The property market in Guernsey is like the English Channel on a good day: a pleasant calm just enlivened by the gentle ripples of an optimistic breeze. It hasn’t always been like that in recent years. In 2011 and 2012, confidence on the island took a knock as the effects of the downturn reached its shores. ‘Guernsey always lags behind the mainland market,’ says Richard Hardie of Livingroom. ‘When the UK went through the downturn, it took a while for us to notice, but then it started playing catch-up-we’re affected six months to a year later.’
The impact was relatively modest -by its very nature, the island’s market tends to be rather stable, according to Matthew Henry of Swoffers. Figures by the Guernsey government show a drop of 9.1% in seasonally adjusted, median prices for Open Market property – the kind open to people who are not Guernsey’s Qualified Residents-between the first quarter of 2012 and the same period in 2013 and a five-year dip of just 2.2%. Nonetheless, it was enough of a wobble to put off some sellers. ‘When the market slowed down, a lot of vendors chose to let their houses out,’ explains Ross Le Marquand of Cooper Brouard.
Now, however, the tide has turned. Data from the Guernsey government already shows a 3.6% rise between the first quarter of 2013 and the same period in 2014, to reach a seasonally adjusted, median property purchase price of £1,081,563.
‘The first quarter of 2014 has been more active compared to the same time last year,’ comments Chris Lovell of Lovells. ‘The Open Market is narrow and thin, so it’s unwise to judge it on the performance of just one quarter, but year-on-year, the market has improved.’ With both the British and the world economies on a much stronger track, sellers have regained their confidence, according to Mr Le Marquand. ‘People are returning to selling because they are more optimistic.’
This means that the island’s open market has a wider range of properties for sale than it’s had for most of the past 30 years. ‘In the 1980s, there were times when the island had fewer than 10 properties for sale on the open market, so it’s good to offer people choice,’ he adds.
This breadth and quality of stock, combined with a renewed sense of optimism, are conspiring to draw buyers off the fence. ‘If you’re a cash buyer, you’re in a particularly strong position,’ notes Mr Henry. ‘You’re able to come in and buy what you want at a reasonable level.’ And because Guernsey has a wide mix of property periods and designs, this year’s ample supply also means buyers can find precisely what they want. ‘From a 16th century farmhouse to an architectdesigned, contemporary villa, you have a choice of styles,’ reports Mr Hardie. ‘If you have a decent budget, you can even build your own property.’
Among today’s buyers are many early retirees or businessmen who are rethinking their career and often wish to move their business to a friendly, well-located jurisdiction. A leading financial centre, Guernsey is a supportive environment for enterprise and offers some significant benefits to residents, including lower corporation tax, a standard income-tax rate of 20%, and no VAT, Capital Gains or Inheritance Tax. Plus, notes Mr Lovell, ‘the level of legal services is extremely high across the board and accountancy and administration standards are extremely efficient. Guernsey is very well regulated, but it’s also practical in the way it does business.’
People, he continues, find good, prompt advice in an English-speaking environment and, as a result, feel confident that their business will thrive and expand or that they’ll easily be able to develop a new business from the island. That said, adds Mr Henry, ‘people wouldn’t move here if it didn’t also offer an excellent quality of life.’
Luckily, he adds, ‘there are lots of good reasons to be here.’ Take leisure, for example. Opportunities are countless and not only for keen yachtsmen (although boating is obviously top class). Guernsey has a vibrant community with plenty of excellent restaurants, cafes and cultural events, according to Mr Hardie.
Sport is exceptional, too – ‘we really punch above our weight as an island,’ says Mr Henry, especially in cricket and football. ‘The Football Academy really invests time and money in young people.’ Mr Lovell also mentions netball, cliff walks and wind-surfing. But, really, he adds, ‘from bowling to sand-racing, the number of sports catered for here is enormous.’
A very central location, at least from a European perspective, great transport links to both the UK and France, and mild, sunny weather also contribute to making the island hugely attractive to business people, as well as older retirees who just want to enjoy the relaxed lifestyle. However, many young families have also swelled the ranks of buyersin recent years, according to Mr Hardie. The reason for this is simple:
‘There are few places in the world where you feel safe-and Guernsey is one of them.’ The island is a ‘sheltered environment’ in which the young can enjoy the same carefree childhood their parents experienced.
Add to this a range of easily accessible, good schools, and it’s easy to see why any family would be eager to move to Guernsey. ‘Children can cycle or walk to school,’ explains Mr Hardie, who adds that families also get more quality time together. ‘The island is small-it takes at most 20 minutes to get anywhere-so once you finish work, you can go to the beach, out riding or boating or even visit another island.’
With so much on offer, buyers are likely to resume flocking to Guernsey in great numbers. Agents certainly believe that sales will increase in 2014 and that 2015 will be even rosier. ‘Now that the economic turmoil, some political uncertainties and the extreme weather are behind us, we’re set for improvement in turnover, which will ultimately push up prices,’ explains Mr Le Marquand. ‘All the ingredients are there for steady growth.’
THREE OF THE BEST PROPERTIES FOR SALE ON GUERNSEY
Les Preaux, St Martin
This magnificent seven-bedroom property, which comes to the market for the first time in 37 years, once played host to George V. Lush grounds complete with a tennis court and an indoor swimming-pool complex complement the airy, elegant house
£3.325 million through Livingroom (01481 233008;www.livingroom.gg)
Les Lohiers Farm, St Saviour’s
Selling agent Matthew Henry calls five-bedroom Les Lohiers ‘a classic Guernsey house’. Originally dating from the 15th century, it was remodelled in the late 1700s and beautifully extended in recent years by converting some attached barns. A magnificent double-height conservatory links the charming older rooms to the renovated barns. £4.25 million through Swoffers (01481 711766; www.swoffers.co.uk)
Le Manoir, St Martin
This four-bedroom Georgian house’s beautifully proportioned interiors retain period details, such as the marble fireplaces.
£4.95 million through Cooper Brouard (01481 236039; www.cooperbrouard.com)
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