At 7.55pm a few months ago, my wife’s mobile phone alarm went off while we sat eating dinner. ‘What’s that for?’ I asked.
‘It’s a five minute reminder for myself. There is a new beach hut available to book from 8pm and if we don’t get on the website straightaway, it’ll sell out by five past.’
A beach hut? Had my wife lost the plot? As someone who loves Caribbean holidays and the finer things in life, I couldn’t imagine her on a kiss-me-quick British beach for the day, nor battling throngs of families (weather dependent), or queuing for an overpriced Whippy, let alone battling for a hut booking like it was Glastonbury tickets.
But, sure enough, she went onto the website – having spotted the hut on Instagram – and bagged it for the recent Bank Holiday. And she was right, within minutes of booking opening, the booking page had become a sea of red blocked out dates.
Not bad: Essex has one of the longest coastlines of any county in England – and has plenty of spots, like Walton-on-the-Naze (pictured) with an array of beach huts
We’d never been to a beach hut before. I’d admired plenty in the past on the seafront close to where we live, namely at Thorpe Bay, and other places further afield like Bournemouth, but couldn’t imagine booking one.
I’ve always been a hut snob. It’s essentially a shed, on a beach.
However, deciding earlier in the year that overseas holidays were pretty much off limits, for £75 for a day it seemed a relatively cheap way for four of us and our small daughter to spend the day with a guaranteed spot at the beach.
We’re not alone. A few months ago a piece in Money Mail suggested that on the list of where our lockdown savings cash would head, beach huts were near the top of the desires, both to book and buy.
With my beach adventure fresh in the mind, this week, Consumer Trends looks at the beach hut frenzy and whether it’s here to stay.
The celebrity, the hen party and the retirement do
The hut, named Lottie, was in West Mersea – a spot an hour away from where we live, and somewhere we usually visit once a year anyway.
The company, The Little Beach Hut Company, has four beautifully decorated huts – all of which are now booked out until mid-September.
The beaches in Mersea aren’t as nice as Walton-on-the-Naze, Frinton or Clacton, as it is on the Blackwater Estuary rather than the North Sea, but for that reason it is a little more refined and quiet.
Celeb life: TV presenter Denise Van Outen was also on West Mersea (we were hut 205)
We set off early and when we arrived, immediately took advantage of the creature comforts a hut offers, making ourselves a cuppa and – from our plum spot – watching a couple, through my father-in-law’s binoculars, as they waded into the mudflats with a bucket.
A little while later they came back with it overflowing with oysters and a few hours after that, I saw them on a bench shucking them open to eat.
A few doors down to the left of us was TV personality Denise Van Outen and her partner Eddie, who I later found likes a stylish beach hut pic on Instagram, and a few doors to the right of us was a fascinating site – a retirement do and a hen party side-by-side, enjoying the huts and having a great time.
The hen party had lanterns, wicker benches and some low-level house music on. Ibiza had come to this pocket of Essex.
It also gives you an indication as to the diverse bunch booking these huts in lockdown times: Celebrities, surely used to fancier spots for their trips; a hen party which would probably also be in a European city; and a retirement do which usually down the local pub.
The hut had a little gas stove where I cooked some sausages for lunch, boiled the kettle for coffees, and it had running water and all the things you need for a successful beach day – wind breaker, umbrella, loungers and buckets for the kids. All this with no battling café queues or lugging stuff around.
The weather, fortunately, was perfect, and after arriving at 8.30am and leaving at 6.30pm, I work that out as £7.50 per hour, or under £2 an hour each. That’s good value. I might have had different views if the weather was bad and we’d visited on the first May Bank Holiday instead of the second.
Owners see a glut of bookings
Demand for beach huts to rent and buy has never been stronger, according to website Beachhuts which has them available on 40 beaches across Britain.
It said that in April, it ‘recorded its best ever month for bookings and attracted more than 50,000 visitors to the site, and last month we broke both those records again – and it’s not even peak season.’
It says traffic this year is the highest on record for this time period, and is on track to smash the record set last year. Since the pandemic began in March 2020, traffic to the site is up 300 per cent.
A book that can help pay for your holiday
Last month saw the launch of my book Never Go Broke.
It is the ideal holiday read, whether you get to go overseas or have a break in the UK.
That’s because if you use some of the tips inside, it could help you pay back some of the outlay of your trip.
The trend has been boosted by people not booking overseas holidays and the rise of the colourful Instagram-worthy spaces on social media.
Louisa, from the Little Beach Hut Company, tells me: ‘More of our bookings have come off of the back of social media than previously.
‘As our social media following increases more people find out about us and then some of these people will go on to book.’
Additionally, BBC television programme Interior Design Masters with Alan Carr, earlier in the year set a challenge for the contestants to do one up, and that again could have also led to a mini-boom in interest.
Louisa, along with her friend Katrina, started out by buying one for personal use nearly 10 years ago.
The entrpreneurs told me: ‘Over the next eight years we bought and sold several huts making money each time as prices increased.’
They then bought the Little Beach Hut Company business last summer, with three huts, then adding an extra one to the portfolio in March.
They said: ‘We’ve certainly seen an increase in bookings. They were up last autumn on previous years and this has continued into this year.
‘We saw more bookings than usual during the spring and by early May we were totally fully booked in all four of our beach huts until September. And September is already 80 per cent filled, with several bookings in October also.
‘Whilst the vast majority of our bookings are for single days, we have seen a big increase in multiple day bookings this year with the rise of the staycation. One customer has even booked a hut for nine days.
