Stephen Minchin of Reeds Rains, an independent agent with branches across the North-West, says: 'In previous centuries people were able to build big houses and keep them staffed and maintained. Now often the only way to keep them going is to split them up. Those who don't have the means to fund a grand lifestyle can still live the life of a country squire with views over parkland and a grand sweep of a drive, but without the associated costs and responsibilities.'
Homes carved out of grand houses appeal to all sectors: people wanting a quiet retirement, executives who appreciate the grand rooms which are ideal for entertaining, and even first-time buyers looking at the smaller units.
Among the properties Reeds Rains has on its books are a four-bedroom apartment in a mansion near Macclesfield in Cheshire, priced at pounds 210,000 and a three-bedroom apartment in the turret of a former 'gentleman's residence' in Deganwy, Llandudno. An unusual feature of the latter, which is priced at pounds 95,000 is that all the rooms are circular.
Mr Minchin says: 'Privacy is usually very good in apartments carved out of old houses because they tend to have thick walls' and, he adds, the sort of people these homes appeal to are 'usually reasonable people - well-educated business people who keep themselves to themselves'.
There may be some drawbacks to this sort of communal living - for instance it might be difficult to have a private barbecue in the garden, but there are usually multiple compensations such as a swimming pool, tennis courts and croquet lawns, the cost of which is spread between all the residents - and car parking is rarely a problem.
Daniels, the St Albans estate agent, is offering a one-bedroom apartment in Highfield Hall, Tyttenhanger Green, Hertfordshire for pounds 96,000. The Hall, which is set in six acres of landscaped communal gardens with lawns, woodland, communal barbecue and private tennis court, dates from the 1880s and was converted into smaller units in 1987.
The country house market has, in the words of one estate agent, 'taken a hiding' over the last two or three years, although the market in properties over pounds 500,000 is starting to move better now. Several developers have had their fingers burnt.
John Lewis of Strutt & Parker's St Albans office says the costs of conversion of a country house can be very high, with soundproofing and compliance with fire regulations. 'Apartments don't always make the premium they might and are not always as easy to sell as one might expect.'
However Strutt and Parker's London office, which has just sold Cosgrove Hall in Northamptonshire, is now offering Ockham House at Hurst Green in East Sussex, for pounds 1.5 million. It is a huge Grade II listed Edwardian house set in 173 acres and overlooking the Rother Valley. Alexander Hunt, partner in charge of the London country house department, says the property, which includes a detached roundel oast house, a cottage, a bungalow and a range of outbuildings, would be ideal for conversion into a number of units.
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