Property: An affair that has to be more than a summer romance

Islands can be a paradises to live in - if you think carefully.

BUYING A holiday home on an island such as Majorca, Crete or Sardinia sounds just the answer for escaping urban hurly burly. The isolation, the laid-back pace of life, the idyllic scenery... it's all very persuasive.

But, you need to keep your feet on the ground before signing on the dotted line. "These properties invariably come to the market as the weather improves, encouraging buyers to `romanticise' the whole idea of island living," says James Wilson, of Lane Fox Acquisitions. "The reality in the winter months is somewhat different and practicality of travel and infrastructure are frequently overlooked. Friendly neighbours who can keep a watchful eye are worth their weight in gold."

Buyers should also consider the investment side of the transaction. "Islands appeal to a limited market and, in a weak market, this becomes even more pronounced. Buyers must take a long-term view and be philosophical about problems should they arise," says Mr Wilson.

However, should you dream of owning an island home there are plenty on the market. Before 1991, it was impossible for foreigners to buy property in Crete, but this changed when EC regulations took effect. And, from last April, owners have to fill in a form listing all their property. If these are worth more than 60m drachmas for a single person or 120m drachmas for a couple, then a local tax has to be paid.

"Many Cretans own up to 10 properties, and they do not like paying tax," says Oonagh Karanjia of Crete Property Consultants. "So, there is quite a lot of nice property coming on to the market. The Cretans are warm and friendly people and welcome visitors with open arms. They love the outside stimulus.

"We have enquiries from people thinking of retiring out there, those looking for holiday homes or wanting to stay for about six months of the year. About a third of the interest is from Southern Ireland. I think they particularly like Crete because it is so similar to Ireland, except that the weather is far better."

She is selling a couple of houses inland from the popular Georgeopoulis beaches. One, for pounds 48,000, is a renovated five-bedroom house in Agiropouli, a typical mountain village set between towering peaks and popular with climbers. In the small village of Roustika there is a small two down one up, which could be renovated to become a four-room cottage, for pounds 9,600, and in Mirtia, on the north side, a beautifully restored two-bedroom house in stone for pounds 56,000.

In south-east Crete, at Analipsi, there is a charming stone cottage that is close to a lovely crescent-shaped bay. With one big room, a mezzanine floor with a double bedroom, a small kitchen and bathroom, it is for sale for just under pounds 60,000.

For someone looking for more sophistication, Majorca is attracting many British purchasers. "Most of our purchasers are buying for the lifestyle, not investment," says Matthias Kuhn, a director of Kuhn & Partner, which has 16 branches on the island. "And people who had homes in the south of France are coming because it's safer."

The company has over 800 properties priced from pounds 40,000 to over pounds 5m. One area, which is particularly popular and where prices are going up fast is Soller. This is because a new tunnel has been built under the mountains, making it much quicker to get to Palma, the capital of Majorca, with its splendid old buildings and large marina.

"People buy in Majorca because they are looking for something and somewhere which is bit different," says David Vaughan, who is the British agent for the company. In Soller, there is a lovely five-bedroom finca, which has been restored but still needs a little more work, for around pounds 1m. Or, how about a country house with three bedrooms in a large plot for around pounds 230,000.

On the southern end of Kefalonia, the Greek island made famous by the best-seller Captain Corelli's Mandolin, there is a new development of flats and villas being built in traditional style. The island has its resorts and bustling capital, but it still has space to get away from it all. Brian A French is selling properties at Mataxata for pounds 39,000 for a large studio apartment up to pounds 120,000 for a detached villa.

The same agent is selling a converted damusa - a typical island house - on the tiny island of Pantelleria, the most southerly Italian territory lying off the Africa coast. With four bedrooms, another unconverted damusa and a hectare of land with vines sloping down to the sea, it is priced at pounds 175,000. "It is wonderful and ideal for someone wanting a bit out of the ordinary," says Steve Emmett, of Brian A French.

The agent has just been given sole UK agency for a development of 12 large villas in Sardinia, up in the hills above Porto Cervo on the Costa Smeralda. There will be a communal swimming pool at Li Liccioli, and prices range from around pounds 530,000 to pounds 850,000.

Anyone interested in buying an overseas property might like to visit the International Property Show at the Cumberland Hotel, in central London, from 11 to 13 September. There will be 50 exhibitors representing 30 destinations.

Lane Fox: 0171-499 4785; Crete Property Consultants: 0171-328 1829; David Vaughan Associates: 0181-480 5036; Brian A French: 0171-284 0114; International Property Show: 01420 520777

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