Interior monologues

Believe it or not, there's a patch of southern Spain yet to be colonised by high rise buildings. Gordon Miller explores the Costa Calida
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The Independent Online

An estimated 50,000 Britons will leave behind the UK this year to begin a new life in Spain. Graham and Pam Bell, and their 12-year-old daughter, Jamie, from Wooton Bassett, Wiltshire, will be among those emigrating to work rather than retire.

An estimated 50,000 Britons will leave behind the UK this year to begin a new life in Spain. Graham and Pam Bell, and their 12-year-old daughter, Jamie, from Wooton Bassett, Wiltshire, will be among those emigrating to work rather than retire.

"Spain has everything we could want," said Graham. "It has good, fresh food, a healthy and more relaxed outdoor lifestyle, a great climate, and business opportunities, where those who work hard are rewarded and get to keep more of what they earn than they would in the UK." And the Bells are not afraid of hard work. They run Camino Properties which, working with Spain-based AGS Properties, finds properties and arranges mortgages for Britons looking to buy in Spain.

A registered mortgage broker with several years' experience in the UK financial markets, Graham moved into overseas mortgages three years ago. He plans not only to continue to run a UK office while developing new business in Spain, but is also looking to open new offices in Cheshire and Lincolnshire. "I will, of course, have staff in the UK to drive new business to Spain," said Graham, "but with modern technology, the internet and websites, I see no reason why I cannot carry on an equally good and successful business located away from the UK and enjoy some of the finer things in life that Spain has to offer, too."

The learning curve should not be too great for the Bells; property transacting is mostly similar in the UK and Spain. Also, as in Britain, estate agents do not have to be registered to do business, simply needing to apply for a license, although bona fide companies such as AGS Properties advocates buyers use an overseas agent who belongs to a registered professional body in the UK, such as the Federation of Overseas Property Developers, Agents and Consultants (Fopdac).

AGS Properties are Fopdac members with sales offices on the Costa Blanca and Costa de la Luz. The company also markets properties on the Costa Azahar, Costa Almeria, Costa del Sol and Costa Calida, the coastal region of Murcia province, where the Bells have bought. "We have bought an amazing five-bedroom, three-bathroom house with private pool and a huge under-build area on 1,600sqm of land near Calasparra for £240,000," said Graham. "The exciting city of Murcia is 30 minutes' drive away and we are within an hour of the beautiful Mar Menor resort on the Costa Calida."

The Mar Menor (literally "the smaller sea"), Europe's largest salt-water lagoon, is a haven for water sports enthusiasts. Almost entirely closed off from the Mediterranean Sea by two headlands, the water temperature is several degrees warmer than elsewhere on the coast.

In high summer, the area is popular with Spanish holidaymakers escaping the unbearable heat of the cities inland, and its relaxed, low-rise atmosphere tends to appeal to families rather than a younger crowd. In particular, many middle-aged and older folk visit for the health-giving properties attributed to the Mar Menor, due to its high iodine and salt concentration, and it's not uncommon to come across figures relaxing beside the water, encrusted in grey-black mud from torso to toe.

A relatively undiscovered area to Britons, the Costa Calida and Mar Menor adjoin the southern tip of the Costa Blanca in Spain's south-eastern corner, and its most famous landmark is La Manga hotel and resort. House prices on this coast have traditionally been 20 to 30 per cent cheaper than for similar properties on the Costa Blanca and up to 50 per cent cheaper than those of its southern neighbour, the Costa del Sol.

Today, with several budget airlines flying into Murcia San Javier airport, prices on the coast are catching up to those on the more illustrious Costas. Tony Sparkes, founder of AGS Properties says: "The discerning British buyer is seeing the advantages of purchasing inland, where he is getting virtually twice the value for money."

AGS Properties currently has a two-bedroom, one-bathroom finca (traditional Spanish farmhouse) in need of modernisation. Situated in a rural location on 43,000sqm, it is priced at £76,000. In Calasparra, the nearest town to where the Bells have bought, AGS Properties has a five-bedroom, four-bathroom 170sqm apartment at £114,000. Overlooking the town square, but with the countryside on its back doorstep, it has the best of both worlds - a sentiment the Bells share. "We consciously chose not to live at a coastal resort as we want to become part of a Spanish community," says Pam. "We have been delighted to learn that the locals give Spanish lessons to help us to integrate more quickly."

While learning the language fluently may take Graham and Pam a while, their daughter Jamie should be speaking Spanish in no time at all. "Jamie starts school in September," said Graham, "and she, like all of us, can't wait to get on with her new life in Spain as soon as possible."

www.agsproperties.com, 0800 587 6718

www.caminoproperties.co.uk, 01793 855552

www.fopdac.com, 020-8941 5588

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