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Estate in Cotswolds, UK, offers holiday homes with a difference

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 January, 2013, 4:07am

Holiday homes may often be more of a burden and responsibility than a source of joy.

Owners fear break-ins or burst pipes in winter, and if you don't have a friendly relative or neighbour prepared to check on your home from time to time, you can feel compelled to go and stay even when it's not convenient.

That's just one of the reasons the 223-hectare Lower Mill Estate in the Cotswolds is such an ingenious idea.

Located less than two hours from central London, the estate offers buyers the chance to build a home from a comparatively low starting price of £400,000 (HK$4.89 million) surrounded by 162 hectares acres of meadows, lakes, wildlife walks and a nature reserve. The gated community comes with in-built security and maintenance, and facilities include a spa and eco pool and two 20-metre heated pools.

"Our biggest selling point is that it is so secure here. Kids can wander around on their own, and someone will check on your house regularly and turn on the heating when it's minus 5 degrees Celsius," said Red Paxton, sales and marketing director. That attracted buyers across the world, including mainland Chinese.

"We have attracted buyers from Shanghai, Hong Kong, the US, Australia and Dubai," said Paxton.

Owner and chairman Jeremy Paxton said two-thirds of the residents would have bought in the area anyway had the estate not existed. "That's 180 people that have bought here who would have soaked up local housing stock."

Another subject Paxton is passionate about is biodiversity and the environment.

"I wanted to prove that I could create a bio-diverse range of species that could flourish because of people living here, not in spite of them," he said. What this means in practice is that over 3,500 different species share the estate with its 300-plus families (another 275 houses are due to be built over the next few years).

Endangered species are supported or even reintroduced. The beaver, for example, was brought back to the reserve in 2005 by Paxton so that it could enjoy the ideal wetlands habitat.

For many residents the nature and water sports (from trout fishing to water-skiing) on offer are a great pull. For others it's the convenience and location of the estate that are a decisive factor.

Lindsey Sanders and her husband are British but have lived in Hong Kong for almost 13 years, where he heads the Hong Kong office of an asset management business and she runs a legal recruitment firm. They bought a plot at Lower Mill Estate in the summer of 2011 after renting a house there for a few weeks.

Tired of living out of suitcases and staying with relatives or friends when visiting, the Sanders family "really wanted a base in the UK and the children to feel they have a home there," explained Sanders. The location was ideal too. "It's an hour-and-a-quarter from Heathrow," she said. The family chose to build a Boat house, one of 42 house types offered on the estate and one that starts at £795,000.

The house is a sleek three-storey building with an over-hanging zinc roof, uninterrupted lake views from its almost fully-glazed back wall, five bedrooms and 170 square metres of external space.

The Sanders family have no intention of renting out their new home for the moment, but have not ruled it out for the future.

"From a rental return perspective you can do very well," said Sanders. "If somebody wanted to buy a house, use it six weeks of the year and rent it out the rest of the time, it would pay for itself."

Of the 275 houses already built, about 90 - or a third - are available for rent on a short-term basis, said Jeremy Paxton. A total of 35 are rented through Lower Mill's luxury holiday company, the rest privately.

A group of businessmen from Shanghai are due to visit in the coming months and the members are interested in buying homes on Lower Mill Estate as investment properties that they would rent out most of the year.

Some areas of the estate may seem overbuilt but are locations in which sites are cheaper to buy. In future, bigger plots will be released and a new product, called Lakeshore Reserve, has just been launched through Sotheby's.

With its own gated entrance and only five or six south-facing lakeside plots of up to 1 hectare, the emphasis at Lakeshore Reserve is on space, views and privacy. Prices start at £1.2 million.