How the other half choose a house (and manage to spend a small fortune)

For some people, the length of the pool is a crucial factor in buying a house. William Raynor enters a world where 'exclusive' starts at pounds 750,000
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Like "new" politicians chanting the same mantra in triplicate to distil their priorities and numb the rest of us into submission, people in the business of buying and selling property do, sometimes, bang on about one thing. Price, they tell us, depends on location, location, location.

But what about the indoor swimming-pool? The outdoor pool? The pool which has double-glazed side screens and roof panels that hum expensively back into their summer recesses at the merest flick of a hidden switch, so that they're indoor and outdoor at the same time?

What about the adjacent gin - a bit tricky to enunciate when the helicopter's whisked one home and one's had a multiple-megajet massage in the en-suite Jacuzzi and two or three relaxing gyms-and-tonics? What about the electronic wrought-iron gates at the end of the long, grand drive, or the pillbox with the uniformed security guard manning the impenetrable mesh barrier at the top of the private road? What's the world coming to? Don't any of these things signify?

The answer is yes, to a surprising number of people such factors loom large and matter greatly in their decision to buy a house. Mark Lawson of the country houses department at the Mayfair headquarters of Knight Frank knows this: for him "exclusive" starts at pounds 750,000.

On one of the furthest flung of the Scottish Isles a buyer might pick up something special for a quarter of that price. But - and this is presumably why, in the broadest geographical sense, the word "location" keeps on being repeated ad nauseam - the closer one gets to the metropolis, the more, if one's seeking a badge of residential exclusivity on that sort of budget, one's undoubtedly going to be disappointed.

In some areas, pounds 200,000 has become chicken feed - in parts of Ascot, Esher and Wentworth. In Merc-and-Martini Surrey it might not be enough to buy a short-lease on the chicken shed.

"The sort of house which costs pounds 1m in Gloucestershire, could, in the most desirable parts of Surrey, fetch three of four times as much," says Mr Lawson.

So who is spending that sort of money? "People looking for easy access to Heathrow and central London may find themselves competing with City buyers or captains of industry with bonuses who have enough to invest to enable them to pay a premium," explains Mr Lawson."

"We also get buyers from the Middle East who want to re-locate their families in the hotter months which, coincidentally, start at around the same time as Gold Cup week at Ascot, and many of these people are racing enthusiasts. They like big gardens, and interiors with lots of marble and gold and chandeliers."

Who else? "People who look at Wentworth because of the golf, like the Japanese and the Americans, who insist on houses to the highest American standards - five or six bedrooms with en suite bathrooms and dressing- rooms, big light kitchens, Jacuzzis and spas and gyms, and indoor pools.

To sum up? "People who like old-style, Georgian or Tudor, but new-built or off-plan because they want all the modern conveniences, with good security, guards and alarm systems connected to the local police station, and as much privacy as possible."

While to ordinary mortals much of this may seem completely over the top, the essential distinction, at least below the line from the Wash to the Bristol Channel, is between what is in commutable reach of London - at its furthest down the M4 corridor almost to Bristol.

If it is not, says Mr Lawson, "the more traditional rich buyer can get more for their money and relax in peace and quiet and privacy (P+Q+P) in a classic Georgian or Queen Anne house with enough land for daughters and ponies, away from the sort of people he or she mixes with all week."

Although, strictly speaking, it's commutable, the house beside the Thames near Wallingford being marketed by Knight Frank at pounds 2m for Michael Caine would seem to fit the crucial, non-commutable equation of P+Q+P+W (for water) = SoS+G - sense of seclusion and grandeur.

And this, according to Alison Dean, a director of Savills Land & Property, "means an imposing gate and long drive, and being surrounded by 20 or more acres, rather than perched on the edge. The water can be fine for teenage children but worrying for smalls. Indoor swimming-pools are all right because the door can be locked, but pools outside have to have good security."

She sets the price tag for exclusivity at pounds 500,000, some way short of the pounds 750,000 needed to buy a four-bedroom house in Chelsea or of the pounds 675,000- plus required for a red-brick Victorian house on the Peterborough Estate near Parson's Green in Fulham. "But re-invested in the country," she says, "it's a good starting point for people moving further from London, or those who are slightly older and independent of their previous jobs, or empty-nesters - those whose children have grown up, but who still want enough room for the grandchildren to stay."

Around Salisbury in Wiltshire, pounds 500,000 could buy a Georgian or Victorian rectory; in Suffolk, just on the market through Savills, it would be enough for the secluded 16th-century house belonging to Ruth Rendell, the crime writer; in Yorkshire, with pounds 75,000 to spare, it would buy a "substantial" country house with up to 10 bedrooms and 10 acres; in the Edinburgh area or the Scottish Highlands, pounds 300,000 would buy something similar. On the Kent-Surrey border the same sort of property could cost pounds 1m - more than three times as much.

Not so many miles away, within 15-20 minutes of Haywards Heath, one of the price-determining railway stations for Sussex commuters, Humberts in Lewes has just sold a three-bedroom cottage with eight acres in a "lovely position" for pounds 600,000. "A lot of buyers are coming down here having sold in London," says Mandy Husband of Humberts, "and you only need two of them fighting over a property to push the price right up.

"We've got some horrible problems at the moment with gazumping, and as we're now bound by law to inform the vendors of every offer, we get quite cross when the press blames us instead of them. We've got very little left to sell this month but a lot to come on in September when we hope the market will hold and not go up too much and buckle, as it did last time."

Off the A23, nine miles from Brighton, Humberts is also acting for the seller of a period manor, Woodmancote Place, with 188 acres including farm, equestrian centre, tennis court and billiards room, at a price of pounds 1.75m. For that, of course, it also has seclusion and water, in no less than three lakes. So, for the next few weeks at least, with luck, one won't need that pool indoors at all.