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Most regions that have become second-home hotspots are renowned for a specific leisure activity. In Salcombe it is sailing, in the Lake District it is hill walking and in Cornwall it is surfing.
Yet in Burnham Market, north Norfolk, where research shows that 65 per cent of house sales are second homes, the market appears to be fuelled by a sense of yearning for lost youth.
“It’s a cyclical thing,” says Ben Marchbank of Bedfords estate agents, which carried out the research. “Wealthy people from London buy here when they have young children to relive their own seaside holidays in north Norfolk. They sell when the children get older, then they’ll often buy another property, which coincides with the arrival of grandchildren, when they retire.”
It is easy to see what inspires this devotion. With its collection of Georgian shops and immaculately restored houses surrounding the village green – the church to one side and the famous Hoste Arms hotel at the centre – the village is often used as a film set for period dramas. Boasting a varied selection of independent retailers, including an “art monger” and a specialist hat shop, it is charming without being twee. More to the point, the area is the perfect antidote to the bustle of the city.
According to local estate agents, house sales in Burnham Market froze during the recession as buyers disappeared and wealthy owners refused to lower their prices. The market has since revived. Although still below their 2010 mark, the average price of a house sold in the village stands at £472,798, according to Rightmove. Bedfords’ findings – that 81 per cent of its clients are cash buyers – reveal the financial standing of those moving into the area.
Burnham Market itself is a hub for outlying villages, where property is often less expensive. Sowerbys estate agents estimates prices are 30 per cent lower in Syderstone, only eight miles away, and buyers are also likely to get more for their money in Brancaster, where Rightmove says the average price last year was £292,111, or Docking, where it was £206,034.
Anyone buying as an investment would do well to consider Thornham, a pretty little village with a delightful harbour and a population of less than 500 where the average price is now £353,778.
There is much to do locally, including excellent coastal walks. For birdwatchers, the nearby shallow lagoons and large areas of salt marsh provide a habitat for about 600 species. Then there is Blakeney, an attractive coastal village, and Wells-next-the-Sea, a bucket-and-spade resort where beach huts on stilts stand aloof like sentry boxes above the dunes.
A premium is paid here for a sea view – a rarity along this coastline which is devoid of cliffs – but the real collector’s items can be found in the market place at Burnham Market itself. One of the oldest properties in the village, a three-storey house dating from 1760, recently sold having been priced at £895,00. Still available, however, is Arnolds, an 18th century property that offers the best of both worlds, being a short walk from the market place and only a few minutes from the coast. The house comprises a sitting room, study and a kitchen/orangery downstairs, with four bedrooms upstairs. The property is priced at £995,000 with Sowerbys.
Although the number of second-home owners has increased over the past two decades, more buyers are now using properties in the area as their main family home. “Many buyers are now selling their London homes to pay for a pied-à-terre in the city and a family home in Norfolk,” says estate agent Max Sowerby. “They work midweek in London and, as it is under 100 minutes by train from King’s Cross to King’s Lynn, they come to Norfolk for the weekends.”
The proximity of well-regarded schools, such as Greshams and Beeston Hall, make north Norfolk a good, practical place to base the family. The area also benefits from top-class restaurants, sailing clubs and a thriving arts scene. There is music at Blickling Hall and Holkham Hall, and annual events such as Poetry-next-the Sea, which features some of the country’s leading poets.
The area has always had a strong connection with royalty, Sandringham being the Queen’s country retreat. And it has been reported that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince George, will move to the Grade II-listed Anmer Hall, which borders the Sandringham estate.
Anyone looking for a home of similar size may be interested in Burnham Westgate Hall, a Georgian country house owned by Baroness Rawlings set in 36 acres of gardens and parkland. It is priced at £5.75m through Sowerbys and Knight Frank.
Less expensive homes can be found in Wells-next-the-Sea. “The conversion of the old granary on the front into apartments about 15 years ago ignited interest,” says Max Sowerby. “Nowadays properties sell very quickly.” Rightmove says the average price of a home sold in the town over the past year was £315,397 – up 14 per cent on the previous year and 6 per cent up on the 2008 level of £296,666.
More cautious buyers, wanting to get a taste of north Norfolk with day trips, may prefer one of the town’s beach huts. But even these cost upwards of £65,000. Not even a beach hut is cheap in this part of the world.
● House prices in Norfolk have risen 5.9 per cent since January 2009
● The average price of a detached house in north Norfolk is £249,804
● The number of property transactions in Burnham Market for the first quarter of 2013 was up 38 per cent on the same period in 2012
● Over the past three years, the overall crime rate in Norfolk has fallen by 12 per cent, and is now among the lowest in the country
What you can buy for . . .
£500,000 A three-bedroom detached house on one of the back lanes
£1m A four-bedroom detached house on the outskirts of the village
£5m A 12-bedroom country mansion