Always imagined you couldn't afford a holiday home in the sun, even with a strong pound? Well, think again: more and more people these days are clubbing together to split ownership four ways. By Mary Wilson
With a favourable rate of exchange and some attractive offers on new developments in Portugal, the temptation to buy a holiday home is strong. But, what if you just cannot afford the full purchase price which - for a new apartment or villa - could be anything from pounds 80,000 to very much more?

Paying all that money for a property you expect to use for a few weeks a year might seem somewhat extravagant, but there is an alternative option.

A few of the more organised developments are offering purchasers the chance to buy a quarter share of some of their homes. This means that four buyers purchase one property, with each owning a quarter of the freehold. Not only does this reduce the purchase price considerably, but it makes the service and maintenance charges far more manageable too.

In some instances, you buy a set period - a number of weeks here and there during the year, but the fairer system is when you buy rotating periods, which alter every year for four years. In this way every owner gets a mix of good and bad weeks.

Janet and Terry Hollingsworth bought a quarter share of a three-bedroom town house at Parque da Floresta in the western Algarve, near Lagos, two years ago. "We wanted a house with a garden, but we didn't want the hassle of a fully owned villa," says Mrs Hollingsworth.

"We have a sun roof, a barbecue, a pool and the property was beautifully furnished by the company's interior decorator. We are surrounded by beautiful gardens and we just love this area because it is still uncommercialised. The beaches are uncrowded, Lagos is a lovely town, but what really makes it is the people. We don't have to worry about anything when we are away."

The Hollingsworths have met two of the other owners, by chance, but write to all of them and if anything goes missing, such as a towel or some crockery then they let each other and the management team know.

"There have never been any problems at all," she says. "When we come down to the house it is always spotless, and if the carpets have been stained, they will have been cleaned." Each owner has a locked cupboard to put away left-over booze, extra towels and other personal items, so they can make it theirs when they are there.

Parque da Floresta is a 350-hectare development with a superb 72-par golf course, four tennis courts, two bowling greens, an archery centre, fitness and leisure centre, horse riding and health spa. There are also two outdoor swimming pools, a restaurant and bar.

Alongside the larger development is Quinta do Montinho, which is three terraces of town houses overlooking its own swimming pool and the village of Budens. Owners of the houses here can use all of the facilities available at Parque da Floresta.

The Four Ownership Scheme is available at both developments. At Parque da Floresta, quarter shares are available in two- and three-bedroom Golf Village houses from pounds 38,000 to pounds 49,000. At Quinta Do Montinho, there is currently one two-bedroom house available at pounds 32,500 per quarter, but more properties will be released under the scheme when the last 16 houses are finished.

Select Resorts, which sells property in Portugal and Spain, currently has a number of re-sale quarter shares on its books. At Bovis Sao Lourenco, a development of apartments in Quinta do Lago, on the eastern Algarve, there are three- quarter share, one-bedroom apartments available from pounds 45,000 to pounds 50,000.

And at Bellaluz, a development of apartments in La Manga, which is a well-established golf and leisure resort on the Costa Blanca, Spain, the company is selling a fifth share in a privately run, two-bedroom ground floor apartment for pounds 15,900. As a four-share owner you can sell your share when you like, rent it out or pass it on as an inheritance. As the property comes furnished, and since each owner owns part of the property, there is rarely any trouble with one of the quarter owners not looking after their home, even though it is only theirs for 13 weeks of the year.

Although the four owners do not have to meet, if anything needs to be done to the property, then obviously all parties will have to agree to the funding of the work. In a development, these schemes will be run by the management team, but any group of people can organise themselves and buy a property together on this basis.

Usually, the most contentious thing to iron out is who gets which weeks, but once that has been sorted out, the scheme should run like clockwork.

Parque de Floresta, 01223 316820; Select Resorts, 01202 291906