House Hunter: 'We'd like a house on the Costa Brava with a pool, great views and plenty of living space '

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THE PROBLEM

Bob and Claire Watson write: "We have really fallen in love with the Costa Brava, but we don't know where we should buy or what. This part of Spain is the perfect base to enjoy lots of other places from and it's got a very nice climate. It is like the Cornish coast, but with tavernas instead of smugglers' inns. You are near Barcelona, ski resorts - another of our passions - and not too far from the French border.

"We are looking for a holiday home as we don't want to feel tied to a property, so we are thinking about buying a two-bedroom apartment, a little pied-à-terre, and our budget is around £180,000. Our UK home is a 16th-century farmhouse so we'd like something at the other end of the spectrum as we don't want to have to worry too much about maintenance.

"We went on a house-hunting trip and flew into Barcelona and hired a car but it was very disappointing as we spent three days driving around and not finding anywhere we liked. To the north of Barcelona it's very industrial and then you come across places like Lloret de Mar, which is awful and not somewhere we would like to be at all. We are considering visiting a place called Roses, which has been recommended, but on our last trip we found a lovely little spot, a real Shirley Valentine-type of beach, at Sa Tuna near the medieval hilltop village of Begur.

"I'm a busy businessman and, while I have many years of experience of buying property in the UK, I've absolutely none of buying abroad. I really don't have a lot of spare time to spend looking around, which is very frustrating."

THE ADVICE

"After meeting Bob and Claire I quickly realised that they are not the 'two-bedroom apartment' type. I could see from their house in the UK that an apartment in this part of Spain would not suit them as they tend to be very small. Also, they talked about friends wanting to visit and of their need for privacy so it became clear the apartment idea would not work for them.

"My strategy then was to take them on a whirlwind tour to see as wide a sample of property, location and price as possible to help them focus on where their priorities lay and what they could purchase for their original budget of £180,000. This was a very unusual search, we looked at 12 properties in two days, so they were bombarded! But it was necessary so that they could get a much better understanding of location and budget.

"I cover all of Catalonia and, when I discovered that the Watsons were about to head to Roses, my advice was 'Don't go!' People who love Sa Tuna would not like Roses, which is much more densely populated. They went home with their heads spinning. Afterwards, however, having had a long, hard think about what they really wanted, Bob e-mailed me and the brief was completely different and very specific. I then knew exactly what to look for; a house that was large enough to accommodate their friends, give them some privacy and within walking distance of the beach so that their teenage daughter would have some independence.

"This, of course, changed the budget completely. Usually people have worked out their budget, which I always respect but this case was different. I narrowed the search down to three houses and even had a bet with myself as to which one they would buy and I won! The house they chose has great views, tons of space and is looked after by a community, which is so important for foreign buyers as they don't have to worry while they are away and, when they are there, they can relax without worrying about the pool man or the gardener.

"The Watsons are thrilled and, when you think about it, their brief changed from black to white but the house they finally bought turned out to be exactly what suited them."

Rita Fryer is a search agent for The Property Finders, which operates in Spain (01908 218 753; www.thepropertyfinders.com)

THE SOLUTION

Property one: Detached villa in Els Valls, just outside Begur.

Price: £300,000.

Agent's details:

This house is divided into two apartments with a total of five bedrooms, four bathrooms, private pool, carport for two cars and good views of the sea and village.

Property two: Detached villa in Platja Fonda, Aiguablava.

Price: £340,500.

Agent's details: This house has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large kitchen, dining room, living room, terrace, private pool, double garage and self-contained studio apartment. There are excellent sea views.

Property three: Villa near Sa Riera beach.

Price: £266,000.

Agent's details: This front-line, semi-detached villa has excellent sea views, a private garden with four large terraces, four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a large kitchen, open plan living/dining room with fireplace, plus a second reception room with fireplace, study and three-car garage. There is a communal pool and garden and the property is five minutes' walk to Sa Riera beach.

All properties are through different agents but were located by The Property Finders

THE VERDICT

"After meeting Rita we realised that our initial budget wouldn't be enough. We wanted a house that was private but not remote; a pool; great views; walking distance to the beach and a large amount of living space.

"Rita short-listed three properties, sending photos and details ahead by e-mail and one, property three, fitted the bill exactly and we have now bought it. There were two other buyers for the same property, which had only been on the market for a month, but Rita's influence with the agent tipped the scales in our favour and she got the price down by £6,000.

"We can't believe how stress-free the whole exercise has been. Rita has been by our side through the whole purchase and even helped organise our moving in. Without her help, we would still be dreaming instead of enjoying our view!"

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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