Search in the sun: 2009 hotspots

Cathy Hawker advises on how and where to buy a home abroad this year
New apartments by the sea at Imperia in Umbria, Italy
£180,000: new apartments by the sea at Imperia in Umbria, Italy. Call Casa Travella on 01322 660988
You really need something to look forward to in January, and this year it needs to be low-cost with loads of promise to plan your way out of the dull months of winter and into the spring. House-hunting at home might have come to a halt, so why not search for bargains abroad.

Destinations


The first rule is to head for quality. Nigel Hindle, of Property Vision France, says in tough times the established destinations perform best. “Trends show that emerging markets have been highly speculative, so don’t go there.”

These newer destinations are also hostage to airline promises, and if they cut back on flights your cheap home becomes a nightmare destination with a high-cost journey involved. “Given the difficulties in financial markets, people looking to buy a holiday home in 2009 will be well advised to stick to the old favourites.”

South of France, Majorca, Paris, Barcelona and the Alps are popular and gold-plated year-round areas with well-established routes for low-cost airlines.

House with gîte in Lot region of France
£486,000: house with gîte in Lot region of France, down by 20 per cent. Winkworth (020 8576 5579)

‘New market destinations have been highly speculative, so don’t go there’



And there are big bargains at all price points: two properties down by one million euros (£904,000). In Tuscany, Savills has a small estate of four buildings for sale, reduced by £904,000 to £1.88 million, while in the French Alps Winkworth has a newly refurbished three-bedroom apartment close to Samoens in the Grand Massif reduced to £210,000.

In Majorca there is 30 per cent off resale property. Engel & Völkers has a four-bedroom farmhouse 15 minutes from Palma with swimming pool and large gardens reduced by £857,000 to £1.1 million, or in the heart of Palma’s Old Town close to the cathedral there is a two-bedroom apartment once priced at £338,500 now down to £231,400. And there are more around, so have fun searching.

The Alps: a buyer’s market


Location is especially important in the Alps. Joanna Yellowlees-Bound of Erna Low tips Flaine and Arc 1950 in France, where sellers have been forced to be realistic on prices and there are bargains to be had. “Clearly, it’s a buyer’s market but don’t buy just because it’s cheap,” warns Yellowlees-Bound. “Remember the vital rule and go for the principles of location, altitude, proximity to the slopes and easy access to a good airport. They will always remain important in any sale.”

Four-bedroom farmhouse in Basse-Normandie
£402,000: four-bedroom farmhouse in Basse-Normandie. Call 020 8576 5582
Traditional safe havens such as Switzerland and Austria with no history of boom and bust attract buyers for their low borrowing costs, stable economy and year-round appeal. “Consider Les Collons and Veysonnaz in Switzerland,” advises Isobel Rostron of Aspect International. “They share the same ski area as Verbier but with more moderate pricing. And watch for opportunities in Verbier, where the City boys may be forced to sell quickly.”

Rentals


Buyers keen to maximise rental returns should look for year-round destinations with easy access from across Europe by air or rail. Holiday-Rentals website says Spain, France, America and Italy are the top-performing countries on its website with cities such as Nice, Paris, Rome and Barcelona particularly in demand.

Greg Grant of Holiday Rentals confirms: “The tried and tested holiday favourites offer the most certainty when it comes to bookings. Popular city-break destinations attract travellers all the year round. While purchase price may be high, in the long-term, properties in popular cities have good transport links and there is the opportunity for short- or longer-term lets.

Top investment destinations in 2009


Here are the top overseas investment destinations for 2009, as predicted by John Howell of the International Law Partnership.

Miami, Florida
Miami, Florida, where prices have halved in a year
1. Paris
Voted the best risk-adjusted investment location for several years. Buyers in the right locations have seen annual growth of up to 15 per cent, with strong rental returns.

2. Miami
“Florida was heavily hit by the property crash but Miami remains a truly great city, where you can now find a new, well-located property at less than half the price of a year ago,” says Howell.

3. Berlin
Germany is suffering badly in the current recession but buyers with a long-term view (five to 10 years) should benefit from a downturn in prices.

4. Spain
“Spain has always been a popular destination for British buyers and investors,” says Howell. “The market there has collapsed. Now is the time to find a bargain and buy it.”

* The International Law Partnership: 020 7061 6700; www.lawoverseas.com.

Barcelona and Spain are still popular with Britons
Barcelona and Spain are still popular with Britons

Thinking of buying? What to consider


1. Research the area thoroughly. Find people who have bought there and talk to them — you will soon establish the pluses and pitfalls. Do not think about making a quick profit on your property. Think long-term and location. Remember you are buying into the area and not just into a picture-perfect house.

2. When you think you have found the perfect pad, go on looking — it is essential to discover what is selling, at what price and where.

3. In countries with a bad reputation for dodgy planning permissions, such as Spain, it is essential to examine the history of the property. Examine your ability to pay for it. How will you cope if the exchange rate moves against you? If you rely on rentals and it is empty for prolonged periods, how will you cover your fixed costs?

4. Consider your exit strategy. How will you sell it? Emerging markets are more complex because there isn’t a proven resale market.

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