By Nick Pelling 

Behind the Covid quietness of the streets of Hastings, a noisy clamour for flats is developing. Demand is flying ahead of supply. The consequence: rents and prices are moving sharply upwards. Whether that’s good or bad news for the town depends on your viewpoint.

Phoebe, at John Bray estate agents, comments that current interest in rental flats is now “absolutely crazy”. This picture is confirmed by other agencies. Rush, Witt and Wilson say that they were getting 20 or more phone calls for a flat on the very day it was listed. The sales market is just as feverish. The M&W agency say that they recently received seven offers in one day for one flat in Warrior Square. A local resident, who has just rapidly sold her flat, describes Hastings right now as “hot-cakes central”. The property company, home.co.uk, calculates that asking prices for flats in St Leonards have risen by 18% over the last year. (Compare this to national statistics showing average housing price rises over the last year as around 8.5%). The atmosphere in the rest of Hastings is much the same: Just estate agents in the Old Town say they have “never been busier”.

Property excitement here is often attributed to the so-called ‘down from London’ phenomenon. And it is undoubtedly the case that migration from the absurdly expensive capital is part of the picture. The same is true of the noted ‘over from Brighton’ side wave.  Hastings certainly provides what President Eisenhower once called ‘more bang for your buck.’ The stamp duty ‘holiday’ has undoubtedly amplified this bang. 

Enter Covid-19

But what has really accelerated the current mini-boom is Covid-19. Many companies have now discovered that their workers really can be trusted to work at home. That’s something of a game-changer. This shift has helped people to see the possibilities of escaping office land.  Also, at a deeper level, people are fleeing the big cities and seeking the seaside, almost like a return to the old Regency taste for ‘taking the sea air.’ Even so haughty a magazine as The Spectator has just run an article, by James Max, on the desirability of the ‘coastal bolt-hole’, illustrated by a photograph of an expensive
St Leonards property. 

However, one person’s boom-time is another’s bleak squeeze. While there’s  no evidence that buy-to-let developers or unscrupulous landlords are swooping in, or that the town is filling with what used to be called yuppies, the bagging of second homes has gone up nationally by 58% in the last year and Hastings is caught up in that trend. The resultant price rises are likely to cause real difficulty for people on low incomes or furlough. 

At its most damaging, the current escalation in rentals could powerfully increase the squeeze on cheaper accommodation in the town. And as the government gradually relaxes its temporary protections for vulnerable
people, such as the current ban on evictions, the underlying effects will really be felt. Cllr Andy Batsford, cabinet member for Housing and Homelessness in Hastings Borough Council, suggests that we may see a “slow tsunami” of housing problems after the pandemic has ended. But it also seems likely that the upswing in prices will continue. Who said
that this seaside town didn’t have a major roller coaster?


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