House Hunting in … England
- by NewYorkTimes
- Oct. 9, 2019
This three-story, single-family house occupies the largest section of an 1898 country house built by Frederick William Mortimer, tailor to the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, on the River Thames in Oxfordshire, England. The king is said to have frequented the home, known as Shillingford Court, with his mistress, Lillie Langtry, said Alasdhair Lochrane, associate director of Strutt and Parker, an affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate, which has the listing.
The 3,722-square-foot house occupies one end of the mansion. Positioned on a bend in the Thames with sweeping countryside and river views, the house has small front and back gardens. It occupies about one-third of an acre within the one-and-a-half acre setting.
In the 1970s, a developer divided the mansion into four residences, said Katie Miles, who with her husband, David Miles, owns the five-bedroom four-bath house, including the original library, the main staircase, a basement workshop reached by an outdoor staircase, a detached one-car garage and a parking space. (Neither the two-bedroom boathouse, formerly a ballroom, nor apartment flats on the ground and first floor are for sale.)
Wrought-iron gates lead 200 yards down a shared gravel driveway. Up three steps is the private, angled ground-level entrance. A solid oak front door opens to an entrance hall with a powder room. Beyond, decorative wood panels cover the reception hall walls and ceiling. Original to the house, the floor in the entry and reception areas is Italian mosaic tile; an Edwardian quarter-turn staircase is carpeted. A wine cellar and other storage is beneath the hall stairs.
The ballroom-size drawing and dining room has a lofty wood paneled ceiling, extensive millwork and oak floors. Deep bay windows with stone mullions punctuate each end, with a built-in window seat overlooking flower gardens and the Thames at one end; pastoral views at the other. In the middle, an alcove features a wood-burning stove in a fireplace surround.
The original ground-floor galley kitchen is now a utility room and service kitchen with a cooktop, oven, microwave, dishwasher, marble work tops, a pantry and a vinyl floor. When Ms. Miles and her husband bought the house six years ago, they built a new, larger kitchen off the first-floor landing “so we could sit in the breakfast area and look at the river,” she said. “It has worked very well.” The family kitchen has white painted wood cabinets, varnished wood countertops, a tile backsplash and a vinyl tile floor. Among the appliances is an electric Aga stove, a “British country-style cooker built to heat the room as well as cook food,” Mr. Lochrane said.
To the other side of the galleried first-floor landing and sitting area, the master suite includes a dressing room and an en suite bath with a shower. A powder room and a family bath with a claw-foot tub and an Italian mosaic floor are off the hall.
Originally maids’ quarters, the second floor was reconfigured into a study and three bedrooms, the largest of which has an en suite bath with a tub. The other bedrooms and study share a hall bath. A guest suite opens through a window in a slanted wall to the “ramparts,” a balcony with a stone surround overlooking marshes, Mr. Lochrane said.
From the reception hall, an exterior door leads to a patio, a garden and a terraced path to a mooring that can accommodate a 63-foot boat.
The house is 12 miles south of Oxford, population 155,000, an ancient city known for top universities and schools, cultural offerings and a burgeoning tech community. Located in Oxfordshire county, the house is also three miles from Wallingford, a historic market town with restaurants, shops and recreational facilities. London, 60 miles away, is commutable by road and train. The train from Oxford to London Heathrow International Airport takes an hour and 42 minutes.
The market is split between Oxford City and the Oxfordshire country market and the Cotswolds. “Both markets have performed better than last year when comparing month-by-month figures,” Mr. Lochrane said. The number of new buyers is up. Market activity “was particularly strong over the summer,” translating into “some excellent transactions in August which is normally considered a quiet month.”
For the last two years, the market suffered “from a bout of nerves” with buyers concerned about Brexit, said William Kirkland, the office head for Knight Frank’s Oxford market. Worries included how the “economy would fare post-Brexit and how that would impact currency and mortgages,” and whether interest rates would be “pushed up and therefore houses come down,” Mr. Kirkland said. England is expected to leave the European Union on Oct. 30.
This year, “the practicalities of house-buying and the practical need of our buyers has overtaken their financial outlook,” he added. The market has been “much busier” with “buyers coming into the market “because life goes on.” The most active sector is from about $615,000 to $2.47 million (500,000 to 2 million pounds). Above 2 million pounds, buyers are more cautious because of hefty stamp duties, Mr. Kirkland said.
According to a report by Savills, for the first time in more than two years, despite ongoing “price sensitivity,” prices rose in London’s prime “outer commuter zone,” including Oxford in the 30-to-60 minute train ride group.
One in seven buyers in the area moves from London, with more than one-third of those new buyers still commuting to work in the capital. Some 81 percent of buyers have children, more than any other area in the country. Almost half are upsizing, the report said.
Buyers looking for a country house are drawn to the bucolic 25-mile radius around Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds, said Ronnie van der Ploeg, a director with Savills’ Oxford Office. In the third quarter this year, Savills’ prime regional index indicated that average values in the country house market slipped by 1 percent over the last year, 7.7 percent in the past five years and remain an average 21.5 percent down from the 2007 peak. The Cotswolds country house market is down 7.8 percent from peak.
Those who prefer the cultural bounty of a city rich in history and laden with theaters, restaurants, colleges and museums opt for “the large Victorian and Edwardian homes in north Oxford” both for the size — from 2,500 to 5,000 square feet, the period feel and proximity to schools.
Houses in the prime area range from $1.85 million to $6.2 million (1.5 million to 5 million pounds), Mr. van der Ploeg said. Condominiums are popular because of convenience to railroad stations, and among parents desiring a nest close to children attending school in Oxford. A mix of new houses and apartments are under construction in the city center. Two-bedroom apartments range from $617,000 to $987,000 (500,000 to 800,000 pounds,) he added. There is also a strong rental market.
In the last few years, Mr. Lochrane noted an increase in “dollar and euro buyers” looking to buy because of favorable exchange rates and the commutability of Oxford and the surrounding area to London.” Other Londoners relocate to Oxford for work, its highly regarded universities, state-funded prep and private schools and to get extra space for expanding families.
International buyers include Europeans, Chinese, Russians and South Africans, agents said.
There are no restrictions on foreign buyers in England.
Buyers must pay the government a purchase or stamp duty land tax on properties over 125,000 pounds, or $154,344, with rates rising with the sales price. The portion of the sales price above 1.5 million pounds is taxed at 12 percent.
In 2016, the British government implemented an extra tax for those buying a second home or investment properties, Mr. Lochrane said. “If you already own another property elsewhere in the world, you are subject to pay an extra 3 percent tax.”
Oxford City Tourism: oxfordcity.co.uk
Oxfordshire Tourism: experienceoxfordshire.org
Oxfordshire Government: oxfordshire.gov.uk
English; pound sterling (1 pound = $1.23)
The annual property tax, called a council tax, is about $3,417, Mr. Lochrane said.
Alasdhair Lochrane, Strutt & Parker, 011 44 1865 366 661