Vendor spotlight: A picture perfect home in Surrey

28 Jul

An artist’s Surrey home is steeped in plenty of light, period charm and warmth, says Cheryl Markosky

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21.07.14 Carolyn Name: Carolyn Dinan Spencer

Occupation: Carolyn, 72, is a renowned artist and author. She’s a favourite with both children, who adore her books, and their parents, with equally happy memories of reading her stories aloud to their receptive offspring. Some of her much-loved titles are The Kingfisher Treasury of Stories for Four Year Olds, The Witch’s Shopping Spree, Goodnight Monster, Skipper and Sam, But Martin and The Seal Singer. Carolyn also lectures part-time at Chelsea College of Art and Design and Putney School of Art and Design.

Property description: Carolyn’s lived for 36 years at her early Victorian home on The Avenue in Surbiton, KT5, Surrey. Her unusually spacious period house is bursting with character features, such as the original fireplaces, large windows, high ceilings and a splendid curved staircase. Roomy enough to happily accommodate a family, there are six bedrooms and four reception rooms, including an upstairs flat for guests or tenants and Carolyn’s studio, along with a garage and off-street parking. There’s also a cheery, 135-foot, south-west facing garden. And Carolyn’s home is conveniently close to the heart of Surbiton.

Asking price: £1,295,000

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Estate agent: Jay Chitnis, HJC Estates, 17 Brighton Road, Surbiton, Surrey, KT6 5LR

Area statistics: Confidence levels are high in KT5. The Avenue has 310 houses and flats, with the average value of a detached house at £747,052 (£485 a square foot).

Fun facts: Highest value streets are Seymour Gardens (£1,169,663), Pine Walk (£1,077,345) and The Crest (£1,036,072). Highest turnover streets are Grove Footpath (68.4 per cent), Minniedale (47.8 per cent) and Beaconsfield Road (44.7 per cent).

Why are you moving? This house was a wonderful place for my family to grow up. But now my son is off living his life and my painter husband, Roy, is no longer with me (he died six years ago), it’s time for me to move on.

Have you found somewhere to move to? I’ve found a terrific cottage with a studio in the garden in Thames Ditton.

What do you like most about the property? It’s a very special place to live. It’s full of light, nice and cool in the summer, and cosily warm in winter. I’ve always had relatives and students staying here. My niece lived here for five years with her new husband in the flat upstairs and my nephew came for three nights and ended up here for nine years.

What’s your happiest memory of the property and when did it happen? I have so many different memories – my husband painting away in his studio while I contentedly worked away in mine on the floor above, flinging open the French windows to enjoy the sunshine in the garden, and my son bringing his friends home to stay. I also have fabulous memories of about 14 here for Christmas. We all sat by the big, open fire in the drawing room.

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When did you buy the property and how much was it worth? We bought the house for £32,000 back in 1978. We found it through a friend, who was an estate agent. I recall lying awake at night worrying that we shouldn’t go above £30,000. Although it was made up of lots of little bedsits with meters everywhere and bedsteads in the garden, I fell in love with it. The actual structure was okay, but there was lots of rewiring and re-plumbing to make it feel loved again. The new layout gave us six bedrooms (one can be an additional reception room) and a flat with a sitting room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen at the top, which I’ve rented to a friend and acquired some extra cash.

Do you know your neighbours? We have lovely neighbours – an architectural illustrator and set designer with four delightful grown up children (the youngest is 17).

What do you like about the local schools? The local schools are amazing, from Tiffin Girls and Boys (top Kingston grammars), to private Surbiton High, Hampton and Lady Eleanor Holles. Our son Simon went to a good local Church of England state school until he was 11, when he then attended Claremont Fan Court in Esher.

What is traffic and transport like? Our tree-lined road is very quiet. However, it’s only an 11 minute walk to Surbiton station, with fast 17 minute runs to Waterloo station. Some of the trains also stop at Wimbledon and Clapham Junction. There are also plenty of buses. Kingston is just over a mile away and Heathrow airport about 9.5 miles.

What’s your favourite place for dinner in the area? I think the best place is The French Table on Maple Road in Surbiton Village. It’s family run and very welcoming. I would order a seafood starter and probably a seafood dish for my main course too. And every second Friday, there’s a great £10 menu where a set dish, such as boeuf bourguignon or moules, is served at next-door sister cafe, The French Tart, run by the same owners. We also have a wide variety of good local Italian places and relaxed cafes in the area.

