Sandbanks is a mere spit of land jutting across Poole Harbour, groaning under the weight of its glass-fronted trophy houses. Homes along its eastern edge overlook a backdrop of sea and a brushstroke of golden sand — a picturesque stage, set for a champagne-bucket and spade weekend.
Out on the bay power boats score lines in the water with brash disregard for the flotilla of paddle surfers easing their way towards the shore. Along the beach a Tibetan Mastiff is having its coiffure blow dried in a state-of-the-art dog wash machine that — like all good hairdressers — can shampoo, condition and de-flea. Such fripperies — and a clutch of celebrity residents — have landed Sandbanks with the reputation and sobriquet of Britain’s Palm Springs. And like Palm Springs it might seem, if Palm Springs had an average temperature of 10C.
Yet it is easier to sketch clichés about Sandbanks than it is to erase them. “People have a misconception of Sandbanks,” says Steve Isaacs, director at Lloyds Property Group, “that it’s a glitzy, ‘footballer’s wife’ sort of place. But the truth is people come and live here because we have a relaxed life. It is a beautiful place.” The peninsula is undeniably beautiful, but it is hard to square the notion that Sandbanks is misunderstood with the ostentation of a place that races a pony against a Porsche at its annual beach polo championships.
During the 1990s a distinctive myth emerged about Sandbanks that has clung to it ever since. A local agent calculated that the price per sq ft on Sandbanks was the fourth highest in the world. “I don’t know how accurate it was, but it was great publicity,” says Keith Fensom, associate director at Savills. In truth, waterfront houses sell for roughly £1,000 per sq ft here, which is about what you’ll pay for a smart property in Clapham, south London.
Sandbanks today is a far cry from the Victorian era when it was a deserted outpost, adrift from Britain. “It was one large sand dune a hundred years ago,” says Fensom. Although a handful of prewar homes fall within a conservation area, it is not uncommon for houses to be bought up to be knocked down. The result is a peninsula skirted by shoulder-to-shoulder contemporary houses. “There aren’t many gardens,” says Fensom, “your neighbour is very close; you can almost reach out and touch them.”
While Sandbanks may not have the fourth highest land value in the world, according to data from Halifax, it is the most expensive coastal location in the UK. The average house price is £664,655 — 23 per cent higher than Salcombe in Devon (£539,950), 50 per cent higher than Padstow in Cornwall (£443,396).
Prices, according to Savills, have also risen 30.6 per cent over the past five years, while neighbouring towns Poole and Bournemouth have gone up 23.6 per cent and 11.4 per cent respectively.
Living like a celebrity — or near one — may be alluring, but so is Sandbanks’ proximity to London, its blue-flag beach and large natural harbour. A three-bedroom house on Old Coastguard Road is on sale through Savills for £4.75m, although the retro architecture may leave you running for the property’s private jetty. One feels the current owners anticipated such a response and so have secured planning permission for a new 8,000 sq ft house on the same plot. The same agent is selling a three-bedroom penthouse in a new development for £4.25m with panoramic views across to Brownsea Island and less of an incentive to knock it down and start from scratch.
On the sandier side of the peninsula, a five-bedroom house on Banks Road with beach access is on sale for £6.5m, through Lloyds. But, says Isaacs, “prices are much smaller just on the other side of the road.” A two-bedroom flat on the other side of Banks Road is on sale through Key Drummond for £500,000.
Locals decry the hackneyed depictions of Sandbanks. “I get bored of [people] thinking it’s fatally naff down here,” says Spencer Whitworth, a chartered surveyor who moved to the area two years ago after building a restaurant, gym and boatyard on Sandbanks. “We’re all aware of the reputation, but I don’t actually know any footballers. One of Sandbanks’ [more prominent] characteristics is that most people are self-made and have run their own businesses.” For Whitworth, whose wife is local, Dorset schools were part of the draw; he rejects the assumption that it is a harbour for empty second homes. “Everyone down here is trying to move their life to Sandbanks. People may be doing two to three days’ [work] elsewhere, but their focus is on being here full-time. It might be a second home, but ‘home’ is an important part of it.”
● Poole, in Dorset, has a council tax rate of £3,035.70 for homes over £320,001, which is at the upper end of the scale and more than twice that of Westminster
● In Sandbanks there were 84 crimes in the 12 months to April 2016, accounting for 4 per cent of the total number of crimes in Poole during that time
● Mainline trains run direct between London Waterloo and Poole; the fastest journey time is 2 hours 9 minutes
● John Lennon’s aunt bought him his first guitar. In 1965 he repaid her prescience with a house on Sandbanks, for which he is thought to have paid £25,000. Today the plot alone would be worth about £4m
What you can buy for . . .
£500,000 A two-bedroom flat on the “wrong side” of Banks Road, perhaps with a glimpse of the sea
£1m A five-bedroom house with a garden, a short walk from Sandbanks Beach
£5m A five-bedroom house with direct beach access and views across Poole Bay
More listings at propertylistings.ft.com
Main photograph: Maurizio Rellini/4Corners