Estates are not exactly at the budget end of the property market, but it is possible for mere mortals to live the dream — with a "mini estate" close enough to London to commute, small enough not to be a full-time job but large enough to offer numerous money-making opportunities.
West Chittington, West Sussex
Martin Jennings and his wife Noi bought their mini estate, Redlands in West Chiltington, West Sussex, in 2001. Their 500-year-old timbered farmhouse has five bedrooms and is stunning — but the big selling point was the potential in its 40 acres of grounds. There is a self-contained two-bedroom barn which they have been able to rent out at around £1,200 per month. And Martin, the founder of independent record label Hot Records, which helped turn the late Eva Cassidy into an international star, runs his business from home.
Martin has not taken full advantage of the income potential of Redlands. There is a stable yard with six loose boxes, currently used for storage. But — with grazing — they could easily be rented out to horse owners for between £800 and £1,000 a month.
There are two more substantial outbuildings, both with potential to be converted into office or living space. And, of course, those 40 acres could either be rented out as grazing to local farmers or used for anything from breeding rare pigs to growing veg.
The property is six miles from the town of Billingshurst. From there trains to London Bridge take from one hour 40 minutes (annual season ticket: £3,772) making it an option for a City worker.
The Grade II-listed house is on the market with a guide price of £2.25 million with Peter Hughes Country Property, because Martin and Noi, both in their sixties, feel it is too large for their needs.
A more modestly sized option on the market is aptly named The Smallholding, near Hitchin, Hertfordshire. This is prime commuter turf. Trains to King's Cross take 31 minutes and an annual season ticket costs £4,640.
The property has an impressive L-shaped main house with five bedrooms, with a pool and tennis courts in the garden. There is a large barn set up as a workshop (which could be used or let, and has potential to be converted into a self-contained house). There is also a stable block and paddocks, which could also be rented. For those keen to live off the land there are two herb gardens, a vegetable garden and greenhouse, plus an orchard which might make an excellent basis for an organic jam-making business. There are just over six acres of land around the house which is on the market for £1,995,000 with Savills.
Hill farm happiness in Markyate, Hertfordshire
Also in Hertfordshire is Hill Farm, near Markyate. Trains from Harpenden, six miles away, take 26 minutes to King's Cross, with annual season tickets coming in at £3,400.
Set in the Chiltern Hills, the stone-built house dates from the 1700s and has seven bedrooms. There is also a onebedroom annexe and a timbered "party barn", both of which could be rented out, plus outbuildings, barns and stables and a floodlit manege in its 83 acres.
The property is being sold by Lady Lyell, widow of Lord Lyell, the former attorney general, and is on the market with Knight Frank for £3.2 million (knightfrank.com).
Mini estates: earning potential
Nick Ingle, a director of Savills, based in Harpenden, warns that it is unlikely that a mini estate will ever entirely cover its costs, although the income may help subsidise commuter fares. He has some first-hand experience, having in the past rented out stables at his own, which has helped subsidised the cost of family horses.
"The thing it gives you is opportunity and flexibility," he said. "The owners of The Smallholding have kept pigs and sheep, and so they were pretty self-sufficient. Having ancillary accommodation outside of the main residence to rent is a very good way to do it."
Scott Ford, a senior manager at the Dorking and Reigate branch of Hamptons International, suggests that if you don't want strangers on your land there may be options — leave your fields fallow and have them cut for hay in summer, now at a record £6.50 a bale in some parts of the country. He has also heard of people letting out their land for shoots or paintballing.
If you don't mind co-existing with permanent residents then Richard Liddiard, a partner at Carter Jonas, said the income you can make on a rental property now far exceeds bank interest rates.
At Park Farm House, in Horsmonden, Tunbridge Wells, (pictured above) the original stables have already been converted into a one-bedroom house, which could be used as a rental or a B&B. There is also a Kentish barn with (expired) planning permission to replace with a three-bedroom house and a four-bedroom house. Trains to Charing Cross take from 54 minutes (annual season ticket: £4,756).