Commuters seek their fortune on the south coast

Property prices in seaside towns south of London are enjoying a revival. Rosalind Russell reports
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The Independent Online
When London sneezes, the south coast catches a cold. But when London is hot, it takes three months for the coast to feel pleasantly warm. Traditionally dependent on the well-being of the property market in the capital, the south coast is enjoying a late revival in house prices. People who have been trapped in the slow-moving market of the last few years are now able to sell-up and move. Recently completed road improvements between coast and capital have brought areas previously considered beyond the pale within commuting distance.

Perhaps even more compelling, it's now acceptable to nail that piece of old nonsense that anyone who is tired of London is tired of life. Londoners are heading for the coast in droves.

Peter and Cynthia Read have a home in London. But for 20 years they lived in Hong Kong, where Peter's office overlooked the busy harbour. An experienced sailor, he crewed in the South China Sea Race between Hong Kong and Manila. When they returned to the UK, a home on the coast became a priority. They found one on an island in the middle of Port Solent.

The development, by Higgs and Hill, is still being built, but some homes are already finished. Reached via a causeway, or by boat, the three-storey houses have their own moorings (pounds 701 a year for maintenance of pontoons and lock-up charges), a car port and first-floor sitting rooms with views across the harbour. The M27 is nearby and London is an-hour-and-a-half away by car.

The Reads have bought their island home initially as a weekend retreat, but intend to retire there in a few years' time. "We knew the island had the potential to be somewhere special, and we wanted an unimpaired view of the water," says Cynthia Read. "Here, it's almost like being on a boat." Prices on the island start at pounds 175,000 for a three-bedroom house.

"During the past six months we have seen a fundamental change in the property market covering the Solent and New Forest areas," confirms Stephen Montague-Jones of GA Town & Country. "Our usually extensive register of houses between pounds 300,000 and pounds 1m has been drastically reduced. As properties are sold we see very few new instructions to replace them.

"We are rapidly moving towards a situation where the prices being asked are in line with those at the top of the market in 1989," he adds.

Around Chichester, the Beaulieu River and Lymington, property is selling fast. A three-bedroom chapel conversion a mile from the river, with views to the Isle of Wight, is being sold for pounds 275,000 through John D Wood. An old coastguard's cottage within walking distance of the yacht marina at Lymington, with three bedrooms and a walled courtyard with sail store, can command pounds 215,000, say agents Paul Jackson.

Brighton, once thought too far for a daily trip into the capital, is now home to so many daily commuters it is considered London by the sea. The journey time into Victoria by rail is 51 minutes, there are six trains an hour (serving Victoria and London Bridge) and the annual season ticket costs pounds 2,460. All of which compares favourably with parts of Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire, where property prices are much higher. A first-floor flat in one of Brighton's Regency terraces, overlooking the sea, costs from pounds 100,000.

"There are so many places now very good value for money," says Ian Davies, of Black Horse Agencies. "The Sussex and Kent coasts are more accessible because of road improvements, we've been very busy in Rye and Romney Marshes and there is a significant increase in business around the Solent."

The Thanet area in Kent is having money poured into it as a European Development Area, attempting to halt a decline which has seen some parts become quite seedy. Ramsgate, Broadstairs and Cliftonville, once popular seaside areas, are hoping for speedy restoration. In Cliftonville, near Margate, a four-bedroom thatched house with open fireplaces, beams, two garages and mature garden, is offered for sale through Black Horse at pounds 175,000. The same type of property in Berkshire would cost three times as much.

At Reculver, near Herne Bay in Kent, Calcutt Maclean is selling the Old Mill House, once owned by the Ministry of Defence. It was where Sir Barnes Wallis stayed while developing the bouncing bomb. The Grade II-listed four-bedroom house a mile from the sea comes with an 18th-century windmill. The asking price is pounds 175,000.

Sussex East and West, and Hampshire, are seeing the fastest price increases. "As houses come fresh to the market in the spring," says Stephen Montague- Jones, "owners will be looking for higher prices, which are likely to be achieved if the shortage of homes to buy continues."

What you can buy beside the sea

In St Margaret's Bay, near Dover, White Cottage is a three-bedroom weather boarded house, 400 yards from Bay Hill which leads to the beach. With double garage, it's for sale through Geering & Colyer for pounds 149,950 (01304 207099).

Five miles from Chichester, Old Cottage Row is near the end of an unmade lane, a mile-and-a-half from the nearest village. The four-bedroom whitewashed thatched cottage has a woodburning stove in the drawing room fireplace. Gascoigne-Pees is asking pounds 205,000 (01243 787711).

The Iron House on Rock Channel, Rye, looks across working boat yards. It has a ground floor workshop, first floor drawing room, and an outside balcony garden with views over the Tillingham and Rother rivers. For sale through Phillips and Stubbs for pounds 127,500 (01797 227338).

Virginia Cottage in Climping, West Sussex, is half a mile down a country lane to the sea. The three-bedroom period cottage with Aga in the kitchen has inglenook fireplaces, cottage gardens, woodland and an acre of agricultural ground. GA is asking pounds 265,000 (01903 744342).