easier to control." An established B&B property with up to four bedrooms costs around pounds 130,000.

According to Humberstones, an agent that specialises in selling businesses, post offices remain the most popular with the public. They are currently selling a Grade II-listed property in Wales, close to the English border, with first-floor living accommodation and three double bedrooms on the second floor.

A converted roof space could be developed to provide a further three bedrooms. The post office and shop are situated on the ground floor and the location is said to boast a sizeable local population as well as a strong tourist trade.

Sounds idyllic? It could be yours for pounds 139,950 for the freehold property, goodwill and fixtures and fittings. The post office salary is pounds 34,300 plus the profits from the shop. Another property in a sought-after village near Nottingham includes a 200-year-old, five-bedroom cottage incorporating a post office, approached via a brick pathway through a mature front garden. The asking price is pounds 295,000.

Humberstones sees people from various backgrounds attending its business courses specially designed to take potential purchasers through the process of buying a post office. The day's seminar includes a look at business accounting, legal procedures, the complexities of applying to be a sub- postmaster and how to finance the venture.

If you're trying to escape the heat of the city, would you hop out of the frying pan into the fryer of a fish and chip shop no matter how attractive the house is that goes with it? Rosens specialises in buying and selling chippies, most of which have a property attached. Prices range from pounds 10,000 to pounds 4m (the price tag of The Seashell in St John's Wood once used by Princess Diana).

Rosens is currently selling a large stone-built corner property in the Somerset village of Peasedown-St-John. The two-bedroom house is set in a quarter of an acre and has three additional rooms that can be converted into living accommodation. The owner is retiring and selling up for pounds 185,000. Rosens also runs courses for individuals or couples wanting to know more about the trade, including a hands-on session for a week in a working business.

Romantics will go gooey-eyed over The Runcible Spoon restaurant located in the historic Cinque Port town of Rye in East Sussex. Surrounded by charming cobbled streets, hanging baskets and cascading window boxes, it comes with a two-bedroom flat and scope to expand the opening hours. Agents Christie and Co are selling this gem for pounds 142,500.

Stags, 01392 255202; Bedfords, 01284 769999; Humberts, 01823 331234; Peagrams, 01255 474254; Humberstones, 0800 7318340; Rosens, 0181-539 6426; Christie and Co, 01622 656000

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