Only sun seekers need apply

Almost every week sees new villas and developments being launched on the Costas - but how can you tell the good buys from the bad guys? Try the Viva Espana event, says Ginetta Vedrickas

Spain continues to top the destination list for overseas buyers - although agents can't agree which of the Costas provides the best location in terms of investment and amenities. But two things are certain: the Spanish property market remains one of Europe's most buoyant - with six per cent rise predicted in the coming year - and buyers can access an increasing amount of information on the subject.

The third Viva España exhibition takes place at Olympia later this month and will be the largest event so far. Prospective buyers can talk to developers and agents from regions both popular and unknown, get free legal advice on buying and financing projects, as well as information on health and education. There will also be cultural events and seminars with a Spanish theme.

Viva España's organisers, Blendon Communications, this month launch their magazine of the same name, which will cover Spanish property, lifestyle and culture. Editor George Sell says: "We're targeting true Hispanophiles, whether they're going on a city break or are considering a permanent move out there. We're going to build on our links with the exhibitions and will be mixing serious with lighter stuff."

There's little excuse these days for not doing thorough research before buying, but some agents believe that increased demand has led to falling standards. Paul Wright recently started the Costa del Sol-based Sequoia Property Group to provide better information for buyers. "Because of massive demand, most international companies have undergone enormous expansion to maximise the market and they' ve taken on new, inexperienced people who can't find their way out of Puerto Banus. The biggest is not always the best."

Wright points to the scandals in Marbella where many owners, including actor Antonio Banderas, discovered that their homes had been built without full planning permission. "People should be very careful," says Wright. "They are often told that their homes are next to greenbelt land and no more building will be allowed, then the next minute you see a hotel being built."

Sequoia is concentrating on re-sale property, which Wright believes offers good value. Although many buyers priced out of the market have been looking at the Costa Blanca and the Costa del Azahar, Wright says: "Places like the Costa Blanca just don't have this climate. In the last few days it's been around 19 degrees every day, and the prices up there are not much different to here either."

But other agents believe that the Costa Blanca, dubbed "Spain's Golf Coast" by developers, will rival the Costa del Sol, thanks to the surge in links developments there. Ultra Villas say that their new La Finca Golf Resort will see a 50 per cent increase in values if a televised PGA event goes ahead. Between Alicante and La Manga there are currently 15 championship golf courses and another 10 under construction, including the 500 hectare La Finca at Algorfa, which will also have 2,400 homes comprising a mix of villas, townhouses and apartments. Prices start from £105,580 for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment up to £275,858 for a three-bedroom villa with pool and garden.

But Spain isn't all mass development; the country is seeing some innovatory architecture and design. Ocean Estates recently unveiled a glass villa in La Quinta, Nueva Andalucia as part of its international "platinum collection". Built in a nautical style, the two-bedroom, two-bathroom house is, unusually for Spain, constructed largely of glass panels and is for sale at €2,640,000. Ocean's corporate director Paul Blagden explains: "We launched the platinum collection, our high-end villas, as we realise there's a great difference between clients looking for a million-pound-plus home and those looking for a holiday home for around £200,000."

The collection also includes property in the Costa Blanca, where prices in areas such as Altea are similar to the Costa del Sol. Blagden agrees that buyers must exercise caution when choosing a developer or agent. Ocean have recently introduced title deed insurance which protects buyers from nasty surprises over their Spanish property's legality and their representatives at Viva España are Spain-based, says Blagden: "Our representatives live in the country and really know their locations, which can help buyers decide which region is best for them. But buyers should be wary as I regularly come across UK-based companies selling Spanish property who have never even been to Spain."

Viva España: Olympia 23-25 January, Fri-Sat 10-6pm, Sun 10-5pm; 0870 120 0332, www.viva espana2004.com

Sequoia Property Group: 0034 9 5292 9399; www.sequioapg.com

Ultra Villas: 01242 221500; www.ultravillas.com

Ocean Estates: 0800 298 7850; www.oceanplatinum.com

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