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The humble beach hut has become Britain’s most sought-after purchase, leading to fierce competition

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It all started with a letter from the Tendring District Council in Essex to the beach house owners of Clacton-on-Sea, Walton-on-the-Naze and Frinton-on-Sea. Cabin owners, the notice states, must ‘approach… Beach Hut modifications that fall outside the existing specification and permit conditions’.

There was rampant speculation among local owners as to which of the ‘pimped up’ huts had caused this oppression, with attention focused on a vibrant turquoise stencilled hut called ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, which many believed had upset traditionalists. In addition to disagreeing with bright colors and souped-up porches of the cabins in their jurisdiction, Tendring officials also took a hard knock on the lucrative private leasing market (for around £200 a day) without council approval. . This brouhaha in Essex is in no way isolated, but rather speaks of a fad that has gripped the nation since the start of the pandemic and has shown no signs of abating this summer – the search for a small stretch of beach.

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 colorful curve of beach huts in the bay. “I thought it would be so nice to have one,” she says. She stopped to talk to the tenants, who politely told her 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 house, you basically have to wait until someone dies.’

There are around 20,000 beach huts in the UK and they are now more popular than ever. A beach hut at Mudeford Spit, in Bournemouth, recently sold for £570,000

It’s not just that securing a Broadstairs cabin takes a lot of patience – it also involves strategy. ‘You can’t write your name down in general. You have to pick a hut and get on the waiting list for that specific hut’, Anna continues. Inside information about current tenants can then be valuable: ‘There’s a lot of, ‘I heard Maureen in cabin 34 complained about the rising rates – write your name for it.’

There are about 20,000 beach huts in the UK and they are hotter than ever. Our beach resorts have skyrocketed in popularity since overseas travel was restricted by Covid; Southend Pier, for example, had more than 74,000 visitors last August – the highest number since records began. “Demand has skyrocketed,” confirms Lee Betchley, a Hose Rhodes Dickson real estate agent on the Isle of Wight.

It is therefore not surprising that the prices of beach houses have increased by 41 percent in 2021. ‘Three or four years ago you could buy a beach cottage in a prime location on the Isle of Wight for £5,000 or £6,000,’ says Betchley. “You’re looking at something between £18,000 and £25,000 now, and people are staring all the time.” In some areas, the prices might make you think you were buying on the Cote d’Azur rather than the coast of Britain: a small hut in Abersoch, North Wales, recently sold for £200,000. In Southwold, Suffolk, a ten-foot-wide property with a small veranda was for sale for £250,000 and has also been sold. To be clear, these are not vacation homes: cabins have no electricity or running water, and most municipalities don’t allow owners to sleep in them.

Mudeford Spit, in Bournemouth, has the occasional exception to that rule: buy a cabin there and you can sleep in it eight nights a year. You’re paying for the privilege: one recently sold for £570,000. The real estate agent Denisons manages most of the cabin sales in the area and reports that they always go to the auction, with at least 10 buyers on standby year round, ready for anything to come.

There is a nine-year waiting list. You actually have to wait for the owner to die

If you can’t get a foot on the beach hut ladder, there is the option to rent in some areas – but even this is tricky. In Gower, South Wales, Swansea Council holds a raffle every summer to rent out cabins in Langland Bay; yet, a local resident confides, “I’m desperate for it. Everyone I know applied this year and failed.’ The council says demand has always been high, but has increased since the pandemic – this year there were more than 1,000 requests for 80 cabins.

IN THE MOST EXPENSIVE HUT

Inside Britain's most expensive beach hut, which was sold to a cash buyer for £570,000

Inside Britain’s most expensive beach hut, which was sold to a cash buyer for £570,000

It measures 13ft by 10ft, is made of wood and has no mains electricity, toilet or washing facilities. But in 2022 Britain’s most expensive beach hut, Hut 180 on the Mudeford Sandbank in Dorset, sold for £570,000 to a cash buyer.

Sleeping six people between April and October, the cabin is an ‘excellent location’ with views of the Isle of White from the front but is not accessible by car and is a 20 minute walk from the nearest road.

Inside, the ‘high spec’ layout includes a fitted kitchen with a boiler operated by solar panels on the roof and an oven powered by a gas cylinder. The seating area can be converted into two double beds and there is a staircase leading to a mezzanine floor which can sleep two more people. Laundry facilities are located in an adjacent communal shower block.

Given the difficulty of purchase, it’s not surprising that people want to personalize their cabins when securing them (although Tendring owners may want to think twice before fully expressing their creative impulses). Betchley and his family share a cabin on the Isle of Wight; they bought it 25 years ago for £900. ‘It’s a lot of fun,’ he agrees. “People here paint their cabins in candy stripes and deck them out. One I sold recently was decorated in a vintage style and the owners had a wind-up phonograph.”

But along with the pretty pastels, the sundowners and the bunting can come pretty strong opinions. In Felixstowe, Suffolk, owners of historic beach huts (backed by actor and comedian Griff Rhys Jones, who is president of the Victorian Society) are arguing with the council about moving them from the boardwalk to other locations. The furious owners have since applied for monument status for their cabins.

And woe to those who don’t behave in a certain way to become a cabin owner. In Worthing, Sussex, a woman was evicted from her hut last year after owners of nearby huts complained of loud swearing, music and honking as she passed by in her car.

Even if you can manage not to upset your neighbors with an ‘out there’ color scheme or an overly ambitious card game, there are the financial add-ons to navigate. Chances are that you will have to pay ground lease and may need a permit. Denisons explains that owners in Mudeford Spit pay the council £4,000 to £5,000 a year. Owners are also responsible for maintaining their cabins and sometimes even replacing them if they become too weathered by wind and sea spray. ‘The Isle of Wight council carries out an annual inspection and you will receive a letter if your roof is in poor condition,’ says Betchley.

If you’re hoping to buy, cabins often hit the market in the fall. “Just move fast,” he advises. “Don’t bid on cabins – get in quickly, for the asking price.” When asked if his family will ever sell theirs, Betchley laughs and says no – because to give up on this great British dream would take you crazy.

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