Property: A stately home of your own

Felicity Cannell looks at the properties on offer for the new, growing breed of millionaires
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MILLIONAIRES are 10 a penny these days. Camelot makes an average of three per week, and City bonuses seem to make even more. And if millionaires are becoming common, so are million-pound properties.

In the past 12 months expensive properties have increased in value by 12 to 15 per cent, compared with around 8 per cent lower down the scale.

"We need prices to slow down a little for the long-term health of the market," says Howard Elston, of estate agent Strutt & Parker. "But what is impossible to ignore in this equation is the staggering amounts of money now available to some purchasers."

Asthall Manor in Oxfordshire, one-time home of the Mitford family, had a guide price of pounds 1.35m. The aggressive competition among potential purchasers forced Strutt & Parker to take it to private auction where it sold for pounds 3.15m, even though it needed to have close to pounds 1m spent on it.

"Many of the most spectacular properties are up for sale for the first time in more than 50 years, and some for more than a 100," says Rupert Sweeting of Knight Frank & Rutley's country house department. "Most have glittering histories and have hosted members of Britain's royal family." Culham Court, a 690-acre estate on the Thames, sold for more than pounds 6m; the graffiti on the wall - Queen Victoria slept here - may have helped.

"Compact" is usually estate agent talk for hardly big enough to swing a cat. Stourton Castle Estate, just outside Birmingham, is so described. But it is a medieval castle of eight bedrooms and a banqueting hall, which sits in a mere 95 acres. A "compact" price of pounds 1.35m seems comparatively little to pay for a property that has accommodated such socially acceptable visitors as Bad King John and Bloody Queen Mary.

If television history is more your mark, consider the Cricket St Thomas Estate in Somerset, on the market for pounds 8m. This was the setting of To the Manor Born, a TV series that reflected the transfer of ownership of historic country seats from impoverished aristocrats to business tycoons. The purchaser may also acquire two titles, Lordships of the Manor of Winsham and Cricket St Thomas, as well as a wildlife park with 600 animals including elephants, leopards, camels and zebras.

More traditional wildlife can be found further north. Scottish sporting estates are a market on their own, affected as much by the livestock as property values. For example, red deer stalking values bottomed out in 1993 but are now recovering, while salmon fishing remains vulnerable, with poor catches on most rivers in Scotland last year.

For a buyer looking for "a piece of England", Knight Frank and Simmons & Sons are selling The Hackwood Park Estate in Hampshire for pounds 15m. This is a Grade II listed mansion in nearly 2,500 acres, 45 miles outside London - hunting, shooting, though not much fishing.

Town versus country is a difficult one. In Mayfair, London, 19 Upper Brook Street is on the market through DTZ Debenham Thorpe for pounds 10.5m. The house is a 15,500 sq ft Georgian residence with a connecting mews house and a 42ft garden. On the other hand the same money could buy Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire, a stately home of 43,500 sq ft with parkland and formal gardens, from Savills. Brook Street is on a lease of 100 years. (You have to give it back at that price?) Mentmore Towers you get forever.

If you think the cost of the upkeep might be a mite too steep on a stately home, consider the service charge on a London penthouse. Number 3a Palace Green W8 has an asking price of pounds 5.9m, a lease of 93 years and service charges of just over pounds 40,000 a year. Knight Frank says this is about the cost of maintaining a listed country manor.

"The typical penthouse buyer is a high net worth individual, with a powerful, high-status international lifestyle," says Eitan Fox of Plaza Estates. Donald Trump, Jeffrey Archer, Adnan Kashoggi and even Adolf Hitler have all had penthouses at some time. Who wouldn't want to join such exalted company?

But if you want to able to open your window in safety when you've had one too many, houses in central London may offer more value for money. DTZ Debenham Thorpe has a four-storey freehold house with garden in St James's Place for pounds 1.2m, and Plaza Estates is selling a mansion house in Holland Park for pounds 2m, complete with indoor swimming pool, gym and sauna.

If none of the above appeal, how about a 3,000-acre island in Fiji? Laucala Island was the dream home of multi-millionaire Malcolm Forbes. A snip at around pounds 7m. Not as cheap as the Island of Eigg in Scotland, sold to the crofters for pounds 1.5m, but rather warmer.