Ideally it should have a house and at least three additional amenities - sport, which could be hunting, fishing, stalking; farming (let or in hand); and forestry or another enterprise. Private buyers look for the amenities and agricultural qualities of an estate - foreign purchasers are particularly keen on the sporting element.
According to Jim Bryant of Bidwells, in East Anglia, "traditionally a landed estate conjures up visions of a substantial house standing in landscaped parkland with a range of estate cottages, in hand and let farmland, forestry and a significant sporting value.
"Sadly, over the course of time a number of the great estates have been slowly reduced in size in an attempt to raise funds, and a number of small estate properties have appeared on the open market in recent years, either as a result of this fragmentation or where a new estate has been assembled with a new house set in amenity farmland."
The Furneaux Pelham Hall Estate is such a traditional estate. Bidwells is selling it for more than pounds 4 million. It is for sale in its entirety or in up to eight lots. The main property is a magnificent Grade II* listed house with seven bedrooms and a swimming pool; it has 738 acres, a lake, self-contained four-bedroom cottage, stabling for nine horses, another farmhouse with swimming pool, and a commercial arable farm with a deer enterprise on the parkland. The 173 acres of woodland did provide a good shoot that could be reinstated.
"It is rare nowadays for a residential and amenity estate of this calibre to come on to the open market," explains Mr Bryant. "The key is the location - just 34 miles from London. So far we have had offers for both the estate in entirety and for bits of it."
What is very much in evidence at the moment, is that the purchasers of estates are no longer buying them as a status symbol. "People are buying estates because they want an income," says Christopher Wilson of The Wilson Group. "There is a very different perception of estates now than in the Eighties. Then purchasers just wanted a way of life and were prepared to pay out pounds 100,000 a year for it. Now they want an estate to be a viable form of investment."
There are an increasing number of people, both British and from the Middle and Far East, who are buying a lump of land without a main house and building one, thus creating a new estate. Longwood, a 1,376 acre estate which is being sold by Savills, for example, has 1,000 acres of farming land, 409 acres of woodland and 13 cottages and planning for a new 10,000 square foot Queen Anne-style house. It has been put on the market for offers in excess of pounds 5 million by an offshore investment trust which wishes to take advantage of the rise in estate values.
For anyone looking to spend much less than a million pounds, James Harris, a Winchester agent, is selling Hawstead Farm in Hursley. The estate earns its keep (but no more than this) through a shoot. "This is a 211-acre Hampshire sporting estate with a charming Grade II listed timber-frame two-bedroom cottage," says partner, Hume Jones. It has a park, woodland, pasture and arable land, and is on the market for pounds 600,000.
James Laing of Strutt & Parker, reckons that "traditionally an estate has been worth more whole than in parts. It is only in the last six years, that selling an estate in bits has been much easier and produced more money for the seller."
Strutt & Parker is selling Tregavethan Manor, which is a profitable equestrian estate in Kenwyn, near Truro in Cornwall. The owner, Mrs Clark, has run a successful farm and small stud there for many years and is now moving on to something smaller. The estate has a four-bedroom manor house, two semi-detached cottages, a bungalow, an arable and stock farm and well- respected stud with 16 loose boxes. Of the 285 acres, 265 are excellent farmland and there are also two lakes stocked with trout and carp. The agent is looking for offers in the region of pounds 1million.
The same agent has a very much larger estate, the Gaick Estate, in Invernesshire. This has 18,500 acres and has attracted considerable interest from the overseas market. It is being sold for pounds 2.25 million.
Bertie Ross, head of Savills' Agricultural Agency, says: "An estate should earn revenue from more than one source and ideally have the main house on its own. It should certainly have a serious business side."
Savills is selling a small Scottish estate which is really two in one. The Finlarig and Morenish estates at Killin, Perthshire, are on the market together for pounds 795,000. With 953 acres, these have two substantial houses, the old Finlarig Castle and a further house and cottage. With grazing, silage land, woodland, a loch and trout and salmon fishing, the estate is offered as a whole or in seven parts. "It was a much larger estate in the past, but has slowly been nibbled away and it's very likely to be split up into three viable properties," says Mr Ross.
Estates have attractive tax benefits. There are capital gains advantages, 100 per cent inheritance tax relief if the farming is in hand and 50 per cent if it is let - capital gains from forestry is also tax free. However, all these benefits could all disappear if there is a change of government, so now may be the time to buy...
James Harris, 01962 841842; The Wilson Group, 0171-589 4161; Bidwells, 01223 841841; Savills, 0131 226 6961; Strutt & Parker, Exeter, 01392 215631; Strutt & Parker, Edinburgh, 0131 226 2500.
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