Cornwall LivingIssue #69

Buy it or build it?

The insiders’ guide to securing your dream Cornish home.

With spring just around the corner, the time of year when the property market typically starts to heat up, this month we shine a spotlight on luxury property, providing an insiders’ guide to finding, buying or building the dream home by the sea in Cornwall. Over the following pages, we’ll be delving into everything from the appeal of living in Cornwall, to advice on the current state of the property market and hotspots, all sitting alongside stunning photography of some of Cornwall’s most beautiful and exclusive homes. We share a range of insights and views from those in the know, including award-winning estate agents, a property search agent, and a St Ives based architectural business in search of the ultimate insiders’ view on Cornish property.

“Good contemporary design can merge seamlessly with traditional design”  – Chris Strike, RA Design

Cornwall’s lasting appeal

So, firstly, what’s the attraction of Cornwall? The simple answer is its natural beauty, the magic of being close to the coast and countryside, and the lifestyle this facilitates. As Ben Davies, Head of Department at Savills Cornwall, puts it, “It’s about the ability to breathe: to have your own space to explore, whether that’s in the countryside, on the coast or in a town. There is a shared common attitude here: that of enjoying the natural surroundings and the simplicity of life. It is the perfect antidote to urban lifestyles.”

Indeed, Martyn and Matthew of Rohrs and Rowe note: “Things are a bit different here in Cornwall; people come here for the way of life that it offers – it’s about what that house and location enable you to do.”

There’s also the idea of ‘escaping it all’ and enjoying privacy, which is so important to many. Josephine Ashby, Sales Director of John Bray and Partners tells us: “For those that need it, Cornwall still provides a good level of anonymity and privacy.”

That said, while Cornwall enjoys that wonderful ‘away from it all’ feeling of being a world of its own, the county is in fact now more connected than ever. With super-fast broadband, vastly improved transport links, and regular fl ights to the city and rest of UK, you really can enjoy the best of both worlds. As award-winning property search agent Jayne Phillips-Choak explains, “Many people can work remotely now so can choose where they live. It really is easy to get to the city to work if needs be.”

“Things are a bit different here in Cornwall; people come here for the way of life that it offers” – Martyn Rohrs and Matthew Rowe

The state of the market

As we all know, the last few years have seen some landmark developments both nationally and internationally, potentially having considerable implications on the local stage. From the on-going uncertainty over Brexit to changes to UK stamp duty, you may be wondering what all this means for the Cornish property market.

Thankfully, the general consensus of our experts is a positive outlook for Cornwall, with its unique characteristics to an extent insulating the region from some of the national challenges. Notwithstanding the short-to-midterm unknowns and question marks, property – and property in Cornwall, specifically – is likely to remain a good long-term investment.

“Cornwall is holding its own price wise,” says Jayne Phillips-Choak. “Cornwall has become a top holiday destination thus making it a great county for property investors to purchase in. Although prices are quite high here now compared to years ago, London prices are still higher which means people escaping the stress of city life can buy a lovely home and pocket the change for rainy days and holidays.”

“The Cornish market, just like its people, is notoriously resilient and robust,” adds Ben Davies. “Price growth is gradual, sustained and realistic, and the value gap between London and prime areas of the county make property here an attractive investment. Families can enjoy their investments during holidays whilst having the option of moving to Cornwall on a permanent basis. Interest in Cornwall, and in Cornish property, gets stronger every year. Traditionally the spring/summer is seen as the best time to sell but over recent years we have seen the autumn months becoming the most active time for buyers.”

“For those that need it, Cornwall still provides a good level of anonymity and privacy” –  Josephine Ashby, John Bray

“The property market in Cornwall is still very buoyant,” says Jayne Phillips-Choak, “with good properties selling quickly and buyers who will view on a phone call.”

“The Cornish market is different from most other areas in the country,” explain Martyn Rohrs and Matthew Rowe.

“The drivers to our premium market are different too. The majority of buyers are discretionary purchasers or people with a retirement plan for the coming years. They tend to seek high quality property in a location which offers access to the lifestyle opportunities that are the main driver to their move. Correct pricing is very important when selling as buyers are seeking fair value and the reassurance they aren’t paying too much but they will pay a premium if the property offers everything they seek.”

So, what about the ‘Brexit effect’ specifically? According to our experts, evidence so far suggests there are good reasons to remain optimistic, while the separate issue regarding stamp duty on second homes is likely to have a more immediate effect on the market.

“In the short term, there will be uncertainty over what Brexit means for the economy,” says Ben Davies, “and just as importantly, for individual households’ wealth and financial security. This uncertainty may make some buyers more cautious in the short term.

However, sellers will find success providing their marketing is of the highest quality and their price expectations are realistic. Any interest rate rises are likely to be gradual rather than dramatic, enabling the markets to react more naturally.”

“Brexit continues to be a subject of discussion but Cornwall hasn’t so far felt particularly negative effects of it like the London market has,” say Rohrs and Rowe. “Stamp Duty Tax for second home purchasers is always a topic of concern though as they are paying a 3% premium over the standard rate – as an example, if a buyer is paying over £1,500,000 for a second home, they are paying circa £140,000 in SDT on the fi rst £1.5 million and then 15% on any amount over the £1.5 million threshold – a £2 million purchase will have circa £215,000 in SDT liability!”

