House Hunter: Is rural bliss always high-maintenance?

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The problem

ALEXANDER ARLOTT OF TUNBRIDGE WELLS WRITES:

My wife and I live in central Tunbridge Wells, and in the past two years we've seen each of our three teenage children leave home to go to university. Although we still need a house large enough to accommodate them at holiday times, we want to move to a more rural part of Kent and reduce the amount of hard work that goes with owning a big property.

There are some houses in Kent which have sold parts of their land to developers for more homes to be built, and consequently have much smaller gardens than you might expect. One home near us has four bedrooms but no garden at all, just a terrace area on the roof.

This is appealing to my wife and myself as we hate gardening. But we've noticed these homes have been on sale for many months. We are consequently worried that when it comes to selling such a house, it may prove difficult. We have a budget of £500,000 ­ what should we do?

The advice

Graham Norwood replies:

More and more homeowners with large gardens are selling plots of land to builders ­ so long as they're in areas where planners would agree to more houses being built. But there is substantial evidence that it leaves the remaining building much less attractive to potential buyers and that it will ultimately sell for less.

Estate agents are unanimous about the effect. "Gardens have to reflect the size of house and its position. A four-bed house in London will not necessarily be expected to have a decent-sized garden, but an edge-of-village house will need to have at least a fifth of an acre ­ if it doesn't then it will lose some of its saleability," says Jonathan Woodward of Cluttons' Maidstone office.

Philip Wooller, of the estate agency Bective Leslie Marsh, says: "We recently sold a four-bed house with a very small decked garden for £950,000, while the same-sized house with a 30ft garden a few streets away achieved £1,050,000. A four-bed house with a big garden will always achieve more than a five-bed house with a small garden."

James Pace, of the property company Farrar, says the general guide is that a typical garden adds 10 per cent to the sale price. "A large mature garden will add far more than that, and a tiny bit of decking will only add a little," he says. "Houses without gardens are much harder to sell. I had a four-bedroom house with off-street parking, but without a garden, sitting on the market for months. Despite being a stone's throw from a beautiful park, the lack of private outside space was a real turn-off for families."

It is clear that if you want to sell any large home for the best price in the shortest time, you need to buy one with an appropriate-sized garden. But it is easy to find a low-maintenance garden, and the money you save on no longer keeping three teenagers should cover the cost of a gardener.

The Solution

Property one: Great Bossingham Farmhouse

Price: £450,000

Agent's details: A four-bedroom, farmhouse near Canterbury with front and rear gardens, but the former has been turned into a parking area large enough for four small cars. The remaining garden is cottage-style so it is pretty, though fairly high-maintenance

Agent: Strutt and Parker, 01227 451123, www.strut-tandparker.com

Property two: Semi in West Vale

Price: £497,500

Agent's details: Three miles from Tunbridge Wells, this semi-detached house is 100 years old and has been modernised to provide extra bedrooms in the roof space. The rear garden is 100ft long. Most of it is lawn but there are some flowers, so it is low-maintenance for its size. It also has a summer house

Agent: Knight Frank, 01892 515035, www.knightfrank.com

Property three: Detached house in Rocklea

Price: £500,000

Agent's details: Built in the 1820s, this house is in a conservation area looking over Tunbridge Wells. It has a south-facing lawn with some borders, and though the garden is smaller than the others on this page, it is an appropriate size for an edge-of-town property.

Agent: Knight Frank, 01892 515035, www.knightfrank.com

If you would like House Hunter's help in finding a property in the UK or overseas, write to: The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, 020-7005-2000 or e-mail: househunter@independent.co.uk

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