Sue Arnold: Thinking of buying abroad? Mother knows best

Gabriella bought a monastery in Tuscany and is now in the middle of a lawsuit with her builders
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For those whose knowledge of Eastern European geography is as hazy as mine, you turn right for Bulgaria when you get to Romania or left if you're coming from Turkey. As for Hyderabad, it's pretty much slap in the middle of India midway between National Rail Enquiries and my building society. Sorry, I mean between Delhi and Bangalore. Whatever else they may have set out to achieve, call centres have certainly taken the romance out of those faraway places with strange-sounding names that are supposed to be calling me. Instead I'm calling them and it's costing me a fortune but I digress.

All this, in case you hadn't guessed, is about investing in the property market - a subject which is uppermost in the waking thoughts of most of the people I run into these days. I've asked you this before but it's worth repeating. What do you call a room full of women drinking chardonnay and talking about house prices? A book club. Over the years there have been various television series about couples from Burnley selling up their houses and giving up their jobs to grow figs in Tuscany or breed goats in Lesbos. Good for them. What pluck, what initiative. I salute their pluck, I admire their initiative if only they would just get on with their figs and goats and stop writing books about their exciting new lives. Peter Mayle has a lot to answer for.

Now, however, with house prices falling nationwide, I've run into a new breed of Brit looking for property in far-flung parts, not as an exciting alternative permanent way of life but as a long-term investment. They are sussing out places where they reckon people will need to live in, say, five years' time and getting in quick now before everyone else jumps on the bandwagon. It's easy. You get yourself a cheap flight on the internet, do a quick recce, buy a couple of houses for peanuts, make a few basic improvements like putting on a roof, maybe even live there for a week just for the hell of it. And then when the place opens up you're quids in. I met a fellow in Goa last March who said he invested £5,000 on property in the middle of Hyderabad as soon as someone told him about Bill Gates. But was he sure Microsoft was moving from Seattle to India, I said. There hadn't been anything about it in the newspapers. My informant rubbed the side of his nose with a knowing air. "Trust me, I've never been wrong yet," he said.

Too bad he wasn't around when my friend Monica from Montenegro bought a flat in London four years ago at the top of the market. The rent she gets from it along with the wages from her three part-time and one full-time job supports her entire family back home. But London rents have plummeted, unlike her mortgage. Montenegro is now the new holiday destination with package companies falling over themselves to get punters. If Monica had bought a shack on the Budva Riviera four years ago it would now be worth more than her flat in Shepherd's Bush.

Frankly, I couldn't care less where Bill Gates takes his Windows but Bulgaria is closer to home. My youngest daughter is thinking of buying a house there. Someone told her that with EU membership on the horizon, it was the place to invest. You can pick up a villa on the Black Sea for £3,000, she said, which surprised me, not the price but the fact that she knew where Bulgaria was. Right now she lives in a house on the beach in Goa which she has rented for £800 for the year while she looks for fabrics and tailors and cobblers to make up the clothes she designs. It's a lovely little house with a tiled veranda - why on earth had she suddenly thought of investing in Bulgaria?

Hang on, had she been talking to the man playing Monopoly in Hyderabad? Because if she had, she'd better listen to her mother instead. I told her about Gabriella who bought a 14th-century monastery in Tuscany and is now in the middle of a lawsuit with her builders. I told her about Tony and Maria who bought a dream house in Koh Samui only to discover that they've got to build a two-mile road across a granite escarpment to get to it. Investing in property abroad is fine if you're called McAlpine, but if you're not it's a nightmare. All right, Mum, she said. That must be a first.

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