Peter Welcome to Action Packed the travel podcast that goes to the best places and meets the most interesting people. Today, we’re taking a stroll along an imposing, deserted residential street that mysteriously claims the fourth most expensive property prices on the planet. In the global league table that places it just behind London, Hong Kong and New York.
Felice The average price here for a four- or five-bedroom home on Panorama Road comes in at around £6 million – that’s just under $US8 million. Of course, there are more expensive Beverly Hills type mansions to be found elsewhere, but the test is not size but price per square foot or meter.
Peter Actually, if you like global statistics, and I do, this short stretch of wonderfully eclectic traditional and contemporary architecture ranks as the most expensive coastal road in the world. My first thought is in this wave of wealth pounding the seashore nearby, someone might have come up with a more inspiring street name. Panorama Road really doesn’t do much for me.
Felice So where are we today? Cape Cod? Monte Carlo? The Amalfi coast? Malibu? No, we’re in Sandbanks in sunny Dorset on the south-west coast of England, a two-hour drive from London.
Peter Sandbanks, let me explain, is not so much a village as an 800-meter peninsula sticking out in the English Channel overlooking the vast expanse of Poole Harbour, which, while we’re on the subject statistics is one of the two largest natural harbours in the world.
Felice And the other’s Sydney?
Peter Well, yes and no. Size-wise, they’re pretty similar. However, so much land has been reclaimed for development in Sydney that it may now be the smaller of the two, whereas Poole’s surroundings are owned by the National Trust and further building is forbidden. But the real difference is that Poole Harbour is only three feet deep, apart a single dredged channel. It’s a haven for speed boats and jet skis rather than ocean-going vessels.
Felice So how did Sandbanks, which is literally a sandbank that marks the eastern end of the harbour, reach those sort of heights? Adrian Dunford, head of estate agent, Tailor Made, and his mother before him have been selling property here for 30 years.
Adrian The story behind it was one of the large national newspapers were talking to some of the estate agents, trying to work out where is the most expensive place in the world to live. And so they had London, they had New York, Hong Kong popped up. And when we were looking at the figures, we realised that actually as a pound-per-square-foot, we were selling property that competed with them. And we told the newspaper at the time: ‘Well, it’s interesting, but we already sell property at that sort of level.’ And they just thought it would be a good article to write, to put us in the mix with such large cities, and it just took off from there.
Peter And when was that roughly?
Adrian That would be…oh, gosh…back in the late ‘80s.
Peter And it’s gone on from then?
Adrian Yes. And up until then, the area was always considered to be almost Britain’s best-kept secret. So those people that lived here, those people that bought here, didn’t really want the world to know that the place existed because they enjoyed the anonymity of being here. But also it was just a nice, quiet place for people to retreat outside of London.
Part of the reason for the value is because we’re water-locked, we can’t extend or gain any more ground. So the properties that are here – that’s it, there’s actually only 30 detached houses on the beach and 30 detached houses on the water – so of the 1,100 units that are here, that’s a mixture of apartments and houses, that’s all you’ve got. And at any one particular time, there’s probably only ever maybe one on the market. So if you’re a buyer looking to buy here and wanting beach access, water access, there’s never going to be a lot to choose from. And if this is where you want to be, then you will pay for that pleasure.
Peter The thing is, there’s really not much to Sandbanks apart from three hotels, an exclusive yacht club, a Rick Stein seafood restaurant and a Tesco Express supermarket. Along Banks Road, the first part of this, you get a choice of aspects.
Adrian So you have, if you like, a two-way view – so you can either step out onto the beach or step into the water of Poole Harbour.
Peter The disadvantage is that the plots are narrow. Much the best property is located on Panorama Road at the end of the spit with its chain ferry across the entrance to the harbour. This takes you in just a few minutes to some unspoiled stretches of woodland and beach at Studland and the little town of Swanage beyond. For nearly all the houses on Panorama Road, you don’t have a sandy beach on your doorstep, but you can more your boat on your own private jetty at the bottom of your landscaped garden, which has plenty of room for your outdoor pool – unless you prefer to have one indoors. Actually, if you’re investing £10 million, why not have both?
