What’s in a name? Seemingly rather a lot when it comes to the Jurassic Coast and its appeal to high-end property buyers. Until 2001 this stretch of southern England’s coastline, embracing east Devon and most of Dorset, was relatively anonymous. It was known not as a whole but for individual small ports such as Exmouth, Sidmouth and Lyme Regis to the west, and Lulworth Cove, Swanage and Poole to the east. When it came to buyers seeking exclusive properties, the area lost out to better-known and higher-priced places to the east such as Sandbanks, or further west such as Devon’s South Hams.
But 13 years ago, this 95-mile stretch from Exmouth to Poole – where rock formations range from 65m to 250m years old and straddle the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods – was awarded Unesco world heritage status and, along with it, a perfect marketing opportunity for local tourist bodies to rebrand the entire area as the Jurassic Coast.
Ever since, international recognition and tourist numbers have soared – and not only among archeologists and fossil collectors who study its cliff formations, coastal stacks and barrier beaches. Desirability has also risen for potential buyers.
Local estate agents say a four-bedroom house with water views at a pretty, unspoilt fishing port such as Beer in Devon, on the western edge of the Jurassic Coast, would have cost £250,000 in 2001; now it might be £700,000, despite falling prices from 2008 to 2012. At Charmouth, near the midpoint of the coast, a country house with 100 acres of land would have sold for £400,000 in 2001; now the price is £1.2m. Further east, a seven-bedroom contemporary home at Studland, priced at around £750,000 over a decade ago, would now attract £2.5m or more, partly because of its development potential.
Yet even with these impressive increases, property values along much of the rest of this coast are not yet back to the pre-downturn levels of seven years ago. “Supply is slow. Owners who tried and failed to sell a couple of years ago are nervous about re-entering the market,” says David Brooke-Smith, of Stacks Property Search & Acquisition buying agency.
Although his client base includes some expat purchasers returning from overseas, most are from the southern half of the UK. Many are affluent retirees from the home counties moving to the Jurassic Coast permanently, and second home buyers from London.
“They like the central and western parts from Swanage through Weymouth to Lyme Regis,” says Brooke-Smith. “These are small towns, countryside-oriented, with lovely pebble beaches. Also popular are charming villages like Abbotsbury, Burton Bradstock and Lulworth.”
Local agents report an upsurge in business over the past 12 months and particularly this year, with more family and younger buyers vying for attention with traditional retirees.
Homes vary dramatically, even along the coast, typically ranging from Victorian and Georgian houses, including large villas with substantial grounds, to older Dorset and Devon longhouses made from cob, with a small number of farmhouses and the occasional one-off modern house built on a substantial plot following the demolition of a bungalow.
At Studland a seven-bedroom modern house close to the beach is selling for £3.25m through Tailor Made estate agents. At Swanage, Savills is selling a four-bedroom house – originally two coastguard’s cottages – with four acres of grounds for £1.35m. Further west at Lyme Regis, the same agency is selling a five-bedroom house converted from a 19th-century barn with 1.5 acres of land for £950,000.
To the relief of many, volume new-build housing is in short supply: Unesco status obliges local planners to be more restrictive than in other areas. New housing developments that do win consent tend to be distinctive, as in Spinnakers, an Exmouth marina where a three-bedroom flat with sea views is on sale for £810,000 through Jackson-Stops & Staff, an agent active throughout the Jurassic Coast.
Yet the very characteristics that make this strip of coast so desirable to many – such as predominantly older properties in conservation areas, 100 to 200 miles southwest of London in relatively low-populated areas – can deter others.
“There is no motorway to this area which can be a pro and a con for higher-end buyers looking for a second home,” says Ashley Rawlings of Jackson-Stops. “Broadband speed can be patchy too: we’ve had buyers who will not even view properties without sufficient internet speed.”
100Mb broadband is being rolled out throughout Dorset in the next two years but there will be no comparable improvement in physical connections: journeys from central London to much of the coast take between two and four hours, for example.
Of course, not everyone is put off. The neatly manicured village of Burton Bradstock, overlooking Chesil Beach, the setting for Ian McEwan’s 2007 novella On Chesil Beach, is already home to singer-songwriter Billy Bragg. From this autumn it will also be home to The Seaside Boarding House, a Jurassic Coast branch of London’s Groucho Club appealing to high-end media celebrities.
Appropriately, it is occupying a former retirement home – a symbol that this part of southern England may be Jurassic by name, but is beginning to embrace an increasingly contemporary edge.
● Dorset had 37,212 reported crimes in 2013-2014, a 7.3 per cent drop on 2012-2013
● Dorset received 3.5m visitors in 2012, mostly on its coast
● Good schools near the coast include Winchester College
What you can buy for ...
£600,000 A plot with a clear sea view and consent to build a home
£2.5m A large equestrian property, with letting cottages and a sea view
£5m An eight-bedroom house with good views and more than 100 acres of land in a prime location