House Hunter: 'We love Spain, but not the high-rise resorts'

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THE PROBLEM

THE PROBLEM

Jeanette Wilson writes: "My husband and I are head teachers, so we enjoy lovely long holidays, particularly in the summer. We have talked for a long time about buying a property abroad in which we can spend these holidays, so saving ourselves the expense and hassle of hiring accommodation for such long periods at peak times. We are now in a financial position to do so and our thoughts have turned to Spain - a country we have loved for a long time - but our search is proving frustrating. Can you help?

"We have teenage children and lots of friends keen to come over from the UK and stay with us for long weekends, so the property needs to be within a reasonable drive of an airport.

"It should also be within striking distance of the coast for day trips and, ideally, within a comfortable drive of a golf course or two, as we are both keen golfers.

"The problem is that we do not want to face the bustle, high-rise and expense of most resorts on the Costa del Sol or the Costa Blanca - which seems to be where all the agents that we approach sell. We would also like a property with a bit of character rather than an apartment in a huge block on a golf course or near a beach, which is all we seem to be finding so far.

"Our budget is £200,000 and for this we would like something of a good size with at least two bedrooms so we can entertain while in situ. Are we asking too much?"

THE ADVICE

Katy Pownall replies: No, you definitely aren't asking too much - you just seem to be asking the wrong agents and looking in the wrong places. The Costas del Sol and Blanca remain the most popular places for Brits to buy, which is why so many agents and developers are still punting them. But there are other, far less developed, stretches of coastline that will offer you golf and beaches.

I would suggest that you search the internet or exhibitions for agents who sell property on the Costa Calida (south of the Costa Blanca and running from Cartagena to Aguilas), the Costa del Azahar (stretching north from Valencia) or the Costa Almeria (from Vera in the north to beyond the Cabo del Gato-Nijar natural park).

Though popular with the Spaniards, these 'lost costas' have remained mysterious to the overseas market until recently, as the coastal roads left much to be desired. Now that infrastructure has improved and the tourist industry is burgeoning, building is beginning but on a minimal scale. With strict regulations in many places, these costas are likely to be spared the concrete-jungle fate of the others.

This does not mean they are short of amenities, however - developers and tourist boards alike realised a long time ago that golf was a big draw for most Europeans; now, virtually every Spanish costa, has at least one 18-hole links.

These 'lost' costas will have plenty of new-build property, but not to the same extent as the Costa del Sol and Blanca. Because you are not entirely opposed to new-build, rather mass apartment blocks, it may be worth considering a property on these quieter golf courses. Most golf villages are very well designed, with plenty of green space, and few allow building higher than two storeys. Also, golf property here is likely to see good appreciation as more people flee the overdeveloped coast.

If you really want to get off the beaten track, you could widen your search and investigate areas further inland away from most development but within driving distance of the ocean, golf and an airport.

As well as meeting many of your criteria, these costas offer the bonus of a relatively immature property market. This means that in comparison to the Costa del Sol and Blanca, you will get more for your money - particularly on the Costa del Azahar and Costa Almeria. You also stand to benefit from any property price rises in the coming years. Here are three properties to give you an idea of what's available:

THE SOLUTION

Property one: A renovated finca in San Isidro on the Costa Calida.

Price: €300,000 (around £210,000, though the agent assures me an offer of £200,000 would be considered).

Agent's details: Fully renovated 18 months ago, this finca has four bedrooms, three bathrooms, three reception rooms, a large kitchen/ breakfast room and a roof terrace. Outside is a swimming pool, barbecue and dining area, in just under four acres of land. San Isidro is 10 minutes west of Cartagena, the main town on the Costa Calida. Driving time to Murcia airport is 35 minutes and about 15 to the coast. There are plenty of golf courses in the area including La Manga (35 minutes), Mazarron (30 mintues) and Mosa Trajectum (20 minutes).

Agent: European Villa Solutions, 01223 5142; www.europeanvs.com.

Property two: Apartment at Panoramica Golf and Country Club, Vinaros, Costa del Azahar.

Price: €149,228 (£104,326) plus VAT of 7 per cent.

Agent's details: This apartment is on the upper floor and overlooks the fairway and mountains. It has two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a private terrace. There is also a large storeroom that could be converted into a study. Residents have use of the communal gardens and two swimming pools, and benefit from preferential golf rates. Reus airport is about an hour's drive and the beaches of the Costa del Azahar a few kilometres from the resort. Within a one hour drive, there are four other golf courses.

Agent: CISA, 0800 093 10 20; www.cisa.es.

Property three: Newly refurbished cortijo in Urcal, in the foothills outside Huercal Overa, Costa Almeria.

Price: €299,950 (£210,000).

Agent's details: This cortijo has three bedrooms and boasts two one-bedroom guest houses. It comes with a 10,000sqm plot that includes an enclosed patio at the front and a large courtyard with room for a pool at the back. Electricity is solar-powered, though mains electricity can be easily connected. Urcal is a small village, but does have supermarkets and medical facilities, and is within easy reach of the motorway. The coast is a 30-minute drive and the Desert Springs Golf Course is 25 minutes away. More golf courses are under development nearby.

Agent: Casas Almeria, 01367 240013; www.casasalmeria.com.

Average prices for a typical two-bedroom apartment along the Spanish coastline vary a great deal, depending on whether you're talking costa-lot or costa-little. The following prices are a rough guideline: £200,000 on the Costa del Sol; £125,000 on the Costa Blanca; £91,000 on the Costa Almeria; £100,000 on the Costa Calida and £98,000 on the Costa del Azahar.

As with any property purchase, always use an independent lawyer who is experienced in handling overseas sales. There have been reports of buyers of rural homes falling foul of land classification law in Andalucia and, in some cases, losing their property or part of their land to the authorities. A check of the classification of the land by your lawyer will safeguard you.

Again, it may sound obvious, but you really need to visit and get to know these areas before deciding to buy property there. If all you know of Spain is the Costa del Sol or Blanca you may be in for a shock. Inland Costa Almeria, for example, has a rugged, dry landscape that may not be to everyone's taste.

If you would like House Hunter's help, write to: The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, 020-7005-2000 or e-mail: househunter@independent.co.uk

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