From your own jetty you can coast across the harbour to explore some of the nine islands. The largest of these is Brownsea, where Lord Baden-Powell founded the Scout movement and held its first camp back in 1907. The island is also home to a colony of rare red squirrels who live here in isolation from their marauding and aggressive grey cousins. So, I mean, who really cares about having your own doorstep sand?
Felice Well, no one did at all here until the early 19th century. Before that, this was just a stretch of deserted sand dunes of little value. And it took two airwave geniuses to put Sandbanks on the world map.
Peter The first of these was Gugliemo Marconi, the Italian-born electrical engineer who’s universally credited with being the founder of radio, his offices and family home were at the Haven Hotel right at the end of the spit by the chain ferry. It was from here that he carried out a raft of ship-to-shore telegraph experiments, and it was from Sandbanks itself that Marconi radio operators directed the rescue of passengers from the sinking Titanic in 1912.
Felice The second was John Lennon, who back in 1965 bought a bungalow on Panorama Road for his Aunt Mimi, who’d brought him up. Mimi was very critical of his musical ambition, and even after the Beatles were formed, she told him: ‘The guitar’s all right, John, but you’ll never make a living out of it.’ Lennon phoned her every week until his death, and Mimi lived on at Sandbanks until she herself died in 1991.
Adrian Aunt Mimi’s property, which we’ve sold a few times, actually, is currently called Imagine. So that’s just a few doors away from the chain-link ferry. So he bought that for his auntie; she lived there. And there’s some lovely photographs of John Lennon and his son and his auntie getting on the chain ferry.
Peter And what did he pay for that when he bought it?
Adrian Oh, gosh, probably tens of thousands.
Felice It’s probably worth a bit more than that today?
Adrian There was currently a bid on the property at the moment for eight million.
Peter And what’s the average price for one?
Adrian The general rule is often by square footage. So at the moment, we’re probably selling property around £1,200 to £1,300 a square foot. And that’s often what’s used when you’re trying to compare yourself to other areas, globally. So a small apartment on the beach or on the water will cost you probably around one and a half million to start, and they go through to around four million. We’ve just sold a penthouse for four million, which is the most money paid for a penthouse outside of London.
Peter And the clientele, the people who buy these houses, they come from all over the world?
Adrian No, the vast majority are going to, to be honest, come out of London. If you had to sort of make it as a proportion, I would say historically it was always probably two-thirds were from London, a third probably from the Midlands. In the same way that people retiring here probably go off to Spain, because everyone wants to go somewhere warmer for their retirement, those in the Midlands and particularly London will come here because it is that bit warmer.
Peter But nevertheless, it does seem strange that at the seaside you think of warm beaches and palm trees. Well, we have a few palm trees, but not necessarily the warm, sunny weather. At the moment it’s wonderful and we’re just in for a heatwave coming up, and last weekend was wonderful as well. But it’s not always like that, is it?
Adrian No, it’s not always. But Dorset’s reputedly one of the sunniest counties in the UK, so we get more than our fair share. And I think a lot of people come here, not necessarily because it’s sunny, it’s just there’s an awful lot to do here. It’s a very outdoor lifestyle, whether you’re here on the beaches or whether you’re across the water on the Jurassic Coast or even back into the New Forest. So there’s a lot to do, but all of it’s often outside, so you’re probably not going to be somebody that’s buying here driven by sun.
Peter And this year we’re talking about staycation. I think the figure at the moment is 20 million people will take a staycation in Britain this year. Does that mean that the property market goes up here because people are more interested in getting out of the big cities?
Adrian So it’s much busier here. I mean, July and August for us as an agent are two busy months, even in an ordinary market. It’s three times busier than it would be ordinarily. And the three times really are to do with Covid, to do with three years of delay on Brexit. So people just sat on their hands waiting for Brexit decision to be made. So that sort of lull in that market for the last three years, Covid’s exacerbated that, so it is it is much busier than we would ordinarily expect to see. We were on for a busy year anyway, but it’s Covid and people staying local has made it much busier. The vast majority of those buying currently are London-based. Whether that’s a fear of a second lockdown or again, just because it’s just easier to get down here on the M3.
Felice So do a lot of people come here as a second home?
