Buying overseas: Hot tip for year-round glamour

Morocco has become a favourite for winter sun – now Tunisia wants in. Laura Latham weighs up the competition
Click to follow
The Independent Online

A few years ago, owning a home in Morocco was the height of exoticism. Charming riads that cost nothing to buy and renovate, tucked away in the ancient medinas were all the rage. But since the country's development programme started in earnest, large-scale construction of residential projects around Marrakech and along the coast have not only increased prices but, for some, have also taken the shine off the kingdom.

Now, it is Tunisia that the better-informed property-hunters are exploring in search of affordable holiday homes. Like Morocco, Tunisia has a fabulous Mediterranean coastline, the Atlas Mountains and medieval towns with winding alleys. The country is crammed with historic sites, including the ancient city of Carthage. However, despite having had a brisk tourist industry for several decades, it hasn't achieved the cachet of its western neighbour.

Melanie Benna, who has lived and worked in Tunisia over the past three years, can't understand why. "Tunisia is a very relaxed country to live in," she says. "There is a good café culture, beautiful beaches and though there is new development, such as roads or new marinas and hotels, it isn't yet on a mass scale."

According to Benna, there are also none of the issues often associated with a Muslim country. "It's actually very European in its outlook," she says, "you can buy alcohol, people sunbathe openly on the beaches and women can feel comfortable going out alone without covering up, it's very acceptable."

Benna and her Tunisian husband, Adel, are building a house right on the beach in the small coastal village of Beni Khiar. The couple have six children and so, in addition to the roomy living quarters and large garden, the house will have seven bedrooms. Due for completion this summer, Benna estimates the whole property on its 1,000-square metre plot hasn't cost more than £100,000, including the land.

"You could easily build a decent four-bedroom house on the Tunisian coast for less than £70,000," she says, "if you didn't go in for extras like carved marble ceilings and ornate ironwork or a decorative tower as we did."

Benna set up a blog about the construction of the house and life in Tunisia and started receiving enquiries from other people interested in buying or building in the area. Realising there was a small but increasing demand she started up her own property agency, The Tunisian House, and now uses her knowledge of the market to help other expats buy along the northeast coast.

"There are some lovely traditional towns in this area," says Benna, "places such as Sidi Bou Said, Maamoura and Hergla or where we are in Beni Khiar, which is very relaxed." Benna claims most new apartments are beautifully designed and can cost as little as £20,000 for one-bedroom within walking distance of the beach.

New but nice and fairly spacious two-bedroom apartments in small complexes with a sea views tend to be popular second-home purchases and should cost from around £40,000, with small villas costing under £120,000 and larger three- or four-bedroom resale villas priced at around £150,000, depending on size and location.

Buyers who have holidayed here several times and want to be in more established towns such as Hammamet and Sousse. In these regions property sells at a premium, with villas in Hammamet starting at around £125,000 to around £300,000 and in Sousse, site of a Unesco listed medina, from around £70,000 plus. According to Benna, overseas buyers aren't just attracted by the cheaper prices but by the combination of a Mediterranean lifestyle and the exotic ambience.

"You'll find great food, history, good shopping and even a lively nightlife... Tunisia has the best of all worlds."

The Tunisian House: 01843 853788;

Buyers' guide

*British citizens can buy in Tunisia, but not agricultural land, and you'll need permission.This can take around three months.

*Check the vendor has possession of individual title deeds (the titre foncier) to the property or land, or the process can become lengthy.

*You will need a currency convertible account with a Tunisian bank in order to buy, and an initial deposit of 10-30 per cent.

*You need to be present in person to complete on the sale, at which point an investment certificate will be lodged with the Central Bank of Tunisia and the solicitor will apply for the title deeds in the buyer's name.