Snap up a bargain riad in Marrakech

Marrakech is full of riads that need to be loved. They're cheap and beautiful - and now agents can help to ease the hassle. Ginetta Vedrickas searches for paradise
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The Independent Online

Renovating a riad in Morocco sounds daunting. But the country's year-round sun, fascinating culture and wealth of old buildings are proving irresistible to buyers.

Just look at the prices. Many agents advertise ornate but unrenovated riads for just £50,000, but what the pictures don't show is the time and cost that restoration involves.

Some buyers can choose from a wealth of elegantly restored riads that top £1m. But for bargain-hunters, finding a specialist agent to handle the work is crucial. Organising labour from a distance can be impossible if you don't know Arabic.

Many agents are also project managers and run renovation services.

Buyers should allow for at least half the cost again for most projects - and more if properties are inside the medina walls, where access is limited. And be prepared for a lengthy wait.

The French agency Francophiles has 60 riads from £50,000. This gets you an unrenovated, six-bedroom riad, with a roof terrace and panoramic views of Marrakech. After renovation, it could look like a restored three-bedroom riad that Francophiles is selling in the medina for £212,095. This has three bathrooms and a courtyard with a drinking fountain set in a tiled surround.

Riads housed big families. They are elegant buildings that appear unprepossessing from the outside, but they hold many surprises. Behind the entrance is the bhou, the intricately tiled, cool courtyard, which lies at the heart of the house, with many rooms leading off from it.

The bhou usually has a fountain or a pool, and is an ideal place to escape Morocco's searing heat. Arched ceilings typically feature delicately carved woodwork in their doorways and balconies. The best riads are often high in the city walls and have spectacular views from their terraces.

Marrakech is Morocco's most popular city with people who want to buy a riad as a holiday home or a permanent residence, or with those who want to let a riad for a short break (to be let, it must have at least five bedrooms). Rental income for a riad with five en suite rooms can be as high as €1,000 (£675) a night, and the market for city breaks is strong. Ryanair and easyJet now fly regularly to the city, and their fares are as low as £30 each way. The city has charm and sophistication and a mix of upmarket hotels, restaurants and nightclubs. It also has Africa's liveliest main square, the Djemma el-Fna, which teems with jugglers and traders.

There are many estate agents in Marrakech, but Brett Gregory-Peake's company, Investment Adventures, provides personalised trips with English-speaking reps who arrange property sales and excursions for buyers.

"Morocco has this reputation as a mysterious, even dangerous place, but nothing could be further from the truth. Moroccans respect each other - I've never seen any crime."

Firms such as Investment Adventures can help you find a property and even set up a bank account. Mortgages of up to 70 per cent of the purchase price are readily available, but you can get more if your property will boost tourist numbers (which the Government hopes will reach 10 million a year by 2010).

Mr Gregory-Peake was so smitten with Marrakech that he bought a riad with views of one of the king's palaces. It is located near restaurants and hotels and has panoramic views across the city from its roof terrace. He paid £150,000, but it will cost £50,000 to restore. Work will take nine months, but the five-bedroom property could then be worth £400,000.

In the medina, Investment Adventures has a seven-bedroom riad that is British-owned and is a good example of what the finished result can look like.

Priced at £303,069, it brings in £80,000 a year from guests who like its tranquillity.

Peter Johnson, 34, from Surrey, has similar hopes for an unrenovated riad in Mouassine, which he's bought for £315,000.

"I speak neither French nor Arabic, so the idea of trawling around Marrakech trying to find an estate agent was an issue. Hand-holding is essential."

Mr Johnson had read about Marrakech but fell in love with the city, and the house, on his first visit.

He is unperturbed that, to turn it into a chic hotel, it will need £200,000 of work. "Standing on the roof looking down over the garden sealed it. Open the door and you're faced with brightly coloured carpets in the market stall across the road, which is bustling with eager buyers. We've found our dream property."

The agency Savills is selling a sumptuous seven-bedroom riad in Marrakech that has been restored to perfection with a carved wooden balcony and imposing pillars in its courtyard. Priced at £570,974, it could easily earn its keep, says Tony Roberts, whose son makes his living letting the stylish Riad Amira. There are 600 riads being let in the city, but Mr Roberts believes that the market hasn't reached saturation point. "The last time I tried to book for clients, I rang nine before finding space. Marrakech is the place everyone wants to visit."

Francophiles: 01622 688 165/6; www.francophiles.co.uk

Investment Adventures: 020-7087 8008; www.investmentadventures.com

Savills International: 020-7016 3740; www.savills.co.uk

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