It's not all bad: How second homes bring 'fresh faces' to Norfolk
- Credit: Archant/Brown&Co/Arnolds Keys
Second home ownership has become a divisive issue, particularly in counties, like Norfolk, where they count for a high proportion of homes.
In some areas of the north of the county, for example, one in every ten properties is classed as a second home, making it the highest proportion outside the City of London.
Over the past few months, the topic has appeared in both local and national press, and much of the coverage has been negative.
There have been accusations that second homes change the fabric of local towns and villages, raise house prices and even push out local buyers - although a recent report by North Norfolk District Council found there to be “no clear evidence that high numbers of holiday and second homes effect house prices and affordability.”
But are these concerns the full story?
Henry Cockerton, head of residential at Brown&Co, based in Holt, says: “There are pros and cons really with the second home issue. The biggest employer in north Norfolk is the tourism/hospitality sector which would fail without the tourists – many of whom need holiday accommodation in order to visit the area.
“The downside is the impact on the viability, affordability and the communities in these villages. My village, Itteringham, is a good example of one in which the community is flourishing, with amenities such as a village shop, despite lots of second homes. But many villages have lost all shops and services which would have been available in most similar locations 20 years ago.”
But Tom Amis, who is part of the new homes team at Savills in Norfolk, suggests that second homes - and a rising interest in the area they're located in - might actually help struggling areas: "It is easy to understand people’s concerns when it comes to empty properties. However, if the popularity of an area increases it can often lead to a boost in the local economy – with the opening of new shops, restaurants, cafes and bakeries.
"Tourism is an important part of the Norfolk economy but it’s about being able to strike that balance. After all, one of the many reasons why people like to visit Norfolk is for its peace and quiet."
Louise Hillman, who manages Arnolds Keys’ holiday lettings division, Keys Holiday Cottages, suggests that part of the criticism around second homes may be due to a misunderstanding about what one really is.
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“Second homes are places people have bought for themselves and do not let out commercially – they visit and stay themselves several times a year and may let family use it as well,” she says. “A commercial holiday let is somewhere people have made the decision to let out throughout the year and seldom use themselves.”
Joanna McIntyre, of Musker McIntyre, says that in her experience, most of the people they have sold houses to use them for themselves or family – although the temptation to Airbnb is “always there, as the income generated from holiday lets has really increased during the pandemic.” But in fact, many homeowners decide to use their properties for both.
Spencer Cushing, branch manager at Sowerbys in Burnham Market, says: “What is probably a little-known fact is that the vast majority of second homeowners run the property as a holiday let; this means the owner has a place to enjoy for their own holidays but which also earns its keep.
“When not staying in the home themselves, someone else is. The idea properties ‘remain empty’ for most of the year is a falsehood.”
To be classed as a holiday let, the property must be occupied by holidaymakers for a minimum of 105 nights a year – and available to let for at least 210 nights a year, on top of any reservations for use by family or friends. When used in this way, the properties undoubtedly contribute to the local economy, either because property owners run them themselves as businesses, or because they outsource to other companies, locally.
“As long as they use a reputable company, they should be paying business rates and therefore generating tourism and employment for local cleaning companies, gardeners, maintenance and so on,” says Louise Hillman. “This generates employment and brings money into the nearby towns and villages – without this tourism money, a lot of towns and villages would not have enough work for the locals.”
It’s no surprise, then, that so many second homes used as holiday lets are located in north Norfolk. According to James McGuire, area manager for William H Brown, the current hotspots are along the coast and in towns like Holt and Fakenham. “We have always had a strong holiday home market in north Norfolk, but the pandemic has accelerated the growth and prices with more buyers moving to the countryside and holidaying in England,” he says.
Spencer Cushing agrees: “North Norfolk continues to be one of the UK’s most popular coastal holiday destinations. You only need to look at Cromer’s history to see people have loved this location for over a century.
“Post-pandemic staycations have magnified the popularity of the area again, and second homes provide for that market demand. All those people who come and holiday here spend money locally – and lots of it. They want to buy and eat local. Local businesses then employ local staff to service this demand.”
Mr Cushing is also part of the Burnham Market Traders Association and says he hears from every business in the village. “The tea rooms, the clothing outlets, the sweet shop, to name but a few – every single one appreciates the magnitude of business the holiday market brings to our communities.”
The boost to the economy can be replicated in other areas, too. Jan Hÿtch, chair of the Norwich & District Association of Estate Agents, says that the comparatively fewer second homes in the city tend to be short-term lets, which are becoming increasingly popular for city breaks, or “crash pads for those who work in Norwich but have their main home in other locations.”