Adrian Yes, 80% of Sandbanks is second home. And the further you drift away from the water, you see that proportion gradually change. So certainly in the Sandbanks peninsula it would be 80% second home, and a half a mile up the road it probably would be 50-50.
Peter What’s it like on a November’s day?
Adrian It is lovely because you get the area back. Almost all Poole is about half a million people, in the summer (without Covid) we double to a million. So it is a much busier area and it’s great because you gain a buzz. And with kids being off school ordinarily during July and August, it’s a much busier time. But for that six- to eight-week window, outside of that, it’s quiet. And actually the locals that are here all year round enjoy it for that reason.
Peter Well you can park your car, you can get to the shops.
Adrian Yes, things like that. But also it’s just…I wouldn’t even say you get the area back…it’s just as a local person you get all the pleasure of what people pay an awful lot of money to come down and visit. And it’s here on your doorstep at no cost.
Felice And what things can people do immediately around Sandbanks? Is it the beach mainly?
Adrian It’s an interesting one because a lot of people that buy here don’t then go off and buy a paddle-board and do windsurfing and jet around the harbour on a jet-ski. An awful lot actually just enjoy sitting and watching people do their thing on the water or on the beach. You’ve got to understand that the harbour is nearly 100 miles round and the average depth of the harbour is only three feet. It’s nearly all sand, so you can mess around in the harbour in a very safe environment.
Peter What about hotels?
Adrian So hotels… at the moment we have The Haven, The Sandbanks and The Harbour Heights. All three are owned by a family locally, but there are plans afoot for that to change. There’s a fantastic new hotel that will go in where The Sandbanks Hotel is, and the proposal is for The Haven to become residential, and The Harbour Heights to be redesigned as an environmentally-friendly sort of green boutique hotel. Although the area is expensive, we don’t have a £1,000-a-night hotel.
Peter If anyone out there listening to us would like to buy a house, what do they do? How do they get in touch with you?
Adrian So contact me directly, Adrian Dunford, or certainly go to our website, which is Tailor Made estate agents.
Felice Now, if you do fancy owning your own house here and you feel that eight million pounds for John Lennon’s newly-revamped Imagine is beyond your means, don’t despair. Neighbouring Waterweeds is on the market for just £7 million – that’s a little bit more than US$9 million. For this you get four bedrooms, a swimming-pool, helicopter pad, summerhouse, parking for 12 cars and, of course, your own jetty.
Peter Hardly surprisingly, even £7 million seemed a little bit beyond our personal pocket, so we went to explore some other seaside properties just along the coast at the former fishing village of Mudeford near Christchurch. Now, the beauty of these is that they’re actually on the beach in a wonderfully secluded position. During the summer months, there’s no access by car. You can reach them by bike along the winter roadway, on foot from the beauty spot of Hengisbury Head over a 30-minute scenic walk through a wooded nature reserve with lily ponds.
Felice Or you can park your car at Mudeford Quay and take a three-minute ferry ride straight to the colourful buildings. One of them recently changed hands for around £330,000, which is the price you’d expect to pay for a two- or three-bedroom detached house around Christchurch. The amount shocked everyone locally and nationally. Why? Because these are just beach huts. We asked Christchurch estate agent, Andy Denison, what the buyers got for their money.
Andy Well, you get a hut.
Peter How big’s the hut?
Andy Well, it has an upstairs, a mezzanine floor, we call it. They can sleep six, or you can cram in seven on a good day. The basic structure…they do vary in size…this particular one I think is around 18 x 12.
Peter Feet is it?
Andy Yes, feet. And of course, you’ve got to pay your ground rent on the sand that you occupy. So it’s not a freehold – you have the ownership of the hut, but then you have to have a licence to park it on the pitch that it’s on.
Peter Really, what does that cost?
Andy Again, that varies. But the average is around £2,500 to £3,000 a year.
Peter That’s quite a lot.
Andy I mean, some people rent their huts out to cover that cost and then obviously enjoy the rest of it in the summertime.
Felice And it has electricity and water running water?
Andy No, not at all. Electricity is via a car battery or however they operate the 12-volt system, solar panels, no running water. You fill up your water tank and you have a small 12-volt pump like you do in a motor home or a caravan?
Peter No loo?
