Russian to a fast recovery

Overseas buyers fleeing the eurozone have boosted Surrey’s property fortunes, says Ruth Bloomfield

In the 1880s, an ambitious young engineer left Britain to seek his fortune in America. Urban Hanlon Broughton returned home just before the outbreak of the First World War with a railway heiress on his arm, a large fortune, and his sights set on a political career. He purchased a Mayfair town house and a summer residence, Park Close, a sprawling and eccentric spread in Surrey.

Fast forward around a century and Broughton and his descendants have long since left Park Close. And while the years have not been gentle to this fetching hotchpotch of Art Nouveau, Tudor and Gothic architecture, built in around 1900, it is still an impressive sight.

The house was last sold in 2004 for an estimated £8 million, but the (resolutely anonymous) owners appear never to have moved in, nor to have done any work to it other than rebranding the property as Windsor Court.

Now it has been put back on the market, for £20 million.

Paul Cockerham, a director of Knight Frank, which is selling Park Close/Windsor Court, points out the property is huge — 37,000 sq ft – and set in around 15 prime acres beside Windsor Great Park. But still, £20 million for an unmodernised house in the Home Counties in the middle of the worst recession in living memory?

“It is quite feisty,” admits Cockerham. “But this sort of house is a rare beast, and demand is arguably better now than it was back then.”

Until now the only sector of the property market to have recovered from the recession has been prime central London, propped up by wealthy overseas buyers who are now responsible for more than half of all sales. Now their interest is increasingly trickling out to Surrey.

According to research by Knight Frank, so far this year overseas buyers have bought one in three houses worth £2 million or more in the county (in 2008 they bought just over one in five). In 2012 Knight Frank has sold Surrey homes to buyers from 25 different countries, with Russians leading the charge.

Earlier this year Upper Ribsden, a vast neoclassical newbuild in Windlesham by developer Octagon, was snapped up by a Russian businessman who paid close to £30 million for the property.

And The Old Garden, in Twickenham, was sold late last year for £43 million to another Russian buyer. According to Tim Hubbard, of buying agent Property Vision, it is now on the market again for £50 million.

Their interest is having a dramatic impact on prices. According to Sophie Chick, an analyst in Savills’s residential research department, average prices in Surrey have risen 1.7 per cent in the last year – more than three times the average for England and Wales.

On the Wentworth Estate prices are up 13 per cent compared to peak levels, while at St George’s Hill they are soaring by more than 25 per cent.

Mark Jamieson, of Strutt & Parker, believes Surrey’s fortunes are being boosted by the eurozone crisis, with Greek, Spanish and French investors moving in. Buying agent Nick Mead, an associate at The Buying Solution, says the county is also a natural “second step” for overseas buyers with a central London pad. ACS Egham, the well-regarded international school, is a huge draw.

Of course British buyers are still keen on Surrey. Mark Crampton, of buying consultancy Middleton, says that while foreign buyers look to the north of the county, their British counterparts tend to hone in on more rural homes south of the M25. “A pretty Georgian house in 20 acres with river frontage was being sold for £3 million near Tilford,” he says. “It attracted 64 viewings, about 60 of which were British buyers.”

This is probably because overseas buyers tend to favour modern property which is easy to lock up and leave. James Cleland, a partner in Knight Frank’s country department, recently sold a £5.75 million newbuild house in Wentworth to a young Russian couple. “They were looking for an absolutely meticulous finish,” he says.

The other option, says Tim Hubbard, is to buy a house, demolish it and build a grander replacement. “We are currently working on four such projects,” he says.

Which brings us back to Park Close. Its location will certainly appeal to the overseas market but its unloved state most certainly will not. “We have seen some lovely houses in Surrey get knocked down — it is the way of the world,” he says. “It is a shame, in a way. It is a very handsome house and I would dearly like to see it brought back to life.”

Source : The Telegraph

By Ruth Bloomfield

11:44AM BST 19 Sep 2012