When the housing spotlight shines on the Dorset coast, it usually falls on enclaves such as Sandbanks, Canford Cliffs or Lilliput, renowned for their lofty prices as much as their proximity to some of England’s best sailing waters. Yet a few miles away Bournemouth is a lower-profile location which is starting to attract discerning buyers.
Bournemouth’s 185,000 population and its local economy used to rely on tourism: the town was a favourite destination for older London holidaymakers and it became a regular venue for political party conferences.
Tourists remain important but the town’s reputation is changing, along with its demographics. A rapidly expanding university means there are now 17,500 students split between two campus sites, while glowing results for the independent Talbot Heath girls’ school and Bournemouth School for boys attract families to the area.
In the town centre, concentrated on the western part of Bournemouth’s seven-mile coastline, most homes are apartments; a few of the best-appointed waterside flats fetch £1m or more but for high-end houses, buyers have to move inland to areas such as the adjacent Meyrick Park and Talbot Woods. The former is dominated by a golf course and the latter is a mid-19th-century village which is now a heavily-protected conservation area that has become a suburb of the town about two miles north of the coast.
A five-bedroom, 6,900 sq ft early 20th-century house with an indoor pool and landscaped gardens is on sale at Talbot Woods for £1.35m, jointly through Savills and Mays. Nearby is a similar house with six bedrooms, now on sale through Hedges & Hedges and Savills for £1.1m. Three miles east of the centre is a 1920s house with an uninterrupted sea view across to the Isle of Wight; it has five bedrooms and a £2.5m price tag, on sale through John D. Wood & Co.
Local estate agents say these high-end properties now attract three key types of buyer.
The first is the 60-plus permanent retiree, perhaps still with business connections in London but requiring infrequent visits to the capital. As a result they are happy to live in a sought-after location outside the daily commuter belt. “We’re finding more of these buyers now want to live in villages just north of Bournemouth rather than in the town itself,” explains Bill Spreckley of Stacks Property Search, a buying agency.
The second type is the 50-something self-employed buyer who may spend some time in the UK and some abroad. “A large number of purpose-built flat developments have been built in the Bournemouth area as they are very popular as a ‘lock-up and leave’ for easy living,” explains Keith Fensom of Savills. He says these units also appeal to younger holiday home buyers, typically London-based, for weekends and summer holiday use.
The final type of high-end buyer, emerging in recent years, is the young professional who has alighted on Bournemouth as a new business opportunity and wants a home there.
The town – once known for its older residents – now exudes a younger feel. An estimated one in three retail units in Bournemouth centre is a bar, club or restaurant; the airport, four miles from the centre, has expanded over the past five years, operates as a hub for Ryanair and Thomson Airways, and is one of a number of large-scale employers in the area.
“A lot of younger professionals are choosing Bournemouth as there are many financial headquarters based here. The largest is JPMorgan. As a result Bournemouth attracts a large number of London employees looking for a better lifestyle,” says Glynn Evans, head of Sotheby’s International Realty in Dorset.
This trend is backed up by research from Savills, using doctor registration data to analyse the average age of people moving into Bournemouth. “Twenty-five years ago this was around 63 to 68 years. More recently this has dropped to an average 38 to 42 years,” says Fensom. He says there is some international interest too, with buyers over the past three years coming from Georgia, Russia, the US, Saudi Arabia and Australia.
What may deter some is the relatively poor connectivity with London. Train journeys to Waterloo station take two hours and, depending on the time of day, car journeys take even longer, despite Bournemouth being little over 100 miles from London.
Even so, the town is responding to what it expects to be an increasing and more youthful population in the near future. The council has agreed a £350m public-private regeneration programme to create new homes as well as additional leisure and public service buildings. It is also considering turning nine car parks into residential development sites and it proposes to revitalise its tired-looking retail core.
It is too early to say whether an improved town will ever rival Sandbanks and Canford Cliffs for high prices. At the moment, it offers a good value alternative with like-for-like properties as much as a third cheaper.
The high-end sector in Bournemouth is showing some strength. Whereas homes up to £750,000 remain as much as 20 per cent below their 2007 peak prices, £1m-plus homes are reaching new highs.
“In Canford Cliffs and Sandbanks the building of new homes continued apace in recent years so there’s a lot of stock. That wasn’t the case in Bournemouth and the very best homes at £1m-plus are flying off the shelves,” says Spreckley. “They’ve exceeded pre-downturn prices. You could say Bournemouth has come of age.”
● In 2012 the crime rate was 60.5 per 1,000 residents, well above UK average, but half of all offences were town centre anti-social behaviour
● Unemployment is 7.5 per cent, the UK average, and 62 per cent of the population is of working age
● Average gross weekly pay in Bournemouth is £425.90 compared with the UK average of £498.80
● Bournemouth airport now carries 1.02m passengers per year to the US, Europe and Channel Islands
● A survey by Rightmove.co.uk ranks Bournemouth residents as the 21st happiest in Britain, based on safety, amenities, well-being and neighbourliness of their area
What you can buy for ...
£500,000 A new-build, two-bedroom seaview apartment or a four-bedroom, semi-detached house inland
£1m A five-bedroom, detached house in Talbot Woods
£5m A three-bedroom house in Sandbanks