House Hunter: We want to buy a rustic hideaway in Crete

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THE PROBLEM

THE PROBLEM

John Brentingham writes: We have recently re-mortgaged our four-bedroom detached home in a desirable village just outside Bristol. We originally moved in nearly 20 years ago and have made changes to the property, including a double-storey extension. As a result of this - and a favourable property market - we have been able to release almost £100,000 in equity.

We would like to reinvest this sum in property, but rather than buy something in the UK, we would ideally like a place that we can use as a holiday home, with a view to moving there permanently when our children leave home.

Watching Channel 4's No Going Back series, we were inspired by the young family who moved to Crete. The area they chose looked wonderful - still very traditional and untouched by tourism. We loved the house they bought - a beautifully rustic stone property which seemed like an absolute bargain.

We would love something similar, but as it was a couple of years ago, I wonder whether property like this is still available or whether prices have perhaps increased beyond our budget? We would like a country property in a Cretan traditional village for about £100,000. I am happy to undertake some renovation work - but preferably not too much. We would like some land so we can have a garden or orchard.

Is it complicated to buy there? How much of our budget do we need to keep back for fees and taxes?

THE ADVICE

Katy Pownall writes: You are right to assume that the property market in Crete has changed in the past couple of years. Although it's still a very young market and excellent value compared with most of the rest of Europe, prices have steadily increased and the days of picking up a property for £20,000 have gone (anything priced around this mark will be a major renovation project).

Contrary to popular belief, traditional stone village houses, such as the one you describe, do not come on to the market often and few have gardens. As this is the kind of property almost all buyers seek, you might find your options more limited than you had initially imagined. You may have to compromise on one of your requirements (eg settle for a roof terrace rather than a garden) and you'll probably pay a premium - particularly if the house has already been renovated.

That is not to say you won't find a beautiful, well-priced home. There are several good agencies based in the UK with associates in Crete to sniff out the properties you describe, and they have lots of options on their books. Provided you stay open-minded, I've no doubt you will find something within budget.

In terms of the best areas to look, there is still plenty of choice. Though tourism and the associated development has made substantial advances in Crete, particularly in the north, it is easily avoided by heading inland where plenty of traditional villages can still be found. One of the peculiarities of Crete is that just a couple of kilometres from a bustling coast resort you can find yourself in what feels like another century.

While many people don't even consider the main tourist destinations of Heraklion or Lassithi provinces, assuming they won't offer the kind of seclusion and environment they seek, a little investigation with the help of someone with local knowledge can reveal the most unspoilt, hidden villages within a good distance of beaches and all amenities.

Once you have found a property, you will sign a preliminary agreement and hand over a deposit (typically 10 per cent). Next, your lawyer will conduct all the necessary searches and you can commission a survey if you wish. When you are happy that everything is in order, you will sign the contract in front of the notary, and pay the balance of the asking price. Costs (inclusive of property taxes, legal fees and notary fees) will come to about 10 per cent of the property price.

THE SOLUTION

Property one: Fully renovated stone village house.

Price: £104,000.

Agent's details: This old stone house was sympathetically refurbished in 2000 and now has two en-suite bedrooms with air-conditioning, paved floors, wooden-beamed ceilings, two first-floor terraces and central heating. Though it doesn't have a garden, there is a spacious courtyard (currently home to a large whirlpool bath) and terrace. The village, Latsida, has tavernas, cafés and a small shop. It is also well serviced by travelling shops (trucks selling everything from bread to shoes). The seaside resort of Agios Nikolaos is about 15 minutes away.

Agent: Crete Homes (00 30 2841 028804; www.crete-homes.com).

Property two: An unfinished village house in Tilissos with garden.

Price: £51,000.

Agent's details: On the edge of a lovely village, this house needs to be decorated and requires a sink (at such a good price, though, there is plenty left over for materials and work). Accommodation comprises a large living room and open-plan kitchen, a bedroom and bathroom. Though the property is new and not stone, all windows are traditional (with wooden shutters) and all floors are tiled. Unusually for a house in a village, there is a large back garden containing fruit trees and a front garden with a large veranda and lots of roses.

Agent: Crete Property Consultants (020 7328 8209; www.creteproperty.co.uk).

Property three: A traditional stone country house

Price: £82,200.

Agent's details: This two-storey house has been restored and is habitable but needs further work. External walls have re-pointed, exposed stonework. The wooden ceilings contain original beams. The ground floor has a courtyard leading into a large living room and kitchen/dining area, a second room, a toilet and cellar. The house is near Rethymnon.

Agent: Euroimmo Investments (00 30 2831 029685; www.euroimmo.gr).

* Life in a traditional Cretan village can be idyllic - quiet, unhurried and inexpensive. It can also be a little claustrophobic if you are used to a more frenetic pace. Socialising will revolve around visits to the village taverna and, as the "foreigner" you are likely to be the centre of attention for a while and attract plenty of friendly curiosity. Another thing to bear in mind is that you will need to speak Greek as it is unlikely that there will be English speakers in such a small, traditional community. * If you buy a plot in Crete with a view to building your own property, do check the status of the land as strict building regulations operate in some areas. The best thing to do is ask a local registered architect/engineer for a written appraisal - your lawyer may be able to help.

* Local building regulations can be problematic if, during a renovation project, you wish to change the profile of the building. Check with the local authorities before committing to the sale if your plan is to alter or extend the property in any significant way.

* Renovation can be more expensive than you think it is going to be. Set aside about £400 per square metre for the work.

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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