Why Buy? Waterside properties

Wherever you are in the UK, the allure of living by water keeps prices buoyant. Graham Norwood reports

For many it is the sound of the waves or the feeling of being close to raw nature. For others it is a love of sailing and the enduring belief that no two sea views are the same.

But whatever the appeal, living by water has become an ambition of many Britons - and one they are willing to pay handsomely to achieve.

Research by Halifax estate agents shows that some of the UK's 10 dearest coastal towns - all in southern England or East Anglia - have typical prices that are two to three times the national average. In the decade from 1995 to the end of last year, Falmouth in Cornwall topped the league of seaside appreciation with prices soaring 315 per cent against the UK average of just 186 per cent, says the Halifax.

"There's an enduring appeal of waterside properties. Their premiums are directly related to their availability," says Simon Milledge, a waterside properties specialist at The Buying Solution, a search agency that finds homes for busy buyers.

"The rarest of all are good quality private period houses with their own moorings. Very few come on sale because they tend to be handed down in families. Those that are sold often change hands without going on the open market. Word of mouth is the medium and buyers pay big premiums," says Milledge.

"Estuary properties have the next highest premium - again they can be rare, especially if they are private. Houses overlooking lakes come next," explains Milledge. He says properties in new marina developments and on the banks of canals both attract smaller premiums but are more readily available than other waterside properties.

Estate agents know we will pay dearly for waterside property. Homes with uninterrupted water views in the most desirable coastal areas, which are typically in the south of England, enjoy up to 50 per cent premiums on comparable properties set just a street or two inland. Even in less fashionable coastal areas, further north and in Scotland, the premiums will still be as high as 25 per cent to 30 per cent.

In York, once a low-cost city, a Victorian four-bed home is on sale for £425,000 - a price reflecting fantastic views of the River Ouse (Carter Jonas, 01904 558200).

At Salcombe in south Devon, a tiny port renowned as a haven for sailing and second homes, a rare six-bedroom Victorian town house with spectacular estuary views these days sets you back £1m (Marchand Petit, 01548 844473).

At the top end of the market is the grade II listed Regency house in Brighton, close to the homes of Zoe Ball and Chris Eubank. It has a 93ft frontage and panoramic sea views from many of its six bedrooms and four reception rooms. Unsurprisingly such a waterside location produces an eye-watering price - £3m (Knight Frank, 020-7861 1080).

Yet home ownership isn't all plain sailing on the coast even if you can afford the high prices. Maintenance can be very expensive and needs to be factored in.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors advises that houses in most coastal areas are susceptible to wind damage. Older homes suffer problems like water penetration in sills and windows, and salt corrosion to metal railings, gutters and pipes.

"Taller houses are vulnerable to having dislodged roof tiles. But even a small repair job like this requires scaffolding if the house is above two storeys because of health and safety laws," warns Simon Ward, a Scarborough surveyor.

The Environment Agency also warns that the current 2.3m homes vulnerable to flooding, most of which are located close to coasts or rivers, will rise to 3.6m in the next 20 years or so because of global warming. This is despite the Government's expenditure of £540m on defence schemes.

"Climate change and flood threats are occupying insurers at the moment. There's an industry agreement that if there are defences in place or planned by about 2010 then most companies will insure houses next to the sea or major areas of water," says a spokeswoman of the Association of British Insurers.

Despite the warnings and the costs, there appears no sign of an end to the popularity of waterside locations for buyers.

"Demand is exceptionally strong, and ironically it's a case of the more expensive the property the greater the demand," claims Simon Milledge.

"The most perfect waterside properties attract feverish speculation because they come to the market only very rarely," he says. "Turnover is low because if someone has a great property by the water, they tend not to sell. You can't blame them can you?"

Splashing out on waterside property

Most expensive seaside towns

Sandbanks in Dorset is the most expensive seaside town where the average property now sells for £531,280 - over £200,000 more than the next most expensive seaside resort of Lymington in Hampshire. According to the Halifax estate agency survey up to the end of 2005, 18 out of the 20 most expensive seaside towns in the UK are in the south of England - 11 in the South-west and seven in the South-east.

Most affordable seaside towns

Hartlepool in the north-east of England is the least expensive seaside area with an average price of £77,557 says the Halifax estate agents' survey, followed by Blyth and Barrow-in-Furness that have an average house price of £88,018 and £88,372 respectively. Almost all the most affordable seaside towns are in the north of England.

Be wary on the waterfront

* 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.

* PVC gutters and pipes expand and contract and have a relatively short lifespan.