Kirsty McLuckie: Some second home thoughts

Holiday homes are a contentious issue, but the problems they create vary with their location.

In Edinburgh – particularly during August – complaints are often heard from residents living in flats where neighbouring properties are let short term to those wanting to party throughout their stay.

North Berwick and Ullapool were recently named on a list compiled by Rightmove of 20 UK coastal areas where locals are priced out of home ownership, due to demand from second home buyers.

And in rural villages people who want to live there year-round struggle to find affordable accommodation. The type of idyllic cottage which appeals to a young family is exactly the kind of retreat to which wealthier folk seek to escape the city at the weekends, or let to holidaymakers.

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And so the most attractive villages around the UK can become ghost towns during the week and through the winter.

Even second home owners complain that it is increasingly hard to employ people for lettings changeovers, missing the irony that this is a direct result of lower-paid workers having nowherecost-effective to live in the locality.

The knock-on effect can be seen in dwindling school rolls and meagre numbers volunteering for community enterprises.

At a recent consultation event in my village in Argyll, a suggestion was made to ban second home owners, and similar measures are being considered elsewhere.

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Whitby residents recently voted that all new housing should be restricted to full-time occupiers.

The Welsh Government has announced that second homes could pay four times their current level of council tax, in a move that is being watched closely by Holyrood.

It is to be remembered, however, that second home owners already pay more than they do for a principal residence. Last month, money from landlords, investors and second home owners, with their additional dwelling supplement of 4 per cent, added £16.9 million to the Scottish Government tax take.

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And not all second home owners are the type demonised by campaigners. In our area of the West Coast, most are deeply embedded in the community. The typical buyer is not a fly-by-night visitor, but a household transitioning into a life in the country before a permanent move.

Those who rent their homes out ensure a weekly influx of cash for local services – the pub and shop probably couldn’t survive on the custom of residents alone.

And there is hope that the problem of second homes may correct itself, without the need for social engineering. With a rise in working from home, living rurally becomes viable to the economically active, which could see a huge demographic shift in years to come.

Low-paid workers will always find rural areas a struggle to afford, but this is as much due to low levels of existing housing stock as anything else. New-builds, flats and terraces, which would fall into in a first-time buyer’s price range, are rare.

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Therein lies the real problem – building the right type of affordable homes for rural residents is a more sustainable solution than banning second homes.

- Kirsty McLuckie is property editor at The Scotsman