30 April 2024

‘At The Beach, Time You Enjoyed Wasting Is Not Wasted’

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Coastal 1

‘At the beach, time you enjoyed wasting is not wasted’. Only a miserable few would disagree with TS Eliot and the appeal of the sea is particularly strong on an island like Britain which, by definition, has plenty of coast. In some ways it has been loved too much as the almost unrelieved suburban development, interspersed with caravan parks, on the South East coast demonstrates, but away from there, the coast of Britain is remarkably unspoilt with only pretty fishing villages and towns breaking up miles of cliffs and beaches.

The great thing is that everyone has their own idea of what the seaside is about and the activities that give it its appeal. The classic seaside resorts of Sussex with their bathing huts, piers and ferris wheels are a long way from an isolated house looking over the Helford River. The crowd that returns every year to the beaches of Padstow and Rock is different to the aficionados of dinghy sailing that never go outside Bembridge on the Isle of Wight. The cliff walkers on the coast of Somerset are different from those devoted to the marshes of North Norfolk. Some cluster together in social circles that are indistinguishable from Chelsea or Clapham while others look to the coast to get as far away as possible from anything resembling a cocktail party. For some, it’s nostalgia that takes them back to happy childhood holidays that they hope to reproduce for their own children. For others it is a base for a sailing yacht that opens up the coast of France. The inhabitants of Sandbanks on Poole Harbour would probably feel at home in Monaco if they had been born French. In short, the coastal property market is a mass of local markets of people with very different ideas of what the seaside means.

Increasingly, with the acceptance and ease of working from home, what was a holiday home to be used for a few weeks in the summer and the odd long weekend has morphed into a genuine second, or first, home. This was most obvious during the pandemic which saw a spike in both rental and sale values that is only just being ironed out. Alongside this - and it was noticeable before Covid - the owners of second homes are becoming much better at summers, leaving London in early July and only reappearing in early September.

As in most things scarcity is the mother of price and a direct view of the sea or an estuary is the most prized. A house with a view over Chichester Harbour will be double the price of one only a mile inland. A cliff top house on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast will collect a big premium over one in a lovely village just behind. Anything in Rock, aka Chelsea-on-Sea, is always bid to levels that have the locals scratching their heads or writing to their MP in despair at ever being able to afford a house. There’s nothing new here.

What is new is the effects of climate change on perceptions of the market. Ten years ago this was rarely on buyers’ radar apart from a minor worry about the potential of rising sea levels. Now, with the increased frequency and intensity of storms and tidal surges this is something that has moved to centre stage and we find that every client with coastal ambitions has climate worries both about the potential for damage and the longer term financial implications when they come to sell. These are not idle worries - though less intense than on the other side of the Atlantic where insurance for houses on the south-east coast is becoming difficult to find. When a property market becomes uninsurable there are serious price implications.

A more unexpected consequence of climate change is that it is bringing new buyers into the UK coastal market. This is less about Cornwall becoming more tropical than the Mediterranean becoming unbearably hot in July and August when the French and Italians decamp en masse to coast and serried rows of sun loungers. We have had a notable number of continental Europeans looking to trade their Mediterranean holiday houses for an equivalent in the UK as well as UK buyers reconsidering the idea of a place in the sun.

While this is certainly not a rush (it’s a matter of taste whether cold rain is better than scorching sun) it is now more than an isolated enquiry and it will be interesting to see if the recent pattern of heatwaves in southern Europe becomes established annual events. There may even be a chance of more than a break in the English clouds to even up the equation further. If the best items in the coastal market trade for big premiums now, they will be bigger still if broiled Europeans become big buyers.

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