There's a new wave at the seaside - never mind the cost

Sam Dunn shows how to dip your toe in the water as house prices burst the banks by the sea
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The Independent Online

Sun, sea, sand and... home ownership. Of course, some people might prefer it if sex finished off this definition of personal paradise, but for others, in these days of property obsession, a place by the sea fits the bill.

Since the late 19th century, when railways began carrying factory workers to the coast for their annual holiday, the seaside's hold on us has never lessened. That feeling of escape is part of the reason for the extraordinary 21st-century growth in the cost of a home on the coast.

Any property buyer, particularly first-timers, will tell you of the huge strain on their wallet. But factor in a location by the coast and you can expect that cost to rise even higher.

"Pretty seaside towns can act as a premium to house prices, costing you more than a similar property further inland," warns Melanie Bien of the mortgage broker Savills Private Finance. "The attraction of UK seaside resorts is growing as regeneration of towns and the clean-up of beaches make them more attractive to nostalgic holidaymakers and home purchasers alike."

The current average asking price for all types of home across the UK, according to research by the online property agent Rightmove, is £237,361. But four British seaside towns now have price tags way in excess of this, it says.

At the top of the list stands Brighton with an average asking price of £307,470. It is followed by the Dorset towns of Poole, where the cost hovers around £286,600, and Bournemouth at £279,623.

It's not just the location. The "modernisation" of coastal towns - for example, Bournemouth and Seaham, in County Durham, have revamped shopping centres and attractive new residential areas - has also fuelled the surge in prices.

Meanwhile, commuting has become a more feasible option. Faster rail links have helped make the seaside a realistic location for those people who work in cities but want a better quality of life.

"Better public and private transport links from the coast inland," says Paul Fincham of the Halifax, "play one of the most important parts in improving prices by the sea."

For five years, the Halifax has been running a dedicated index tracking the price movements of the UK's seaside towns. In the three years to August 2006, Seaham recorded the biggest rise. Admittedly the former mining town began from a low base, but prices shot up by 172 per cent to nudge £117,266. Today, that figure will be even higher. Last week, a four-bed house in Seaham's popular East Shore Village was on offer for £290,000 with the estate agent Kimmitt and Roberts.

In more than half of all the seaside towns surveyed by the Halifax the price of a property had risen by at least 50 per cent during that three-year spell. The vast majority (over nine out of 10) had jumped by more than the 31 per cent average figure for all houses across the UK.

However, eight out of the 10 priciest coastal towns, according to the Halifax, continue to be in the South-west. Good train connections to London - with journey times of less than three hours in many cases - along with warm summer temperatures and picturesque countryside, keep demand, and prices, high. Sandbanks, near Poole in Dorset, had an average price of £506,282 in August last year.

If you can't afford that, you can still bag a bargain if you're happy to look north. Wick, in northern Scotland, was the cheapest seaside town in the Halifax survey, with an average price of £64,612. The only non-Scottish town among the least expensive British seaside locations was Hartlepool.

Much has been made of the issue of wealthy outsiders buying seaside homes, thereby making housing less affordable for locals. Proposed housing developments such as the Ampersand project at Carlyon Bay in Cornwall have attracted vociferous criticism from residents concerned about the sale of new homes at prices well beyond the reach of locals.

That debate becomes still more intense when the outsiders are snapping up second homes as a long-term investment. This certainly poses an ethical dilemma for buy-to-let investors, although it might be argued that some areas have been regenerated as a result of their activities.

Anyone looking for value from a seaside property should probably go house-hunting in the north of England and in Scotland, where there is still room for growth, despite rapid price risesover the past couple of years.

Miles Shipside, of Rightmove, says: "While we are surrounded by water in the UK, sea views are still in limited supply. Planners rightly protect our coastline from more building, so if you can find a property with water views, it is always going to be sought-after and fetch a premium.

He adds: "When I was completing my estate-agency training, I was always advised that people should buy 'first line to the sea', as they can't make any more coastline."

Six to view

£199,000

Colquhon Mansion House.

Located on the banks of Loch Lomond.

From £185,000

Lamorna Cove, Penzance.

Thirteen individually designed apartments.

From £129,000

Regatta Quay, Ipswich.

Luxury apartments in a redevelopment project.

£435,000

Calshot Court, Ocean Village, Southampton.

4 bedrooms, 2 reception rooms, 2 bathrooms.

£4.5m

Sandbanks, Poole.

New four-bedroom beachfront house under construction.

From £280,000

Ontario Tower, Canary Wharf.

Studios and 1- and 2-bedroom apartments.

Further reading: Oh, we do like 'The British Seaside: holidays and resorts in the twentieth century' by John K Walton (Manchester University Press)

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