How would you spend the perfect day off in your area? I would take the grandchildren to see the deer in Richmond Park, or take the boat from Kingston Bridge to Hampton Court Palace where we’d have a splendid picnic and get lost in the maze. I’d also maybe take a once round the monthly farmers market in Surbiton Village, followed by a spot of shopping at John Lewis and Bentalls in Kingston. If I was having a non-grandchild day, I’d meet friends for a riverside lunch at Cote, Jamie’s Italian, the Vegetaria or Carluccio’s. And I might take in a matinee at Kingston’s Rose Theatre.

What local secret do you know that would take a new resident awhile to discover? There’s a lovely little park called Fishponds that many people have yet to discover. It’s about a five-minute walk from here. I used to take Simon there in his pram and now it’s where I walk the dog. Fishponds has gentle grassy slopes, trees, rose bushes and two ponds inhabited by ducks, swans and herons. It’s quiet and a bit hidden away. Another hidden secret is a very good tennis, squash and fitness club just around the corner.

If you could change one thing about the house what would it be? I’d like to see a family living here again, as that’s how the house should be.

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What items are included in the sale? Pretty much everything’s included in the sale. I’m happy negotiate over anything anybody wants.

Who would be your ideal buyer? I’d very much like a family to buy my house.

What do you most fear about the selling process? I worry about the timing of the sale. I do want to get it right so I can sell my house and then buy the cottage I like in Thames Ditton. I don’t want to be trapped in a chain. Also, with lenders making it more difficult for people to borrow money I’m witnessing those making offers on my house can’t sell theirs. But my agent’s very reassuring that all will be well at the end of the day.

Jay ChitnisAgents advice: Jay Chitnis of HJC Estates says: “The timing of a sale is the nub of our business. Unfortunately, we’re wholly reliant on information that comes to us, so we can process it and advise our clients accordingly. If we discover something isn’t accurate or a supposed cash buyer isn’t really a cash buyer, it can delay the sale and give us bad press for passing on poor quality information. We talk to clients as regularly as we need to, which could be every day, and as long as they are part of the process they’ll feel confident about what we’re doing. One solution is to rent and break the chain, but this would be hard for Carolyn at her time of life. She’s been unlucky, as loads of people say they want to buy her house, but they’re now struggling to sell in London where the market’s cooled a bit. But we don’t get paid until the sale’s completed, so it’s in our interest to communicate and make sure it all happens.”

If you are selling your home and would like to be featured in this column, please email Zoopla Property Group’s website editor Myra Butterworth at


How to rent out your luxury home successfully

25 Jul

Renting out your own home can be a daunting prospect as you’ve invested emotionally, as well as financially, in a property. But there are steps you can take to ensure you attract the right tenants and enjoy a smooth lettings experience.

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To rent: An out-of-the-ordinary property within within easy walking distance of London’s Holland Park Avenue

You may be moving to another part of the country due to a work promotion, or you may be retiring to sunnier climes. But for whatever reason you’re leaving your home, you’ll need to do some preparation if you decide to hang onto and rent it out.

Renting out your home can be a tough decision, having spent so much time and effort choosing the right fabrics, making sure the new kitchen has all the mod con’s you require and the landscaped garden is in keeping with the high standard set by the rest of the property. Will a tenant maintain your property to such a high degree? Do you really trust someone near your beloved paintings?

Will they hammer the computerised audiovisual system and should you roll up the rug carefully chosen from The Rug Company before a clumsy tenant spills coffee on it?

These are all questions that will no doubt be whirling through your mind. And they need to be addressed in order to establish what you are, and are not, comfortable with before you rent out your property.

Peter Swain, who is renting out his home in London’s Holland Park, advises airing any concerns with your lettings agent.

“Key points discussed with our agent included high heels not being allowed on the American Black Walnut flooring, pets banned and tenants using the right rack in the microwave so they don’t blow it up like I did,” he explains.

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Simon Price, head of Savills’ Super Prime Lettings, says: “To attract those tenants that have budgets in excess of £10,000 a week, a property has to be presented in perfect condition. In the main, tenants want a ‘turn key’ experience, so they can move in with suitcases, as every eventually is taken care of.

“That would include audio visual and climate control systems, a fully-fitted kitchen with the highest spec appliances, designer linen – and sometimes, even a pool and 24-hour concierge.”’

