Bishopscourt, Darling Point given away at $18 million by cash strapped Anglicans

Bishopscourt, Darling Point given away at $18 million by cash strapped Anglicans
Bishopscourt, Darling Point given away at $18 million by cash strapped Anglicans

Bishopscourt, the Anglican Church's redundant Darling Point trophy home after being perceived by church activists to be too grand, has been sold for just $18 million.

Bishopscourt, at 11 Greenoaks Avenue, is one of Sydney's most historic sandstone mansions. Details of an independent valuation of Bishopscourt by Colliers International obtained by Property Observer assessed the market value of the property as $24 million in 2009, when Sydney's $420,000 median dwelling price was almost half the current $810,000.

The sale price of the 6100 sqm holding reflected $2900 a square metre. Albeit nearer the harbour, Atherfield, another Gothic home listed currently with Christies International, comes with price hopes of more than $15 million, reflecting $13,000 per sqm. The $15 million Bellevue Hill Yoorami estate sold at $5200 a sqm last week. Darling Point's top sale remains last December's $23.2 million price secured for a contemporary home through the Agency by Coopes on Eastbourne Road at $25,000 a sqm.

Eastern suburbs estate agents always gave it a probable $25 million sale price, but the church spokesman Russell Powell recently sought to dampen expectations saying: “It is a very unique property but it isn’t the sort of place that a rock star would want to live in.” 

It was instead sold with lengthy delayed settlement terms to a buyer who fell in love with its gardens.

The $18 million sale price fell short of entry onto Sydney's top 10 house sales on 2015.

The property has been on and off the market for several years, with Craig Pontey at Ray White Double Bay coming up with the difficult sale. It was suppose to happen Tuesday with the church press release issuance delayed until today, Wednesday.

Millions will now likely be spent on its modernisation by the local buyers who will keep it as a residence.

The iconic 1840s Darling Point property had been expected to attract enormous local and international attention, but in the end Craig Pontey had just two local buyers for the heritage listed offering.

Neighbouring school Ascham wasn't that interested. The Moran family seem content with their nearby castellated abode, The Swifts, another Gothic home for archbishops in Darling Point, which was sold by Catholic Church in 1986 for $9 million.

"Not since the sale of Swifts has a similar property been brought to market," Craig Pontey said on its initial 2012 offering. 

The picturesque 1850s Darling Point mansion has been with the church since it paid £6,750 in 1910, so by next year's settlement some 106 years.

It's been home to eight archbishops, including Sir Marcus Loane, Donald Robinson, Harry Goodhew and its present occupant, the 12th archbishop of Sydney, Glenn N Davies, who recently called upon Sydney Anglicans to not only to pray for Syrian refugees but to prepare to provide a warm and generous welcome, coupled with practical assistance.

In the past the church has baulked at selling Bishopscourt, having contemplated it in 1963, 1982, 1991, 2001, and most recently in 2010 when defeated by the narrowest of margins.

In April 1993 Bishop Goodhew, when he was Archbishop-elect, stated “I think the time has come for the diocese to build a new residence for the bishop; one which is functional but not opulent”. No further action, however, was taken and Archbishop Goodhew moved in.

The latest decision to sell falls against the backdrop of the synod's reduced financial capacity after shocking stock market losses following the 2008 global financial crisis. It also poored fairly in its neighbouring residential apartment project.

Many of its parishes have revenues below the requisite amount so face the threat of ceasing to be a parish and becoming a provisional parish. The parishes of Willoughby East, Leichhardt and South Sydney have been among those on notice in recent times, along with the parishes of Auburn, Balmain, Bankstown, Coogee, Enmore/Stanmore, Kingsford, Mulgoa, Mt Druitt and Watsons Bay. 

