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What to consider when buying a second home abroad

PUBLISHED: 12:06 22 May 2015 | UPDATED: 12:27 22 May 2015

Vila Pisignano, Italy, Savills

Vila Pisignano, Italy, Savills

Archant

With our long grey winters, and somewhat unreliable summers, many of us dream of owning a home on the continent.

Rogoznica, Croatia, SavillsRogoznica, Croatia, Savills

According to Jelena Cvjetkovic, an associate director in Savills international department, now is a great time to buy.

“Because of the current exchange rate, property prices across Europe are on average 15 per cent lower than this time last year, and 22 per cent lower than July 2013. They are expected to grow, however, especially in areas such as Ibiza, Majorca and Marbella, so it’s worth getting in there soon.”

But, says Jelena, there’s a lot to think about before making your purchase. Here she offers five handy tips to help you get it right.

Start your search early

If you are looking for a home in the Mediterranean, for example, it is a good idea to start your search early in the year, and if possible make your first viewing trip during the winter. Many properties used as second homes will be empty then, therefore access is almost guaranteed. In spring and summer, suitable properties are more likely to be occupied by owners or rented out, making viewing arrangements more difficult. Also, if you like the property in winter, you are bound to love it in the spring or summer when gardens are in full bloom and swimming pools in action.

Vale do Lobo, Portugal, on the market for ¬4million with SavillsVale do Lobo, Portugal, on the market for ¬4million with Savills

Research the area

It sounds obvious but maps on website listings are not always 100 per cent accurate and could well show you to the nearest village or town rather than the property itself. This is for safety reasons as houses used as second homes are often empty for long periods of the year. However, after you register your details, the agent can give you the coordinates for a satellite view of the property and surrounding area. Study it closely.

Also be aware of idiosyncrasies of certain areas: in many parts of Tuscany, for example, it’s difficult to find a country house within walking distance of a village.

Renovation

Once you have found your dream home, it is easy to get carried away refurbishing or renovating – to ‘overspec’ and overspend. Consider what use you will make of the property.

Paris, France, on the market for ¬4,140,000 with SavillsParis, France, on the market for ¬4,140,000 with Savills

Does it really need complete rewiring in order to install a smart home system if you are only going to use it for summer holidays? Equally,

the investment you make on creating a super-sophisticated rural retreat may be difficult to recover if or when you come to sell the property.

Travel and time difference

A beach home in an exotic location might sound wonderful, but if your job or personal circumstances mean that you have to be contactable at all times, or able to return at short notice, your choice will be restricted somewhat.

For this reason Portugal works well, as its 9-5 is aligned with the UK’s.

Binibeca, Menorca, on the market for ¬530,000 with Hamptons InternationalBinibeca, Menorca, on the market for ¬530,000 with Hamptons International

Good access, with a choice of two airports is always desirable. Sotogrande and Marbella, for example, are both excellent choices because you can fly in/out of both Malaga and Gibraltar.

Rental potential

You may only want a property for your personal use now, but needs change. Work may take you to another continent for a few years, making the house difficult to access, or the children might fly the nest.

If you decide to rent your house out, is there a suitable room for storing your belongings ?

If you are in the market for a lovely, large country house, think if it can be ‘compartmentalised’ allowing you to rent out only a part of it. Are there outbuildings which could be turned into holiday cottages one day?

Casa Tremezzina, Como, Italy, on the market for ¬865,000 with SavillsCasa Tremezzina, Como, Italy, on the market for ¬865,000 with Savills

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Ham&High editor Geoff Martin talks about buying a holiday home in Spain

Overlooking the small inland town of Benitachell lies what estate agents describe as ‘’a charming two-bed villa with spectacular panoramic views.’’ I couldn’t agree more: that’s why I bought it.

Ten years ago I had reached the point of exasperation in the search for a cute little Spanish property that would be both a holiday retreat and, eventually, a place to join the exodus of Brits escaping long winters and overcrowded cities for life in the sun.

Ca'del Felze, Venice, Italy, on the market for ¬2,450,000 with SavillsCa'del Felze, Venice, Italy, on the market for ¬2,450,000 with Savills

With the euro at 1.42 to the pound, there were bargains to be had but finding that little gem amid the dross was proving difficult.

Then an estate agent drove me at dusk into a well-kept urbanisation and unlocked the rear gates to what at first seemed a fairly average ‘opportunity’, benefitting from the things estate agents like to talk about: a glazed naya, underfloor heating (it can get nippy in winter), easily-maintained outdoor space complete with palm trees and automatic irrigation, hot and cold running water (not always a given).

But I wasn’t sold until he ushered me through sliding windows to a spacious balcony overlooking the town, with the Montgo mountain rising majestically in the distance and the twinkling lights of distant villas carved around it like a golden necklace.

‘’The view is free,’’ said the agent. Well, it set me back a couple of hundred thousand euros. Without that view, it would have been just another small villa, looking for an owner.

I don’t regret it. Friends and family love to go there and I wish I could more often. At night, when the distant rumble of traffic has dimmed, it’s heavenly to sit outside with a glass of wine and count the shooting stars while hearing not a single sound not made by nature.

Quinta do Lago, Portugal, on the market with Hamptons InternationalQuinta do Lago, Portugal, on the market with Hamptons International

Buying property in Spain isn’t straightforward. There are all kinds of local rules and regulations you need to be aware of. Charges and taxes will easily add at least 12 per cent to the cost.

Forest fires are not unheard of so insurance is important and keeping ahead of utility bills from a thousand miles away is a constant pursuit. Electricity and water companies will cut you off at a stroke, and restore your supply just as quickly, once the bill is settled.

My advice: work with experts and put all your property management into the hands of a good local solicitor. It will add to your outgoings, but lessen the pain.

It’s a good time to dream. The Spanish housing market is now less volatile than when neighbours informed me just a few years ago that their property had halved in value: mine too. Happily for me, the area around Javea is now ‘much sought-after’ and values have been restored.

And the view is as spectacular as ever.

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