“It’s very competitive at the upper end,” points out Jemilla Divito at Cluttons’ Hyde Park office. “Years ago, tenants were happy to take a property, only asking for the bathroom to be regrouted and a professional clean. Now however, they might expect a full repaint and new carpets.”

Divito believes we’re in a “presentation market” where landlords must showcase upper-scale homes to have them looking like a new pin.

It’s not all about money at the higher echelons of lettings either. Divito finds a landlord like Swain letting out his own home appreciates the idea of extra income, but the quality of tenants and the belief they’ll look after his house like he would is crucial.

“Keep your home neutral and calming, but not so vanilla it’s soulless,” she adds. “And remember, nine times out of 10, people buy into a sleek pad or a friendly, family home. So, make your home reflect a lifestyle a tenant desires.”

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Top 5 tips for renting out your home: 

* A jet washer’s your best friend. Jet wash the paving, driveway and back terrace. It will make a big difference to the property’s appearance.

* Put your window washer on speed dial. The simple, and not unduly expensive, act of washing the windows makes the place light, bright and inviting.

* Lighting is crucial in an upper-scale home. Set the Lutron (or similar system) to just a few, easy-to-manage settings, such as warm and inviting for evening drinks, focused on the dining area for dinner parties and low-level when watching TV or relaxing.

* Be flexible. Offer your home part-furnished, totally furnished or unfurnished. Listen to what your potential tenant wants and negotiate from there.

* Remove any sentimental items, Divito advises. She says that even at the top end you can’t assume everyone else will love and cherish your favourite pieces of art as much as you do.

To rent – homes above £10,000 a month:

1. Six bedroom detached house in Oxhott, Surrey, with underfloor heating and triple garage.

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2. Unfurnished detached house in Alderley Edge with panoramic views across Cheshire Plan.

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3. Detached house in a highly regarded private estate in Oxshott, Surrey.

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What is in a house name and would you live in ‘Shitterton’?

24 Jul

How would you feel about living in Squeezed Gut Alley, Rotten Row or Grump Street? These are all legitimate locations, but buyers should not be deterred as the charm of these places may far outweigh the implications of their names, say estate agents.

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As with people’s names, the monikers given to houses can evoke huge emotion – with some even going as far as influencing the value of a property, according to estate agents.

One location that you may think this would apply to is a hamlet in Dorset named ‘Shitterton’. The name dates back a thousand years and alludes to the stream that divides the area, known as ‘the shitter’.

Prudish Victorians attempted to rename the hamlet as Sitterton, but the change didn’t stick – although it lingers on in a few house and road names such as Sitterton Close.

Simon Neville-Jones, of estate agents Savills in Wimborne, says: “We once had a property where the name was so repellent to buyers that we had to revert to a previous name on the brochure. Needless to say the property sold fairly soon after the change.

“However, we find that properties in Shitterton near Bere Regis sell quite readily, where the charm of the village by far outweighs any implications of the name.”

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Katie Myers, of estate agents Keppie Massie Residential, explains: “In our experience, house names can have a positive effect on properties, they definitely add interest to potential buyers and can generate more enquiries to view the property. Many buyers feel house names add to the properties charm and character.”

22.07.14 Names 11But she adds: “The saleability of a house is made up of many factors and although a property name may intrigue would be buyers, the property itself has to live up to their expectations.”

If you do decide to change the name of your house, you’ll need to make a written request to the highways or engineers department of your local council.

Any new name will also need to be registered with the Land Registry, your local Council Tax department, and the electoral roll.

And don’t forget to inform your utility providers and mortgage lender.

For sale – houses that live up to their names:

1. Rose Cottage has three bedrooms and offers an archetypal cottage garden.

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2. Orchard House occupies the eastern wing of Thornton Hall, with the grounds including an orchard tennis court and formal gardens.

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3. Ivy Cottage is a charming eighteenth century stone detached cottage.

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4. The Station House was built in 1903 as a station with attached living quarters for the station master.

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5. The Granary has high solid oak beams, thick stone walls, vaulted ceilings and windows that overlook the mill stream.

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6. The Old Rectory dates back to the nineteenth century and faces south across the curved, dual entrance gravel drive.

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An audience with estate agent David Bentley of Bidwells

21 Jul


David Bentley, of Bidwells estate agent, speaks to Harriet Meyer about the perfect day in his Cambridge patch.

