Hertfordshire's most expensive homes 2020
- Credit: Statons
We’re midway through an extraordinary year in property, but the one before was even more memorable — especially at the top end. Jane Howdle asked local agents for their insight.
Last year was an unforgettable 12 months in property, but between the market freeze, the stamp duty holiday and the two lockdowns, those high-end houses just kept on selling.
After a relatively low-key 2019 in terms of total sale prices, eight of 2020's 10 most expensive homes changed hands for more than the previous year's biggest hitter, a £4,05m house in Shenley.
Much, much more in the case of Mackerye End's The Manor House, which was Hertfordshire’s most expensive, selling for £6.35m.
The Grade II listed country house was the childhood home of poet and essayist Charles Lamb, who co-wrote Tales from Shakespeare with his sister, Mary Lamb.
Features of this exclusive address, which is just outside Harpenden, include a pool, gym, orchard, 'party and games' barn and a separate one-bed detached timber cottage. Set in 9.4 acres, its total square footage is just shy of 7,000 sq ft.
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You won't have seen it on Rightmove, though; this was a private sale, managed by Ken Whittaker of Whittaker & Co in Harpenden.
"Andrew, the vendor of The Manor House. was an old client of mine from 20-plus years ago,” Ken explains.
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"He wasn’t on the market, but I had a buyer looking for something very special – the budget was almost irrelevant – and I thought, well, I know probably five or six houses in Harpenden that would be appropriate. I made a few phone calls and Andrew said ‘actually, Ken – I was going to do it in the next couple of years, but if you’ve got a guy now and the money’s right, I’ll consider a move.’ We did nothing with it, no photographs, we just literally did two viewings with the one guy."
This sort of 'off book' sale is a common occurrence at the very top of the market, where discretion is the main concern, and the £5m sale of second place 55 Park Avenue North was managed in a similar fashion, also by Ken.
"It was an old client of mine; he built it about four years ago – it’s a beautiful house. He said to me, 'if you find anyone who’ll pay me mad money...' And I had a buyer who was looking for what they had, I approached them, and same again – no photographs, no floor plans, no brochures, one viewing, deal done at £5m.”
Putting a price on unique properties such as these is an interesting process, too.
“It is tough to value,” Ken admits. “Quite often it’s led by what the vendor will want to get for the house, and if they don’t get the price they just won’t move.
“And you can’t charge 1 per cent. You tend to charge a flat fee on those. If I’m not doing photographs and a brochure and any advertising it’s hard to say to the guy at Mackerye End, yeah, I’ll have 65 grand plus VAT, please, for doing a couple of viewings.
“But having said that, those guys do pay a handsome fee because they know that we have access to the buyers and can get the deal done. That off book stuff really is a separate world altogether."
Collating this list from Land Registry data can be a trying task, with sales of what appear to be hugely expensive houses turning out, after a little more digging, to be half a dozen flats or – on more than one occasion this year – petrol stations. The levels of discretion that surround some of the sales only add to the complexity.
What this list definitely confirms is that our area of Herts is unquestionably the county's most expensive.
In addition to Mackerye End and 55 Park Avenue North, there’s Burleigh House, 1 The Hammonds, as well a fine offering at Childwickbury.
Ladygrove is a £4.75m home set in 45-acres, between St Albans and Harpenden. Once the gamekeeper's cottage to the Childwickbury estate, it comes complete with equestrian facilities and a separate two-storey building housing a garage, gym and art studio.
Representing for Brookmans Park is £4.5m Skyborne, an impressive 7,300 sq ft home on Kentish Lane with private roof terrace, outdoor heated pool with jacuzzi, gym/studio, pool house and sauna.
The Hoo, a Grade II* listed country house on the outskirts of Great Gaddesden, also changed hands for £4.5m. Set in beautiful Capability Brown parkland, it was built in 1683.
As ever, Radlett also features heavily, with four huge £3.8m-plus mansions dominating the bottom half of the list.
