To buy or not to buy

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Purchases of a second home generally fall into one of two categories – a buy-to-let investment where the rental can supplement an income/pension, or a holiday home which can be used as a weekend bolthole or summer holiday residence. Owning a second home is a more achievable life goal in Britain than it ever was before. Low interest rates and the availability of buy-to-let mortgages has meant more and more people are investing in a second home.

Perhaps unsurprisingly London does have the largest concentration of second homes in the UK – the vast majority for work related purposes, while the country’s coastal counties remain the most popular for second home buyers looking for a holiday home.

The last census data revealed that surprisingly the county of Wiltshire attracted more second home buyers from London than more traditional hotspots like Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly and the Norfolk Broads. Whilst that data is based solely on Londoners owning second properties, the South West continues to be the number 1 destination attracting property investment from all over the UK.

Yet in some of the more popular holiday home locations there is a rumbling debate about the impact of second home ownership. The Office for National Statistics revealed that from the 2011 census, Cornwall still had the greatest number of people who were usually resident somewhere else in the UK. St. Ives and Padstow are particular favourites for holiday home buyers in the county, which has caused a storm with the local population.

Permanent residents in second home hotspots see this type of home ownership in their villages and towns as a further nail in the coffin in keeping these communities alive. Depriving the local population of access to the housing market, putting strain on local businesses and a lack of integration into the community are some of the more common complaints which surface when new holiday home schemes appear in these popular resorts.

It is understandable that these arguments appear. The tranquillity of these locations and being less densely populated means that often housing is at a premium. This pushes up the price of local housing and as many coastal towns are located in areas with lower wages the housing becomes unrealistic for locals. Land earmarked for new housing can be targeted to holiday home buyers rather than affordable housing for locals, and this has become such a contentious issue in St Ives that a ban has been considered on "outsiders owning anymore second homes in the town". This ban could mean that all new construction of homes would be restricted to being the primary home of the resident.

This is most definitely not a one-sided debate. Second home owners would argue that they do often contribute much more to a local economy than is perhaps realised. Many will look to use local shops and services as a way to integrate into the local area and bring in new business.

With interest rates remaining at a low level, and the demand for second homes increases, the second home ownership debate seems destined to continue rumbling on for the foreseeable future.

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