In England, Some Deals in the Cornish Market
SAINT MAWES, England
What do people really want when they visit Cornwall, England? The southwestern county attracts five million visitors a year — 300,000 from overseas — who come to marvel at Tintagel Castle, explore the beaches and eat too many cream teas.
But even in the deepest of winters like this one, which has seen the sea freeze and snow cover the moors, many spend time gazing at advertisements in real estate office windows, dreaming about a rose-wreathed house by the sea.
Needless to say, the cold weather has been matched by the economic chill. The latest report by the real estate company Knight Frank shows that prices in Cornwall have dropped by an average of 16.5 percent.
“Last year was, without doubt, one of the most difficult the market has ever faced,” said Rupert Sweeting, head of Knight Frank’s country department. “But there are signs that some confidence is returning to buyers. 2009 will not be easy, but vendors are now far more realistic and accept that prices have already fallen quite significantly.”
This could suit buyers in Cornwall, a mecca for retirees and second-home owners. According to the most recent property sale records available, more than 6 percent of the county’s 215,000 residences are owned by people from out of the county — and in some parishes the proportion was as high as 80 percent.
For the county, the second-home owners have been a blessing. With a 13.2 percent unemployment rate, property prices are out of most people’s reach. In North Cornwall, for instance, which includes the popular resorts of St. Ives, Padstow and Newquay, the average salary is 23,000 pounds ($32,900) but the average house price is 258,476 pounds ($370,000).
H. Tiddy real estate, based in the port town of St. Mawes, sold four properties in December, ranging from 170,000 pounds ($243,275) for a two-bedroom cottage in picturesque Gorran Haven to 1.3 million pounds ($1.86 million) for a four-bedroom chalet in St Mawes.
Georgia Witchell, a real estate agent with Tiddy’s, said that St. Mawes has a good mix of outsiders and locals but she said residents “tend to live on the periphery of a place like this because the Cornish are priced out of the best places.”
Melissa Hardie, an American raised in Oklahoma and Texas, moved to one of the best places when she settled near Penzance 25 years ago with her husband, Philip Budden, a dentist.
“It reminded me of West Texas,” said Ms. Hardie, whose house in the hamlet of New Mill overlooks the sea. “There is something real, raw, untidy and open about this part of the world. Like the kind of place I grew up in.”
Her five-bedroom home is long and low — “like a train” — and has been extended at the front into an L-shape. There have been properties on the site for more than 300 years.
Like many who did not grow up in the area, Ms. Hardie, 69, a publisher and book shop owner, finds her circle of friends and acquaintances are separate from the Cornish community.
“I meet very few Cornish people because there aren’t many around,” she said. “Some of our locally born neighbors have died and their houses were bought by outsiders.”
Considerable sums have been spent on work and housing initiatives, the most eye-catching of which is the 130-million-pound ($186 million) Eden Project, near St. Austell, which draws more than 1 million visitors a year to old china clay quarries that now are home to domes filled with tropical plants. But none of the efforts have yet changed the split-level nature of the county’s property market.
“The villages are like ghost towns in the winter,” said William Morrison of the Knight Frank real estate agency in Exeter. “But then, because supply is so limited, it means properties keep their prices, which can only be good for owners.”
Among those owners are Martyn and Amanda Hedley, who in 2001 bought the Old Vicarage, St. Winnow, near Lostwithiel. They also own two other houses on Cornwall’s north coast as well as a house in London’s Chelsea neighborhood.
Before they restored the place, the couple described it as a rundown “hippie dwelling.” Now the hall’s grand staircase leads up to nine bedrooms, and the three elegant living areas look out on the newly landscaped garden terrace and views over the River Fowey.
“We bought it when I retired because I wanted the challenge of restoring the place,” said Mr. Hedley, a former insurance broker. “It took two years to complete the work but now but now we feel we are spreading ourselves to-ing and fro-ing between London and Cornwall and are keen to sell.” They have put the house on the market with an asking price of 5 million pounds ($7.15 million).
Ms. Witchell of the H. Tiddy agency said that the county’s tourism actually makes the property more resilient because most people are not desperate to buy or to sell.
“If sellers can’t get the price they want, they can keep it as a holiday let and ride through until the situation improves,” she said. “A three-bed house by the sea could be rented out for more than 1,000 pounds ($1,430, a week) in July and August.”
Of or relating to Cornwall, its people, or the Cornish language.n.
- The Brittonic language of Cornwall, which has been extinct since the late 18th century.
- Any of an English breed of domestic fowl often crossbred to produce roasters.
Cornish pasty Hide phonetics
noun [C] UK
a piece of pastry baked with a mixture of meat and vegetables inside it, usually for one person to eat