Home thoughts without going abroad

Expensive and time-consuming trips to Europe to find your home in the sun could be at an end, thanks to a new initiative, says Ginetta Vedrickas
Click to follow
The Independent Online

House hunting is by no means easy. The constant calls to butter up estate agents, the poring over property details looking for clues as to hidden faults. Then comes the disappointment of finding a property that sounds perfect, only to discover that the stone cladding or location next to a busy pub is definitely not what you had in mind. But if the search for property is hard in the UK, imagine how much harder it is when you are looking for a home abroad.

House hunting is by no means easy. The constant calls to butter up estate agents, the poring over property details looking for clues as to hidden faults. Then comes the disappointment of finding a property that sounds perfect, only to discover that the stone cladding or location next to a busy pub is definitely not what you had in mind. But if the search for property is hard in the UK, imagine how much harder it is when you are looking for a home abroad.

Jane and Nigel Simpson remember many hours of viewing unsuitable French properties before they finally bought their Brittany holiday home. "We'd speak to the agent and get really excited. Often we'd see pictures on the computer, but it was still hard to get a feel of the location and what the village was like. We had visit after visit where we'd come home disappointed and it cost us a fortune in trips."

Happily, the Simpsons eventually found a suitable property using a British agency with branches in France, but they still describe the overall process as "completely exhausting". There are many plans afoot to make buying a home overseas less painful, however. Hamptons International is about to launch an overseas property exhibition centre at its Knightsbridge branch. Potential buyers will not only be able to undertake "virtual reality tours" via a plasma screen of any property throughout its branches in Europe and the Caribbean, but they can also attend exhibitions where developers will be on hand to answer any questions they may have.

From 27 February to 1 March, the centre's exhibition will focus on Quinta Do Monte Funchal, a new development of 15 architect-designed villas near Lagos in the western Algarve, with prices starting from €1.15m. From 18 to 22 March, buyers can meet developers of The Mansion Club, a new development of apartments and townhouses within the Sierra Blanca estate in Marbella. Designed by award-winning architect Melvin Villarroel Roldan, prices start at €500,000.

Hamptons' Aimee Webster says: "We've decided that this is a better way of communicating with the public and it's a really good marketing tool whereby we can bring developers over here to target the English market." The bulk of Hamptons' sales are for the mid-range to top end of the market, with prices starting from about £150,000. They don't offer the standard "inspection visits" preferred by some companies, but potential buyers can take advantage of discounted rates at hotels near developments for sale through Hamptons, including the exclusive golf resort of Saint Endreol in Nice.

Parador Properties arrange about 6,000 inspection visits each year where, for an inclusive cost of £89 which covers transport, accommodation and meals, UK buyers are flown to Spain to see properties in developments throughout the Costas. This is a popular route for many buyers and the company has sold more than 4,000 properties since 1998. Last month, however, Parador launched a new initiative and has joined forces with Connells estate agents, who are advertising Spanish homes for sale throughout their 150 branches in Britain. In just over four weeks there have been more than 1,000 enquiries, with five sales so far. "We've been bowled over," says Simon Lambert, Parador's managing director. "Connells is a big name on the high street, but it's still astonishing just how many UK buyers are making the decision to buy in Spain and many more will consider it in the next few years."

Potential buyers who come via Connells will be offered an inspection visit, which Lambert believes is invaluable. "They will be shown a range of properties by someone with sound local knowledge. I always say to everyone, even if they don't buy through us, use a well-known, reputable company and get yourself an English-speaking lawyer who is experienced in Spanish law. That way you won't go too far wrong," he says.

Lambert has many tales of agents who try to lure away clients who are in Spain on inspection visits. "There are lots of fly-by-nights who hang around our hotels and offer to show people cheaper places, but they have no offices and operate only by mobile phones so they are unlikely to be legal. It's tempting to cut corners, but don't. If you bought directly from builders out here you would pay exactly the same as you would by buying through us, but you would miss out on the after-sales service we provide."

Inspection visits can be useful and there is no obligation to buy, but there is now no excuse for not researching your market thoroughly before visiting. There are many specialist magazines focusing on the country of your choice, such as French Property News and Spanish Homes. Katy Pownall, the deputy editor of Homes Overseas, says: "There is now much more information available than ever before with exhibitions, TV programmes such as Place in the Sun, through magazines and on the internet." Homes Overseas organises exhibitions throughout Europe but particularly in England, Scotland and Ireland, where visitors have access to a mass of information on all aspects of buying property abroad.

Last September, the magazine launched its own website (www.newskys.co.uk) for anyone who is considering buying property in Spain, Portugal, South Africa, Cyprus or Florida. Visitors to the site enter their search requirements and gain access to about 11,000 new or resale properties and building plots on the database. If they register interest in any property on the site, the website e-mails the relevant estate agent who in turn supplies further information. Guy King, the site's editor, says: "It's going very well and there's a lot of other useful information on the site for anyone who is considering buying property abroad. We're now building up information on education and healthcare as these tend to be the main worries for people who are moving overseas."

Hamptons International: 020-7589 8844

Parador Properties: 01737 770137

www.newskys.co.uk

Comments