I’ve spent four months looking for somewhere new to rent in my home county, but I’ve been priced out

March 4, 2023 7:00 am(Updated 7:01 am)

In the summer of 2020, stories abounded about Cornwall being “sold out” for holidaymakers, and train tickets to the county being pricier than a flight to Greece. Since then, house prices have soared by more than 25 per cent, fuelled in part by flexible working arrangements.

It’s been four months, and I am still looking for somewhere to live in Cornwall. My partner and I spent six years in our Falmouth flat, but we’re moving on, reluctantly. An eye-watering rent increase (18 per cent) is driving us out. It arrived despite our building’s urgent need for repair. Like many old Cornish properties, its Georgian facade masks mould, damp, cracking plaster and splintering floorboards. What’s holding back our move is simple: we can’t find anywhere to go.

We’ve trawled estate agent listings, applied for multiple tenancies – and got no further. We’ve shared business accounts, forwarded references, written personal statements – no luck. The competition’s fierce. Every property has dozens of applicants. There are too few places, and too many people looking. Where did it go so wrong?

Let’s begin with Airbnb. At the time of writing, the site has 551 active listings in Falmouth. Compare that with Rightmove, where there are only eight properties to rent for less than £1000pcm. Countywide, it’s worse: 247 rentals under the £1,000 per month mark, compared with a choice of Airbnbs running into the thousands.

falmouth cornwall second homes airbnbs rent homes housing market
Oliver Berry lives in Falmouth but has been looking for a new home after his rent went up by 18 per cent (Photo: Getty)

There are countless holiday properties available through other companies across Cornwall: no one knows exactly how many, because there’s no registration system. Then, of course, there are the second homes: 12,776 of them, according to Cornwall Council. Anecdotally, the actual number is far higher. Most depressingly, 349 properties are designated “long-term empty” as 20,317 applicants languish on social housing waiting lists.

In coastal towns like Mousehole, St Ives, Fowey and Padstow, it’s unusual to see a light on in the windows in winter. Every other front door has a key safe next to the doorbell, or a cottage company plaque beside the postbox. The village school and the post office closed long ago in some communities, while corner shops and pubs are open only a few months a year. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, with each house that flips into a part-time home, communities wither, fragment and die. Once-thriving towns became tourist theme parks.

Glossy property shows selling the Cornish dream have played a role. Post-pandemic, the “staycation” boom has made things worse, as landlords cashed in on the returns of short-term lets at the expense of long-term tenants.

The work-from-home revolution has exacerbated the inequality equation: cash-rich buyers moving from more affluent areas of the UK wield a purchasing power with which local buyers can’t compete. Property prices in Cornwall soared more than 25 per cent in two years: according to Rightmove, the average house price is £321,580, while the median Cornish wage according to the ONS is £29,692 – a price-to-earnings ratio of 11 per cent, more than double the historic average.

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When essential workers – such as nurses, firefighters, teachers, coastguards – can’t afford to live here, we’re in trouble. The system isn’t working, and everyone in Cornwall knows it. But how can it be reversed?

Punitive council tax increases on second and holiday homes would be a first step. Another would be mandatory planning applications for any change from a permanent to a part-time residence. A registration and licensing system for short-term lets and second homes would allow Cornwall to take back control of its housing stock and enable communities to decide the appropriate level of part-time homes. Cracking down on business loopholes and priority purchase schemes for local buyers would help, too.

Most of these powers aren’t devolved to Cornwall – and even if they were, it would take years for them to have a discernible effect.

Holidaymakers who choose to visit the country can create more immediate change. They can opt for accommodation that doesn’t exacerbate the housing shortage, such as renting a room in an owner’s home, rather than a whole flat or cottage. Families could choose a cabin, caravan or campsite, all of which are less likely to take homes off the rental market. Or how about trying a B&B or a local hotel.

I, like so many other locals, will just have to keep up the house hunt. As Mark Jenkin put it in his 2019 film, Bait: “Cornwall’s beautiful, but you can’t eat the view”.

By admin