Sun shines again on Spanish costas

The classic villa in Spain still tops the Brit wish list, writes William Raynor. 150,000 owners can't be wrong
Last year, in spite of the idea that the Spanish costas have become an endless Clacton with guaranteed sun, eight million Britons visited Spain. The Spanish Tourist Office says 80 per cent of them went on package holidays, helping to reinforce the stereotype.

Yet, according to Roger Faulks, publisher of Spanish Property News: "Only one in every 30,000 Britons is really interested in buying a property in Spain." That still means that, at any given moment, "maybe 2,000 Brits are looking seriously there".

This is enough for Mr Faulks to estimate that around 150,000 Britons have already bought property in Spain. And, it would seem, the total is still going up even as the market recovers from recession. Not only has the pound risen dramatically against the peseta over the past six months, but there has been a significant - and beneficial - change in Spanish property taxation. One British company specialising in the sale of Spanish property says: "The result is that we're having to turn people away."

In terms of popularity, says Mr Faulks: "It's a three-way fight between the Costa Blanca, the Costa del Sol and the Canaries." Property on the Costa Blanca, south from Denia to Alicante, Benidorm and Cartagena, tends to be 15 to 20 per cent cheaper than on the Costa del Sol, which runs west from Almeria via Malaga, Torremolinos, Fuengirola and Marbella towards Gibraltar.

The Costa Brava, the most northerly of the three Mediterranean coasts loved by the package-tour Brits, it is more expensive still. "Along with the fact that the weather's not so good and people want warmth and sunshine, this is one reason why it has become rather unpopular as a place to buy," says Mr Faulks.

"It's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Lack of international sales volume means most agents won't handle it. The same is possibly true of the Atlantic coast on the north-west, which is rather like Cornwall. So for any one who does want to buy there, the best thing to do is probably to take the ferry and go knocking on doors."

On "the Blanca" and "the Sol", as UK agents call them, coastal property is confined to a narrow corridor. "In many places," Mr Faulks says, "you can be only two miles from the sea before people start talking about 'country properties' and prices start to drop steeply. "

On the costas, he says, the most popular residential property tends to be the classic two or three-bedroom white villa with arches, patio, barbecue and small swimming-pool. On the Costa Blanca, these fall in the pounds 60,000 to pounds 100,000 bracket; on the Costa del Sol, they generally cost pounds 70,000-pounds 125,000. Prices vary with location and proximity to facilities such as marinas and golf. There are exceptions: "The mini-Manhattan of Benidorm, where people go to lie on the sand, drink a lot and stay up late," says Mr Faulks, and the millionaire's paradise of Marbella, "where if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it".

There is increased interest in country properties - the "finkas" and larger farmhouses increasingly being sought by Britons in a belt up to 20 miles from the sea. In Spain, as in France, there's a strong drift away from the land and a rural eagerness to sell, so the further from the sea you look, the more you're likely to get for your money. A delapidated eight-bedroom farmhouse with 100 acres of almond, peach and olive groves, was on the market a few months ago for pounds 115,000.

Different considerations apply on the islands. On the Canaries - off West Africa, 900 miles south of the southern tip of the mainland - British interest is concentrated in South Tenerife, where the accent is on small flats, often one-bedroom and bought for holiday use and investment.

Steve Williams of Seaford-based IPC has studios in South Tenerife for pounds 27,000, one-bed flats for pounds 40,000 and two-beds for pounds 52,000. And, he says, "a one-bed flat grosses the same rent per week - pounds 180 on average - whether it costs pounds 40,000 or pounds 80,000".

As the mainland letting season tends to be summer only, and in the Canaries can be all-year, it's not surprising that half of Brits buying on the Sol and the Blanca buy for residence, while in the Canaries only 30 per cent do so.

But the 70 per cent letting properties can face snags. Because of new laws introduced by the Canarian government two years ago, due to come into force in July, Mr Williams warns: "You need to be careful as to which complex you buy in. Some have become residential only, others mixed, for living in or letting to tourists".

For anyone thinking of buying anywhere in Spain, the fundamental advice remains the same; don't get carried away, and take the same precautions you'd take buying at home. Instruct a lawyer - the Law Society has lists of Spanish lawyers practising here and firms with associates in Spain. And try to stick to established agents and companies with proven track records and professional affiliations.

Contacts: Roger Faulks, "Spanish Property News", tel: 0181-297 9194; Steve Williams, IPC, Seaford, tel: 01323-899204; the Law Society, tel: 0171-242 1222