Property: Nice service but a low return: The right crowd and no crowding: Anne Spackman adds up the net gains of being able to play tennis in your own back garden

Click to follow
The Independent Online
After a week watching Wimbledon, most armchair players feel that their tennis has improved immeasurably. And so a nation migrates to the courts. For many that means joining a queue at the local park or sitting it out at the tennis club. For a lucky few it means walking into the garden.

Private tennis courts have become increasingly popular, particularly in the South-east. The cost of installation is far less than for a swimming pool, and the court is likelier to see regular use.

Martin Lamb, who runs Knight Frank & Rutley's Exeter office, plays on his court every week of the year, weather permitting. 'We play men's doubles every Thursday and have done so for the past nine years,' he said. 'My wife and her friends play at least once a week. In the country, tennis is a tremendously social thing.'

But tennis is also part of today's fitness-conscious culture, which has seen courts sprouting alongside gyms as part of a home-based leisure complex.

One place that has the best of both worlds is Newington House near Ascot in Berkshire, a Grade II listed Georgian home, set amid lawns, terraces and flowerbeds, with a pond shaded by a weeping willow.

When its current owners moved in, it already had one tennis court. They added a second. The house, which also has an indoor swimming pool, sauna and games room, is being sold jointly by Knight Frank & Rutley and Savills, with an asking price of pounds 1.5m.

The cost of installing a court varies between pounds 10,000 and pounds 25,000, depending on the kind of surface you require and the condition of the site. The tennis court supplier En-tout-cas quotes a price of about pounds 12,500 for one of its colour- sprayed Playdek hard courts, including nets and fencing and allowing for a 16ft run-back. The greatest variable is the amount of levelling required to create a flat surface.

What is more expensive is the land. You need one-sixth of an acre - about 115ft x 60ft - for the court, but at least an acre is necessary to fit it in discreetly.

You also need planning permission - although many people do not apply for it. Some home owners in Liberal Democrat-controlled areas have belatedly discovered that their councils will not permit tennis courts where the land is not designated for such a use.

Most houses with tennis courts start at about pounds 200,000. Savills in Ipswich is selling Lime Kiln, a very pretty but rather rundown farmhouse with a hard tennis court in need of renovation, for pounds 195,000. The six-bedroom house is Grade II listed and has parts dating back to the mid-15th century. It has an impressive rosarium with more than 500 varieties of rose.

Martin Lamb of Knight Frank & Rutley is selling The Coach House at Powderham near Exeter, with a guide price of pounds 230,000. This stone house has three reception rooms, four bedrooms, sits in just under one acre of land and has both a hard tennis court and a swimming-pool.

In the Home Counties, prices tend to rise to nearer pounds 500,000 for houses with a court. Browns in Cranleigh, Surrey, is selling two large family houses, both with a court and swimming-pool. Woodstock at Slinfold, West Sussex, is a five-bedroom period house in eight acres, priced at pounds 475,000. Alderbrook at Holmbury St Mary, Surrey, is a house formed from an old cottage and a new extension. It has 23 acres of land and is priced at pounds 485,000.

Mary Brown, who runs Browns, thinks a tennis court is a good selling feature, but only if it is correctly positioned and in good condition. Martin Lamb doesn't feel it adds any great value to a property, but if a buyer sees three houses he likes and only one has a tennis court, that might clinch the sale.

For those with pounds 1m to spend, the choice of houses with tennis courts is endless; but anyone that wealthy could afford to furnish a house with a court if necessary.

Tennis may not come high on most buyers' list of priorities. But one man who would not look at a house without a court is estate agent David Dixon of Dixon Porter in south-west London. Having enjoyed the luxury of a floodlit court in his previous home, neither he, nor his wife and daughter (captain of her school tennis team) wanted to go without.

For their next home they bought the grandest apartment in the Palladian mansion of Ottershaw Park in Surrey, which has been converted into 12 apartments and 12 houses. The residents share the use of an indoor swimming- pool and four hard tennis courts, as well as 13 acres of gardens.

The terrace apartment consists of the main reception rooms of the original mansion - including the 75ft grand hall, the ballroom and the drawing-room - and five bedrooms. The Dixons bought it from a Saudi prince. They are now moving on and the apartment is for sale with a guide price of pounds 800,000.

There are cheaper versions of the same idea. Many London squares have their own private gardens with communal tennis court. Dauntons is selling a two-bedroom flat in Eccleston Square, Victoria, with use of a court, for pounds 165,000. Peter Wright of Dauntons said that flats offering access to a court normally sell quickly.

If you cannot afford a court or don't have room for one, the other alternative is to buy a house very near a tennis club. It is cheaper, you don't have the bother of sweeping it every night, and you can always be sure of finding a partner.

One man who has a court at home admitted that he hardly ever used it because it was so much easier to pop down to the club near his office for a game after work. A comforting thought for those of us who have no choice in the matter.

(Photograph omitted)