Please do not disturb

Earlier this month Peter Aikens was given pounds 431,000 to move house. Rosalind Russell explains why
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Peter Aikens' ears must be burning. The 57-year-old pounds 341,000-a- year cider-firm boss given pounds 431,000 to move house, has had the details of his relocation package bandied around in the newspapers to the general tongue-clicking disapproval of everyone... except the board of Matthew Clark, which makes Dry Blackthorn and Taunton cider.

Keen to hang on to their dynamic chief executive when the company moved its HQ from Guildford to Bristol, the board decided to pay Mr Aiken pounds 127,000 "disturbance allowance", pounds 68,000 compensation because his house in Reigate failed to sell for as much as expected, and a further pounds 169,000 for tax so that he would not be out of pocket. (The Inland Revenue ceiling for removal expenses is pounds 8,000, above which tax is payable.) The rest of the payout, presumably, went in legal and removal fees and the kind of things you need pounds 67,000 for.

The Aikens, who have two sons, sold their Surrey home for just over pounds 300,000 and chose a pounds 400,000 seven-bedroom home in Shepton Mallett. The new house is believed to have terraced gardens and spectacular views - as you'd expect for that much money.

The relocation package is understood to be the biggest handout of its kind. It has certainly provoked wry amusement among relocation agents who say the usual disturbance allowance is one months' salary, which in Peter Aikens' case would be around pounds 28,000: pounds 127,000 seems hard to justify.

"What were they leaving behind? Gold-plated carpets?" cries Tad Zurlinden, chief of the Association of Relocation Agents. "A payment of pounds 68,000 compensation for the house, that's reasonable, most people would agree. But pounds 127,000 is an outrageous sum of money. Even if you bought a new cooker, dishwasher and washing machine, you'd have to go out of your way to spend that much."

The general opinion of the relocation experts is that this decision was a one-off, taken "in-house". Companies that move staff regularly have a policy laying down exactly what is paid to whom. Smith Kline-Beecham for instance, offers 15 per cent of salary. This would be expected to cover goods that had to be replaced (left behind as fixtures and fittings), new school uniforms, redecoration, redirection of mail, kennelling fees, and hotels while house hunting.

Kennels cost around pounds 9 a day, so a brace of golden retrievers banged up for a fortnight until the boxes are unpacked would run up a bill of pounds 252. A new school uniform can cost a couple of hundred depending on the kit required. It is not known if the Aiken sons are still in grey flannel shorts.

"A package this size is not unheard of," says Stuart Mitchell, who runs a consortium of relocation agents. "But it is unusual. A disturbance allowance is intended to cover run-of-the-mill items. If, however, someone buys a property that is not comparable to the old one, the Inland Revenue might want to know about it."

The problem faced by the Aikens is that although there are plenty of houses for sale in Surrey, there's not much in the way of class items to buy around Shepton Mallett. Humberts has recently sold three houses at around pounds 300,000 each in the area, including one with two acres and six bedrooms - but it went in a fortnight. "Competition is fierce when such properties do come on the market," says Humberts' Mike Sperring. "There just isn't much to choose from. Millfield School also keeps prices buoyant, as parents move to be near the school so that the child can be a day pupil."

So what could Peter Aikens have bought for the price of his Reigate home? Not a great deal, it must be admitted.

There's Home Farm House, a charming old Georgian detached three-storey farmhouse near Shepton Mallett, on the market with Cluttons. Surrounded by attractive rolling countryside, it has five bedrooms, drawing and dining rooms, library, stone barn, and a delightful garden. The guide price is pounds 315,000. And there's Bagborough House, just over three miles from Shepton Mallett, for sale through Michael de Pelet. The Grade II- listed house with stone mullion windows has three reception rooms, five bedrooms, walled garden and paddock. It's in need of decoration and repair, but costs only pounds 275,000.

Redecorating - as any high ranking army officer's wife will tell you - can cost more than you might expect. And once you've decorated, you can't possibly keep the old sofa with the Ribena stains and the rip where the cat got at it. Jane Churchill Interior Designers in London has a great deal of experience in kitting out large, stylish homes. Designers there say a recent job cost the owners of a substantial Holland Park house pounds 40,000 for carpets and flooring, and a further pounds 65,000 for curtains and upholstery. Add to this the painting and decorating: a smartish wallpaper costs around pounds 25 a roll. B&Q furnishings just won't do when you've paid pounds 400,000 for the house.

To paper the new Aikens establishment with a nice bit of Colefax & Fowler could cost around pounds 8,000. And that's before anyone does anything clever with sponges and paint effects. Even replacing a Seventies avocado bathroom suite could relieve you of pounds 6,000.

"It's quite easy to spend pounds 1,000 on a pair of curtains, including fabric and labour and you may, of course, have more than one window in each room," says a Jane Churchill designer. "We charge a design fee to cover the time spend on putting the estimate together and site visits. If we travel out of London, visits are charged at a daily or hourly rate."

As for the kitchen - it's becoming increasingly common for buyers to insist on all white goods being included in the price of a property. If the Aikens had to leave theirs behind in Surrey, fitting out the kitchen in the new house could be very expensive. Buying the best of everything with knobs on from Harrods - dishwasher, washer/drier, fridge/freezer and cooker - the bill could add up to pounds 19,998. Or they could have bought the lot from Zanussi's top-of-the-range and paid just pounds 3,479.

These are the sort of figures that bring most men out in a rash. Especially those who make an annual pilgrimage to Waitrose and make a fuss about how much Nescafe has gone up since 1979. Either way, it's beginning to look as though Matthew Clark got off lightly with a pounds 127,000 disturbance fee. They are probably raising a glass or two in the boardroom even now. Cheers!