Real Estate

Sun, surf, flat whites and Rolls-Royces — Cornwall’s frenzied housing market


Property investor James Tomlinson, from Greenwich, south-east London, has just bought his fifth buy-to-let property in Cornwall. He’s purchased a one-bedroom flat at The Liner, a new, ship-shaped development on the beach in the seaside town of Falmouth, where prices for the cheapest homes start at £325,000.

Since investing in his first Cornish apartment in 2013, he believes he can’t go wrong with prime beachfront locations. “I started doing this way before the current staycation boom — and I’ve never had a bad year,” he says.

Since the start of the pandemic, demand for homes in Cornwall has increased sharply. The average property price in the county has risen 9 per cent in the past year to £328,720, according to Land Registry data analysed by estate agents Hamptons.

The beach at Newquay, one of the areas that is making Cornwall the fastest-moving market in the UK
The beach at Newquay, one of the areas that is making Cornwall the fastest-moving market in the UK © Alamy Stock Photo

Homes have been flying off the shelves. During the first three months of the year, eight out of every 10 homes put up for sale in Newquay sold subject to contract, according to Rightmove, making it the fastest-moving market in the country.

In the popular towns of Penzance and St Agnes, homes are selling in an average of five and three days respectively, according to Hamptons. And so far this year, 44 per cent of their buyers have come from outside Cornwall, the highest level since at least 2012.

Frenzied sales and rising prices have added to local tensions, however, as residents of Cornwall — home to some of the most deprived areas in the UK — struggle to afford homes in their own communities.

As well as demand coming from holiday-let landlords and second-home buyers, the number of buyers choosing to relocate to Cornwall has also escalated, says Chris Clifford of Savills. “In 2019, 30 per cent of our buyers were looking to relocate to Cornwall, but it was 45 per cent in 2020.”

Line chart of Average price (£) showing House prices rise in Cornish hotspots

Estate agent Jonathan Cunliffe says that areas within a 40-minute drive of Truro have become popular with relocating families because of the two main independent schools there.

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For the next academic year, the Truro School has received the highest number of applications in 10 years, with the cohort from London and the South East having doubled since 2019 to 13 per cent.

“The pandemic prompted many families to rethink their priorities and parents want to get out of the city for a better quality of life,” says Sarah Matthews, head of Truro High School for Girls, where applications for places have increased by 25 per cent. “We are 10 minutes from the beach, where the girls learn surfing and stand-up paddle boarding.”

The village of Marazion with Penzance on the horizon: demand is coming from holiday-let landlords, second-home buyers and those who wish to relocate full time to Cornwall
The village of Marazion with Penzance on the horizon: demand is coming from holiday-let landlords, second-home buyers and those who wish to relocate full time to Cornwall © Getty Images/iStockphoto

According to local estate agent Josephine Ashby, the influx of out-of-county buyers has been stirring up a lot of emotion among local residents. “The fact that many of the people flocking here are also wanting to move here full time [rather than just come for the summer] does not make it any easier because they are still putting pressure on pricing,” she says.

Local authorities have been trying to improve housing affordability by banning the sale of newly built properties to second-home buyers or investors. After St Ives introduced the policy five years ago, other popular seaside towns have followed suit, including Rock and Polzeath. In a referendum in February last year, 90 per cent of residents of Fowey, on the south coast, voted in favour of a similar ban.

In St Ives, the restrictions have yet to dampen price inflation — the average property price in the area has increased 9.5 per cent in the past year to £441,730.

St Ives is one of the places that has attempted to restrict the number of second-home buyers by limiting sales of new-builds to residents but this has not dampened price inflation
St Ives is one of the places that has attempted to restrict the number of second-home buyers by limiting sales of new-builds to residents but this has not dampened price inflation © Getty Images

“Our waitresses can’t even afford to buy a studio flat so have to carry on living with their parents,” says Paula Richards of the vegan restaurant The Bean Inn, in Carbis Bay, a suburb of St Ives.

