House Hunter: 'Is a villa in the Med too expensive?'

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Charles and Geraldine Cooper write: "We are now in our late fifties and have always promised ourselves a home abroad when we near retirement.

THE PROBLEM </>

Charles and Geraldine Cooper write: "We are now in our late fifties and have always promised ourselves a home abroad when we near retirement. We do not want somewhere permanent, just a place we can take fairly long holidays during the summer.

"We live in Norfolk, from where we run a mail order company. We have worked very hard throughout our lives and the 'carrot' has always been a villa in the sunshine for our retirement.

"Although we are not yet ready to give up work completely we are certainly slowing down. Our son is taking over the business and we thought that with prices rising rapidly overseas, now might be the time to purchase.

"Prices seem to have risen most in places like Spain, Italy, Cyprus and Portugal, so we were starting to wonder if we would be better off choosing one of the newer popular destinations like Bulgaria or Croatia. We have looked at homes along the Algarve and the Spanish Costas but recent ads seem to show major development and magnificent homes which have been gradually slipping out of our price range, which is around £70,000 - perhaps £75,000 at a push.

"We have recently been to an overseas homes exhibition and were amazed to see the prices of new and used homes in countries that are alien to us, such as Croatia and Turkey. They appear really competitive and on the face of it look like excellent value for money. What we would really like to know is whether these countries are safe for investment and would we be making a right move?"

THE ADVICE

"Turkey, Croatia, Bulgaria and such countries can seem very good value and I am not surprised Charles and Geraldine are interested in them but, in many cases, such countries have not developed the infrastructure that one now finds in places like Spain and Portugal.

"My first suggestion to Charles and Geraldine would be to take a trip to the country of their choice and analyse what the medical facilities, road links, and general services are like. It may seem obvious, but a few days sitting in a shady café overlooking a sun-drenched fishing harbour does not necessarily mean it is right for long-term living.

"Another matter to consider is whether the homes are habitable in the winter. They may wish to take the family out for Christmas or even Easter and the climate in some of these 'new' countries can be harsh.

"'Value for money' is a much-used term but if you are getting a two-bedroom property which has spasmodic breaks in services, is at the end of a dusty road and where no one speaks English, you may find that 'value for money' doesn't come into the equation. Also, you must consider this from the point of view of investment - some of these emerging countries have unstable economies.

"Another aspect that needs to be considered seriously is who owns the property and the land upon which it sits. Buyers must ensure they only deal with a professional and reputable agent, such as a Fopdac member, and an independent lawyer, before making a substantial financial commitment.

"My advice is by all means take a trip to one of the emerging states, but then visit a popular country such as Spain or Cyprus. Make notes and compare. Charles and Geraldine may feel they are being priced out of the market, but there are a number of very attractive homes that can be bought within their budget with far fewer 'unknowns'. For a couple making their first foray into the overseas market, I would suggest they consider a home in a country that has been tried and tested by British buyers for a number of years."

Adrian Medd is the chairman of the Federation of Overseas Property Developers, Agents and Consultants (0870 350 1223; www.fopdac.com)

THE SOLUTION

Property one: Apartment in Oroklini Village, Larnaca, Cyprus.

Price: One-bedroom apartments from £52,500.

Agent: Halcyon Properties, 01323 891639.

Agent's details: An off-plan investment opportunity to purchase one- and two-bedroom apartments on an exclusive private development, which is close to the beach and all facilities. This complex consists of a central pool with waterfalls, rock pools, pool bar and health club available only to residents. Excellent rental and investment potential.

Property two: House in Lucca, Tuscany, Italy.

Price: €78,000 (£56,000).

Agent: Casa Travella, 01322 660988.

Agent's details: This delightful village property is surrounded by garden. The property is 100m2 in size and needs internal restoration. It is made up of a kitchen with stone fireplace, living room, two ground-floor bedrooms and on the first floor there is a spacious bedroom and storage area. Two large cellars could be made into living space, study or studio flat. The property has original beams and " cotto" floors.

Property three: Half-timbered house in Neufchâtel-en-Bray area, Seine Maritime, Normandy, France.

Price: €111,270 (£79,000).

Agent: Latitudes, 020-8951 5155.

Agent's details: This half-timbered house has a garage and very small 172m2 garden. The property is made up of a living room, dining room, kitchen and WC. On the first floor there are three bedrooms plus bathroom. There is electric heating, store-room and small outbuilding.

THE VERDICT

"We have considered Adrian's comments, but have found it hard to find something in our price range that isn't either in the wrong end of town or surrounded by high-rise blocks. At our age we are looking for something that is pleasantly quiet - although not rural - that is within walking distance of shops and bars, so we can enjoy an evening stroll in a safe environment.

"We agree that a country where few people speak English may have its difficulties, which is one aspect we had not fully appreciated. Adrian's comments about ownership of land and property is another factor that needs really serious consideration and that does make us more inclined to go and look somewhere more popular with British buyers."

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

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