The Green Issue

Second homes and environmental concerns

The Green Issue

It’s very hard to make a case that any form of second home ownership can be regarded as really environmentally friendly. By definition, it means travelling, whether by road, air or train, and having two homes means you are probably using more resources overall than you would if you just stayed put. However, if these issues concern you at all, sharing ownership of a holiday home via a private syndicate really does does have major benefits over the alternatives.

Shared purchase – “Greener” than individual ownership?

If you own a holiday property as an individual, it is unlikely that you will be able to use it personally for more than a couple of months a year. That means that probably it will be standing empty a very large part of the time. The culture and activities of the local community may well have been one of the major factors which attracted you into buying in the first place – but unoccupied homes are a death-knell to small communities.

Once the proportion of unused second homes passes a critical point, there are insufficient full-time residents to support essential social facilities such as schools, post offices and public transport. When these stop being available, the full-time residents find life less viable and also start to move away. Frequently there is then no longer enough demand to make commercial activities (shops, restaurants and so forth) worthwhile. A vicious circle starts, which results in more property being put on the market and bought only as second homes, with further loss of full-time residents. After a while, the community cannot be sustained and the place becomes “dead”, other than for maybe a short few months “high season”. However you look at it, it is an unfortunate fact that as a second home owner, you are part of that problem.

The question then is whether you can do anything to counter-act these negative effects while still meeting your own ambitions. Of course the answers include keeping the property occupied much more of the time than just for your own visits, and those occupants supporting local businesses and social activities. As an individual owner however you can only do this by having renters come to your property, which usually will be easiest in the “high season” when you would like to be there yourself. That really doesn’t help the community much. Moreover, unless you have renters who come back year after year, they are unlikely to be particularly motivated to support the local community (even if they know what’s there), rather than others in the region.

If however you are part of a small group of say 4 like-minded people, there are quite a few advantages to the community. To start with, the occupancy of your property by its owners will be four times as much. It will certainly be very significantly more than if the property was just rented to other holiday-makers. This occupation will be distributed more evenly throughout the year, and not be crammed into a short high season. Owners all have the same interest in keeping the local facilities available out of season, so this support is multiplied by four as well.

Secondly, with several owners equally concerned about looking after their property at a high standard, it is much easier to afford good quality local suppliers for everything from maintenance to cleaning and taxi services.

Thirdly, the ability to communicate quickly with fellow owners makes it easier to pass on local advice and recommendations – if you find a really enjoyable village festival one year, recommend it to the others if you can’t get there yourself the next year. Pass on suggestions about restaurants and other attractions. In this way, a small group of owners can become even more “integrated” and supportive of a small community than any single owner who comes in person for only three weeks a year.

“Greener” than Fractional or Timeshare developments?

For the individual buyer, fractional ownership does have a few of the financial benefits of a small private syndicate. However neither fractional nor timeshare schemes generally benefit the local community so much. Usually these schemes are run by large developers, motivated primarily by profit for themselves. If a big resort development is involved, it may itself have had a major impact on the local environment, not necessarily for the better. It may be monopolising scarce resources such as water for golf courses, or caused diversion of infrastructure funding for roads etc. A construction “boom” may create jobs initially but often the major beneficiaries are large consortia not local contractors.

After the “owners” arrive at such developments they are encouraged or even required to use the facilities within the resort, rather than independent local suppliers. Any jobs created for local people tend to be low paid menial ones. Overall, owners in such schemes usually do not integrate at all into the community, and contribute relatively little to the local economy – far less even than an individual property owner coming for only a few weeks a year. Members of a small private group on the other hand multiply the benefits to the local community because they behave and contribute just as sole property owners would, but their collective contribution is much greater.

It’s probably true that no form of second home ownership is really “eco-friendly”. However, if eco-friendliness means using resources efficiently, supporting local communities, and minimising impact on the landscape, then buying with a small private group of co-owners is by far the best way to do it.

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