This one's for the kids

Schools are out and Brits are heading to child-friendly homes abroad. Ginetta Vedrickas examines how developers are setting their sights on the family market by creating safe havens
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The Independent Online

The start of the long school summer holidays sees thousands of us taking our children abroad with varying degrees of success, depending upon location, amenities and design of holiday accommodation. But buyers of second homes abroad are now looking for guaranteed family friendly environments and many developers are responding to this growing demand.

The start of the long school summer holidays sees thousands of us taking our children abroad with varying degrees of success, depending upon location, amenities and design of holiday accommodation. But buyers of second homes abroad are now looking for guaranteed family friendly environments and many developers are responding to this growing demand.

Long haul flights may not be most parents' idea of a good start to any holiday but increasing numbers of families now own second homes in the US where a family friendly environment is guaranteed. "Around 80 per cent of our buyers are people with children," says Garrett Kenny of Florida-based agency Coldwell Banker: When they reach their destination children are paramount in developers' minds. "Even at relatively cheap resorts such as Southern Dunes, where properties are on offer for a little as $150,000 (£80,000) they are 100 per cent geared to families and have a clubhouse showing children's films, play areas, pools and tennis courts. It's a total family environment," adds Kenny.

Parents with larger budgets may prefer buying into huge developments such as Reunion. "People visiting Florida are used to visiting theme and water parks but at Reunion they are building a $7m water park on the development itself, along with 20 tennis courts," says Kenny. Prices start from $175,000 for a plot up to $485,000 for a house. Venture capitalist Rupert Lyle recently bought a plot and intends to build a luxurious holiday home for his wife Caroline and their children Emily, three, and one-year-old twins Jack and Harry. Investment was key to Lyle's decision but the appeal of an on-site hotel plus the wide range of child-friendly activities clinched the deal: "The added attraction at Reunion is the range of facilities the rental management will provide; daily maid service, room service, and the security of a gated community. What I feel I've invested in at Reunion is a 2,300-acre hotel and play park for the children."

Many buyers still want traditional homes in semi-rural positions. Barbara Wood of the Property Finders, which operates in Andalucia and Catalunya, advises parents to "go in with their eyes wide open" when assessing properties are for family life. Wood believes buyers don't always get the best advice from estate agents and recalls selling properties that were wholly unsuited to people with young children. "We hoped they wouldn't notice and they frequently didn't."

As a search agent, Wood's brief is to assess properties' suitability in terms of design and location, but she frequently counsels clients against buying rural properties if they have children: "Do you really want to bounce five miles down a dirt track each time you run out of butter?"

Latitudes' Penny Zoldan sells French property and, while her clients often want "the typical French farmhouse", she believes that children benefit from being based on developments: "They tend to have a good mix of nationalities - in areas such as the Languedoc, the French outnumber the English so you often get more of a French lifestyle than if you bought an isolated property so the children can pick up the language."

Latitidues has a range of developments suited to families, including Les Maisons du Lac, Hourtin Port, Gironde, a small development of 40 two-bedroom houses created to look like a fishing village. Houses are priced at €138,000 (£92,000).

Zoldan advises vetting all properties thoroughly for potential hazards. Typical danger zones include patio doors and barbeque areas, which must be clearly sectioned off. Balconies must remain locked at all times and swimming pools are obvious danger zones, although new laws stipulate that all pools must now be securely fenced.

Many clients with children choose France for their overseas homes because of the low crime rate: "They feel they can let their children wander down to the village shops alone without worrying about them. Many people still leave their doors wide open as fear of crime is much less than in the UK."

Finding a low-crime, relaxed location is vital for parents with older children who want independence. Ruth and Kevin Swain have bought at Possidon Beach Gardens, near Larnaca, in Cyprus. "We have two teenage children, Gemma and Tom, and were really delighted when we saw that in all the nearby tavernas other teenagers were drinking coffee and playing backgammon rather than getting drunk." Location was paramount in the Swains' decision: "There's no rowdiness in this resort. It's peaceful and quiet yet within walking distance of a village so we're quite happy to let the children wander around alone." Apartments at Possidon Beach are from 65,000 Cypriot pounds (£74,000) and villas from Cy£190,000.

On the other side of the island, at Aphrodite Hills in Paphos, an integrated golf and leisure resort offers a tranquil environment but with plenty for children to do. Three out of the 11 parks have designated play areas with swings and slides and there are cycle and nature trails winding down through the development up into the protected surrounding forest and down to the coast.

Buyers will also have access to a children's club when the Intercontinental Hotel opens in March 2005. The latest phase at the development, Theseus Village, has a selection of one, two and three-bedroom apartments, townhouses and villas for sale from £145,000 up to £604,000 for a three -bedroom villa.

Coldwell Banker Team Realty: 0871 780 1180, www.coldwellbankerteamrealty.com;

The Property Finders: 01908 218753, www.thepropertyfinders.com;

Latitudes French Property Agents: 020-8951 5155, www.latitudes.co.uk;

Possidon Beach Gardens (Antonis Loizou & Associates): 00357 2465 7067, www.aloizou.com.cy;

Aphrodite Hills (Premier Resorts): 020-8940 9406, www.aphroditehills.com.

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