It's hard to believe we're heading towards the pandemic's first anniversary. The economy has had a torrid time. But if there's one area that has surprised us all with its buoyancy it is the property market. Ever since the first lockdown, there has been a flurry of activity at a time when a market crash was predicted.
So, what is going on and should you hop on the bandwagon?
The Office for National Statistics reported that UK house prices rose by 8.5 per cent over the year to December 2020. That growth wasn’t in city centres which have, at best, been largely stagnant. Instead it was driven by properties out of town and particularly in rural areas and on the coast near to major conurbations. According to Knight Frank, the residential and commercial property agents, second home purchases are up 59 per cent year-on-year.
Is this just a lockdown fad? Personally, I don’t think so. The Victorian ideal of a seaside escape runs deep in the British psyche. And our newly flexible working arrangements are causing us to flock there in our droves - just as in 1871 the Bank Holidays Act kickstarted its own race to the coast. It may have fallen out of favour for a few decades but now it's firmly back in fashion at a time when the work from home revolution looks here to stay.
Nine years ago, I bought a second home in a seaside town I have known all my life. And it’s the best decision I ever made. As a freelancer, I am often required at short notice to work here or there or wherever I am required. I have been predominantly working from home for the best part of fifteen years. As technology has improved, so it’s become easier. With the onset of the pandemic, those usually forced into offices have realised the joys and benefits too. Even if you’re at a desk from 9am until lunchtime with just an hour off to scoff down a sarnie, if there’s a pretty view or a beach to take the dog for a walk you’re so much more invigorated to get back to work after a short break. It's not rocket science to suggest that if your evenings are full of sea air, the working day becomes that much more tolerable. The genie is out of the bottle.
But is now the time to buy? Short term measures such as the Stamp Duty Holiday, have fuelled the mini boom. The market could stay buoyant through the year if Rishi Sunak extends the policy beyond March. Property sales always pick up in the spring which could further stoke the market. All of these factors might persuade you to wait until demand lessens. But there are reasons to strike while the iron is hot.
Overseas holidays are at worst due to be cancelled this summer or at best a bit of a gamble so the appeal of being able to have a staycation whenever you fancy it in a home of your own is only going to grow. Much of the uncertainty surrounding Covid is here with us for the long term - even with the vaccine. There will always be outbreaks either here or abroad which could disrupt the best laid holiday plans. Purchasing a holiday home that you can escape to at the drop of a hat seems a thoroughly sensible option: you'll be gaining not just a bolthole but an asset; bookable holidays may provide a much needed break but there's nothing to show for them by way of return on investment.
Whilst I have often waxed lyrical about the unsung joys of the east coast, if you happen to live in West, South West or South London, the prospect of going east isn’t as attractive. So where should you buy? Of course, you can venture to Rock in Cornwall or a little fishing village like Mousehole. Glorious, but extremely popular, with prices to boot. And too far away for my liking. You need to play by the two-hour rule. If it takes longer to get to your second home than two hours, after the initial excitement has worn off, you won’t bother. That doesn’t mean you have to go to the boring old choices of city by sea (Brighton) or the old age home that is Eastbourne.
If you have a large budget, by all means consider Sandbanks or Studland in Dorset or the Witterings in Sussex. However, without the pay packet of a Premier League footballer you’ll end up in a shoe box. That means you’ll need to look elsewhere for seaside value. Swanage's Edwardian charm may feel faded but it is an affordable alternative to Sandbanks, with a gorgeous yellow sand beach and a picturesque promenade. Prices have swelled over the past year but there are still deals to be struck. And it's hard to beat the location: the Jurassic Coast is on your doorstep. Further west in Dorset, there are affordable boltholes to be found in the villages surrounding Weymouth - although bear in mind that the A31 earns every penny of its hideous reputation for holiday gridlocks.
My top choice for beautiful beaches and a real feeling of getting away from it all is a surprising one: the Isle of Wight. You might think it’s a faff to have to take a ferry but for residents it’s an easy trip that you’ll find is reasonably priced for you and your car. The beaches are fabulous and there are resorts and properties for all tastes and budgets. Bigger traditional resorts like Shanklin And Ventnor have Victorian charm or there are the wilds to the west or the town of Bembridge and its old school appeal to the east. Avoid Cowes and Ryde if I were you.
If you’re thinking about Bognor Regis, don’t. Pop down the road to Middleton-on-Sea or Rustington. Two attractive little towns with pretty beaches and a village feel. You might even find something bijoux in Ferring if you look hard enough.
The best advice I can give is once we are allowed out, is go and have a drive. See how long it takes to get to one of these towns. Use the time to do your research, as at this time of year seaside properties tend to be thin on the ground as vendors often wait until the spring. Go and speak with the local agents and give them your details. The best properties rarely make it to the open market, especially in the current climate.
Top of your list should be to find a beach you really like, plus somewhere you can get a reliable caffeine fix and a good pub. Once you’ve found your little seaside bolthole, you’ll wonder why you didn’t buy one years ago.
Some properties to inspire you:
An upscale 5 bedroom house in Bembridge (with its lovely restaurants, sailing club and sandy beaches…)
If you fancy an urban pad in a seaside location, how about this apartment in St Leonards-on-Sea?