To realise their dream of living by the water, boat owners Graham and Tracy Eyles spent four years looking for a home around Chichester Harbour on England’s south coast. In December they finally found a waterfront, five-bedroom 1950s house in the village of Emsworth.
“There aren’t many places where you can live right by the sea, in a peaceful place and have great sailing,” says Graham, who just sold one of his automotive businesses. “As cash buyers, we were able to act fast when something became available,” he says of the property, which was on the market at just under £3mn.
Waterfront properties in the Chichester Harbour Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB) — a designation gained 60 years ago but recently rebranded a National Landscape — are highly sought after. Between the fashionable beach village of West Wittering and the South Downs National Park, the 74 sq km of estuaries, creeks and wetlands make up are a haven for boating, walkers and birdwatchers.
Transaction levels last year (January to September) were lower than in any of the previous five years, yet homes command a premium. The average sold price in that period was just over £950,000, according to Savills Research using Land Registry data. That’s more than double the average for both the city of Chichester to its north (around £443,000) and the county of West Sussex (£449,000). The average AONB premium over county in the UK is 57 per cent.
It’s hard to find a home in the smaller sailing villages of Itchenor and Bosham, and many sell off-market. Generally it’s early retirees or London-based second-home owners who buy around these two villages, according to Philip Harvey of Property Vision, a buying agent. “In the past decade a lot of London money has been spent on waterfront houses so although none of these properties have hit the market, some are worth £10mn,” he estimates.
Many second-home owners end up moving here full-time, often attracted by personal connections as well as the water. It’s a long-running trend, according to Anna Goodman, the secretary of Itchenor Sailing Club, which has nearly 1,400 members. “It’s always been very multigenerational — many of our members are from families who’ve been involved here for decades.”
In Itchenor the average sold price over the past five years was around £1.36mn, according to Savills. Entry level is about £750,000 for a 1960s bungalow, or there’s a four-bedroom barn conversion for sale at £925,000, via estate agent Tod Anstee. “In September we sold off-market a house on a rare double-width plot for in excess of £2mn — there was more than one offer on it,” says Nick Burdock of the agent, who adds that properties on Spinney Lane can fetch more than £3mn.
Properties on the Westlands Estate in the nearby village of Birdham are prized for their proximity to the water; a three-bedroom house sold last summer for £2.48mn. “But you can pick up a terraced house for around £400,000 around the Birdham Straight [the A286 towards West Wittering],” he adds. The average sold price in Birdham over the past five years was around £765,000 (Savills).
Not everyone is a sailor. Ten months ago, Ian Grant from Haslemere in Surrey bought a five-bedroom waterfront house in the village of Chidham — across the Bosham channel. He’d also spent four years waiting for the right house. “We’d had a holiday home in the Witterings [the collective name for the seaside villages of East and West Wittering] for six years and were ready to escape commuterville,” says the 58-year-old, who works in the leisure industry. “I find the area much friendlier and for my wife Tina it was about being able to swim in the sea every day.”
In Bosham, a better-known area, waterfront homes start at around £3mn, according to Andrew Richardson of agent Jackson-Stops, with the private estate of Bosham Hoe being the most prized address: large plots with 1950s houses are slowly being bought and redone. In 2022 a five-bedroom 3,200 sq ft house on at £2.95mn went for £3.29mn to London buyers — whereas inland, buyers can find a fisherman’s cottage for about £500,000.
Living in the Hoe was such a pull for life-long sailor Fiona that she and her family moved there from south London in 2021. “Our rationale was that we’d either be spending time in our car every weekend driving here [from London] — or we could commute to London a couple of times a week,” says the medic, who did not wish to disclose her real name. “Because of my hours it’s easier to drive to my hospital in central London.”
Residents complain about the slow train line from Chichester to London, so those who commute once or twice a week tend to pick up a slightly faster train from Havant. Such buyers often prefer locations closer to the A27 leading west to Havant, according to Alex Leigh of Hamptons. These include Emsworth, Prinsted, Southbourne, Hambrook and Nutbourne. “They offer the advantage of being able to go north on the A3 [towards London],” he says. To the east of the city — the location of the Goodwood Rolls-Royce factory as well as Shopwyke Lakes, a new estate with nearly 600 homes — traffic can be so congested that it deters some buyers.
The leafy fringes of northern Chichester are also popular, especially Summersdale, a neighbourhood of red brick and flint houses built for workers at Chichester Hospital. Properties range from £450,000 to around £1.5mn for large houses. However, the latter are typically going for 5-10 per cent below asking price, according to Alex Leigh. “The past six months have been tough, but there’s a bit more buyer confidence now,” he says. The 37 per cent of properties listed in Chichester under offer is down from 45 per cent in July 2023, according to PropCast.
Properties within the city’s walls go for premium, especially in the four streets known as the Pallants, where a two-bedroom terraced cottage is on sale at £600,000. Chichester’s Festival Theatre, museums and the nearby Goodwood and Petworth estates are part of its appeal.
Some locals feel that there are too many new homes being built on the outskirts — Minerva Heights to the north-west will have 1,600 new residences — without the infrastructure to support them, such as a bypass. Of the daily gridlocks on the A27, Richardson adds: “It’s a lovely place to live but you have to pick your moment if you want to get anywhere quickly.”
At a glance
There are 46 National Landscapes (NL) across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Legally they are still designated as AONBs and along with National Parks, have the highest status of planning protection. The goals for NLs include creating wildlife-rich habitats and planting/regenerating woodland.
Trains take an average of 1hr 49 mins from Chichester to London; the fastest trains from Havant into London are 1hr 17 mins.
In 2018, 14 per cent of properties in the Chichester Harbour AONB sold for over £1mn; in January-September 2023 it was 24 per cent (Savills).
On the market
Town house, Chichester, £750,000
A four-bedroom, three-storey town house in Chichester’s old town, with period features such as wood beams, fireplaces and sash windows, as well as a courtyard garden. On the market with Hamptons.
House, Prinsted, £1.1mn
A four-bedroom detached house in the sailing village of Prinsted, within walking distance of Chichester Harbour. The characterful kitchen is the former village bakery, and the well-established garden includes sheltered seating areas and a summer house. Available through Jackson Stops.
Cottage, Itchenor, £1.65mn
A three-bedroom, 1930s detached cottage in the harbourside village of Itchenor with landscaped gardens including palms, wisteria, an arbour, summer house and impressive driveway. There’s also a separate, two-storey garage block. For sale with Tod Anstee.