We’ve all seen the television programmes along the lines of ‘Country House Rescue’. The hapless owners of a crumbling pile hanging on by their financial fingertips as the ‘expert’ presenter berates them for the viewers' amusement. But it should be no surprise that mansions are expensive to own and operate, they always have been, and the notion that a large house might be able to pay its own way is a relatively modern one.
Decline and fall
The traditional country house went into what seemed a terminal decline following the Second World War, with many demolished, and many more converted into commercial or institutional use: hotels, flats, offices, corporate headquarters, nursing homes and colleges were all fairly common reincarnations. The more exotic houses became visitor attractions, theme parks or zoos – many continue as such to this day.
Those who could afford to retain ownership of their houses usually had other means of generating income, such as a farm or tenanted property, meaning that the family home could be supported by commercial activity.
The last 30 years have seen a revival in the country house, with many that had been converted to commercial use, being revitalised as family homes once more. The more commercially minded have found ways for these houses to generate revenue, and still remain as family homes. The issue now is the degree of disruption and the compromise involved.
However, the uses that generate signifcant revenue are relatively few: hosting a wedding or a shooting party every weekend is only for the most committed. The ideal for most owners is a one-off annual event that pays very well – one month's potential inconvenience in return for 11 months' peace and quiet, with the annual running costs paid for.
Exclusivity is the key
The client base for a country house might be the celebrity or billionaire looking for a discreet family holiday location, the investment bank needing a private corporate retreat, the luxury car maker launching a new model, or the elite event organiser creating a spectacular private event. The fees to the owner can be significant, tens if not hundreds of thousands of pounds. However this kind of premium is rare, therefore the product must be very special. Exclusivity is key to this market.
Best of breed
Only the very best houses will be of interest, and competition is tight. Outstanding architecture, the right location, amazing interiors, modern conveniences, security, privacy, and the essential infrastructure such as catering kitchens and staff will all be necessary.
In short, the country house needs to be able to compete with the modern boutique hotel in terms of comfort and facilities, with the privacy and exclusivity that only a private house can offer.
We already work with event organisers who organise serious events, and these opportunities do exist. The key factor is understanding the market, and making sure you have the right ‘product’ to offer.
Savills country house consultancy team can help you with all aspects of country house ownership, from daily running costs to major renovation projects.