A better breed of holiday home

Forget that mouldering wreck in Tuscany - new-build is now the UK's preferred form of foreign property, and it even has its own design awards. One of the judges, Ginetta Vedrickas, reports on the new resorts that are setting the standard
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The Independent Online

All too often, buying a new home overseas translates into mediocre at best - and high-rise hell at worst. But the new Homes Overseas awards should help persuade developers to build innovative and well-designed homes everywhere.

All too often, buying a new home overseas translates into mediocre at best - and high-rise hell at worst. But the new Homes Overseas awards should help persuade developers to build innovative and well-designed homes everywhere.

Blendon Communications, which publishes What House? and Homes Overseas magazines, has run the What House? awards for 11 years. When editorial director Rupert Bates introduced the Homes Overseas prizes at London's Dorchester Hotel last week, he pointed out these are the first awards where the judges, consisting of journalists (including myself), architects and surveyors, visit every entry personally. "Overall, the quality is fantastic," he said. "There's a lot of outstanding development and innovative design going on."

Buying abroad was once the preserve of the wealthy, but today it attracts buyers at all levels, and Blendon is keen to harness this growing interest. The Homes Overseas exhibitions began in 1997 and now attract 200,000 visitors annually. Blendon's project director Peter Robinson explains why awards for overseas new-build is necessary: "We are spreading the word. If you look at the figures from 2002, most British buyers bought resale properties, but by 2003 new build had edged ahead."

UK buyers form the largest group of overseas buyers in Europe and Robinson believes that as "a nation which is uniquely fixated on property" we should welcome this latest attempt to raise standards. This year's entries focused on the five most popular destinations for UK buyers - France, Portugal, Spain, Cyprus and Florida. While acknowledging the high quality of most entries, Bates admits that not all were outstanding: "There were some disappointing categories and, where judges felt that developments didn't deserve recognition, awards were not given. Hopefully this will inspire other developers to do better."

Categories included best golf development, best retirement development and best landscape - and American developments scooped many of them. The developer of the year award was won by The Ginn Company for schemes such as Hammock Beach, which netted a gold for best Floridian apartment, and Reunion, which took a gold for best Floridian house. Florida-based agent Garrett Kenny of Coldwell Banker Team Realty accepted the awards on behalf of Ginn. He is witnessing huge growth in the number of Brits entering the Florida market; this year his franchise achieved $100m gross sales in 18 months of operations, to buyers who were 70 per cent British and Irish.

Kenny believes the market can expand even further, but warns other developers that the buying public now demands quality of product and amenities: "Buyers know that, to keep their value, properties must have access to top-quality golf courses and multi-million dollar pools. These kinds of properties will also attract high-end rentals." Hammock Beach, a 1,000-acre ocean-front resort on Palm Coast, snaffled the apartment award thanks to its beach-front access plus amenities like a championship golf course, 18-hole grass putting course, $4.5m swimming pavilion, spa, fitness centre and bars and restaurants. Prices range from $500,000 to $1.3m.

At Reunion, Ginn's other award-winning development, buyers have access to three golf courses, a tennis academy, equestrian centre, bars, restaurants and a water park. Three-bedroom townhouses are for sale at $350,000 and luxury five-bedroom villas with private pool are $1.2m. In March, building plots will be launched for sale although some keen British buyers have already placed reservation deposits. Kenny sees another attraction in the 2,300-acre site: "You know that on this kind of development it's not going to be like Spain, where you buy or build something and then find something is being built right in front of you."

Florida may be growing in popularity but it still can't beat tried and tested European destinations. Mary Harboe, a broadcaster and journalist who is based on the Costa del Sol, judged this year's Spanish entries and explains why she gave gold for best interior layout to Muller Consult's Casa Grande: "The apartment felt very spacious with some nice details in the en-suite bathroom opening into the main bedroom and a view from the kitchen area all the way to the external terraces. The interface between the interior and exterior spaces worked well and the terrace area felt extremely luxurious with individual plunge pools and pagoda seating areas. It was really fabulous!"

Casa Grande also took the award for best website, which is now a vital requirement for buyers before they visit. The website won because of its images, good information for the buyers and user-friendly design.

Ultra Villas' sales director Charlotte Billington accepted three awards on behalf of the Eurocenter Group's Parques Casablanca and El Magraner developments on the Costa Blanca. "I believe that these will now set standards for other developers to follow," she says.

El Magraner, which was featured in The Independent Property on 14 January, took gold for best use of technology and silver for best luxury development. "The Eurocenter Group is very forward-thinking and, while other developers are still building typical rustic style houses, they realise that European buyers now want modern, spacious, contemporary homes with home automation systems and with best use of space and light. That is the future."



Coldwell Banker Team Realty: 001 866 668 8326; www.coldwellbankerteamrealty.com

Ultra Villas Ltd: 01242 221500