Andy Well some have put toilets in, but obviously not plugged into the mains. Your toilet facility is, again, like camping where you have a cassette facility and then you have a waste chemical disposal outlet, toilet blocks at the beach.
Peter There are showers?
Andy Yes, there are residents’ showers and you do have a key. So obviously the public can’t use this particular facility, so the residents have it for themselves.
Peter Now, you are the king of the beach huts around here, so you’ve been doing this for how many years?
Andy The estate agency for about 35, practicing in Christchurch and selling beach huts around 22 years now.
Peter And what do they cost when you first arrived here?
Andy Well, we didn’t see many for sale when we first opened, there was a couple that changed hands privately. Wasn’t really much of a market going on, but a few years into it and then they started to come onto our books. And I think from memory, one of the first ones was around £40,000 or something like that.
Peter And they don’t change hands very often?
Andy But we’ve got nothing at the moment for sale down there. We’re lucky if we see five or six huts a year pass hands. There are private transactions that take place, family through family doing the transfers themselves. I think it’s the uniqueness of where you are, and you can stay in them from April to October. You can sleep in them during that period. I know many families that spend the whole of their August holidays there and commute to work – get up in the morning and take their little boat up the river to work in the town and then just spend the whole time down there. I know some families that spend six weeks down there and rent their house out during that period.
Peter So are you surprised by just how high the prices are?
Andy Well, I got asked that question when we hit £100,000 and it was staggering then. But then somebody said: ‘Do you reckon they’ll ever be half a million?’ And probably, one day, who knows?
Peter One day quite soon at this rate.
Andy Yes, well, I’ve certainly got some serious buyers at the moment. I mean, literally a phone call away, which in our game is never a good thing because people think they’ve undersold if it sells so quickly. But certainly I’ve got some serious buyers that will pay serious money for it.
Felice And do some people rent them out?
Andy They do, yes. We don’t get involved in that, but the way that happens is they normally put something on the window: ‘contact the owner direct’, and I think you can find it online. There’s various beach hut rental companies.
Peter How do you know what sort of thing they pay for rental?
Andy I’ve heard between £800 and £1,200 a week, depending on the size of the hut and time of year, those sort of figures. So of course, you only need to do four or five weeks a year and you’ve covered your annual licence fee and then the rest is yours, really.
Felice So do some people keep their boats there as well?
Andy Yes, they do. You’ve got a small dinghy park down there where people keep little boats with engines, or their sailboats. I think it’s around about £10 or £20 a year to the council to park your boat on the beach and chain it there. Of course, a lot of people have got kayaks and paddle-boards and there’s a lot of boat owners. So they will bring their boats down to the harbour and anchor up in the harbour. On our website, we’ve got a dedicated section for the beach huts, so if you wanted to have a look, it’s Denisons.com.
Peter So Felice, which one’s for you? Eight million at Sandbanks or £330,000 on the beach at Mudeford?
Felice I think I’d go for one of the really amazing houses at Sandbanks, but it would have to have a swimming-pool and definitely at the end of the garden I’d want the beach to be there because that’s what you’re paying for, I think. But of course, I don’t have the money for that anyway. How about you, Peter?
Peter Well, I really like Sandbanks. I mean, it’s a beautiful area. And, you know, you can buy 20 different marques of Champagne at the local Tesco Express, that must be a Tesco’s record – and they certainly know their clientele. My one problem, there would be… the houses on Banks Road are a little on the small side for me. I mean, where would I put the bodyguard and the nanny? But no, I think probably I’d settle for the far end of Panorama Road, where you get a lot more bang for your bucks.
Felice How about the beach huts?
Peter Yes, the beach is definitely a possibility.
Felice Although you’re meant to have a sort of camping experience. It is one-up on glamping, really, isn’t it?
Peter Yes, I’ve never really been a great camper, but it does have a really nice beach bar.
Felice And they take dogs too, which is good.
Peter That’s hugely important. That’s a good point to mention that you can actually take the dogs on the beach at Mudeford, which is kind of a rarity in the south of England in the summer. I think of the two I’d probably settle for Sandbanks, but then like you, there’s a certain bit of a cash-flow problem here.
Felice Or, actually, ideally I’d have both.
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