House Hunter: 'Can we escape the gloomy weather?'

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THE PROBLEM

THE PROBLEM

Terry Coombs writes: "As yet another depressing winter descends, my wife and I are determined that this is the year when we finally buy ourselves our own little place in the sun.

"For years we've been thinking about buying in Spain, mainly for the weather, but the Costa del Sol is now far too expensive and we also feel that it has suffered from too much development too soon in some places. But a good climate is definitely important to us as this is one of the main reasons we want to get away from the UK. We also prefer a quieter life, somewhere where we can get away from it all especially in the autumn and winter months, but we also want to be fairly near some decent restaurants, shops and nightlife so we don't really want anywhere too remote.

"We would like somewhere that is easy to get to and which has reasonably priced flights throughout the year and we'd also like somewhere where we can fit in easily, perhaps with a few other British semi-retired folk like ourselves, and where there is maybe a little community to make us feel at home.

"Our budget is not yet fixed; we can use equity from our large house in the UK, which we've owned for many years. At our time of life we're not that worried about making a good investment, we really want a home from home that we're going to use a lot.

"We hope that our children and grandchildren will want to come and visit us often but we don't want a huge place, so we may buy somewhere small and rent somewhere nearby for our visitors."

THE ADVICE

Connie Vitto replies: "I think that for Mr Coombs the island of Madeira may just fit the bill. Compared with Spain and mainland Portugal, prices here are very reasonable and he may just find that he could buy somewhere that is big enough to accommodate his family when they come to stay.

"Traditionally, Madeira has had a very genteel image and has been a place for people who want somewhere with a good climate to retire to, but lately that is changing. The government is now keen to promote Madeira as having something for everyone.

"Madeira has two new marinas so it's attracting a different clientele. There's also a sandy beach at Calheta and a new golf course. The roads have improved to open up other parts of the island, not just Funchal. The journey from the airport to Calheta of one hour has now shrunk to just 30 minutes.

"Madeira appeals to the British market for various reasons; it has breathtaking scenery, lush and exotic flora, and there are all sorts of activities you can do including hill walking and water sports. Without a doubt its biggest strength is the climate, which is subtropical and fairly uniform throughout the year. Temperatures fluctuate between 16 and 20 degrees in winter and 23 and 28 degrees in summer, and the climate is quite dry with around 80 days of rain per year and usually at altitudes of 700m-1,350m.

Access is good and it's only a three-hour journey from the UK. There are daily scheduled flights from Heathrow and Gatwick with Air Portugal and British Airways from £200 return. Charters fly direct from most regional airports including Birmingham, Manchester, East Midlands, Bournemouth, Bristol and Newcastle and prices start from around £150 return.

As for property prices, you can buy one-bedroom apartments from around £65,000 to £100,000. Two bedrooms cost between £85,000 and £200,000, and townhouses from £100,000 to £180,000. Detached villas start from £200,000 and go up to £1m, so there really is something for everyone. There are older-style properties on Madeira, lovely quintas ripe for renovation, but if you don't want the hassle of maintenance then a new property would be better. The construction standards here are very high. A popular trend is to buy a plot and design your own villa, which can cost less than £200,000, usually with sea views and pool thrown in."

Connie Vitto heads Quadrant Overseas Property: 01276 507513. www.quadrant-property.com

THE SOLUTION

Property one: Villa at Arco da Calheta.

Price: €340,000.

Agent's details: A spacious three-bedroom home on a cliff top location with ocean and mountain views above Arco da Calheta and the fishing village of Madalena do Mar. A large double bedroom with en-suite shower room has patio doors leading to a veranda with stunning views. A wrought iron staircase leads from the dining room to the top floor.

Property two: Townhouse near Calheta.

Price: Offers over €200,000.

Agent's details: A two/three-bedroom townhouse built to a high standard six years ago close to the water's edge near Calheta. There are two bathrooms and the property would make an ideal holiday or permanent residence for those who want peace and tranquillity. Calheta is considered to be one of the most picturesque coastal villages in Madeira and the new highways now mean that Funchal is just 35 minutes away.

Property three: Apartment near Funchal.

Price: €110,000.

Agent's details: A spacious one-bedroom apartment overlooking the bay of Funchal and situated on the second floor with terraces offering superb views. Located in a prestigious residential area of Funchal and with many other amenities within walking distance.

THE VERDICT

"My wife and I went on holiday to Madeira a few years ago and we loved it. We're keen gardeners and remember the beautiful flowers and plants we saw there - the island has some wonderful gardens.

"I've never considered buying on Madeira as I'd assumed it would be as expensive as Majorca, so this is a pleasant surprise. The prices look good, particularly the townhouse.

"We probably will go for new build because, at our time of life, we don't want the hassles of painting and maintenance. But at these prices we could probably afford to buy two small apartments so that when our children and grandchildren come they could stay in one and perhaps we may be able to let it when we don't need it. If we ever fall out it could come in handy as well."

If you would like House Hunter's help, write to The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail: househunter@independent.co.uk

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