While Devon often attracts those in search of a quiet life, the outer edges of north Cornwall appeal to energetic young families and extreme sports enthusiasts. The region was bustling during the Easter period, when southwest England enjoyed warm weather and the surfers were out in force, seemingly immune to a crisp sea temperature of 9C.
It is this extended holiday season, which starts from the half-term school break in February and stretches all the way to Christmas and new year, that has helped revive north Cornwall’s property market after it was, like many other popular second-home locations, hit badly by the 2007 global financial crisis. However, buyers have become more demanding. New-build now beats the 1960s and 1970s stock on offer. “People are looking for better than what they have at home, and that goes for finishes, interiors, kitchens and bathrooms,” says Miles Kevin of Chartsedge estate agents.
For the past 20 years Kevin has used his previous experience of selling furnished developments in London to advise Cornwall’s developers on how to sell to a discerning clientele, helping those looking to convert two-star hotels on the beachfront into saleable apartments with sea views.
Developer Mark Pearson, of Sandpiper Cottages in Porth near Newquay, is typical of a local who has taken Kevin’s sales advice. He has converted a 1970s hotel into nine apartments, using duck-egg blues and grey walls to achieve a clean, seaside look, and fitted with furnishings from Iroka, a local Cornish company.
With one eye on the surfing revolution that has overtaken the beaches around Newquay, he has built a communal terrace at the front overlooking the sea, with a surf store beneath it and decking where residents can sit out and watch the sunset. His two- and three-bedroom properties sell for £350,000 to £380,000, and two have sold unfinished.
Second-home buyers typically purchase off-plan newbuilds on this part of the coast, from Mawgan Porth to St Ives. Older houses like Trungle House, built into the cliffs of Portreath Bay in the late 1960s and on sale for £500,000, or the more modern Royals Love priced at £1.5m in nearby quaint Smugglers Cove, are hard to find these days. Estate agents Savills has only one high-end property in the area, marketed at £1.25m, in undeveloped Mawgan Porth.
Meanwhile, glorified surf pods are proving popular. These include the Danish-designed, four-bedroom, Rockville homes, priced from £480,000, a few metres down the road from Trungle House, with three bathrooms and 2,000 sq ft of space, all in surfboard-staggering distance of the sea.
A couple of miles along the coast in Watergate Bay, Will Ashworth, owner of the Watergate Bay Hotel, has developed The Village. Having inherited the hotel from his parents (who bought it in 1968 for £20,000), Ashworth and his brother Henry set about developing the whole area to create a new scene, setting up the Extreme Academy for kitesurfing, waveskiing and surfing, as well as a restaurant and hotel club.
“My analogy is to think of what we have here as like a ski resort on the beach,” says Ashworth. “We knew the active social lifestyle was attractive, and the weather and conditions here mean that we don’t stop, and are open all year round.”
With the ski resort analogy came the chalet residences, and The Village was born in 2005. The design features sedum roof insulation, brise-soleil shading and air-source heat pumps, and at about double the space of traditional two-bedroom properties in the area, all 15 two-bedroom houses have sold off-plan at £500,000; to date there have been no resales.
Owners can put their property into a rental pool and earn 7-9 per cent rental return gross when they let them out at £2,050 per week in July and August. By 2013 a further four four-bedroom properties were built for rental purposes only and are now let out at £3,075 in peak months.
While Ashworth may be selling the surfing lifestyle, not everyone is pushing water sports. In St Ives, where the Tate art gallery reopens this weekend after refurbishment, there is a nod to a gentler lifestyle, with modern art and spas the focus of a new development called Una St Ives.
On the hard-hat tour, developer Sean Hodgson, who lives near Padstow, estimates that the 15,000 sq ft space comprising spa facilities, swimming pool, treatment rooms and a restaurant will provide Una with the biggest private owners’ club of any new development in Cornwall. Located around this central hub, homes with one to four bedrooms are being built and sold off-plan, with the club due to be fully operational by the end of July. It is difficult to imagine on a wet Sunday morning how a hole in the ground will be transformed into an infinity pool, but there is a sense of momentum to the build. Some of the four-bedroom properties, priced at £450,000, three-bedrooms at £375,000 and two-bedrooms at £275,000, have already sold. All 29 properties in the first phase will be ready to move into by the end of August, with two further phases to follow.
While an average five-hour journey by train or car from London might make north Cornwall seem a long way from the metropolis, Newquay airport, just a couple of miles from Watergate Bay, cuts journey times drastically. Londoners can finish a board meeting and climb on their surfboard in under three hours.
It may not be California dreaming, but the volatile British weather means that the surf is always up.
● Visit Cornwall calculates that the visitor spend from second homes in north Cornwall is £1.2m – double that of any other Cornish district
● Cornwall has the highest proportion of second homes in the UK
● Cornwall has 433 miles of coastline – the longest of any English county
● The county has 5m visitors a year
What you can buy for . . .
£500,000 A two-bedroom new-build, fully furnished and with sea views
£1m A four/five-bedroom new-build property with a small garden
£2.5m A 5,000 sq ft detached house with a pool, within walking distance of the beach