The humble beach hut has become the most sought-after buy in Britain, sparking fierce competition among would-be owners, says Hattie Crisell
It all started with a letter from Tendring District Council in Essex to the beach hut owners of Clacton-on-Sea, Walton-on-the-Naze and Frinton-on-Sea. Hut owners, stated the communication, must ‘address… Beach Hut adaptations which fall outside the existing specification and licence conditions’.
Rampant speculation ensued among local owners as to exactly which of the ‘pimped up’ huts had triggered this clampdown, with attention focusing on a vivid turquoise, stencilled hut called ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, which many believed had upset the traditionalists. In addition to taking issue with garish colours and souped-up verandas of the huts in their jurisdiction, Tendring officials were also getting tough on the lucrative market in private leasing (for around £200 a day) without council permission. This brouhaha in Essex is in no way isolated but rather speaks to a craze which has gripped the nation since the pandemic began and shows no sign of abating this summer – the quest to secure a little bit of beachfront.
When Anna*, a 31-year-old brand consultant, moved to Broadstairs, Kent, last year, it wasn’t long before she fell for the same local feature as everyone else: the bay’s colourful curve of beach huts. ‘I thought it would be so nice to have one,’ she says. She stopped to speak to the tenants, who politely told her that they get interest from passers-by every day – and the news isn’t good. ‘They said there’s a nine-year waiting list. To get a beach hut, you basically have to wait for someone to die.’
It’s not simply that securing a Broadstairs hut takes serious patience– there’s strategy involved too. ‘You can’t put your name down generally. You have to pick a hut and get on the waiting list for that specific one,’ continues Anna. Insider information on the current tenants, then, can be valuable: ‘There’s a lot of, “I heard Maureen in hut 34 was complaining about the fees going up – put your name down for it.”’
There are around 20,000 beach huts in the UK, and they’re hotter property than ever. Our seaside towns have surged in popularity since foreign travel was limited by Covid; Southend Pier, for example, had more than 74,000 visitors last August – its highest number since records began.
‘Demand has soared,’ confirms Lee Betchley, an estate agent with Hose Rhodes Dickson on the Isle of Wight.
It’s not surprising, then, that prices of beach huts increased by 41 per cent in 2021. ‘Three or four years ago you could pick up a beach hut in a prime location on the Isle of Wight for £5,000 or £6,000,’ says Betchley. ‘You’re now looking at anything between £18,000 and £25,000, and people gazump all the time.’ In some areas, prices might lead you to believe you were buying on the Côte d’Azur rather than coastal Britain: a small hut in Abersoch, North Wales, recently sold for £200,000. In Southwold, Suffolk, a property three metres wide with a small veranda was listed for £250,000 and has also sold. To be clear, these are not holiday homes: huts don’t have electricity or running water, and most councils don’t allow owners to sleep in them.
Mudeford Spit, in Bournemouth, has an occasional exception to that rule – buy a hut there and you can sleep in it eight nights a year. You’ll pay for the privilege: one recently sold for £570,000 (more information at the end of the article on that one!). The estate agent Denisons manages most hut sales in the area, and reports that they always go to auction, with at least 10 buyers on standby all year round, poised for something to come up.
If you can’t get a foot on the beach-hut ladder, in some areas there’s the option to rent – but even this is tricky. In Gower, South Wales, Swansea Council holds a lottery every summer to hire out huts in Langland Bay; but even so, a local resident confides, ‘I’m desperate for one. Everyone I know applied this year and was unsuccessful.’ The council says demand has always been high but has increased since the pandemic – this year saw more than 1,000 applications for 80 huts.
Given the difficulty of purchase, it’s hardly surprising that people want to personalise their huts when they secure them (although Tendring owners might want to think twice before giving full vent to their creative impulses). Betchley owns a share of a hut on the Isle of Wight with his family; they bought it 25 years ago for £900. ‘It’s a lot of fun,’ he agrees. ‘People here paint their huts in candy stripes and deck them out: one I sold recently was decorated in a vintage style and the owners had a wind-up gramophone.’
But along with the pretty pastel paint, the sundowners and the bunting can come some pretty strong opinions. In Felixstowe, Suffolk, owners of historic beach huts (supported by actor and comedian Griff Rhys Jones, who is president of the Victorian Society) are feuding with the council who want to move them off the promenade to other locations. The furious owners have now applied for listed status for their huts.
And woe betide those who don’t behave in a fashion becoming a hut owner. In Worthing, Sussex, a woman was evicted from her hut last year after owners of nearby huts complained of loud swearing, music and horn-honking when she visited in her car.
Even if you do manage not to upset your neighbours with an ‘out there’ colour scheme or an overambitious deck, there are the financial add-ons to be navigated. Chances are you’ll have ground rent to pay, and may need a licence. Denisons explains that in Mudeford Spit, owners pay the council £4,000 to £5,000 a year. Owners are also responsible for maintaining their huts, and sometimes even replacing them when they become too weathered by wind and sea spray. ‘The local authority on the Isle of Wight does an annual inspection, and you will get a letter if your roof’s in disrepair,’ says Betchley.
If you’re hoping to buy, huts often hit the market in the autumn. ‘Just move quickly,’ he advises. ‘You don’t make offers on huts– go in fast, at the asking price.’ When asked if his family will ever sell theirs, Betchley laughs and says no – because to give up this Great British dream, you’d have to be mad.
Inside Britain’s most expensive beach hut
It measures 13ft by 10ft, is made from timber and has no mains electricity, toilet or washing facilities. But in 2022, Britain’s most expensive beach hut, Hut 180 on Dorset’s Mudeford sandbank, sold at £570,000 – to a cash buyer.
The hut, which can sleep six people between April and October, is in an ‘outstanding location’ looking out to the Isle of Wight from the front, yet can’t be accessed by a car and is a 20-minute walk from the nearest road.
Inside, the ‘high spec’ layout includes a fitted kitchen with a water heater run using solar panels on the roof and an oven powered by a gas bottle. The seating area can be converted into two double beds, and there’s a set of steps leading to a mezzanine level where two more people can sleep. Washing facilities are in a neighbouring communal shower block.
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