Househunters are snapping up homes in a North Wales village that is set to be submerged under water in the next 30 years.
The village of Fairbourne in Gwynedd has seen a rise in people looking to purchase houses and bungalows, despite the area destined to disappear beneath the waves.
Property prices in the village have shot up by 35 per cent in the last year, according to Rightmove.
All purchasers are however thought to be cash buyers, as few lenders will offer mortgages in a place with such an uncertain future, reports North Wales Live.
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Climate change, and the speed at which it is taking hold, is what will eventually push Fairbourne residents out of the area due to rising sea levels.
In the years leading up to 2054, homes are to be leveled in the seaside village.
Gas pipes and electricity pylons will be dismantled and, to add insult to injury, residents may be asked to contribute thousands of pounds for the privilege of razing their homes.
Compensation is not an incentive as this is not being offered to the 420 homeowners forced to abandon Fairbourne when the village is ‘decommissioned’ in the run-up to 2054.
From that date onward, the village’s seawall will no longer be maintained in the face of rising sea levels and there will not be any more money spent on defending the community.
One cohort driving the unlikely house price surges is thought to be second home and holiday let buyers.
Another is the recently retired who are happy to spend their pension pots without worrying about investment prospects.
Property prices in the village have been rising since the start of the Covid pandemic, setting pace last year as Fairbourne enjoyed a staycation boom.
It is estimated that a quarter of the properties are now second and holiday homes.
“Fairbourne is suffering the same fate as places like Nefyn and Aberdyfi,” said one resident, who spoke to North Wales Live and asked not to be named.
“Late last year I had a look down Penrhyn Drive (on the seafront) and I was staggered by the number of properties that are now second homes and holiday lets.
“I suppose it makes sense. If you can get £1,200-£1,300-a-week for letting a property in the summer, you will soon cover its purchase price.”
Over the last 15 years, property prices in the village have fluctuated drastically.
In 2014 when residents discovered they were to become Britain’s first “climate refugees”, the local property market crashed.
House sales fell through, mortgage offers were hurriedly withdrawn and prices slumped 40%.
Of those who could afford to take the hit, many left. Those forced to remain, felt “trapped”, said one resident. There were concerns Fairbourne would become a “ghost village”, its homes and amenities left to deteriorate in the absence of habitation and investment.
However, the predicted downward spiral hasn’t happened. In fact, Fairbourne appears to be thriving.
Last November a two-bedroom, semi-detached house in Belgrave Road fetched £129,950, having sold for £45,000 in 2002.
Four months earlier, its neighbor went for £125,000, more than three times its price in May 2001 (£37,000).
Some increases were even more spectacular: a three-bedroom bungalow on Ffordd Corsen snapped up for £65,000 in April 2017, was sold for £195,000 last July.
Selling up but staying put
One long-time resident, recently widowed, is currently selling her home and so has seen first-hand the buoyancy of local property prices.
She chose to downsize to another house in Fairbourne because she loves the village and has confidence in its prospects.
“I could move to be nearer my son in England but house prices are much higher there and so are crime rates,” said the pensioner, who also asked not to be named.
“As a retired person, I want to live in a safe area and there is virtually no crime here.
“Fairbourne is also a vibrant community with lots of shops and amenities.
“It might be different if I was a young doctor with children to educate: retaining skilled young professionals in the village is one of the problems we face.”
With more and more people wanting to settle on the Gwynedd coast, lured from England’s cities, Fairbourne’s post-2014 property crash made the village more affordable to those who might otherwise have struggled to find somewhere suitable.
Mainly they are retired people with a lump sum or a house of their own to sell
“They accept what’s going to happen here but they are of an age where there may not be around in 25 years’ time,” said the first resident.
“They might not have children or they are not too worried about leaving an inheritance.”
To progress their plans they might have to disregard professional advice. Last week one potential buyer pulled out of a house purchase in Fairbourne following warnings from their solicitor.
Others, however, are happy to accept the situation for what it is.
Investment in tourism
Fairbourne’s residents can sign up for local flood warnings and more than 98% of households have done so.
This currently shows that around 25% of properties in the village are second homes and holiday lets – and the figure is rising steadily.
For a place that depends heavily on tourism, there are mixed feelings about this trend.
Some people welcome investment in properties that might otherwise be left empty or deteriorating.
Others worry about the potential effect on local amenities and services.
“One big concern is the affordability of property for younger people who want to stay in the village,” said the first resident.
“As they struggle to get a mortgage, they have to rely on the Bank of Mum and Dad – who tend not to have £150,000 going spare.”
Nevertheless, Fairbourne’s property prices are low enough to attract buy-to-let investors despite their built-in obsolescence.
In turn this has fueled the village’s tourism economy and provided work for locals that might otherwise be hard to find.
For some, however, there have been downsides to the proliferation of Airbnbs and other holiday rentals.
“We’re seeing more and more holiday pods and shepherd’s hut appearing in people’s gardens,” said the pensioner moving house.
“I’m not quite sure that it’s entirely appropriate. The problem is that Gwynydd’s planning officers are struggling to keep up with the rapid escalation of Airbnbs.”
For all the recent price rises, the local property market has yet to fully recover from the post-2014 crash.
Last year, according to Rightmove, the 15 properties sold in Fairbourne averaged £122,530, down 10% on the 2007 peak of £136,786.
Inevitably, leaseholds have suffered the most. Last April the lease on a ground-floor flat on Beach Road changed hands for £48,000, well down on the £84,000 it was worth in 2007.
Confidence in the area
Fairbourne is not the only community in the area witnessing a house price surge. In neighboring Arthog, sold prices were 71% up in 2021, reported Rightmove.
Across the Mawddach estuary, property prices in Barmouth climbed 49% last year and were 30% up on the 2019 peak of £199,860.
Network Rail has shown confidence in the area by investing £30m on a revamp of Barmouth Viaduct, which carries the Cambrian Line railway through the heart of Fairbourne.
This, it said, will preserve the grade 11-listed bridge so that it “can continue to serve local people and attract visitors to the area for generations to come.”
The pensioner shortly moving house said Fairbourne sometimes attracts a little too much pessimism.
Other communities in Wales are likely to face a similar fate but the spotlight always seems to fall on a village where English is the main language.
Natural Resources Wales, the environmental body, deserves applause, she said, as it ensures the areas’ drainage ditches are well maintained. It also responds quickly if the seawall is threatened, she said.
She added: “In the 2014 storms, the seawall was damaged but we didn’t flood, unlike places like Aberystwyth, Barmouth and many others.
“In fact the only time there was significant flooding here was in 1924, and that was caused by rain coming down from the mountains.”