Buying overseas: The sun in splendour

Many of us dream of escaping the chilly weather, but is Europe far enough? Go further to guarantee rays, advises Laura Latham

It's easy to forget how miserable British winters can get. Grey skies and long, dark evenings suddenly make decamping to sunnier climes seem like a tremendous idea. But for guaranteed sunshine, steer clear of the Med even Portugal, Spain and Greece have cold, wet weather from October to March.

Instead, head further south: North Africa, Florida and south-east Asia offer lower costs of living and an escape from gloomy skies. Egypt is currently hot in every sense, and property is good value though no longer dirt-cheap. Sharm el-Sheikh attracts a lot of tourists as well as homebuyers, so prices tend to be higher. You can get apartments within a stroll of the Red Sea from 50,000, and villas start from 140,000, though a beachfront location can add another 100,000 to that.

Bargain-hunters are now looking at Marsa Alam, a resort further along the coast. Here a seafront apartment starts from 30,000; the downside, however, is that you'll have to live with construction work for some time to come.

Sajjad Aslam, of City and Urban, says that many buyers are fleeing European winters. Egypt's temperatures tend to be more pleasant at this time of year in the twenties rather than the 35 to 40 degrees of summer. Also, the cost of living is around 15 per cent of that in the UK.

Morocco is another popular destination, although the weather isn't as warm as you might hope. Average daytime temperatures in the winter are between 16 and 20 degrees, and drop substantially at night. Locations on the Atlantic, such as Essaouira and the resort of Agadir, remain mild. Essaouira's chilled, hippie atmosphere is still popular, and 170,000 will buy a four-bedroom house, while apartments start from 50,000. It tends to be a bit rainy and windy, however, so inland cities, such as Marrakech and Fez, are perhaps better options.

The best advice for the former is to steer clear of the new, sprawling developments outside the city. The historic centre has resisted this kind of development, and on a sunny winter's day, the sight of the snow-topped Atlas mountains is magical. A riad will set you back at least 100,000, and you should expect to have to pay further for some renovation, too. Small city-centre homes and apartments are available from as little as 65,000 if you hunt around. Cheaper property can be found in Fez: a large riad in good condition starts from 115,000, but restoration can cost more than 50,000.

Families may prefer Florida, which offers excellent weather after the hurricane season ends in November, with temperatures around 18 to 25 degrees. With a weak dollar and falling market, property here is good value right now, and you can pick up a decent apartment in Orlando or Miami for less than 100,000. It might be worth finding something that you like the look of and keeping an eye on the prices in the next few months. There are plenty of well-designed family homes with pools from 140,000, many of them on gated resorts.

Further afield, Australia isn't as cheap as it used to be. For half the travelling time and costs, you could be enjoying life in south-east Asia. Thailand's rainy season is during our summer and autumn, with temperatures of around 30 degrees from December to April.

Prices range from 20,000 for apartments in the mega-resort of Pattaya to villas for several million in the more salubrious areas of Phuket or Krabi. Charlotte Filleul, of CBRE, says Brits enjoy a higher standard of living there.

"We are seeing more buyers from the UK during the winter months," she says. "Property prices are a fraction of those in Europe or the Caribbean, and healthcare, childcare and other services are affordable."

Couple that with palm-fringed beaches and a slower pace of life and what more do you need? It might take 12 months of planning, but pick the right spot and this time next year you could be waving those grey skies goodbye.



* www.francophiles.co.uk 01622 688 165; www.cityandurban.com 020-7473 3332; www.cbre.co.th 00 66 2 654 1111; www.moroccoproperties.net 0870 004 6042l; www.escapes2.com 0161-766 1018; www.winkworth.co.uk 0845 251 9000

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