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Name: David Bentley

Company Name: Bidwells

Twitter Handle: @bidwells

Which area do you cover? East Anglia is our core area, covering Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk but with our other regional offices in London, Chelmsford, St Albans, Milton Keynes our geographical coverage is ever expanding.

How did you start out as an estate agent? I was lured away from my job at John Lewis by the bright lights of a Ford Capri. A chap I knew from college was an agent and had just taken delivery of a Ford Capri, and at the time I was struggling to maintain my Mini 1000 – sad, but true.  As a young man at the time nothing was more important than my independence and the glamour of a nice set of wheels. I soon left my career in retail.

21.07.14 Bidwells 2What would you do if you weren’t an estate agent? No idea…I seem to have been in the housing industry for years. I would probably have continued in retail as I tend to stick with something once I’ve started, although I have absolutely no regrets.

What was the first property you sold in your area, when did you sell it and for how much? What’s it worth now? I joined Bidwells in Cambridge in 2001 heading up the new homes department, and my first sale was with Laing Homes. It was a two bedroom flat sold for £180,000 in 2003. It is now worth around £350,000. My very first house sale was when I joined an agency in 1988. It was a traditional two-up two-down sold for £40,000 and is probably worth around £250,000 now.

If money was no object, which house or street would you most like to live in on your patch? Bentley Road would be the obvious choice as it’s a prime residential location, a stone’s throw from the office and biking distance from everything you might want in Cambridge. However, as a new build guru, the recent release of the Mansions at Aura by Countryside Properties will take some beating.  These are contemporary detached villas that will undoubtedly raise a few Cambridge eyebrows as they look, on paper, absolutely stunning.

Any streets or zones on your patch that are particularly hot at the moment? Any hidden gems? In Cambridge the hotspots are spread all over the city with the usual suspects of Newnham, Grantchester, Romsey, Kite and the core central areas boiling over with activity. This is mainly fuelled by the lack of available stock, and competitive bidding is common in those prime locations.

What are your top tips for buying, selling or letting property in the area?
Buying: Be bold and don’t delay.
Selling: Consider your options, don’t rush and be thorough with your marketing.
Letting: Be selective and realistic.

How would you spend the perfect day off in your area? 
Sitting on the river bank fishing, in an area with poor mobile reception.

What’s your favourite place for dinner in your area? There are so many fantastic choices around Cambridge, but if I had the choice I’d stick local at the renowned Phoenix Restaurant in Histon. This is biking distance from my home, and has first class food.

If you could change one thing to make your working life better what would it be? Resolve the traffic issues and strains that Cambridge suffers.

What will dominate the news in your market in 2014? The continuation of the Cambridge phenomena! There are no signs of the market slowing even if stock levels are replenished. The city’s global appeal will continue to fuel local headlines, and I expect growth to be strong in the year ahead.

Converted railway cottages are on the right track

18 Jul

Converted railway ticket offices have become a popular option for those looking for a unique home. Here, PrimeLocation looks at former railway offices that have been either converted or are in need of updating.

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1. The Old Station House Privett in Hampshire was constructed as a station with attached living accommodation for the Station Master in 1903. The line was withdrawn from service and the station closed in 1955. The four bedroom property is on the market for £925,000.

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2. This Grade II listed detached house in Stoke-On-Trent offers good potential for further modernisation at £180,000.

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3. This impressive conversion of a former railway station in Brough, near Hull, boasts five bedrooms, outbuildings and stables – all in seven acres of land. It has an asking price of £695,000.

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4. This detached house in Tewkesbury, Worcestershire, stands alongside a former railway that closed to passengers in 1963. It dates back to the Victorian era but has subsequently been extended to create a spacious five bedroom home, which has an asking price of £500,000.

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5. This three bedroom former station house in Luckett, Cornwall, has been converted to include an indoor swimming pool and formal gardens. It boasts 180 degree views across farmland and is on the market for £695,000.

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6. This period former railway cottage in Heanor, near Nottingham, is believed to date back to 1890 and offers the new owners scope for modernisation. It has an asking price of £385,000.

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7. The Station House in Wells, Somerset, was built in 1894 and located on the Somerset and Dorset railway until its closure in 1966. The property has been restored and is now on the market for £399,950.

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What does a London property buy elsewhere in Britain?

16 Jul

What do you get for your money? Cheryl Markosky compares prices in the capital with the rest of Britain.

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Strutt & Parker’s currency exchange rate shows the value of the ‘London £’ across the country

With homes in London now £200,000 more than the UK average, the gulf in the housing market is the widest it’s ever been.

