The enduring appeal of the Cornish and Devon coastline is unlikely to lose its popularity, regardless of what kind of tremors shudder through the property market in the next year or so. And the reasons for this are simple: the counties which were once considered too far from civilisation have proved themselves to be anything but. Gone are the days when taking a seaside holiday in this country involved a pay off of gastronomically handcuffing yourself to a week of ‘fish suppers’.
Nowadays, Michelin-starred restaurants are liberally scattered around both Devon and Cornwall and the gaps that remain are almost always well supplied with London standard restaurants and bars. Add to this is the maxim that where yachts and surfers travel, glamour follows in varying degrees, which helps explain the rising appeal of the south West’s northerly and southerly coastline. And, in these days of a carbon conscience, the squeaky clean option of taking a ‘bucket-and-spade’ holiday in the UK further underpins a strong demand for second homes and rental properties.
Knight Frank’s market conditions report, published last month, says that despite the weaker property market conditions across the board, it expects the south West to outperform the UK average. ‘While the global economic downturn witnessed in the second half of 2007 has had an impact on all UK residential markets, dampening capital growth forecasts, the western region’s housing market relies on a diverse set of market drivers. These include lifestyle motivated relocation, ‘downsizers’, a vibrant second home market and an expanding student population,’ explains their head of residential research Liam Bailey.
While their interpretation of the south West extends from the Cornish peninsular up to south Wales, they single out a series of regeneration programmes in Newquay, Padstow, St Ives and Falmouth which are designed to promote their unique selling points to the wider British public. Here residential redevelopment is increasingly targeting specific purchaser types, be it those in pursuits of watersports, art and culture or culinary retreats.
‘There is confidence in Cornwall,’ underlines Ian Lillicrap of Lillicrap Chilcott estate agents (01872 273473). ‘And the Government and EU funding (the county has been named as one of the key Convergence Regions in the next round of EU Structural Funds) is helping to cement that feeling.
‘Gone are the days when everyone just retired to the south West. Now, it’s people in their 30s that are coming here to live. The trend has moved on from Dorset and Wiltshire but the great thing is that you can’t go any further west so it’s here that they’ll stay.’
A brief survey of agents across the two counties confirms that the market is undergoing some difficult times but buyers are still taking the plunge, particularly in the prime waterside areas. Mr Lillicrap reports that his company has agreed sales on £6.4m worth of properties in the last fourteen days in the area of Feock, which is within easy distance of Truro and Falmouth. Alex Roads, of agents John Bray (01208 863206), who operate within a privileged five-mile radius around the popular villages of Rock and Polzeath – where houses routinely sell for over £1 million – is circumspect. ‘Without a shadow of a doubt, 2008 is a buyers’ market but the caveat is that this is a very imperfect market. Its behaviour is not dissimilar to that of the market in Kensington & Chelsea; houses have been in the same family for generations, and small blips in the economy rarely result in forced sales.’
Something that will act in favour of the coastal market in Devon and Cornwall will always be the question of supply. Large period country houses are few and far between on the coast and the period stock tends more often to be made up of stone built fisherman’s cottages. Planning permission for new build developments with sea views sometimes creep through the nets and it is these that are attracting the attention of buyers at the moment.
‘It’s pretty unusual to find a new development by the water in Cornwall apart from in Newquay,’ says Mr Lillicrap. So it’s particularly interesting that they have two simultaneously on their books in and around Penzance. One is a development of apartments just 125 yards from the sea. The town, which was hit badly in the last recession, has bounced back and is now home to a number of very good pubs and restaurants and a regeneration programme is underway on its western edge. This has resulted a new block of apartments at ‘The Waterfront’ which been built echoing an Edwardian vernacular, with lofty ceilings of over 10ft. They are priced between £189,950, and £199,950. ‘So it’s really a case of should you buy one or have three,’ adds Mr Lillicrap.
Nigel Stubbs from Millers Countrywide in Truro (01872 274211) agrees that Penzance is worthy of a look. ‘Particularly if they get the marina planned for next door Newlyn off the ground. It will mean the area will become the only dropping off point between Falmouth and the Scillies. And, where yachts go, money follows.’ Mr Stubbs believes that in order to secure a safe buy in the area, you either need to go for something period or something very contemporary. ‘Don’t go for something in between.’ He is currently selling a contemporary house in the quaint harbour side town of Mevagissey near St Austell which has a 180 degree view and a price tag of £1.6 million.
Nowadays, developers of contemporary properties are being more imaginative in the designs – wine cellars and bicycle rooms have been exchanged for surfboard storage pods and wetsuit drying rooms while inside there are recessed docking stations to receive MP3 players. ‘This helps attract the surfing crowd, which is a growing market on the northern coastline of Devon and Cornwall,’ explains Julie Drake of Savills’ Exeter office (01392 455721). She is selling a courtyard development of 8 properties in Black Rock Sands, Widemouth Bay near Bude, ‘one of the best surfing areas in the west Country’. Prices for these houses range from £395,000 for 3-bedrooms to £580,000 for 4-bedrooms and the only thing that separates them from the beach is some sand dunes.
Knight Frank predict that the strong demand for new build detached family homes in Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall, will mean this sub-market will outperform the market average. They have just three out of 28 properties built at the Dart Marina development in Dartmouth remaining on the market through their Exeter office (prices start at £985,000; contact 01392 848844). The site was formerly an ugly boat yard but has been transformed into high spec apartments and houses which are Smart Home enabled, allowing lighting, telephones, computer, heating and security circuits to be controlled centrally. Owners will be able to use the facilities at the neighbouring Dart Marina Hotel including restaurants and a healthy spa.
Another option for spectacular sea views is Prospect House, which sits on a cliff-top location close to the town of Salcombe. The house was formerly a hotel built by two sisters in the 1920s after the fishing village of Hallsands was swept away by the sea in 1917. The sisters applied for a bank loan to restore the house and started a hotel as a means of paying it back. Knight Frank are now selling the property which has been redeveloped, using a New England style, into two and three-bedroom apartments. Within the gardens is a swimming pool and tennis court while below is the beach of Hallsands. Prices start from £225,000 and Prospect House is due to be completed in spring 2009.
When it comes to the point of buying, Alex Roads is adamant: ‘In this market, it’s imperative to chose the right agent who can re-educate both sides of the party. It’s hard to make vendors and buyers accept the new prices so I’d suggest you ignore the asking price and make an offer. It’s just a question of haggling.’