Buying overseas: The quiet one

Italy's high-rollers adore its unspoilt coasts. Yet Sardinia's prices are incredibly down to earth. Laura Latham explores the options
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The second-largest island in the Mediterranean, Sardinia is still a mystery to many. Wealthy Italians have been making the most of it for years, as have Tom Cruise and Bruce Willis, but the recent arrival of the budget airlines has now brought the island's silver beaches within reach of the rest of us.

That doesn't mean that Sardinia has been hit by a tourism boom. According to Janet Veillon, a British expat now resident there, visitors tend to stay around the coastal towns of Cagliari, Olbia and Alghero, near the international airports – leaving vast tracts of the island largely free from Northern Europeans.

Veillon came to Sardinia several years ago to work, and loved it so much she decided to stay. "A lot of people are unfamiliar with Sardinia," she says. Visitors who do make it there are wowed by the clear seas, sandy beaches and pretty, rocky coastline, as well as Sardinia's dramatic mountainous heart. Veillon saw increasing numbers of Brits looking for second homes, but few English-speaking agents, so she set up House Around Sardinia to help people make the move. Many buyers end up on Veillon's doorstep after finding Spain and other areas of Italy too expensive or overdeveloped.

Property around Alghero, on the northwest coast, starts at around £98,000 for one- or two-bedroom apartments in good order. In the small surrounding towns you can find large four-bed homes, or farmhouses in need of work, for around £100,000. Or how about a small, terraced villa with sea views for £110,000?

For even cheaper property, Veillon suggests the Ogliastra region. Parts of its flatter landscape may be less interesting than elsewhere but, as a result, property is more affordable. Ruins can go for as little as £15,000; larger three-bedroom properties from around £70,000. These won't necessarily have the character that some buyers might crave – think rendered concrete – but they are a cheap bolthole in a lovely location.

Veillon says that property 20 to 30 minutes from the coast can be a great bargain. "We have one house priced at £70,000 just 10km from the beach, located by a river. It's a beautiful property that will cost around £50,000 to renovate but would be worth nearer to £175,000 when finished." She also recently sold a property that, as part of the deal, will be restored by the seller. Including renovation in the price is not uncommon in Italy. Veillon says that it can be an easier way of buying a restoration project as there's no need for the owner to be on site or employ local workers.

The celeb-studded Costa Smeralda, on the northeast coast, is a millionaire's playground packed with paparazzi and glamour models. You won't find much under £500,000. Still, as Trinidad Passerini of Precious Villas says, it's a lot cheaper than the Côte d'Azur while offering equal celebrity cachet. Even so, says Passerini: "Investors should be looking at the south of the island, as this has the biggest potential."

The southern port of Cagliari is popular due to its air and sea connections. Prices start at around £110,000 for two-bedroom apartments near the beach, but if you look inland or among the less populous villages it is possible to find one- or two-bedroom apartments or houses from around £90,000. For three- to four-bed villas, expect to pay from around £175,000 inland and £315,000 for sea views. Coastal property is the most expensive because it is in such short supply – mainly because the government has banned building within 2km of the coastline. Limiting what Passerini describes as "the greed of overdevelopment" may turn out to be Sardinia's greatest asset as the urge grows to find unspoilt pockets of the Mediterranean.

House Around Sardinia:, 00 39 07 82 62 00 47; Precious Villas:, 0870 899 8023; Casa Travella:, 01322 660 988; Sardinian Dreams:; 00 353 (0) 86 069 43 43

Buyer's guide

* Sardinia is served by several airlines but most offer a reduced service in winter. The flight time is around two-and-a-half hours.

* The busiest time is June to September, though most Italians holiday in July and August. Out of season many coastal places become empty.

* The property purchase process is the same as on the Italian mainland. A deposit of 10 per cent secures the property and an initial contract (compromesso) is signed prior to the surveys and legal searches. This contract should contain all the details of the sale, including the agreed completion date.

* The final deed (rogito) is signed before a notary, who will register the property on completion. Property and purchase taxes as well as notary fees and additional legal costs will then need to be paid along with the purchase price.