Some church members argued that Bishopscourt produced no income, but cost at least $100,000 annually to keep in good repair. The Rector of Fairfield, Peter Lin, advised the synod in 2012 that $2 million dollars had been spent on the chimneys. He added some members of his congregation had been "scarred" by their visits there because the opulence contrasted with the way Christians lived in other countries, the Anglican press report of the 2012 sale debate noted.

Both something of exaggerations, as Property Observer understands maintenance and conservation work (excluding staff wages) undertaken at Bishopscourt in the a recent eight year period totalled $2.94 million, averaging therefore $368,000 per year.

Bishopscourt, which could revert to its earlier names of Percyville or Greenoaks, sits among the handful of pioneer homes to have survived from the 1850s.

Flowered in sandstone Gothic extravagances, it was built for the pioneer Thomas Sutcliffe Mort, who built an empire on wool, dairy, meat, mining and shipping.

The residence - mostly obscured by the fig trees on its 6216 square metre holding - was designed by architects John Hilly in the 1850s and Edmund Blacket in the 1860s. It was built around an original three-roomed 1835 cottage built for an ironmonger, Thomas Woolley.

Mort was a great supporter of the church, giving it the nearby land to build St Marks.

The church bought the estate from a land speculator in 1910, 32 years after Mort's death in 1878 and the departure of his family.

Prior to the purchase of Bishopscourt previous Bishops of Sydney had lived in a rented house in Darlinghurst (1837-1852), a rented house in Millers Point (1855-1857), and then a new house built in Randwick (on land exchanged for a site in Newtown) (1858-1911).

Shortly after his consecration in 1909, Bishop Wright had observed that the property in Randwick that had served as the residence of the Bishop of Sydney for over 50 years was “too far from the centre of things to be a city dwelling; not far enough out to be a country retreat”. The next year the Diocese bought the Greenoaks property in Darling Point. 

The Bishopscourt Sale Ordinance 2012 authorised the sale of Bishopscourt at any time within five years after the date of assent to the ordinance, ie by October 2017.

The 2012 synod was told an real estate agent familiar with Bishopscourt had indicated that there were buyers who are interested in such rare ‘icon’ properties, and that buyers in this market are not unduly concerned by the heritage issues involved.

"This view has been confirmed more recently by some other property professionals with a good knowledge of the current market for properties in the relevant price range in the Eastern Suburbs.

"It is considered that given the prevailing market and the ‘uniqueness’ of Bishopscourt its true value will not be known until expressions of interest are sought."

The sales subcommittee received indication from the real estate agent familiar with Bishopscourt that a number of potential residences would be available in the price range of $5 million to $7 million, subject to whatever requirements the Diocese may wish to include for entertainment areas and guest accommodation.

"Several of these properties have been viewed and deemed suitable," it noted, but no purchase has yet been advised.

Bishopscourt, symbolic of the Anglican Church’s historical place in the city of Sydney, includes sizeable gardens, accommodation for up to 12 guests, a conference room for 20, dining room seating up to 36, and off-street parking for 10-15 cars.

"Attempting to replicate these in an alternative residence would be difficult and the cost would be prohibitive," the synod was warned.

"The Archbishop’s ministry will always involve hospitality and entertainment, and the facilities for this should be available in a new residence.

"While recognising the potential any sale and purchase has to attract unwelcome publicity, the Standing Committee does not see that issue as sufficient to warrant the retention of the present property.

"Indeed, if well handled the sale of Bishopscourt should be seen for what it is, the most responsible course of action." 

Bishopscourt is one of the assets held by the Anglican Church Property Trust in the EOS’s capital fund. The Endowment of the See (EOS) - the fund from which distributions are made to support the office of the Archbishop - has been under financial pressure for some years despite making considerable savings in its expenditure, with a reduction from $7 million in 2008 to approximately $3 million per annum in 2012.

It was largely achieved by a reduction in staffing from 27 to 17.

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor is one of Australia's most respected property journalists, having been at the top of the game since the early 1980s. Jonathan co-founded the property industry website Property Observer and has written for national and international publications.

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