Over the past year the government has been outlining some of the ways it could help to tackle the issue of second homes, including giving powers to regional mayors to restrict people renting out second homes for fewer than 90 days, new legislation requiring a change of use and a new discretionary tax premium on second homes – particularly in areas like north Norfolk where the proportion is so high. But do the experts think these measures are a good idea?
Nicholas Taylor of Hadley Taylor thinks it is. “If the government would only get a move on with its levelling up agenda, I think it would be an excellent idea to levy a premium on council tax on second homeowners,” he says. “We do after all have a housing shortage so any residential property that is vacant all or some of the time should be heavily taxed.”
Jan Hÿtch believes that second homes and holiday homes should be treated differently. “You would like to hope that anyone who buys a holiday home just for their own private use should want to contribute financially to the local economy to preserve and protect the wellbeing of the environment in which they have chosen to spend their leisure time, and to further enhance their investment,” she says. “It’s about being a part of the community in which they have chosen to have a base, even if only in residence for a few weeks a year.”
David Warner, partner at Warners Estate Agents, has concerns about the proposed tax. “I believe these kind of stealth/wealth taxes are often targeted at the wrong people. Those with real wealth will not really be concerned.However, some people who are working hard to secure their ‘dream’ retirement property may be prevented from doing so, which is unfair. Others looking to cash in on the holiday let/Airbnb market will simply add the extra to rents and pass on the cost."
It’s no secret that the pandemic has impacted the property market, and over the past two years, there has been an uplift in the number of second homeowners buying in Norfolk – not just on the coast, but also in more rural areas, too.
Joanna McIntyre says that second homeowners now make up around 25pc of the buyers at her estate agency, Musker McIntyre, and believes that ‘a move to the country’ or a lifestyle change is often the reason behind it. “Some buyers start by buying a second home and then realise what a wonderful county Norfolk is and decide to move here full-time,” she says. “These buyers are from Greater London, the Midlands, or even further afield.”
Many second homeowners use their purchase as a ‘stepping stone’ into life in Norfolk, deciding to commit to a more permanent move at a later date, or even as part of their retirement plans. “Buyers who have second homes are upwardly mobile buyers who have money in their own property to raise finance,” says James McGuire. “We also see a trend of people who are five to ten years from retirement buying up here with a view to eventually move.”
The pandemic has also helped this, with hybrid working becoming more popular. “Another unforeseen consequence of the post-Covid world, with the relaxing of office working and flexible practice becoming the norm, is that second homes are being used by property owners as a hybrid home, where occupancy is split evenly between here and what was previously their main residence,” says Spencer Cushing.
“Such users are more often here in the quieter periods, contradicting the ‘hollowed out’ misconception, but also continuing to contribute towards those local goods and services when school term restarts and the crowds diminish.”
Mr Cushing says that in 2021, Sowerbys’ largest group of buyers – around 24pc – held a Norfolk address. “Undoubtably some will be Norfolk homeowners who purchased a second home within the county. However, there was also a notable trend of those selling their smaller second homes along the coast to buy a larger main home in the county.
“I rather suspect that the next time we have a national census, we will be pleasantly surprised at the increase in main homeowners within Norfolk. This would never have happened if they hadn’t had the chance to come and holiday here first and fall in love with this special part of our county.”
Other second homeowners time their stays in Norfolk around the school term, suggests Henry Cockerton, head of residential at Brown&Co. “Some second homeowners are resident for large portions of the year with children at Gresham’s School or just sharing time between their home in London/South-East and Norfolk,” he says.
Social media platforms like Instagram are popular with second homeowners in Norfolk, many of whom have renovated almost-derelict properties and set up new businesses. This, too, can be an advantage.
Second home ownership can “bring fresh ideas, fresh faces and diversity”, says Joanna McIntyre, and Jan Hÿtch agrees. “Aside from the purchase cost, there is no question that the millions of pounds of investment brought into our county over the years to renovate, protect, enhance and improve our historic and significant properties could never have come just from
the pockets of the people of Norfolk.
“The economy of our coastline, towns and villages relies heavily on the tourist market, and without holiday homes to rent, most of those holidaymakers would take their holidays – and their cash – to other parts of the UK, or further afield.”
“Whether we like it or not, aside from the finance, tech and medical side of Norfolk (which is largely based in the centre of the county), the rest of Norfolk is industrial – the two main components being farming, and leisure and tourism, and we rely heavily on both for Norfolk to remain the vibrant county it is.”
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