Is it still acceptable to have a second home when so many people can’t afford one?

publication date: Apr 21, 2009
author/source: Kate Faulkner

The answer to this is simple: Yes. We live in a free society and as much as it’s important for us to be able to practice free speech, so it’s important for us to be able to choose how and where we spend our hard earned cash. If it’s a second home somewhere around the UK or abroad, then so be it.

However, second home ownership in some areas around the country is seen as a ‘bad thing’. This is typically in picturesque villages across the UK, but mainly in Devon and Cornwall. In some areas, up to 40% of homes are owned by ‘outsiders’ who sometimes sadly leave their properties empty for much of the year, potentially restricting the local communities' viability.

But how big a problem is second home ownership? The truth is that there are over a million second home owners, which includes landlords who rent out their property, clergy or those in the forces who are housed by their employment, but buy somewhere to live later in life or for a well deserved break.  Some people inherit a home and don’t know what to do with it, or are arguing over ownership, others are in hospital or temporarily in a care home and so the property can appear to lie empty unnecessarily.

Second home ownership from a holiday perspective is, nationally, a tiny problem, affecting less than a few hundred thousand homes out of our stock of 26 million! However, if you are in a village which is mostly empty throughout the year and have seen your shops and facilities decline, then to you it’s a major problem! And, in some areas such as South Hams, Iona, Appledore, Purbeck and Studland, as well as areas in Wales, resentment towards these ‘remote’ owners is very high.

But are the problems that second home owners are accused of really down to them or are they happening in other villages and rural areas across the country?

In my view the issues that many of these villages are suffering from are not really any different to many other villages across the UK.

Are second holiday homes causing shops to go out of business?
The main reason all shops and post offices across the country are suffering a loss of business is far more related to our changing habits of buying on-line and via the big retailers rather than because there are less people in villages. If you look at villages that have no empty or holiday homes, they are losing retailers too and they don't have the additional benefit of increased trade to help keep them afloat, so I don’t think that you can accuse second home owners of this.

Are second holiday home owners preventing local people from buying?
In many of these picturesque villages, prices have gone through the roof and as a result, local people and their off spring are struggling to afford properties that come up for sale. Is this really second home owners fault? There is no doubt that second home owners will increase demand for properties and when there is an increase in demand and a restricted supply, prices will definitely rise. So on the surface it appears that second home owners are at fault in pushing prices up.

However, when you look at many villages across the UK, the same thing is happening. Local people in my village near Newark and their off spring can’t afford to stay in the village, so have to move elsewhere. And in fact this is really a problem right across the UK and it’s one of a shortage of affordable homes in the right places, not one restricted to areas with an influx of holiday home owners.

And I think it’s wholly unfair to put 100% of the blame at second home owners for buying property in these areas. Few people mention that the seller was a local and sold to them for one of two reasons:-

1.    They were the only buyer/person to make an offer.

2.    They offered more than anyone else!

Locals are also making a big assumption: if a second homer isn’t allowed to buy, then suddenly the property will become ‘affordable’ for everyone. That’s highly unlikely to happen as it isn’t happening in any other villages across the UK. Properties are typically bought by people who work in the nearest town or city, and the person commutes. Prices have increased across the UK, not just in picturesque, tourist areas. The problem is not second home owners, the real problem is we haven’t been building the right properties in the right areas at the right price.

Then there is the issue that if the properties suddenly did drop in price (as they are now) the whole village would suffer a loss of wealth – is that really what people want? It may be now, but what happens when their partner becomes ill and they need to move closer to a hospital or care home? What if they get a new job somewhere else and can’t sell their home? This is really a case of ‘be careful what you wish for!’.

What I find amusing is that we all worry about our children not being able to afford to buy in the area they grew up in – but who did? I couldn’t afford to buy in the same area as my parents. I couldn’t even afford a property on my own and had to buy with a friend. We then bought second hand furniture and received donations from our families to set up our home, no Ikea for us! And let’s face it, no-one worries about the children of home owners in Chelsea not being able to afford in their local area!

Loss of Facilities such as Schools/Transport
It’s tough for local authorities to fund public services everywhere and in particular rural areas where facilities often cost a lot more to provide than they are used by the local people. Again this issue isn’t just in areas where second home ownership is high, it’s affecting every village across the UK and it’s a trend – people prefer to use their own car rather than rely on public transport.

Schools however are a tough one, if 40% of your local community isn’t around during the year, that could make the difference between keeping and losing a local school.

The schools issue really brings us to the main problem with second home ownership that does need to be tackled:-

Why do people buy a property and then only visit it for few weeks a year and can we persuade second home owners to increase their properties' use?

The next question that needs to be asked is what can be done about providing affordable homes and better facilities to the local community? See our next article ‘Will the current potential solutions to encourage and expand rural village life work?'. 


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