Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 August 2019

For Dh1 million, should you buy a Dubai apartment or a UK beach hut?

Prices are soaring for a small, wooden slice of English coastal life

'Have you ever, ever felt like this, how strange things happen are you going round the twist?'

It's the words to a theme tune that will sound familiar to the cohort of millennials who spent their younger days glued to the television.

It was so catchy that it could, like the programme name itself, send you Round the Twist as it refused to budge from your mind whether you were a regular viewer or not.

The Australian show, which followed the adventures of a widowed father and his three children who lived in a lighthouse, ran for almost a decade, though I probably saw only a handful of episodes some time in the first half of the wonderful era that was the 1990s.

I'd forgotten the show existed until a recent trip to the quaint seaside town of Southwold on England's east coast, when, on pulling back the blinds in the house I was renting, there standing before me was the most tremendous lighthouse I'd seen since watching Round the Twist two decades earlier.

And then it began ... 'Have you ever, ever felt like this ...'. And there it remains ingrained in my head three weeks later.

While the lighthouse is the centrepiece of the town, it isn't necessarily its crowning glory, for that is reserved for what stands a little closer to the water's edge.

Social standing in some parts can depend on what street you live on, how many bedrooms you have or how big your plot of land stretches to. In Southwold, which boasts George Orwell as a former resident, you can inch your way up the ladder through ownership of a beach hut.

Now, these aren't your traditional, rickety old beach huts battered by endless winter storms and probably yet to be repaired from damage caused by the great storm of 1987.

These are little marvels with a fresh lick of paint displayed in colour co-ordinated patterns. A veranda offers a place to sit out and watch the world go by, from children making endless sandcastles to the huge seagulls attempting to swoop down to steal an ice cream (or even a dog as reported elsewhere recently).

Each hut has lovingly been given a name by its owners, with favourites ranging from 'Ma's bar' to 'Plaice and Ships'.

Beach huts at Southwold. The National
Beach huts at Southwold. The National

Net curtains behind fold-out double doors offer privacy while changing out of wet clothes after a therapeutic swim among the icy waves. There's room for a table and a few chairs, a worktop to prepare food and a hot stove to provide a warm drink or two on those days when the sky refuses to break.

It's a slice of quintessential England and the perfect place to retire to and forget the rest of the world exists.

I had the joy of using such a hut for a week and admit it was difficult removing oneself from a deck chair while staring out towards the horizon at nothing in particular. Its name was 'Doubledays' on the premise that you get double the amount of enjoyment there from a single day compared to elsewhere.

I've seen better beaches in places such as Perth and Majorca. I've experienced better climates just about everywhere, and the North Sea water is one of the murkier shades of grey. But the clean air clears the mind, and the sounds of the waves rolling up and down the shingle soothe the soul.

There's a caveat however.

If it seems like a great way to park a few dirhams for your annual summer return to the UK, or if you fancy owning a small wooden albeit pretty box by the sea as an act of vanity then you need to consider that for the same amount of money you could buy a two-bedroom apartment in Dubai Marina. And those apartments, at the very least, have running water.

We're talking Dh1 million, or in the region of £200,000, according to local estate agents I spoke to in Southwold.

The price, like with all property, depends largely on location, with those south of the pier selling for more than those to the north side further away from the town centre. Four years ago, the British media were making a fuss when there was one for sale at £120,000 as first-time buyers struggled to get on the housing ladder up and down the country following the financial crisis of 2008.

I was told they don't come on the market often, and interest certainly hadn't been on the wane amid the Brexit uncertainty of the past few years.

Many of Southwold's homes and huts sit empty during the winter as they are used as second properties by wealthy Londoners who descend only in the summer months. Disgruntled locals are said to have been priced out of buying the homes themselves.

Away from the dreaming and on to a more serious level, would it actually make sense to spend Dh1m on a beach hut?

As an investment in which you wish to recoup your money, no. I paid £200 for the week (Dh1,000), and, even if you made double that on the most prime, palatial hut on this stretch of coastline you could only expect to rent it out for a few months of the year when the weather is fair.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - August 05, 2019: Stock. General view of The Marina. Monday the 5th of August 2019. The Marina, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Dubai Marina, where a two-bedroom apartment can be bought for Dh1m or less. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Dubai on the other hand is experiencing an ongoing drop in prices, with a 3.8 per cent year-on-year fall in prime areas during the first six months of this year according to real estate consultancy Savills.

Over a five-year period, the price of prime residential units in Dubai has dropped 19.7 per cent, but the fall in prices offers an opportunity to investors, and Savills says the city offers a return on investment of 4.6 per cent.

Whether its Dubai or Southwold, either way life's beach.

Updated: August 5, 2019 07:34 PM

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