Not so long ago the West Country was asking West End prices for its prized properties. Not any more. If you have been waiting for prices to fall, your time has come.
Take, for example, the gorgeous 17th century Old Rectory at Haccombe. It's straight out of central casting. From the top of its thatched roof down to its manicured 1.3-acre gardens, this Grade II-listed four-bedroom home is the business, and it's less than five miles from the Devon coast.
The property went on the market last summer at £1 million. It was subsequently reduced to £950,000 and is now on the market at £875,000, a price cut of £125,000, and offers are being accepted. And a perfect surfers' cottage near the beach is now £250,000.
This failure to sell is being heard across the West Country, as owners slash six-figure sums off their asking prices in Devon and Cornwall in an attempt to draw nervous buyers out of the woodwork for a family home or a weekend and holiday retreat.
'Buyers are back in charge'
Jonathan Cunliffe, a director of Savills, based in Truro, is seeing the drops everywhere and says City buyers, who accounted for 80 per cent of his sales, have disappeared. Now it is more like 10 per cent. And hyped-up coastal pockets such as Rock, for example, have been hit hard.
"Rock is 20 to 30 per cent down from the peak now, whereas up until last year most of the stock was being sold at 20 per cent over guide price. It is a good opportunity, because you can buy without having to compete against a hedge funder. But properties are not cheap-cheap."
A seafront house that would have cost £4 million or £5 million will be between £2 million and £3 million. But a "second row" home, close to the sea and with lovely views, will cost under £1 million, and a good-size bungalow half a mile away will cost from £400,000. Bob Petit, a partner at Charles Head & Son, is based in Devon's jewel, Salcombe. "Buyers are back in charge," he said.
For £350,000 you could secure a two- or three-bedroom modern house, a two-bedroom period cottage or a two- or three-bedroom apartment on the hill above town. At the start of the year you would have paid about £400,000. On the waterfront you will still pay from £1.25 million for a two- to three-bedroom townhouse with sea views and a water frontage, but it was £1.5 million a year ago.
Most homes are sold at least 10 per cent below asking price
Nick Wilkinson, head of coastal and country homes at Stratton Creber, covers the whole of Cornwall. Many of his vendors are older couples seeking to move "back up country", he says. "They thought they wanted to retire to the coast but are missing their grand-children and the brighter lights."
Wilkinson says most homes are sold at least 10 per cent below asking price, and in one recent deal the buyers offered £1 million for a home on the market for £1.5 million, and got it. He has noticed fewer families going for the dream lifestyle family home, à la Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, with three to five acres to grow your own.
These homes, which were formerly selling in the region of £500,000 to £575,000, are now being snapped up for prices ranging from £400,000 to £450,000.
Knight Frank predicts an average five per cent fall next year
Jason George, a partner at Cole Rayment & White, says the hot tip is to go to less well-known towns and villages further north, in and around Tintagel and Boscastle, where prices are down 15 to 20 per cent. The village of Trebarwith, with its wonderful surfing beach, is an excellent example. "We have just agreed a sale on a very pretty two-bedroom cottage about a mile inland, so walking distance to the beach, for £250,000," said George.
The crucial question, of course, is whether prices will continue to fall. Petit believes the coming year will be "stable" at best. Knight Frank predicts an average five per cent fall next year — but West Country department head Christopher Bailey says it would be "crazy" for buyers who have found their dream house to hang on in the hope it will drop further.
Those not desperate to sell will just take it off the market. Go in, negotiate hard and have what you want at a great price. It's a buyers' market.