Bournemouth is not the kind of place to make a spectacle of itself.
True, a deck chair 28 feet, or 8.5 meters, tall was plonked on its beach as a publicity stunt for a drink manufacturer in March, but usually the English south coast resort keeps to itself. Locals stay hiddenaway behind high walls and thickhedges in houses that nudge the 4 million-pound mark, or nearly $6.3 million.
Now its profile - along with the likes of the gracious Yorkshire spa of Harrogate, Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon - is being raised as one of the locations outside London that real estate agents are targeting as prime spots for their overseas clients.
In February, Sotheby's International Realty opened an office in Bournemouth and plans to open more across Britain, adding to its international reach of 550 offices in 46 countries. As the company's regional head, Glynn Evans, explained: "There is an influx of overseas money into the U.K. that has not been affected by the world economic situation."
"What we are saying is that you can buy the dream if you have 5 million pounds to spend. We want to tease people into buying something stunning."
What is certain is that there are plenty of people who can afford that dream.
The Knight Frank 2012 Wealth Report, released in March, showed that people with $25 million or more in assets increased their spending on real estate during 2011 to 19 percent - the balance being held in bonds and cash.
According to the report, lifestyle and investment are the two main motivations for second-home purchases, with 16 percent of all wealthy individuals owning a ski chalet and 40 percent a beach- front property. The United States and Britain were identified as the most popular second-home locations for the wealthy.
So what Evans refers to as "superhomes" in the enviable Bournemouth districts of Branksome Park, Canford Cliffs and Sandbanks (a spit of sand sticking into the sea that is among the most expensive acreage in the country) could be coveted by the same kind of overseas buyers who keep the central London market so buoyant.
"Already, a couple of wealthy Russians have bought in the area," he said. "People who come to London to work or invest in property may also think of having a house near a beach for the family while the man of the house works in the City. One plus is that there are several decent private schools nearby, such as Sherborne and Canford."
Housing choices for that kind of family arrangement would include The Glen, which has a contemporary design that its owner, Jeffrey Weston-Edwards, says reminds him of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. The house, which has 7,000 square feet, or 650 square meters, is buried deep in a woodland of azaleas and rhododendrons, and from its huge windows and angular concrete balcony, there is a broad view over the golf course and in the distance, the sea.
The house's five bedroom suites, large living area, entertainment room, indoor pool, gym and sauna were engineered in 2009 by the Frankfurt company Bauwerk and then shipped to Britain as thousands of pieces of concrete, steel and glass. Weston-Edwards, who used to own nightclubs, believes the work was finished more quickly and to a far higher standard than a local builder could have achieved.
The property is on the market at 3.9 million pounds - down from original asking price of 5.5 million pounds - and, as an enticement, a 50,000-pound yacht with mooring is included in the sale.
Sotheby's, which is handling the sale, represents a number of other houses listed around the 4 million-pound mark, but the real show stealer is one called "Thunderbird," apparently after the classic car. Curved and curious with a copper roof, the five-bedroom property is tucked away in the leafy neighborhood of Branksome Park.
As the company plans its expansion to Harrogate, Bath, Edinburgh and beyond, the news from Oxford is encouraging. Forty percent of Oxford's prime property now sells to international buyers, according to Knight Frank, attracted not so much by investment opportunities as life among the city's spires and its excellent schooling opportunities.
Knight Frank's office in Oxford says it has sold to buyers from 13 countries in the past 12 months - notably from Asian countries and Russia. Damian Gray, the agency's local partner, says the strongest demand is for houses valued at more than 2.5 million pounds.
Properties to catch the eye include a Victorian house in Boars Hill Heath with a garden of 3.4 acres, or 1.4 hectares. It has an orangery, a wine cellar and five bedrooms and is priced at 3.95 million pounds.
In the city center, a five-bedroom contemporary townhouse with three bathrooms and a clever courtyard garden with glazed walls looking into the living areas is listed at 895,000 pounds.
According to Knight Frank's prime country house index, average prices in Britain fell 3 percent in the last quarter of 2011 and a further half a percent in the first quarter of 2012. But the value of superprime properties worth 5 million pounds and more are continuing to rise: up 2.1 percent in the first quarter, and 2.8 percent year over year.
Tim Hubbard of Property Vision, a company that advises potential buyers, specializes in the quintessential Home Counties enclaves in northern Surrey like Cobham, Sunningdale and Wentworth, just west of London.
"We have no sign of decrease in demand here," he said. "The area is still seen as a safe investment. Buyers like its handliness for London and for Heathrow Airport, and for those with families, the international schools here are excellent."
He finds the gated community of St. George's Hill, near Weybridge, with its increasing number of vast mansions - all porticoes and underground pools - particularly appealing to buyers from Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.The kind of property he might recommend to his wealthy clients is Hanover House, along the internationally renowned Wentworth Golf Course, where a bit less than 14 million pounds buys a six-bedroom, newly built mansion with four columns at the front door and two grand sets of steps leading to the garden.
As Charles Smith, managing director of Sotheby's in Britain, said: "The market is supra-national, with potential buyers from anywhere and everywhere."
And, he added, real estate marketing has to follow that global trend: "You could be in Hong Kong and see on the TV screen that there is a property for sale in Stratford-upon-Avon, and sit in the Bournemouth office and be seduced by a ranch house in Wyoming."*