The joy of living in Guernsey is that you’re close enough to London to conduct business regularly but get to live somewhere with a brilliant quality of life
Arabella Youens explores some appealing houses for sale on Guernsey this summer
For a newcomer to the island, it’s a challenge to pinpoint what it is that makes Guernsey feel at once familiar and, at the same time, slightly irregular. The landscape of patchwork fields, narrow lanes boarded by high hedges and steep, wooded valleys descending to the rocky shore could be Cornwall. The bungalows that line some of the roads are wearily reminiscent of Worthing.
The shops lining St Peter Port’s picturesque harbour front include high-street heavies such as Marks & Spencer and Boots scattered among other, independent outfits, but it’s refreshingly free of the neon blights that can detract from other south-coast resorts. This isn’t a place to show off designer labels and chain restaurants have a short history here—Pizza Express opened and closed within a short space of time. ‘That’s part of Guernsey’s charm,’ explains Simon Torode of livingroom.
‘We have our own good restaurants and people here eat out a lot. There’s never a dress code and no one will turn you away. You could be sitting next to a billionaire, but you’d never know it as he’d be wearing flip-flops. Famous people don’t need security here—people don’t even blink at the sight of them.’
After what all agents describe as a challenging few years, this summer sees the launch of a clutch of fine, historic and interesting houses to the Open Market—those properties available for just about anyone with a European passport to buy—that, it is hoped, will pique the interest of newcomers to the island.
Shauna Clapham of Swoffers already senses that this summer will be productive and reports a ‘signficant interest in Open Market homes’ in recent weeks. ‘Guernsey comes into its own in the springtime—the wild flowers are vying for position in the hedgerows and we all start to enjoy the wonderful outdoor life that the island offers.’ She’s marketing three houses that haven’t been on the market for 25 years or more, including the spectacular Beaucamp de Haut estate, which is set in more than 30 acres—one of only a handful of houses with this amount of land on the small island—and offers total privacy. The house is a substantial 18,000sq ft and comes immaculately presented, with a tennis court and a swimming pool in the grounds.
‘We’re also launching Le Clos au Comte, which has a really interesting history,’ says Shauna. ‘The house sits in the heart of Guernsey’s countryside, has some sea views and boasts almost 10 acres of land. It dates from 1591, but, in the mid 1960s, the then owner rebuilt the house, stone by stone, in a different location within the grounds.’
Today, Swoffers is asking for offers in the region of £5.5 million. The vendors are Ole Henriksen and his wife, a Danish couple who have been resident on the island since 1985. The property has an artist’s studio, a smaller studio and a cinema and the couple planted 400 trees in two acres to form a mature woodland, ‘which is rare in Guernsey’.
In complete contrast, Ross Le Marquand of Cooper Brouard is looking for someone with a bit of imagination to take on the spectacular Fort Richmond, which has a commanding position on the west coast of the island and a guide price ‘in excess of £2 million’.
Built when Napoleon III was amassing troops on the French coast, the fort has undergone various incarnations under the ownership of the States of Guernsey and now needs someone with energy and vision to transform it into a remarkable home. ‘The challenge will be creating a home out of a building that was originally designed to keep people out,’ says Ross. ‘However, there’s scope to create something that captures the historic spirit of the fort, while being practical and contemporary at the same time. A part-covered, part-terraced top floor would take advantage of the 360° views that run all the way up to our northern isle, Alderney.’
Although houses on the island—particularly those on the Open Market—don’t come cheap, one misconception many outsiders make is that they all cost in the multi-millions. ‘Actually, the starting point for something modest is about £500,000,’ says Richard Fox of Martel Maides. ‘Everyone knows that the island has significant financial advantages for residents, including no Inheritance Tax or Capital Gains Tax, but what’s also worth noting is that the cost of buying a property is significantly cheaper than in the UK. There’s a maximum 3% tax on the property purchase and that doesn’t increase if the house is deemed to be a second or additional home.’
When compared to buying a £2 million holiday house in a popular resort in Devon or Cornwall and paying £213,750 in Stamp Duty the savings are significant. ‘You would pay only £60,000 here and the hour’s flight from Gatwick is arguably easier than the long drive down the A303,’ adds Richard.
Additionally, if you’re a boater, there’s so much more to do here than just running up and down the coast. ‘There are all the other islands in the Bailiwick—Sark makes for an easy day trip—as well as the coast of France for longer cruises.’
He admits that buyers don’t choose to buy in Guernsey as an alternative to the South-West as much as you might expect, but it isn’t unknown. ‘Coastal resorts in the UK have gone up in value significantly, whereas the market in Guernsey has been static for the past seven or eight years, so the value differential is big. Plus, people often say that Guernsey is like England “diluted with influences of France” and you do get that sense of being somewhere slightly foreign,’ Richard comments.
South Africa-born Craig Whitman of Swoffers says that, when his father calls him from Cape Town, he often asks: ‘How is heaven?’ ‘In terms of safety, the outdoor lifestyle, the sailing and the beaches, it’s pretty special, but the one thing often missed is that Guernsey is actually affordable,’ says Craig.
‘Yes, there are exceptionally expensive homes that serve the super-wealthy who come to live here, but the spread is vast. You could easily sell your London house for £1.5 million and find something nice here.’
Fermain House in Village de Putron, just outside St Martin, is a good example. On the market jointly with livingroom and Martel Maides for £1.995 million, the house is a newly built, New England-style home with four bedrooms and four bathrooms, an immaculate kitchen/breakfast room and a south-facing garden with a dining terrace.