Buyers are still spoilt for choice

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The Independent Online
The latest statistic of woe comes from the 4,000 offices which make up the Corporate Estate Agents property index. Sales in April, which should be a peak month, fell an unseasonal 15 per cent compared with March and were down 18 per cent on April last year. Even more worryingly, new instructions were barely up on January and February, which does not bode well for the summer.

The corporate estate agents' experience is echoed in the latest report from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. Agents across the country and across the price ranges say business is sluggish or, at best, patchy, with the West Midlands and South-west regions slightly more optimistic than the rest. One Northampton agent's remarks were typical: "The property market is proceeding in fits and starts. Easter was disappointingly quiet despite a busier preceding period. Buyers are spoilt for choice and there are still too many agents chasing too few sales."

Despite this overwhelming trend, some pockets of the market continue to be busy. Owners of good flats and houses in popular areas find their properties are sold in a week. If they want to replace their homes with similarly attractive ones, they have to move fast.

While ordinary folk are finding the estate agents' cupboards bare, the rich are spoilt for choice. A number of outstanding properties have come on to the market this month, the most spectacular of which is Allington Castle.

It is a classic castle of the type normally presided over by English Heritage. Built in the 13th century, it sits four-square around a courtyard, with castellated walls and towers, a moat and heavy wooden doors. Where most houses have a dining room, it has a refectory, and where they have a sitting room, it has a great hall - not to mention the lower solar, long gallery and 25 bedrooms. The castle comes with a gatehouse, a number of cottages and a medieval barn and sits on the banks of the River Medway in Kent. It is being sold by Knight Frank and Rutley and Gerald Eve for pounds 1.5m.

For a similar price you could have Number One Hampstead Square, a classic double-fronted five-storey Georgian house, tucked in between Hampstead village and Hampstead Heath in north London.

The house is a showcase of period details, with wood panelling, fireplaces with moulded mantelpieces and elegant windows. It has five main bedrooms, three bathrooms, three reception rooms and a south-facing walled garden. Hamptons and Goldschmidt and Howland are asking pounds 1.6m.

Back in the real world, Strutt & Parker is to auction eight period cottages belonging to the Knowlton Court Estate, near Sandwich in Kent. Estate cottages often come up for rent on the county grapevine, but rarely for sale on the open market.These are scattered between working fields with more tractors than cars driving past.

The cottages were built around the turn of the century for estate workers, but most have spent their recent years as holiday lets. They range from a tiny one-bedroom house to one with four bedrooms and two bathrooms. The guide prices range from pounds 40,000 to pounds 110,000. They will be auctioned on 16 June at Broom Park in Barham. More details from Strutt & Parker in Canterbury (01227 451123).