Buying property abroad can be daunting, especially if you are doing it alone. Christopher Nye, from Property Guides, has been helping people buy holiday homes abroad since 2004. He was features writer and property hunter for A Place in the Sun and wrote guidebooks about buying abroad for Channel 4 and Rightmove. Here, he offers his advice for buying an overseas holiday home solo and on a budget.
If being solo means anything, it means freedom including the freedom to live wherever you would like. Although Brexit may have put a spanner in the works for those looking to relocate or retire to European Union countries permanently, overseas holiday homes are blissfully unaffected by Brexit.
You can buy a holiday home within the EU (even with “no deal”), the USA and Canada, Turkey and the Middle East, the Caribbean in any number of gorgeous little islands, with usually no need for a visa if you’re staying less than half the year.
So, where should you buy an overseas holiday home on a budget?
When it comes to location, your own preference will, of course, be paramount. Property Guides analysed the best places to move as a single person, considering 15 factors including cost of living, gay-friendliness, the number of single households, and how many people speak English. Top marks overall went to Canada, France and Spain.
Canada may be a rather a long way to go for a holiday home – although that lakeside cabin does sound rather tempting, doesn’t it? But France and Spain offer all the benefits of convenience with the added benefit of being able to make friends easily. If your attempts to break into the local community falter at any stage along with your attempts to learn the language, you will always find a nearby expat to make friends with.
The cost of property and living
France and Spain also benefit from the availability of affordable property, certainly compared to the UK. Of course, it will depend on where you buy. While an apartment in Paris or Barcelona might be out of reach for most single person’s pockets – with costs easily reaching €10,000 and €5,000 per square metre respectively; there are plenty options for more affordable and sociable cities.
In France, for example, consider Montpellier, Toulouse or Orleans. In Spain, Valencia is very much the “new Barcelona”, while Seville or Malaga offers the excitement of cool urban Spain, but with great beaches on their doorstep too. Prices here are half what you’ll find in the capital, Madrid.
Italy and Greece are among the very few parts of Europe where the property market is only just beginning its recovery. For investment purposes, they look like excellent places to buy an overseas holiday home on a budget. In Italy, in parts of Tuscany (yes, Tuscany!) or around the Lakes you can buy an older-style home for well under €75,000 – even one that has been renovated.
And these are – many of us would say – the friendliest countries to relocate or buy a holiday home. You can find all sorts of online articles about “buying properties for one euro in Italy”. While they will require serious renovating; the fact is, you can buy unbelievably cheap property if you’re happy to do them up. In Italy, particularly Puglia and Sicily, offer terrific opportunities for this.
Meanwhile in Greece, with over 200 inhabited islands, there is probably a property with your name on it. If Mamma Mia! is anything to go by, filmed in Skopelos, or The Durrells in Corfu, you may not be single for long! Outside the hotspots around Athens and Mykonos, a budget of under €100,000 will offer a wonderful array of holiday homes options – although travelling off-season can be long-winded.
Locations with four season appeal
Seaside locations may virtually close out of season, which is another reason to consider a city such as Montpellier or Donostia-San Sebastian. They are regular cities, just like Bristol or Brighton, with plenty of work, culture and permanent communities, but with the warm seaside alongside. They’re just as lovely for a weekend away in darkest January as they are in blazing July.
If year-round appeal is vital to you, consider a mountain home. Such locations offer skiing in winter and the awesome natural beauty of spring. In summer, mountain bikes and hiking boots replace the skis. Buy in New England or Canada and you can include autumnal leaf-peeping.
While the Alps offer convenience and great rental appeal, buying near Spain’s Sierra Nevada, the Pyrenees, or Italy’s Apennine Mountains, and you can be skiing in the morning and swimming in the Mediterranean by the afternoon.
For many of us, an overseas holiday home means a Spanish costa. Prices here have been rising sharply for the past couple of years – following the disaster of the financial crisis when they fell by 40% – but for a holiday apartment, €100,000 is a very decent budget.
The more affordable locations will tend to be in the far-south-east corner – that’s the Costa Almeria, Costa Calida and southern Costa Blanca – or the Canary Islands. The Canaries may lack the cachet of Ibiza or Mallorca (in the Balearics) but they are much more affordable, and warm throughout the winter.
With convenient off-season flights readily available to every corner of Spain from every corner of the UK, Spain does offer year-round appeal. The rental opportunities for your property will be very enticing too – but do bear in mind the authorities are cracking down on Airbnb style lets, with strict rules and tax collection. Check them out if you’re relying on rental income to pay the mortgage.
How to buy – pick a team
For even the boldest of us, being single can make you feel a little vulnerable, and it’s easy to be frightened off from spending our life savings on a home where there is a different legal system and currency. But you do not need to buy on your own. Pick a team to help you.
The first member of your team should be a lawyer who specialises in property, speaks English and is completely independent of the estate agent or property developer. We cannot stress how vital this is, whatever the agent says about “oh we don’t really use lawyers here”, or “don’t worry, the notary will oversee that.” Don’t risk it: get lawyered up before you sign or pay for anything.
The second team member is a reliable and honest estate agent. As a solo, it’s especially important to find one you feel comfortable with, who never tries hard-selling techniques and who really listens to your requests.
Thirdly, and often overlooked, is your currency exchange specialist. With a two or three month delay between agreeing to buy and finally settling up, a lot can happen to the pound during the same time meaning the price you pay will be changing every day. A property specialist like Smart Currency Exchange can easily fix that for you with a forward contract for no extra cost.
In most European countries you will need to budget for around an extra 10-15% for buying costs – including legal fees and tax.
TOP TIPS ON HOW TO BUY AN OVERSEAS HOLIDAY HOME ON A BUDGET