Its Blue Flag beach was little more than derelict beach huts and a chip shop before the decade-long revamp of the Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate that will host the forthcoming G7 conference next month. “Since [the makeover] we have had Russians and Rolls-Royces around here,” she adds.

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Buyers will now pay £750,000-plus for a bungalow with a sea view in Carbis Bay, says Duncan Ley of Humberts, an estate agency that has been selling plots of land at Treloyhan Manor, on a headland between St Ives and Carbis Bay, to mainly out-of-county buyers.

Traditional cottages in Fowey, on Cornwall’s south coast
Traditional cottages in Fowey, on Cornwall’s south coast © Alamy Stock Photo

“The G7 has caused real emotion in the town about the removal of protected woodland [for hotel facilities],” says one of the buyers, from Surrey, who prefers not to reveal his name, and who paid £1m for a contemporary-style new house.

Rhona Gardiner, who moved from London to a two-bedroom flat behind the beach 16 years ago for the surfing scene, loves the fact the town now offers some of the things she missed about her old life in Hoxton, east London.

“When I moved here it just wasn’t possible to find a flat white [coffee], a Pilates class or a decent negroni,” says the 46-year-old, who runs her own PR agency.

Line chart of Proportion of Hamptons' buyers from outside the county (%) showing Share of non-Cornish buyers increases

But for some buyers, the coastline between Newquay and Polzeath has become too “London-centric”. Tim — who does not wish to give his real name for fear of a backlash — and his wife bought a five-bedroom house in St Ives, further west, in March for £2m.

“Rock and [nearby] Mawgan Porth have become a bit like ‘SW6 on Sea,’” he says referring to the area’s popularity with residents of Fulham in London. “I didn’t want to pay a ridiculous premium for buying there, and I preferred the year-round, artistic feel of St Ives.”

The market for the county’s prime homes has been especially strong since the start of the pandemic, with agreed sales of properties above £1m in the second half of 2020 up 169 per cent on the second half of 2019, according to Savills Research using TwentyCi data.

Carbis Bay, where the newly refurbished Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate will host G7 leaders next month. ‘Since [the makeover] we have had Russians and Rolls-Royces around here,’ says one local © Hollie Adams/Bloomberg

Among them was property investor Mike from Warrington, north-west England, who declined to give his full name. He’s never been to Cornwall, preferring to holiday in his Mallorca villa, but he bought a three-bedroom penthouse at Cliff Edge — a new project overlooking Tolcarne Beach, Newquay, with “Mykonos-inspired interiors”, according to the developers — for £1.1m.

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“Sick of hearing how good the market was down there, I thought: why not invest?” says the owner of a steel company. “There’s going to be staycation boom for a while [due to the pandemic] so I will rent it out. It’s going to offer a better return than money sat in a bank.”

Buying guide

Cornwall’s average property price has increased 9.1 per cent in the past year. Estate agents Hamptons report that sales in the first quarter of 2021 were 56 per cent higher than the first quarter of 2020.

According to the property portal Zoopla, the amount of housing stock advertised for sale in Cornwall in Q1 2021 was more than a third less than the 2017-2019 average.

Properties for sale

Cottage, Lelant Downs, £695,000

A three-bedroom granite farmhouse with a one-bedroom annexe in Lelant Downs, a 10-minute drive from St Ives. The property, which measures 1,308 sq ft, has two bathrooms, flagstone floors, an inglenook fireplace, and sits on about 1.2 acres. Available through Humberts.

House, St Ives, £950,000

A four-storey, four-bedroom house by Smeaton’s Pier in St Ives. The property, which measures 1,531 sq ft, includes a café on the ground floor and is just yards from the water. Available through Savills.

Coastal home and land, Millbrook Haven, offers in excess of £1.75m

A one-bedroom, one-bathroom home that has been converted from a tea room built in 1929. The plot stretches to about 40 acres, including 1.4 miles of coastline. Available through John Bray & Partners.

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