A brand-new overseas property with historic connections and situated in an English-speaking area does not sound like the easiest of briefs to fulfil, yet it is one which Barry Mence has managed to achieve, by buying in Malta.
"When I say where I'm buying, people tend to look vague; Malta's been left out on a limb, yet it's only 50 miles off the coast of Sicily," says Mence, who believes that the island will soon be taking on a higher profile now it has been accepted to join the EU. It may seem surprising that few people are familiar with Malta, as each year around 430,000 Britons, more than the island's population, visit the former Briish colony, which is just three hours away from the UK by plane.
Malta gained independence in 1964 and became a republic 10 years later. Buyers like Mence find its historical roots and pervading British influences appealing; all over the island there are familiar sights such as red pillar boxes and blue lamps outside police stations – yet it also has a distinctively non-British climate, with temperatures reaching around 32C in summer months and rarely falling below 10C in the winter.
Mence, chairman of a computer-software company, is the first Briton to buy at the £250m Tigné Point development, where 192 two- to five-bedroom apartments and penthouses, set within eight buildings, are now under construction. He explains what attracted him: "I'd been looking for somewhere to buy for some time, as I'd eventually like to spend more time abroad. I've been to Spain and Italy, which certainly get the sunshine, but Malta is a bit different; they've got a lot of history and they are very pro English."
This month Premier Resorts are launching the second phase of Tigné Point and are offering 58 villa apartments, so-called as some occupy two or three floors, at prices ranging from £220,000 up to £490,000 for a property with views across the harbour to the island's capital, Valletta. But British buyers may need to act fast, as local buyers snapped up all 134 apartments in just three weeks when the development's first phase went on the market last year. Together, the two phases will occupy 99 acres, prompting Premier's sales director James Vassallo's comment: "This will be the biggest urban development in size and scope that Malta has seen since Valletta itself was built in the 16th century."
The apartments lie on the south side of Tigné Point, the promontory where Silema Creek joins the Mediterranean, on the site of a former British barracks, which has lain empty since the 1970s. Mence and his wife Teresa have bought a 650sq ft four-bedroomed, four-bathroom penthouse with sun terraces, rooftop garden and pool, which will be ready for occupation in early 2005. "I prefer to buy somewhere that is absolutely new, but that is also in the vicinity of an old place. Our property will have spectacular views of the Mediterranean, as you can see over the water to Valletta where you see seventeenth-century defences and forts," adds Mence, who plans to become a Maltese resident and benefit from a tax- friendly business base on the island.
The Republic is made up of the islands of Malta, Gozo, Comino and two other inhabited islands. Gozo is popular with those who prefer a more peaceful life, yet it is just a 10-minute ferry ride away from Malta. George Lacey has been selling property in Malta and Gozo for more than 12 years, and he believes that the area is set to soar in popularity: "It's always been popular, but now that it's joining the EU it will be even more so." Lacey points out that restrictions on foreign nationals (only purchasers who could prove a particular level of income have been allowed to buy), will be lifted, along with current restrictions upon types of property foreign buyers are allowed to buy.
Lacey finds that Malta's customs and traditions are an incentive to many: "They all speak English and drive on the left side of the road and the laws are easy to understand which makes the buying process simple." Lacey and Co. currently have property at all levels of the market, starting at a three- bedroomed, first-floor, sea-front apartment in St Julian's, on the St George Park development, which has an L-shaped living and dining room, enclosed balcony and two bathrooms, 24-hour security and parking which is for sale at €135,000.
In Mosta, a double-fronted, three-bedroomed townhouse, just off the town square, is for sale at €225,000 and, also in Mosta, a converted 400-year-old mill house with large courtyard, spacious terrace and room for a pool is on offer at €361,000. In San Lawrenz on Gozo, an old farmhouse with open fireplace, two bedrooms, patio and wine cellar is for sale at €396,000. "Property here is very good value but prices will definitely soon be going up, so now is the time to buy," adds Lacey.
Inspection visits available for Tigné Point from Premier Resorts, 020-8940 9406; Lacey and Co, 01702 603210