63 Cobden Hill, nestled in its 2.25-acre plot immediately south of the village centre, had the highest price tag at £4.47m. This 6,514 sq ft six bed, six bath pile features a garage complex, an outdoor pool, cinema room, games room and 'lifestyle room'.
34 Newlands Avenue's marginally more affordable £4.35m price point makes it no less palatial. In addition to its six bedrooms, five bathrooms and 248ft rear garden there is the obligatory home gym and cinema, plus a handy second floor laundry room.
The third Radlett property is 41 Loom Lane, a vast detached house located behind electric gates. Little is known about this property, though with its £4.25m price tag it seems safe to assume that its new owners won't be short of home exercise or film-watching possibilities.
Finishing up the top 10 is Treetops, 4 The Ridgeway, an impressive £3.8m address with fully integrated bespoke sound system, an outdoor pool and, yes, a home cinema and gym.
THE COVID EFFECT
It’s been a “story of two halves” for top end agents in recent times, according to Richard Goss, associate director at Hamptons in Harpenden.
Brexit-related concerns made for a subdued few years, which continued as estate agencies were forced to close their doors last spring, with things changing rapidly when they were allowed to reopen in May.
“There was an almost immediate resurgence in activity in all markets, but particularly at the upper end,” Richard says. “This has continued ever since; the property market is incredibly strong, with best bids, over the asking price sales, and in some instances, properties even selling before they reached the open market.”
It was the same story in St Albans, according to Stuart Cassidy of Cassidy & Tate. “The market was slower than now and many houses were not selling at this speed or price,” he says. “But the demand now is out of control and from last year’s buyer’s market to this year’s seller’s market is unbelievable.”
Ken Whittaker agrees: “It’s been a frenetic year, at times almost unmanageable. If you’re a vendor, my God, what a market to operate in. For buyers it’s been a really challenging year. There’ve been sharp elbows and there’ve been fights for everything.”
Our area has long been beloved by Londoners, and Richard Goss says the pandemic has accelerated the move out of the capital for Hamptons’ core market: London families seeking more space and great schools.
This “huge surge of activity” has seen movers leave the likes of Highgate, Clapham, Wimbledon and Islington in search of “large detached family houses with good gardens in either ‘The Avenues’, West Common, East Common and further afield in the semi-rural fringes of Harpenden,” he says.
Nick Ingle of Savills agrees that the pandemic has inspired many Londoners to seek a new life outside the capital a little earlier than they might originally have planned, with “a rise in the number of young families moving beyond the M25 earlier in their life cycle”.
There are plenty of wealthy buyers already based locally, too. “It’s a real mixed bag,” says John Sullivan, sales manager at Collinson Hall in St Albans. “We’ve got a number of clients in St Albans and surrounding areas that have got deep pockets, it’s definitely not just the typical London buyer.”
Indeed, the very top end is reserved for locals according to Ken Whittaker, who says it’s a myth that high end homeowners all come from the capital. “My buyers for The Manor House, 55 Park Avenue, 47 Park Avenue and 30 Park Avenue were all living within Harpenden already,” he says, referring to four of the town’s six most expensive homes of last year.
“I sold one last weekend at £3m to London movers, but the real big stuff, the fives, sixes and sevens, are usually always to locally based buyers.”
THE FUTURE’S BRIGHT
2021 has already offered top end agents some substantial sales. Hamptons in Harpenden have just managed the low key sale of a West Common property with a £3.5m guide price after its sellers asked for discreet marketing, while Whittaker & Co have been dealing with a Park Avenue North transaction in excess of £7m. “It will be the biggest one in Hertfordshire [this year] I’d imagine,” says Ken.
But how can a house ever be worth £7m? “Park Avenue is the road in Harpenden, it gets prices like nowhere else,” Ken says. “The plot’s well over an acre. The house is actually pretty average to be honest. It’s not ‘wow, amazing, incredible, spectacular!’ It’s lovely but the plot is phenomenal and the address is incredible so that’s what makes it worth £7m. And also the rarity value, supply and demand.”
And at the top end of the market, supply and demand is everything.