First stop for sunnier days

If you're thinking of buying abroad, visiting an overseas property exhibition can be a good place to start. Mary Wilson rounds up some of the best shows, and offers advice on how to negotiate your way through the bagfuls of brochures
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Ian Barnett was one of thousands who visited the Homes Overseas Exhibition in Earls Court earlier this year, and has just completed on a five-bedroom house in Florida. "We knew about Florida from holidays there, and must have talked to eight or nine exhibitors. Some seemed to know more than others; some just didn't ring true. Once we got home, we looked on the web to check them out and find out more." The shows are a good way to compare developments in the same area. Some are huge, with many, many exhibitors to work your way through; others are the complete reverse with only one company exhibiting its wares. So, which show should you visit, and why?

Homes Overseas Exhibitions, 020-7939 9888, www.homesoverseas.co.uk

Venues: More than 30 exhibitions a year, at 10 venues in the UK.

Next shows: 13-15 February, Manchester; 20-22 February, Birmingham; 28-29 February, Belfast; 5-7 March, Olympia.

Size: Large. Between 6,000 and 8,000 people visit the London shows. The regional venues only see about 1,000.

Exhibitors: 188 in London, and from 19 to 98 at the regional shows.

Areas covered: Spain, the Balearics and Canary Islands, France, Portugal, Cyprus, Malta, Turkey, Sardinia, Italy, Greece, Florida, South Africa, Croatia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Australia, Thailand, Shanghai, Goa, Canada, Dubai, Egypt and St Lucia.

Type of exhibitor: Developers and estate agents, legal, financial and tax advisors, mortgage and currency advisors, removal companies.

Pros: A wide variety of countries and exhibitors to visit. Also daily seminars at the larger shows on the purchase process, pensions, investment, tax planning and inheritance issues.

Cons: With many companies covering exactly the same properties in one area and at the more popular stands, it can get like bees at a honey pot with little time for in-depth discussions.

World Class Homes, 01582 832001, www.worldclasshomes.co.uk:

Venues: Local hotels all around the country throughout the year.

Next shows: Today, 12 Lees Place, London W1; 29 November, St Albans, Maidenhead, Gatwick Airport, Birmingham Airport, Lincoln, Wheathampstead.

Size: Small. Visitors vary from two to 50. The company's ideal is 15.

Exhibitors: Representatives from World Class Homes.

Areas covered: Spain, South Africa, the Balearics, Portugal, Cyprus, Barbados.

Pros: Highly personal, with time to talk to someone for hours if you wish.

Cons: Only one agent, so no comparisons can be made.

Viva Espana, 0870 120 0332, www.vivaespana2004.co.uk

Venues: Twice a year at Olympia, London and the NEC, Birmingham.

Next show: Olympia, 23-25 January.

Size: Huge; over 27,000 people pitched up to the London show this year.

Exhibitors: 150 property companies, plus an additional 60 stalls.

Area covered: Only Spain, but includes the Balearic and Canary Isles.

Type of exhibitor: Developers, estate agents, travel firms, and banks, mortgages and removal companies. There are daily seminars, a financial pavilion, stands on Spanish wine and food and demonstrations of flamenco.

Pros: Great if you are set on Spain and want to find out all about the country.

Cons: Can be very crowded and with so many exhibitors all singing the same tune, it could be a bit of a lottery sorting the wheat from the chaff.

International Property Show, 01962 735612, www.internationalpropertyshow.com

Venues: London and Cheshire.

Next shows: 5-6 February, Hilton Hotel, Park Lane, London; 13-14 March, Tatton Park, Cheshire.

Size: From 1200 to 1500 people a show.

Exhibitors: About 35 in London, 20 in Cheshire.

Areas covered: Spain, Portugal, Italy, Malta, Gibraltar, Greece, Turkey, France, Bulgaria, South Africa, Dubai, Turks & Caicos Islands and Florida.

Type of exhibitor: Developers, estate agents, foreign exchange, financial, mortgage advice, legal.

Pros: With fewer visitors, they can take time to discuss their particular likes and dislikes. At the larger exhibitions you often see people leaving with carrier bags of brochures, which will probably all go into the bin.

Cons: Less choice of companies to speak to and no facilities for a snack or drink within the show.

Ocean Estates Marbella, 00 34 952 811 750, www.oceanestates.com

Venues: At hotels almost daily around the country, and one weekend a month in London with separate shows for investors and holiday-home owners.

Next shows: 27 November, Brighton; 28 Nov, Portsmouth; 29 Nov, Southampton; 30 Nov, Poole; 1 December, Bristol; 2 Dec, Cardiff, 4 Dec, Manchester, 6-7 Dec, The Dorchester Hotel, London.

Size: Small - around 75 to 80 a day in London and around 40 in the regional hotels.

Exhibitors: Representatives from Ocean Estates, plus legal and financial advisors.

Areas covered: Spain (Costa del Sol and Costa Blanca), South Africa and Thailand, with models of new developments and around 200 re-sale properties in Spain.

Pros: Good if you are only interested in the areas they cover. Also, it's a chance to speak to agents who are actually based in Spain and South Africa.

Cons: Only one agent, so no comparisons can be made.

TIPS FROM THE EXPERTS

Do ask as many questions as possible.

Do your own research after the exhibition: check out more information on the internet or talk to other agents.

Do see the property first.

Do take legal and financial advice.

Do remember that prices can fluctuate because of changing currency exchange rates.

Do take as much time as you need before making a decision.

Don't get carried away about one development, without first checking out what else is on offer.

Don't agree to buy something immediately and, if you do put down a reservation fee, try to insist that it is refundable.

Don't take on face value what you are told about possible rental income - ask for testimonials of what can really be achieved.

Don't forget to include all the hidden costs - maintenance, day-to-day running costs and communal/service charges and tax on rental income, plus around 10 per cent to cover all the associated fees.

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