The average of value of a house in the capital has now hit £400,000 for the first time following a record 25.8 per cent increase, according to the Nationwide.

It’s not surprising then to find some Londoners are taking advantage of the price gap and exiting to the Home Counties and beyond.

Johnny Morris, of estate agents Hamptons International, says the country market is heating up.

“Londoners moving out believe the gap between London and the rest of the UK has reached its peak,” he comments.

So, how do values compare between the overheated capital and South East with the rest of Britain?

Estate agent Strutt & Parker has created a currency exchange rate showing the true value of the ‘London pound’ across the country.

It found the London pound is worth anything from £3 in the Cotswolds to £5 in the West Country, to £9 in the Highlands.

James Mackenzie, from Strutt & Parker, said: “We sold more properties over £2m in the Cotswolds than anywhere else in the country last year – and those were mostly to Londoners moving out.”

Here’s what London money buys elsewhere in Britain…


1. London: A one bedroom £150,000 end of terrace in Thamesmead, which is chain-free with double-glazed windows, electric radiators and a loft. DIY boffins, take note: this starter homes’s in need of a bit of TLC.


Birmingham: An extended semi-detached property with three bedrooms in Erdington for offers over £150,000.

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2. Surrey: Two double bedroom maisonette for £250,000, which is close to Guildford centre with a garden and potential for off-road parking for two cars at the front.


Wiltshire: Thatched, white-washed cottage for £245,000 with heaps of character in the village of Netheravon, near Salisbury. You get three double bedrooms, two wood-burners, an authentic bread oven and a garden with a decked area for your hard-earned cash.

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3. London: Refurbished, two bedroom, two bathroom £500,000 flat in E14 with a balcony – the perfect spot to take in terrific views of the Thames and Greenwich.


North Yorkshire: King Olav of Norway was a guest in this fine £500,000 stone house in the heart of Richmond. Goodies include four roomy bedrooms, Aga, cellar, conservatory, annex and walled gardens.

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4. London: It doesn’t get much better than a two bedroom £2.5m apartment stretching over the entire top floor of a Georgian building in fashionable Marylebone. Other pluses include a vaulted reception room, mezzanine floor and lift access.


Scotland: For the price of a flat in central London you can buy your own £2.5m private island of Eilean Righ on the Argyll coastline in Loch Craignish. Over two houses, you’ll get seven bedrooms, five bathrooms and three reception rooms and can easily expand further. Other benefits include private beaches, sea fishing, boathouse, two slipways, jetty, moorings, helicopter hangar, mains electricity, hi-speed broadband and 260 acres of land.

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5. London Super-luxe three bedroom, three bathroom £5.75m apartment in swanky new St Edward scheme, 190 Strand. Every possible extra, including 24-hour concierge service, private pool and spa, fitness studio with personal training and virtual golf, bespoke cinema room and parking.


Suffolk Suffering from Downton fever? Here’s your chance to fashion your own £5.75m Georgian estate in Norfolk. For the price of a three bedroom flat in the capital you get a bit more for your money, with six-bedroom converted stables, two more properties, agricultural buildings and 458 acres of land.

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Refurbished Kensington home with a Royal history

15 Jul

A terrace house within a stone’s throw of Kensington Palace has put on the market for only the second time in more than 50 years.

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Dating back to 1760, the Dukes Lane property is understood to have once been owned by the Royal Family and was formerly used as servants’ quarters.

When it was first built, it was the last in a row of servant accommodation, and was surround by orchards and pastures.

The former owners kept livestock on the neighbouring heathland that stretched to the then small hamlet of Shepherd’s Bush, with cows led to the rear of the property for milking.

The current owners bought the four bedroom home in 1994 and carried out a full restoration while retaining many of the original features.

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During the refurbishment, the house revealed plenty of history – including a 500 gallon vaulted chamber in which previous owners stored their fresh water in the days of the last mini ice-age when the Thames froze over.

Today, the property has almost 1,500 sq ft of living space, including an impressive lower ground floor kitchen and breakfast room, with doors opening onto a south-facing garden. There is also a south-facing terrace accessed from the dinning room.

Rupert Wiggin, of Strutt & Parker estate agents – which is handling the sale – said: “It is incredibly rare for a house with such depth of history and character to come to the market. This charming home offers a unique opportunity to acquire a very special slice of British royal history – with a good dollop of mystical intrigue thrown in for good measure.”

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