The cost of a sea view

We can't resist the idea of a home on the coast. But how expensive is it to buy and maintain a house beside the seaside? Graham Norwood reports
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The Independent Online

What is it about having a home by the sea? For some it's the sound of waves; others want to go sailing. A few say they feel close to nature, while most just enjoy watching the boats. No two views are the same, they all claim. Coastal properties have an obvious attraction for a small island nation, but the costs of buying and running them get greater year on year.

What is it about having a home by the sea? For some it's the sound of waves; others want to go sailing. A few say they feel close to nature, while most just enjoy watching the boats. No two views are the same, they all claim. Coastal properties have an obvious attraction for a small island nation, but the costs of buying and running them get greater year on year.

First, there is the simple premium added for a great view. "Even with the recent downturn, there's been no reduction in coastal prices," says Geoff Mason of Westward Homeseekers, a buying agency finding homes and negotiating prices for clients moving to Cornwall.

"Sellers know that if someone tries to offer less, there is someone else waiting in the wings ready to offer more. So many buyers want houses with sea views - mainly second-homers and retired couples. It isn't a question of negotiating, it's just about getting in quickly before someone else offers even more."

The Independent asked estate agents around Britain how much a sea view boosted a home's value compared with that of an identical rural property. Unsurprisingly, the most desirable areas had the highest premiums. Coastal homes in south Devon, north Cornwall and Brighton have 40 to 50 per cent added for a view, but even less fashionable areas such as Scarborough and Colwyn Bay have 25 per cent premiums.

Second, even if you can afford to buy, there is the escalating cost of maintenance, especially if you want a period property instead of an identikit converted warehouse or mock New England marina townhouse, complete with fake cladding. Tall, old terraces such as those seen in Brighton, Scarborough and even modest Whitby are among the most expensive to maintain.

Scarborough surveyor Simon Ward warns: "Taller houses are vulnerable to having dislodged roof tiles. But even a small repair job like this probably requires scaffolding if the house is above two storeys, because of new health and safety laws." All older seaside properties suffer some common problems. "A lot of them are listed, so if rain-driven wind damages sills or windows, they cannot be replaced with UPVC. You can get weather-resistant new sash windows but they're expensive," Ward says.

He claims the typical external redecoration period on a normal house, about seven years, is slashed to between three and five years if it is open to sea winds and salt. Metal railings, gutters and pipes all corrode more quickly, and Ward calculates that the higher the building exposed to sea winds, the higher the heating costs, too.

So the purchase price and running costs are high, yet people still want sea views. Any other disadvantages? Yes, insurance.

"Climate change and flood threats are occupying insurers at the moment. They're particularly interested in flood defences in coastal areas. There's an industry agreement that if there are defences already in place or planned for the next five years, then most companies will insure houses next to the sea," says a spokeswoman for the Association of British Insurers.

"If you cannot get house insurance you cannot get a mortgage. Full stop," warns Ray Boulger of independent mortgage broker Charcol.

Most coastal areas have defences (the government spends £540m a year on them) but 2.2m homes have at least some risk of flooding according to the Environment Agency, so may suffer insurance problems.

The ABI says buyers should type the postcode of their new home on www.environment-agency.gov.uk to check its status. And beware of global warming. The government's chief scientific adviser says the number of homes currently at risk may rise to between 2.3m and 3.6m by 2080 - so if you buy a house by the sea, don't bank on leaving it to the grandchildren.

Why, with so many problems and expenses, are homes by the sea so popular? "They're special and beautiful," is the answer from buying agent Geoff Mason. He says retired and second-home buyers - the main sea-view purchasers - tend not to think long-term, so are undeterred by climate change or generations of maintenance.

Estate agents certainly relish the premiums. The three-bedroom West Pill farmhouse at Angle, in Pembrokeshire, looks towards the Irish Sea and is selling for £650,000 (Owen & Owen, 01646 621500, and Knight Frank, 01432 273087). One mile inland and it would have been valued at less than £500,000.

A three-bedroom, Grade II-listed cottage at The Quay in Salcombe, a south Devon port where 60 per cent of properties are second homes, costs £695,000 because it looks over the harbour (Marchand Petit, 01548 844473). Elsewhere in the county, the appropriately named Cliff Edge at Beer is a 1930s Art Deco four-bedroom house at £900,000 - even though the agent (Knight Frank, 01392 423111) admits it needs modernisation.

A Brighton Regency house at Eastern Terrace is on sale at a cool £3.6m with views from the marina to Worthing (Jonathan Rolls, 01273 684997, Knight Frank, 020-7629 8171, and Jackson-Stops & Staff, 01243 786316).

The same premium principle applies to new properties. Two-bedroom flats at Leith harbour in Edinburgh cost £190,000 facing inland, but if they are turned towards the sea, similar units sell for £240,000.

"There is never enough supply to meet demand, especially of the character properties," says Geoff Mason. "The debate about floods and costs hasn't deterred people. They all want to see the sea."

ON THE WATERFRONT: WHAT YOU NEED TO BE WARY OF

* Roof slates and chimneys are vulnerable in high winds.

* Broken rendering traps water, which can freeze and cause cracks in walls.

* Winds can drive rain around window casements, causing them to rot.

* Exposed metalwork needs frequent re-painting to counteract salt erosion.

* PVC gutters and pipes expand and contract in extreme coastal weather and won't last long.

Westward Homeseekers, 01288 341359; Simon Ward Surveyors, 01723 371466; Association of British Insurers, 020-7600 3333; www.charcolonline.co.uk.

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