House Hunter: 'I'd like a writing retreat in eastern Europe'

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The Independent Online

THE PROBLEM

THE PROBLEM

Lena Simpson writes: "I'm a writer and for a long time now have dreamt of finding an overseas retreat where I can go for months on end to work in peace.

"I'm drawn toward central and eastern European countries and have looked into Croatia and Bulgaria but, as prices in both these countries seem to have spiralled, I haven't found anything I like so far.

"I want to be somewhere that has a good climate and friendly people, and is affordable. It also needs to be reasonably accessible, as I prefer to fly, so would like an airport nearby that has flights throughout the year. I don't need to be right by the sea, as I prefer the countryside, but sea views would be nice.

"My ideal property would be a rural period property with maybe two bedrooms or more. I'd like a bit of garden but don't want to take on anywhere which has masses of land.

"With my budget, I'm probably restricted to the emerging markets but am slightly nervous about approaching agents based overseas. It's so difficult to find agents who speak English well and whom you can trust, and many agents only seem to deal in new-build property, which I don't want. I'm also concerned about coming unstuck throughout the buying process, as I know that some countries have more complex rules and I don't want to buy anything remotely dodgy.

"I'm hoping that wherever I buy will be a good investment, although this isn't my main concern. I'd like the comfort of knowing that other British buyers are doing the same thing yet don't want somewhere which is already too 'discovered'. Am I asking the impossible?"

THE ADVICE

Ann Ferrier-Ilic replies: "Montenegro is a small and very beautiful country bordering Albania, Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. It's only 14,000sq km but has all kinds of terrain, including an unspoilt coastline, the Bay of Kotor, mountains and four national parks. Montenegro also has an amazing culture, which absorbed much from the Romans, Venetians and Ottomans.

"I met and married my Serbian husband while I was working for the British Council. My parents used to holiday in Montenegro and decided to buy property there after falling in love with the place. This wasn't without problems, as Montenegro is not the easiest place to buy in, so anyone considering it needs to go in with their eyes wide open.

"The buying process is quicker than in the UK and similar to the French system, in that a lawyer represents both parties, but it can be problematic in terms of title and property registration. From my parents' experience we've learned the dos and don'ts of how to go about it and can give lots of advice.

"Since we started the company, British interest has been non-stop but Russians, Norwegians, Scandinavians, even Americans and Australians are now considering buying in Montenegro.

"As for the market, it's perhaps not as cheap as you might expect, but it is still about a third cheaper than Croatia and you can still get wonderful value for money. The coastline is, as usual, a bit more expensive - a decent apartment here would cost between €50,000 (£34,000) and €90,000 - but if you look inland you can find not only amazing scenery but also much better value, with period properties from €20,000, although all older properties generally need renovating. For a writer, it could be perfect, really inspirational, but isolation could be a problem.

"At this stage I would not recommend the country to anyone thinking of permanent retirement; there are still problems with infrastructure such as shortage of medicines and of water during the summer. People must not expect to find a mini-Britain, as they do in parts of Spain, but the Montenegrins are extremely warm and welcoming. As for investment, anyone considering buying must think in terms of at least six years and, because the country is still relatively unknown, can't expect to get full seasons of rentals. This is very much a speculative market."

Ann Ferrier-Ilic is co-director of Montenegro Living (020-8407 0740, www.montenegro-living.com)

THE SOLUTION

Property one: Coastal property in Risan.

Price: €232,000 (£160,000)

Agent's details: This is an old stone house near the coastal area of Kotor. The house is on a 2,000sq m plot and has a build size of 170sq m. It is on two floors with six bedrooms in total. The ground floor has two bedrooms, kitchen, dining room, bathroom and storage room; the first floor has four bedrooms and dining room.

Property two: Perast house

Price: €500,000

Agent's details: This is the oldest house in Perast, standing just 10m from the sea, with perfect views. The stone property has a build size of 180sq m and stands in 300sq m of land.

Property three: House in Orahovac, near Kotor

Price: €156,000

Agent's details: This house lies just 30m from the sea and has wonderful sea views. The internal space measures 100sq m and the house stands within a plot of 300sq m. It is laid out on two floors and has three bedrooms, two bathrooms and one reception room.

THE VERDICT

"This is really interesting. I've heard of Montenegro but haven't met anyone who's bought there or been there. From what Ann suggests, it sounds very beautiful and if it's anything like Croatia, I know it will be.'

"I really like the sound of all three properties, but would definitely like to go and have a look around to see what's available. I know you can fly to Dubrovnik and then it's just a short drive across the border.

"I've heard that cheap flights to Dubrovnik are starting up, so this is likely to have an effect on Montenegro and open it up to British buyers and, of course, have an impact on prices. It's interesting that Ann doesn't advise anyone retiring to go there but the isolation sounds like a positive thing to me. It's not easy these days to find a combination of beautiful scenery at an affordable price."

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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