After three successive years in which house prices and sales collapsed, the market for houses worth up to pounds 2m has been buoyant. Central London prices have risen 11 per cent this year, spurred on by international buyers attracted by the cheap pound and the promise of bargains. But pounds 2m would not gain a foothold on this year's top ten sales list where prices start at pounds 4m.
At this level deals are often done privately, with the outside world never knowing that a sale has taken place. The world's richest people routinely include a confidentiality clause forbidding the agent to name the buyer, seller or sale price.
Despite these huge purchases there are still many buyers, with millions to spend, looking for the right house. By house they really mean asset, rather than home, as many of these properties are bought for long-term investment as much as for a base in England.
London houses are as likely to be bought by a business, company or government as by an individual. With country estates the owners are frequently English, looking to spend large sums free from tax - it is possible to roll money into farmland free of capital gains tax and then pass it on free of inheritance tax. At least one large English estate was bought recently for that reason alone.
Many of those in the pounds 1m market have made their money by selling a successful business. In 1994, their numbers are likely to be swelled by stockbrokers and analysts who have earned huge bonuses during 1993. They will find themselves at the end of a queue of English and foreign house-hunters, many of whom see England as the safest place in which to invest their money.
The Middle East and American markets have always been interested in English property. Now money is starting to flow in from the Far East and Europe where German, Italian and, more recently, eastern European millionaires have started to buy in Britain.
Despite the built-in secrecy, some sales are too big to hide. This is a list of 10 sales believed to be the highest of the year.
1. Tulchan Estate, Morayshire, Scotland: pounds 12m plus
This 20,000-acre estate was sold by Knight Frank & Rutley to Leon Litchfield, a Midlands-based businessman. He can add it to the large farm he already owns in Selkirkshire. Its previous owner, Mrs Helene Panchaud, owns another estate in northern Scotland.
The main house is a baronial lodge, with panelled rooms, sitting above the river Spey. More than 1,000 salmon were caught on its seven-mile stretch of double-bank fishing last year.
The estate includes farmland, woodland, roe deer and grouse moors.
2. The Druid's Lodge Estate in Wiltshire: pounds 11m
This estate was one of two bought by members of the Guinness family this year (see no. 8 in our list). Druid's Lodge, an estate of 3,500 acres with about 30 cottages, was sold privately to the trustees of Lady Moyne. No details were ever published by the agents, Knight Frank & Rutley.
3. Pickenham Hall Estate, west Norfolk: pounds 8m plus
A German businessman bought, through Knight Frank & Rutley, this estate covering more than 3,600 acres, including most of the village of South Pickenham.
The hall has 16 bedrooms, nine bathrooms and several wood-panelled reception rooms, including a somewhat politically incorrect 'smoking room'. A classic English estate, it has landscaped gardens, three farms, woodland, a good shoot and 10 cottages and flats, in addition to 16 houses in the village.
4. Number 9 Tregunter Road, Chelsea, London: pounds 8m
The building, which from the outside looks like a discreet London home, is a development of two houses facing each other across a garden and linked by a subterranean leisure and swimming pool complex. It was sold to the Thai government for use as its ambassador's residence. The main house, decorated with interiors by Anne Griggs, has five bedroom suites - including his and hers bathrooms and dressing rooms with the master bedroom. There are five further suites in the second house, for guests and staff. The main house has two floors of large reception rooms for cooking and entertaining, leading down to the swimming pool complex which runs under the garden. On top of the secondary house is a cinema. This was the most ambitious sales project of 1993. Next year's will be The Rectory, priced at pounds 25m, a mansion with two acres of garden behind the King's Road, Chelsea.
5(=). The Veneto Villa, Regent's Park, central London: pounds 6m
This was one of the three new houses designed by the architect Quinlan Terry for the Crown Estates and the second to be sold. The Ionic Villa sold last year and the Gothick Villa is on the market at pounds 6.75m. The Veneto, a fivebedroom, five-bathroom house, had the same asking price, but eventually sold to a Middle Eastern buyer through joint agents Savills and Lassmans.
5(=). Number 5 Holland Park, west London: pounds 6m
This was a development which almost went disastrously wrong. A quarter of the way through the building of the 13,000 sq ft house the development company went into receivership. It was completed for the receivers and sold on their behalf by Knight Frank & Rutley. The house has eight bedrooms and bathrooms, staff flat and an underground swimming pool complex.
Its price is due to its unusual size. Number 23 Holland Park sold earlier this year to the Sangsters for just under pounds 3m. The buyer of Number 5 was a trust thought to be controlled by the Sultan of Brunei's family. This is outside their usual stamping ground of Kenwood, next to Hampstead Heath in north London, where they now own about half a dozen homes.
7. Herstmonceaux Castle, East Sussex: pounds 5m
Though not actually sold for residential use, no list of this year's big sales would be complete without Herstmonceaux. The building, which originally belonged to the Royal Greenwich Observatory, was bought by Queen's University, of Kingston, Ontario, Canada, to be used as a study centre. It was sold by Savills and Strutt & Parker on behalf of receivers for the leisure group James Developments (Herstmonceaux), which went under attempting to turn the castle into a hotel and leisure facility.
8(=). Fosbury Manor Estate, Wiltshire: pounds 4.25m
This 1,000-acre estate was sold by Humberts to a member of the Guinness family. It has a Grade II listed stone manor house, outstanding gardens and grounds laid out by Sir Eastman Bell, as well as pheasant and partridge shoots. It is just 70 miles from London.
8(=). Penthouse, 3a Kensington Palace Gardens, London: pounds 4.25m
This block of 20 apartments opposite Kensington Palace was expected to become London's smartest address. Launched on to the market in May 1991, it turned into a developer's nightmare as property prices crashed. A typical 2,600 sq ft apartment dropped from pounds 2.6m to pounds 1.05m. Savills and Hamptons finally sold the penthouse for Regalian Properties to a foreign buyer for a figure believed to be just over pounds 4m. All the apartments have gone to overseas buyers.
10(=). 77 Addison Road, Holland Park, west London: pounds 4m
A very similar development to 5 Holland Park, this large house was created by the developer Robert Wallace on behalf of the Ilchester Estate. John D Wood sold it to an Irish businessman, who had it finished to his own specifications. The house has huge reception rooms on the ground floor, a swimming pool complex at garden level and seven main bedroom and bathroom suites. It also has a garage and a drive, a rarity in London.
10(=). Easton Grey House, near Tetbury, Gloucestershire: pounds 4m
Another private sale of a Georgian house with two lodges and 200 acres. It is thought to have been sold by Knight Frank & Rutley to an American buyer.