The lighter side of real estate

Downton Abbey for Sale

Once we laid eyes on the architectural masterpiece behind "Downton Abbey," we were eager to value the enchanting estate otherwise know as Highclere Castle.

Kristin Crosier


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Blossoming romances, tragic departures, and scandalous lifestyles–that’s what fans of “Downton Abbey” have been obsessing over since the show first made its appearance in the US. And I’ll admit, I occasionally pine for a chemistry as alluring as Matthew and Mary’s (along with every other female viewer out there).

Perhaps as enticing as the show itself is the architectural masterpiece around which it revolves–the Downton Abbey estate, known outside of PBS as Highclere Castle.

In movies and television, there have been few homes as iconic as their characters–off the top of my head, I came up with the apartment from Friends, the Home Alone house, Wayne Manor, and the Twilight homes.

Even fewer of those homes can lay claim as the living, breathing set of its show or film. Yet such is the case of the drama’s Highclere Castle, a historic gem so grand that one can’t help but envy those who live among the home’s classic glamor (or get to pretend they do).

More spectacular than even its opulence is the price tag of Highclere Castle–if the grandiose estate were on market in the 1920s, it would have cost $34.7 million.

In today’s market, that’s just under $400 million.

Sure, $400 million seems astronomical, but when you think about the castle’s extravagant structure and groomed gardens, it’s really a bargain.

The Real Downton Abbey

To find out how much the real Downton Abbey would cost in the ’20s, I went straight to the source of my obsession–Highclere Castle.

Perusing the Internet told me more about the intricately designed home.

Found in Hampshire, England, the Jacobethan-style chateau consists of 120,000 square feet and occupies 1,000 acres. The home belongs to the eighth Earl of Carnarvon and his wife, and has been in the family for centuries. (Almost like a modern Crawley family, minus the three daughters and mouthy grandmother.)

It wasn’t a bad place to start.

I also discovered that Highclere has between 50 and 60 bedrooms–even the owners don’t know the exact number–so it’s no wonder the home requires a large staff. (Seriously though, who could possibly need that many bedrooms?)

Anyway, back to the numbers. Knowing square footage and location helped immensely. Now all I needed was to find comparable nearby properties. (No biggie–there are plenty of 50-bedroom palace-like homes in Hampshire, right?)

Thorough searching on the humorously named Zoopla website proved the best bet for comparable properties. I found four homes that were:

  • Within a 20-mile radius
  • At least 2,000 square feet
  • Coupled with a decent amount of acreage (though of course none anywhere near 1,000 acres)

Admittedly I could not locate whether the selected homes have a designated “upstairs and downstairs” (or if they require a sizeable staff); but the properties would do.

Using their current market values, I found an average price per square foot and applied it to Highclere. This brought me to the rather reasonable price of $3,323 per square foot (that is, if you’re an extremely wealthy family who practically owns the entire surrounding town).

And the total cost of the Earl’s absurdly large home? $398,700,000 in 2012 dollars.

That makes the real Downton Abbey about 500 times more expensive than the median San Francisco home, which runs $799,000.

This also means Highclere Castle would have cost $34.7 million in 1920, right about when the Crawleys could have used some extra cash.

Of course, that estimate does not include the historical, and now cultural, value of the home.

The Castle Behind Downton Abbey

The home itself–withstanding any attachment to “Downton Abbey”–has been around for centuries and is also the country seat for the Earl. That alone could significantly increase the asking price of Highclere Castle, were it to go on market.

Then the TV show began.

Should the owners ever choose to sell, they could also ask for a higher price knowing that Highclere is where a large portion of “Downton” is actually filmed. That’s thanks in part to series creator Julian Fellowes and the owners. (Fellowes wrote the show with Highclere in mind–he is friends with the Earl and Countess, and knows the castle well–and the owners were kind enough to let him film there.)

So really, $400 million is likely a low estimate. Ladies, if you have high hopes of living in Downton Abbey, you better start pinching pennies now.

But what all would the lucky owner (or unlucky owner, depending on how you feel about cleaning) get for that price tag? Let’s take a look.

Life Upstairs and Downstairs

What Wikipedia calls a “country house,” I consider more of a mansion. Well, beyond a mansion, really. More a manor or chateau; a palace even.

Inside this real-life Downton Abbey, you will find:

  • 200 to 300 rooms
  • A staff of 60 to 80 people
  • The Saloon, where the Crawleys typically retire after dinner
  • A library with more than 5,650 books
  • A “downstairs” large enough to accommodate around 60 full-time staff
  • An Egyptian Exhibition in the cellar showcasing the fifth Earl’s discoveries of the Tomb of Tutankhamun

Even more thrilling to us women fawning over Mister Crawley’s piercing blue eyes, the castle now attracts Downton fans as the destination for a picturesque Matthew-and-Mary wedding. It will only cost you $24,000 to marry at Downton (before tax). But hey, you can’t put a price on love.

If you’d like to visit the house without a wedding invitation or a $24,000 bill, Highclere is open to visitors during parts of spring and summer.

After all, the owners need to squeeze as much revenue as they can out of the castle’s popularity to keep it from falling apart. Upkeep for a 400-million-dollar home doesn’t come cheap.

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posted on: February 11, 2013
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