‘We are currently receiving enquiries on a daily basis and have no doubt we could fill a fifth hut over the summer months if we had one.’
Popular: This beach hut in Thorpe Bay was recently listed for £70,000
How much do huts cost to buy?
An issue of supply and demand is likely to be pushing up the prices of beach huts. There are only 20,000 of them dotted across the country, and only in some areas. If you want to buy hut, you’ll find they are in hot demand.
Hotel bookings website Hoo says the average asking price for a beach hut in Britain has surged 41 per cent in a year, from £25,578 to £36,034.
Earlier in the year, it was reported a beach hut in Mudeford Spit in Dorset sold for £325,000.
Nice little earner?
In peak season, it is likely a hut can be rented out for up to £100 per day, depending on the location and how well it has been maintained.
For four months of the year, this could potentially mean around £12,000 in rental revenue.
This doesn’t factor in general wear and tear upkeep, cleaning costs or insurance., as we point out below.
Charlie Ramsay, chief executive of Beachhuts, says that prices are only heading one way currently.
‘One hut in Wells-next-the-Sea on the north Norfolk coast was advertised for sale in April at £83,000 — itself a 20 per cent jump on last year. It received 10 expressions of interest and sold for £92,000 two weeks later.
‘They don’t stay on the site for very long, the average being four weeks.’
He says: ‘The average asking price since 2019 has been over £40,000. This has more than doubled since 2015 when the average listing was just £18,000.’
Louise tells me why they plumped for a beach hit business.
She says: ‘We both lost sadly our mums to cancer in the past few years and found ourselves with inheritances that we did not know what to do with.
‘We felt a huge pressure on ourselves to use the money wisely and when we saw the advert for the company at the end of the first lockdown it felt like it was meant to be, a chance to take their legacy forward and use it for something very positive for ourselves and our families.
‘We were aware that beach huts go up in value over time like other property and it was a way of investing the money that also provided an income for us both. I
‘I had previously been thinking about investing in a beach hut for personal use so the idea of the business was really appealing to me.
‘I knew Karina was in a similar financial position to myself and we were both looking for a new challenge after having our children.’
Are beach huts a good investment?
For some, a beah hut could represent a good investment opportunity, with the ability to book in a few weekends use for yourself over the year and rent for the rest of the time.
However, as Louisa points out, there are plenty of hidden costs to mull over before taking the plunge.
She says: ‘Beach hut value has risen steadily over the last few years and they seem to be a sound investment.
‘As we run them as a business we generate income from the huts which offsets the costs of maintaining them, insurance, council rates and commercial licenses. If buying for personal use, these costs would all need to be considered within terms of the investment return.
‘As a ballpark we would say to budget around £500 on average per year on maintenance, sometimes less sometimes more. They are exposed to the elements so wood needs replacing every so often. Our newest hut Lottie is covered in hardy plank so her yearly maintenance costs are much lower.
As a ballpark we would say to budget around £500 on average per year on maintenance, sometimes less sometimes more. They are exposed to the elements so wood needs replacing every so often.
Louisa – Little Beach Hut Company
‘Insurance per hut is circa £300, which is slightly higher as we hire them out, and Council rates per hut is circa £200
‘Commercial licences per hut are circa £800 because we hire ours, you wouldn’t spend this for personal use only.
‘We have seen ourselves the increase in hut prices over the last year, with the three huts we purchased as part of the business in June last year all being worth more now.
‘We bought Lottie nine months after the other three huts and she was definitely more expensive. We believe the hut’s value has continued to rise since we bought her in March based on what else is selling locally now.
‘You can expect to pay anything up to £50,000 for a front row hut at West Mersea currently. We were surprised to have just seen a second row hut sell for around £40,000, which is a significant increase on their prices last year.’
What should you look out for if you are tempted? Louisa adds: ‘When looking for a hut one of the most important factors would be if it is structurally sound as maintenance costs will eat into the investment.
‘Also geographical location and location in terms of the beach – which row, proximity to amenities.
‘Some people buy a hut with the specific intention of knocking it down and rebuilding, which can be worth it to get the location you want if the hut itself isn’t up to scratch.’
Would we book a hut again? In a heartbeat. We all enjoyed it, including my toddler daughter who loved making sandcastles and spending the day at the great British seaside and my father-in-law who usually flat out refuses to do British beach days.
As for me, I’m a converted hut snob.
That 10 hour stint we spent at the hut flew by, and as we returned home, it felt more like we’d had a weekend at the beach.
It was relaxing and we’re ready to pull the trigger on a 2022 day out at the seaside – regardless of whether foreign travel is more likely.
The history of beach huts
According to Charlie, beach huts are a British quirk that has become ingrained into the image of the Great British summer holiday.
He says: ‘Their origins lie in bathing machines, first recorded in Scarborough in 1730s, which looked like beach huts on wheels which could be hired for half hour periods.
‘Patrons would get in at the top of the beach, change out of their normal clothes as a horse pulled them into the sea, then step directly into the water from the front of the machine.
‘The machines, and seaside resorts, increased in popularity in the Victorian period.
‘Queen Victoria had her own personal bathing machine built at Osbourne on the Isle of Wight.
‘Rail travel enabled seaside holidays and doctors began to prescribe a cold sea bath as a remedy.
‘Nowadays, beach huts have lost their wheels and are both a fun and practical aspect to any visit to a beach, somewhere to take shelter, eat sand-free, don your swimmers, change your child, lock up your phone, have a snooze or store your clobber, to avoid lugging it back and forth to the car each day.’