Londoner Stuart Maister admits he’s a lockdown cliché. Until Covid-19 arrived, he’d had no plans to leave Crouch End in north London, where he’d been for 25 years. But he found lockdown in the city stifling and moved to Brighton, in East Sussex, where he’s taken up sea swimming and beach volleyball.
“I just needed to be by the sea,” says Maister, 60, who co-runs Mutual Value, a business consultancy. “Brighton popped into my head — I didn’t even consider anywhere else — and I moved down in January.” While renting a two-bedroom flat on the seafront in Kemptown, he bought a place to rent out on Airbnb. “Many of my friends from [London] are following suit,” he says.
Formed of two Regency seaside resorts that unified in 1997 and gained city status four year later, Brighton & Hove is arguably more akin to the capital than anywhere else on the south coast: a creative and liberal city with strong tech and student populations.
According to Paul Taggart of Hamptons’ Brighton office, the agency’s database of buyers from London has quadrupled since the pandemic started. “Many people have realised they don’t need to be in the capital now and will continue remote working,” he says.
Anyone caught out by a hasty recall to their London workplace will face an average train journey of 1hr 20 — for Maister, it’s generally a two-hour trip to City meetings.
Imran Hassan has been looking for a four-bedroom family home (with a budget of £850,000 to £1.5m) for a year, although moving from a village in the West Midlands, Brighton represents a gear change up, not down. He and his wife Emma run baby clothing company Lilly & Sid and want to live somewhere with more energy now their eldest child is off to university.
Their focus has been Kemptown, the area between Brighton Palace Pier and the Marina, which is full of eclectic cafés, bars and antique shops; and around Queens Park, an attractive public garden surrounded by Victorian villas.
“We have been outbid twice, it’s definitely a sellers’ market,” says the 48-year-old. “But, as a mixed couple, we love the open-minded feel of the city.”
Ivan Caglione, 36, who moved to Regency Square in central Brighton from Milan nine years ago, also prizes the variety and inclusivity — Brighton is often ranked as the UK’s second-most LBGTQ friendly city after London. “It’s got a bit of everything: I head to Kemptown for a lively night, the Lanes [a warren of narrow streets filled with boutiques, antique shops and tea rooms] for some classic Brighton, or Hove for a laid-back Sunday.”
Access to the independent schools — Roedean School, Brighton College, Brighton Girls and Lancing College — often dictates where families look for houses, says Taggart.
The seafront area around Roedean secondary girls’ school in the east of the city offers houses on large plots. “Most properties are detached, some might need work, but can cost £2m,” says Taggart, although you can find houses for as little as £700,000.
Built in 2013, a six-bedroom, 9,500 sq ft Art Deco-style property in the area is currently for sale for £4m, making it the most expensive house on the market. “It could beat the previous sales record for Brighton of £3.4m,” says David Vaughan of Brand Vaughan, the estate agency that carries the listing.
Large houses on generous plots also make Withdean, north-west of central Brighton, popular with families — but those for whom proximity to Brighton station is more important might prefer the handsome Regency terraces and villas around the conservation areas of Queens Park or Montpelier and Clifton Hill.
Nearby Seven Dials is a bit more hipster, while Fiveways is popular for its village of coffee shops and cafés, including a branch of the Brighton chain, the Flour Pot Bakery — with three-bedroom Edwardian terraced houses from £700,000 to £900,000.
In the Hanover neighbourhood, Aless Baylis and her partner bought one of the brightly coloured Victorian terraced houses that the area is famed for, after leaving east London seven years ago. “I liked the family-friendly atmosphere and being only 10 minutes’ walk from all the independent shops and galleries of the Lanes,” says Baylis, 37, a former illustrator who set up Pim Pam, a reusable nappy company, last year and has children aged one and three. “We’ve got three great state primary schools within walking distance.”
She originally wanted to move to Hove but was priced out. “Affordability is a big issue — and we couldn’t afford to buy our home now because it has increased over £100,000 in [the three years since they bought it],” she says. “I have friends who are teachers or other professionals who are having to move out to the fringes to afford a three-bedroom house for their budget of £400,000-£475,000 — to areas such as Hollingdean,” she adds.
Brighton is relatively bereft of major new-build developments but in this area in the north of Brighton a £150m regeneration of the former Preston Barracks site at Moulsecoomb will include Optivo’s Home X, a scheme of 369 new homes with affordable housing and shared ownership options, prices from £285,000 for a one-bed apartment. It includes the new University of Brighton campus and student accommodation.
In Hove, a little stretch of beachfront properties along the Western Esplanade is known as being the area’s “millionaires’ row”. The area is typically favoured by families for the fact it offers a bigger choice of houses with good-sized gardens, says Toby Powell of estate agency Winkworth. Hove Park and the three Pembroke roads are prime spots for their Victorian housing stock, and “Poet’s Corner”, a pocket of roads named after famous bards, is extremely popular.
“A month ago, we sold a three-bedroom house on Byron Street for just under £600,000 after back-to-back viewings all day. It went to a Brighton family but the viewings were split 50/50 between locals and Londoners.”
In recent years, property investors have been tempted to rent their homes on the short-term rental market, rather than to long-term tenants, says Powell. Numbers were hit by the pandemic, however. According to AirDNA, which tracks the short-term rentals market, the number of properties listed on Airbnb has reduced from 2,788 in August 2019 to 2,225 in August 2021. Among the new listings added this year is Maister’s, a two-bedroom mews cottage that he will live in himself during the winters.
Some hosts have had to adapt since the pandemic, says Kelly Scales, founder of Airhost For You, a company that manages short-term rental properties. “When tourists stopped arriving, a number of flats were either used by key workers [for self-isolating] or have been booked for much longer periods by people renting here with a view to buying.” Yet large properties popular for big family gatherings, corporate lets or hen parties sat empty for long periods. “International tourists are still few and far between,” she says.
Caglione says the drop in international students — many of whom attend language schools — and the European restaurant staff who have departed is very noticeable in Brighton, and could have a lasting effect on the area. “The fresh influx of foreign arrivals the city relies on has not happened and next year some businesses might struggle.”
Brighton in East Sussex is 47 miles south of London. There are railway stations at Brighton (Queens Road), Preston Park and Hove. The fastest train route to London is 52 minutes.
The average house price in Brighton & Hove has increased from £107,030 in 2000 to £393,160 in 2021, according to Hamptons, with a 63 per cent increase over the past decade.
Since 2016, the gap between the average property price in London and Brighton has fallen from £130,000 to £106,000.
What you can buy for . . .
£625,000 A two-bedroom period flat on Hove’s sought-after seafront Brunswick Terrace, for sale with Winkworth.
£1.1m A five-bedroom semi-detached Victorian villa in Hove, on the market with Hamptons.
£2.5m A five-bedroom Arts and Crafts-style house with outdoor pool, within walking distance of Roedean School, available through Winkworth.