What impact is the pandemic having on second homes?

  • By ITV Wales journalist Ciara Cohen-Ennis

Second homes and their effects on local communities has been a hotly debated topic for many years in many areas of Wales, but for locals and lawmakers trying to deal with the issues, the pandemic may be changing the landscape in ways no one had predicted.

The Welsh Government raised taxes on second homes in December after campaigns from locals priced out of the market. Some authorities are currently considering further increases.

In Gwynedd, 6849 houses are second homes or holiday accommodation. There are currently more than 2700 people on the social housing waiting list in the area.

Cllr Catrin O'Neill, from Aberdyfi, has recently been able to buy a farm near where she grew up, after living in a caravan for four years. She said it was more affordable because of having a Towyn postcode, despite being between Towyn and Aberdyfi.

Catrin grew up in the village of Aberdyfi Credit: ITV Wales

Catrin said: "Aberdyfi has some of the highest house prices in Wales. And it's not far off in the whole UK.

"I grew up looking at this sea view every morning, my mum and dad's house is just there.

"But my little boy won't be looking at this view every morning, because we basically can't afford it. When you consider my mum, when she was in school in the 1950s, there were two primary schools in the village with around 100 children. Now, as of this year, we have no primary school and we have less than 10 children in a village.

"The issues that are now facing a lot of rural communities in the UK, not just in Wales have been issues in Aberdyfi for 20 or 30 years, like the increase in holiday properties and the decline in our amenities and our actual population."

Chartered building surveyor Vanessa Hardwick said, "As soon as the market started opening again it has been very hectic, very, very busy, with lots of people taking advantage of changes in the stamp duty for the time being.

"And I think people are just looking around their own houses and thinking, it's time for a change and trying to move.

"There is a shift for people looking at semi detached properties and detached properties now so there's a demand for those type of properties. And estate agents are really busy, they're not even having time to put them on online or on the market because there's a waiting list."

Remote working has encouraged some to move to the countryside or coast Credit: ITV Wales

With more people working remotely during the pandemic, some from outside the area have made the decision to move permanently to villages like Aberdyfi rather than seeing it as a location for holiday homes. Catrin said this is a "boost" for the community".

"Because people have realised they can work from home and come to the village we’ve had some lovely people move to Aberdyfi in the last few months. It's brought people to live here that possibly wouldn't have thought about it. Because we're all doing stuff on Zoom."

Though there are some concerns about how it might change the area.

Catrin said: "Certainly, people moving into the area does change the demographic of the community. It does have impacts on the Welsh language and it does have impact on how people vote."

Gwynedd Council said it also means locals are competing with cash buyers, making it more difficult for them to purchase houses.

To help tackle the problem, the council's cabinet has decided to borrow more than £15 million to buy affordable homes to rent to locals. This week, the cabinet sent a recommendation to raise the council tax premium paid on second home properties from its current 50% premium to 100% premium.