Currently for sale with a guide price of $1.89 million is Druids, a part-timbered, 17th-century cottage with a clay-tiled roof. Photo: PHOTO: The Grantley Group
It is private, picturesque and petite. And Nottingham Cottage, where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are spending the run-up to their May wedding, is also a perfect example of an unlikely genre of prime British property.
Modest houses originally built so staff could live within aristocratic estates—collectively known as estate cottages—have become highly sought-after pieds-à-terre and country homes thanks to their beautiful locations and attractive architecture.
Before becoming a crash pad for young royals, the two-bedroom, one-bathroom Nottingham Cottage has been home to a succession of aides employed by the royal family, including Princess Diana’s sister, Lady Jane Fellowes, and brother-in-law, Sir Robert Fellowes, a former private secretary to the queen.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are spending the run-up to their May wedding at Nottingham Cottage. Photo: UK Press/Getty Images
William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, lived in several estate cottages during their courtship and early marriage. Starting in 2010, they rented a four-bedroom house at Bodorgan Hall, a country house and estate in Wales belonging to wealthy landowner Sir George Meyrick. The property was convenient for Prince William’s job as a search-and-rescue pilot. Later they lived in Nottingham Cottage, only trading up to a larger apartment within Kensington Palace and a country home of their own after the birth of Prince George in 2013.
Estate cottages are a way for buyers to sample the “Downton Abbey” lifestyle, without shouldering the huge costs involved, said Bruce King, director of Cheffins estate agents.
“Often the purchase of these properties will include access to parts of the grounds, fishing in the lakes, use of tennis courts and cricket clubs,” Mr. King said. “To purchase a pretty house on an estate, set in acres of parkland is really a way to live in the most beautiful setting without having to pay for it and these positives can add a premium to the price.”
A good example of the price differential between estate cottages and estates can be found 65 miles west of the Welsh capital, Cardiff. There, the 659-acre Golden Grove Estate, complete with a ruined castle dating from the 1220s, is on the market with for $7 million. Simultaneously, the estate’s two-bedroom, one-bathroom stone cottage, called Eagle Lodge, is listed for $560,400.
“Buyers tend to get excited when estate cottages come up for sale because it is very rare for them to do so,” said David Williams, director of the Grantley Group estate agents, who estimates the estate cottage premium at between 5% and 10% over a comparable home nearby.
Druids has four bedrooms and three baths but needs updating. Photo: The Grantley Group
Despite their humble origins, estate cottages can be stately and charming, said Rupert Sweeting, head of the national country house sales team at Knight Frank. “They are often in very lovely positions with good views of rolling countryside and are normally very pretty or handsome, built of local stone.”
Currently for sale with a guide price of $1.89 million is Druids, a part-timbered, 17th-century cottage with a clay-tiled roof, being sold on behalf of the Hampton Estate, a farming estate established in the mid-1700s. Located in the village of Puttenham, Surrey, 35 miles southwest of London, the four-bedroom, three-bathroom, property comes with a backyard of about half an acre and a barn. Original features include beams, open fireplaces and casement windows, but the 2,232-square-foot property is in need of renovations, according to the listing agency, the Grantley Group.
A large estate might include a main house plus several dozen properties from cottages to converted barns—and in some cases entire small villages. These are either rented out (often, still, to staff) or sold. Rental prices vary by location, but the National Trust, a charity that runs almost 500 historic properties and open spaces, regularly leases estate cottages across Britain. Right now it has a four-bedroom cottage on the Kingston Lacy Estate, in the southern coastal county of Dorset, for $1,960 a month, as well as a two-bedroom thatched lodge house on the Wydcombe Estate, Isle of Wight, for $1,330 a month.
“Many of the tenants on the estate will have lived and worked on the estate for generations and so the area tends to have a lovely friendly atmosphere with a great community spirit so very attractive to people moving to a new area,” said Carol Peett, managing director of West Wales Property Finders.
Eagle Lodge in Wales is listed for $560,400. It has two bedrooms and one bathroom. Photo: Fine & Country
There are, of course, downsides to estate cottages. They’re old and usually have small kitchens and low ceilings, which might seem pokey by North American standards. At Nottingham Cottage, the ceilings are said to be so low that Prince William had to stoop to avoid banging his head.
Also, estate cottages are usually sold on a leasehold basis, a British system in which the property is owned for a fixed period. After that term, the lease must be extended at considerable expense.
Mr. Williams said that there are often strict rules restricting owners’ rights to extend or enhance a former estate cottage.
And there are sometimes unusual legal complications.
In some cases, said Mr. Williams, properties can only be rented or sold to people with connections to farming or forestry, while Ms. Peett said others share their access with noisy agricultural vehicles.
“Many of the properties on the bigger estates are only available to rent,” said Mr. King. “These can often come with restrictions on tenants.” For example, at Sandringham, the queen’s country estate in Norfolk, “tenants are strictly not allowed any cats due to nesting birds on the estate.”
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