“I think all the doom and gloom regarding Brexit and property prices is (and has proved to be) completely unfounded,” says Jayne. “Despite the slight rise, interest rates are still incredibly low – I remember rates of 17% years ago so I don’t think that will affect the market and, of course, the stamp duty being abolished under £300,000 should give the first time buyer market a huge boost. Anyone buying as in investment needs to be aware of all the new legislations so it would be well worth talking to a letting agent.”

Josephine Ashby of John Bray says: “Without a doubt the market is more fragile across the UK due to Brexit and perhaps the rise in second home stamp duty. Buyers are naturally more cautious particularly for properties over £1 million. With that said, those making a longer term, lifestyle decision recognise that their children are growing up and life is short, so clients will buy now if the right property is available.”

“The Cornish market, just like its people, is notoriously resilient and robust” – Ben Davies, Savills

Location, location, location

As is often said, you can alter or remodel a house, but not its setting. So choosing the right location for your own specific needs is essential, whether the property is for you to enjoy personally or as an investment opportunity.

“You will be buying into a lifestyle not just bricks and mortar,” says Jayne, “so think about where you will be meeting friends for lunch; do you have wonderful coastal or country walks nearby and is your nearest town buzzy and bustling?”

Ben Davies, of Savills, tells us: “Research the areas thoroughly, be aware of over-capitalised sites and if buying in Cornwall for the first time buy within the area you know and love. West Cornwall, Falmouth, Penzance and the Roseland continue to attract, surprise and inspire in equal measure.”

Josephine recommends: “Focus on those areas that have remained popular for many years, as they represent a safer place to invest. Those areas enjoy all the fabulous benefi ts of the Cornish coast, but also enjoy the infrastructure and amenities that can be enjoyed by all. Nevertheless, as prime areas continue to get more popular, there is always expansion and buyers are looking for the next place.”

Simon Poole of Jackie Stanley Estate Agents says: “Don’t focus purely on the tangible aspects of a property – take into account the aesthetics of your surroundings. Location is all-important so do your research.”

Penzance is the place to buy, according to Jayne: “Prices are still reasonable, there are some fabulous Victorian town houses to buy and the town centre is vibrant with some great shops and interesting restaurants. It has great community, and it’s just a short walk to Newlyn where you can buy fresh seafood daily.”

If you have little spare time and need some help with local market knowledge, employing a property search agent such as Jayne on your behalf can provide the perfect solution. Jayne recently won the ARP award for ‘Property Finder of the Year 2017’ and often has insider knowledge of new properties before they come on the open market.

In and around the Newquay area, you’ll find a host of stunning new coastal houses and apartments from the luxury property developer Legacy Properties, featuring all mod cons and chic, contemporary living spaces.

Building the dream

If you’ve finally settled on the location, but are struggling to find the home that ticks all the boxes – whether in terms of space, design-wise, or otherwise – it might be that building is the solution, rather than trying to find it on the open market. One of the benefits of starting from scratch is greater scope for creating the home you really want, with less compromise. For many, not only is this a more economic or pragmatic option, it brings the inimitable fulfilment of creating your very own sanctuary.

Equally, if your existing home has the potential and an entire rebuild seems a bit too overwhelming, it might be easier to expand or remodel it to meet your needs. There are many ingenious ways of enhancing an existing home to give it a new identity.

We speak to Chris Strike of St Ives based architectural services, RA Design – the team behind the gorgeous and much-loved steambent wood house at Nanskerris for Tom and Danielle Raffi eld, as featured on Channel 4’s Grand Designs (

“Finding the right property can be daunting,” says Chris, “but finding that little gem with potential can not only be rewarding financially but also allow you to create your own space and live how you want to live. It also gives you the potential to add value.”

Chris continues: “Employ the correct designer that has your interests at heart, is also willing and able to get the people on board that matter and can help get you the planning permission you require. Don’t be afraid to let them come up with something you may not have thought of. Equally, all good architects and architectural technologists should be happy to work with you, not just for you. We are here to give you your dream house and we are continually learning and picking ideas up, so don’t be afraid to make suggestions. In my view, it’s always a good idea to choose a designer whose work you have seen and like and is also affiliated to RIBA or CIAT. You know then that they have reached a high standard and part of a recognised institution with a wide range of knowledge and expertise.” For Chris, new architecture is our chance to leave our mark on the world, although, of course, with this comes great responsibility, to ensure that our contributions to the landscape stand the test of time. “I think that we need a design of our time rather than trying to match in with things from the past”, says Chris. “We need to be able to look back and see what this era of architecture is. Good contemporary design can merge seamlessly with traditional design.”

Wherever possible, it makes sense to use local architects, builders, tradespeople and interior design services. We have an abundance of highly skilled and creative talents here in Cornwall, so there’s really no need to look elsewhere. They already know the market, the area and the people intrinsically, to help you build an authentic Cornish home. As Chris says, “choose your builders well, ideally someone who has been recommended by the designer or a close friend. Look at the quality of their work as, again, a bad builder can ruin a great design.”

Let the dream commence

If you are currently looking to find the home of your dreams in Cornwall, we hope our guide has given you some food for thought. Whether or not you opt to buy the dream home or build it – or, indeed, decide upon a combination of the two – there’s one thing you can be sure of: in Cornwall, you’ll be rewarded with its abundance of beautiful countryside and coastline for exploring, and the potential for a truly wonderful lifestyle. What more could you ask for in a home?

"Good contemporary design can merge seamlessly with traditional design" - Chris Strike, RA Design