Country homes: bucking the trend in a rising market

The market may be on the rise, but substantial price falls for big country piles are still commonplace. Is it time for a reality check?

 

A look at some of the biggest asking price falls among properties for sale shows that seven of the top 10 drops in recent times were country homes and estates.

Though selling agents will insist there is strong demand for country homes, some of these properties have suffered the largest falls in asking prices in recent years.

The most severe has been in relation to Newhall House in Ennis, Co Clare, which came on the market for €5 million in September 2013 but now has an asking price of €2 million. At least five other similar properties remain on the market having also fallen by a seven-figure sum since first being placed for sale.

David Ashmore of Sherry FitzGerald Country Homes, Farms and Estates says that some of the bigger falls, such as in the case of Newhall House, were because the estate had been “repackaged” with less acreage. He remains bullish on the appeal of country homes.

“Some of the houses that require major restoration are not as appealing but there are exceptions and we are finding buyers for these, it might just take a bit longer. I think a lot of these properties represent good value now, especially when you add in the land element.

“When things were kicking off in the property market again in 2012, many people thought pricing would rise dramatically but perhaps it’s a bit more sensible now.”

He says the strong dollar and sterling have brought about a renewed overseas interest in the market here.

Robert Ganly of Ganly Walters concedes that some country homes were overpriced following the crash, often because the owners simply didn’t want to sell.

“Some are way overpriced,” he says. “There are properties too that are put up for sale just to test the market. For one or two years there, there was very often a bank in the background but the owners would be hoping it wouldn’t sell.

Ashmore cites the experience of country homes during the boom years where some benefited from fantastic restorations while others that were earmarked for golf courses and resorts were mothballed when the economy turned.

That local interest in large country piles as weekend playgrounds fell away completely, and has now been replaced as an appealing option as a “destination home” for American buyers eager to avail of the country’s airport routes to Europe and the US.

“Around 40 per cent of buyers now are Americans. A lot of wealthy Americans have homes on the east and west coasts of America so for them it’s a shorter distance to fly from New York to Dublin than it is from one coast to the other over there.”

Overpriced Ganly agrees there has been an uplift in sales, citing the examples of Coolera Castle on 240 acres, which sold for €5.7 million to an Irish buyer in January; Roundwood Park in Wicklow on about 360 acres, which sold for just under €5 million, and Bellamont Forest in Cootehill, Co Cavan which sold for over €2 million – well above its €1.35 million guide price as proof that the market is “very strong” right now.

“We’ve had big falls in asking prices, of course, but that was largely in a different time. Around 2010-2011 no one really knew the true value of these homes because of the way the market was.

“People often forget that these estates are only represented on the Property Price Register as the value of the house and one acre but they often have quite a lot more land than that.

“When these properties don’t sell, in my opinion 99.9 per cent of the time it is because the price is wrong. Sometimes you can stick them up for sale and there will be no interest for six or nine months but the right person will come along if it’s priced right,” says Ganly.

Director of research at Savills John McCartney agrees that getting the price right is particularly important in relation to country homes. “The thing about country homes is that there may be other properties with bigger percentage drops but in absolute terms these fall by more in monetary value so they get more attention.

“These properties, by their nature, are more difficult to value. They are often quite unique so there aren’t the same number of comparables as say a three-bed semi in Lucan where there is lots of stock and they trade all the time.”

Realistic prices

“In general there is a natural tendency for some agents to give an upbeat price guidance to a client just to get the instruction. They are then forced to lower their asking price down the line and that explains why you see so many price falls.”

If the price is set too high on day one, he warns, it won’t attract any offers and it could also deter people who were potentially interested.

“There is a follow-on problem then that if a property has been hanging around the market for too long, people might think there is something wrong with it.

“We’d always advise our clients to have a correct and realistic price from the beginning.”

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