There’s been a well-trodden and much publicised exodus from cities since the pandemic struck, with hundreds of thousands of Londoners heading for the countryside.
Coastal towns, in particular, are proving to be enticing destinations.
‘Walking around Dartmouth at Christmas, before the third lockdown, I decided this was where I wanted to live,’ says Penny Lowe, a fiftysomething IT executive from Reading. ‘I love the sea, the people are friendly; I could work from home, so I went for it.’
Retro charm: Cromer in North Norfolk. The town has two blue flag beaches and the last end-of-the-pier show in Europe
According to Roger Punch, of estate agents Marchand Petit, Penny is typical of many homebuyers who have moved to the coast.
‘Lockdown has focused their minds, making a fantasy a reality,’ he says.
‘Broadband and Zoom make working from home quite easy; watersports such as kayaking and surfing are popular and people have this primeval urge to escape Covid by breathing in the clean sea air.’
Sadly, coastal properties do not come cheap. Penny’s home, a new-build overlooking the sea, cost £625,000; way beyond most people’s budgets.
And according to Rightmove, coastal hotspots such as Dartmouth saw some of the steepest rises in house prices during 2020.
The good news is there are also coastal towns that do not have the cachet of Padstow, Aldeburgh or Salcombe, yet they are ‘on the up’.
Here are four where you get a sea view and far more house for your money.
Barry in Wales is now home to a microbrewery, theatre and shipping container village
All about Barry
That’s right, the ‘lush’ little Gavin & Stacey Welsh town with the pearl of a beach and the amusement arcade overseen by Nessa. A bit run-down, you may say.
True, the two main streets have seen better days, but Barry is now home to Goodsheds, developed by local businessman Simon Baston, with a gym, microbrewery, community theatre, outdoor cinema and shipping container village containing staycation apartments.
Michelin-starred chef James Sommerin opened a restaurant here, as did Samantha Evans and Shauna Guinn of BBC’s Sam And Shauna’s Big Cook-Out.
The average price of a terrace home last year in Barry was £171,000, compared to £260,000 in Mumbles, 47 miles away.
At Cold Knap, modern homes overlooking the beach cost from £385,000 (peteralan.co.uk). ‘Tidy,’ as Nessa would say.
Ever since King George V was, reputedly, rude about Bognor Regis in West Sussex, the South Coast town has been the butt of jokes: a by-word for seaside tackiness.
‘That’s so unfair,’ says regeneration adviser Rebecca White. ‘Since 2007, half a billion pounds has been invested in the town, giving it a massive face-lift.’
The result is a shopping centre joining the station to the seafront where there is an old-school promenade with adventure golf, shellfish stalls as well as Butlin’s Splash Park, unrecognisable from its Hi-de-Hi! prototype.
The average detached home sold for £435,000 last year, but the flagship properties are the restored heritage buildings on the seafront: Esplanade Grande, Compass Point and The Royal.
A two-bedroom flat in The Royal with bay windows, a pebble’s throw from the sea, was recently on sale for £240,000.
For best value look to the Northumberland coast, with its big skies and windswept dunes. Bamburgh is popular, while Seahouses, with its pitch-and-putt and excellent chip shop, is a thriving community where people live all year round; it is not purely a resort.
Little wonder people are cottoning on to its gritty charm. The average house cost £247,000 last year: 17 per cent up on 2019.
Blue flag Cromer
It may not yet have the social lure of other North Norfolk coastal towns, but there is a buzz of expectancy in Cromer.
‘It’s similar to the vibe in Notting Hill Gate in the 1960s,’ says Tim Hayward of Jackson-Stops.
‘There is all this good quality housing stock – much of it Victorian – and people are only now beginning to appreciate it.’
Cromer has a retro charm, with lots of independently run restaurants and cafes. It has two blue flag beaches and the last end-of-the-pier show in Europe.
‘Cromer has always had its retirees from London,’ says Tim Stevens, of Humberts. ‘Now we are seeing young work from homers buying here, too.’
The average price of a detached house in the town last year was £352,000. Flats cost on average £167,000.