Is a holiday home worth the hassle?

As you would with someone over the age of 40 who says that they’ve not had any form of midlife crisis, be very wary of anyone who states that a holiday home is not a source of irritating inconveniences.

Evidence of my various age-related crises can mostly be viewed in the garage. However, at my seaside home in north Essex I’ve had to deal with bees up the chimney, subsidence, swimming pool breakdowns, fallen trees, false alarm police call-outs, roof leaks, blocked drains — and once a bat took up residence in the living room.

For every problem, time, energy and often money are required to put it right. And I haven’t even mentioned the insurance, council tax, energy bills, general maintenance, gardening, cleaning — all the stuff that’s needed to keep the place running. Just look at the expenditure on your main home and double it. Surely all that money could be better spent on a few lush holidays, while someone else does all the dirties for you?

You could look at it that way, I suppose. But you’d never have a dog if you focused only on picking up the poo, vet bills or the occasional bouts of ill health that can lead to a redecoration of your living space. We make choices in life for a range of reasons. Sometimes it makes financial sense and sometimes it’s a lifestyle thing. For me, it was the latter.

I’d been visiting the seaside town of Frinton-on-Sea all my life. Although my parents have a place there, it became a fight to borrow their house, as I have three older siblings who all have children. (Grandchildren always trump children for the best dates!) Summer and bank holidays are a particular battleground.

Anyway, you can’t leave your stuff there and it’s never really your home. You spend more time sorting things out on your arrival and departure than you do enjoying your stay.

So, I decided, in the end, that I had to buy my own place. Fortunately, aged six, I’d identified my ideal property. And when it came up for sale 36 years after I’d first bagsied it, I pounced. Nine years later, I still regard it as one of my better decisions.

Interest in holiday homes has increased this year, as Brits have looked to spend lockdown away from cramped and crowded cities, and many have decided to forgo foreign holidays. Estate agency Hamptons estimates that 14,660 second homes were sold in Great Britain in the first half of 2021, up from 9,450 in the first half of 2019. 

But with holiday-home buyers accused of driving up prices in many rural and coastal idylls, local councils are fighting back.

Among them is Salcombe, Devon, a seaside town where about 57 per cent of homes are second homes. Last month, the local council enacted plans requiring every new-build property to have a section 106 planning agreement stipulating that it may only be purchased and used as a principal dwelling — and not just on its first sale, but in perpetuity.

Whether that will solve the problem is another matter. Arguably, second-home owners are looking for period properties in prime positions and will pay whatever it takes. At very best, Salcombe could end up with a segregated market in which properties without the restriction will sell for far more than those with it — putting locals at a permanent disadvantage.

This same issue is raging up and down the country, in the nation’s seaside towns, holiday destinations and picturesque villages — particularly those within easy reach of our big towns and cities.

When it comes to renting out a holiday home, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Put your home on Airbnb and your neighbours may well end up hating you. Who could put up with the constant stream of families taking up residence in the house next door, with screaming children, party guests dragging their suitcases up the gravel path, barbecues every night and awful drunken singing to loud music into the wee small hours?

Then again, a rarely used second home turns a town into a ghost town. Are you contributing to the community you’ve bought into if you leave the property vacant for most of the year? Many places survive on visitors and, without them, they might not exist. The high street struggles out of season with locals forced away because of the cost.

Incidentally, I have never been tempted to rent out my place. I want the flexibility to look at the weather forecast and simply turn up if I fancy. And I can’t be bothered to put my stuff away. I don’t want people putting the wrong cutlery in the wrong slots in the drawer, trashing the bathrooms or dragging their wet towels and children through the house.

There are other thorny issues to navigate. I find dinner party chat inevitably leads to discussions about second homes and where you’ve been able to escape to during the pandemic. Suddenly, you’re ever so popular! I have a queue of potential visitors, who have remarked that my swimming pool must be nice to sit around or how they fancy a trip to the seaside — all angling for an invite.

But can you really be bothered to deal with all the mess they’ll inevitably leave or the sheets that won’t wash themselves? It’s such a hassle. A second home is supposed to be a holiday, not unpaid charitable work.

With that said, for all the financial cost and time involved with a second home, it will pay you back. That’s because it can be a place to relax and unwind, to enjoy with your family and friends, to build a social life away from the rigours of daily work and family life.

Buying the right second home does not have to put undue strain on a local housing market and can be somewhere to pursue your hobbies and passions. It can be a new work-from-home location, as that becomes a more permanent feature of our everyday lives.

Certainly from my perspective, in spite of the extra chores or expense, it is the place where I am happiest. Choose yours wisely, it can be where you feel happiest too.

James Max is a radio presenter and property expert. The views expressed are personal. Twitter: @thejamesmax

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