British sunseekers flock back to Spain and France in search of bargain holiday homes

As property prices fall across Europe, the chance of owning a holiday home abroad may never be better. And with sterling struggling against foreign currencies – touching a six-month low against the euro on Thursday – it may be wise to get moving sooner rather than later. But where are the bargains?

Latest figures suggest that old favourites France and Spain are regaining their popularity with buyers of holiday homes. But the picture is not so positive for investors wanting a sizeable return on their purchases, with some former European hotspots now looking decidedly chilly.

According to overseas mortgage firm Conti, 31 per cent of the enquiries it has received so far this year have been about property in France, while more than a fifth were about Spain. Clare Nessling, director at Conti, says buyers are sticking to areas they know and trust, and turning their backs on more adventurous territories such as Bulgaria, Turkey and Dubai.

Spain is maintaining its popularity with UK holiday home buyers as prices have fallen heavily due to an oversupply of properties on the market. In some cases, prices in the Costa del Sol have plummeted by 40 per cent since the peak in 2006/7.

That means for those who have always dreamed of buying a place in the sun but been put off by the cost, now is the time to take a look.

The glut of properties on the Spanish market has led one UK firm to launch a service specifically to try and find buyers for "distressed" properties, typically repossessions, probate or part-exchanged properties.

The online property company, whitehotproperty.co.uk, is currently marketing around 4,000 distressed properties in the popular tourist destinations with – in some cases – sizeable discounts. In one example, a four-bed, two-bathroom duplex apartment in Torrevieja has been reduced to €118.400 (£102,068), a 27 per cent discount on the original asking price.

Similarly, a three-bedroom villa with a pool in a tourist hotspot such as the Costas can be bought for €400,000. It would have cost around €650,000 at the height of the market three years ago.

Stuart Law, chief executive of international property investment firm Assetz, puts the British homebuyers' continued interest in Spain down to its proximity to the UK, its sunny climate and an abundance of sandy beaches.

The addition of relatively low property prices means Brits are in a good position to buy in Spain – so long as they don't expect investor-grade price rises. With supply outstripping demand, the situation is unattractive to the professional property developer reliant on solid returns over a relatively short period.

Law says: "Spain is a very difficult place to be buying from an investment point of view, particularly if you are keen on covering all of your costs with rent. Oversupply is impacting the rental market and the exchange rate isn't helping.

"If someone has set their mind on a holiday home that they are not going to rent out then Spain is ideal, and the very problem that would cause an issue to an investor is what is helping push prices down. There is massive choice, and also some very good pricing."

However, although Spain may have plenty of appeal, the European continental property market as a whole has not yet recovered. The Netherlands, Denmark, Slovenia and Slovakia have all seen double-digit house price falls over the second quarter of the year.

But the leading horror story is Bulgaria. The former hotspot in the Balkans is now a no-go area for lenders and buyers alike, with its land registry data showing that real estate transactions crashed by 35 per cent year-on-year in the first half of 2009.

Land prices in the previously fashionable Black Sea area fell by an average of 40 per cent in the first eight months of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008, according to the International Real Estate Federation in Bulgaria. All of Bulgaria's major cities and seaside resorts, including Sofia, Varna and Samokov, as well as winter resort Borovets, reported falls in the region of 50 per cent over the same period.

Stuart Law cautions Brits to avoid Bulgaria at all costs. He says: "It's just horrific; where is the bottom of the market? Our question has always been 'why would you bother?' There are so many better places, either closer, nicer or just as cheap. Comparing Spain to Bulgaria... there really isn't any choice. Spain ticks almost every box and is much closer and easier?"

He suggests that if potential holiday homebuyers want to go further afield, they should consider the US, where some bargains can be found. "Anybody who has ever aspired to own a holiday home in Florida and hasn't looked recently is going to be genuinely shocked by what they could get. We've seen Orlando townhouses in prime resorts at €50,000-€70,000."

One reason that many are avoiding Europe at the moment is the state of the pound. Over the past two years there has been unprecedented volatility in the currency markets, with the value of sterling fluctuating by over 30 per cent against the euro. The pound currently buys around €1.1, with many currency analysts predicting that parity will occur very soon.

Stephen Hughes, a director of Foreign Currency Direct, fears that sterling is "collapsing". He argues that currency traders are agreeing on one thing: "sterling is likely to fall fast and far."

With further falls probable, what should existing or potential European homebuyers do to protect themselves? Mark Bodega, a director at currency broker HiFX, recommends that people looking to buy abroad should consider a "forward contact". "This allows you to buy currency now and pay for it later," he explains. "You will need to pay a 10 per cent deposit now and the 90 per cent balance upon the maturity of the contract, but it allows clients to lock into an exchange rate for up to a year."

Julian Cunningham, from international estate agents Knight Frank, advises British sellers on the continent to reduce their asking prices. He says: "The savvy vendor is passing on any currency gain to the potential buyer in the form of a reduced asking price. But without passing on a certain percentage of that gain to the potential purchaser, it makes it a lot more difficult to do the deal."

Holiday home heaven: Why France remains number one

It's not difficult to see why France remains the most popular choice for Brits. Easily accessible by road, rail and air, potential buyers are not solely at the mercy of budget airlines. House prices have remained resilient in France compared to the UK, and mortgage funding is largely more attractive, too.

Nessling says: "In France, lenders have always been a little more cautious. They certainly haven't taken the extreme view that most UK lenders did. Throughout the credit crunch we've still been able to get 100 per cent mortgages in France for loans over €250,000."

More than four-fifths of mortgages in France are fixed and the majority of all new mortgages are fixed for at least one year. This lending strategy is another reason why the French property market is, on the whole, performing better than in Britain.

Despite a period of house-price falls in the country last year, prices in France actually increased by 3.9 per cent in the second quarter of this year, according to the French National Association of Real Estate Agents.

Stuart Law, chief executive of international property investment firm Assetz, agrees that mortgage lenders in France have kept their criteria largely unchanged, arguing that because they lend based on affordability, an unsustainable boom in prices in France has been prevented. He says: "In the South of France prices have barely wobbled as banks do not think they have substantial risk there."

News
Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
i100
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Trainee / Experienced Recruitment Consultants

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 ...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Soho

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40000: SThree: As a Recruitment Consultant, y...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

    Quantitative Risk Manager

    Up to £80000: Saxton Leigh: My client, a large commodities broker, is looking ...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits