There’s no law which says that when you’re buying an overseas property it has to be in Provence or Tuscany. With European boundaries blurring, and growing numbers of countries relaxing rules on foreign ownership, the world is increasingly one’s oyster when it comes to choosing where to live.
Which is why we’ve spread our net wide this week to bring you this selection of unpolished pearls. Some are in reasonably well-charted locations, while others are distinctly off-the-radar.
Still, whether you’re buying in Bordeaux or on the banks of the Bosphorus, it is essential to enter into any property purchase with your feet firmly on the ground.
You may not be able to speak the local language, but you do need to know the Latin phrase “Caveat emptor” - Buyer Beware. With the right research and advice, now is a great time to snap up a second home somewhere unexpected.
Not so long ago, this was a country renowned for nothing but grimness and the oppressive rule of Communist dictator Enver Hoxha. But even the Party couldn’t blot out the sunshine, and despite its infrastructure, Albania has a climate that’s every bit equal to its neighbour Greece. What’s more, you can pick up a basic Albanian seaside flat for the price of a family cruise (well, an expensive one, anyway). The website www.property-abroad.com has apartments in the resorts of Vlora and Saranda for just £25,000 (views across to Corfu), and for £29,000, you can buy an apartment at Lalzit Bay, a huge, new (i.e. still being built) beachfront development, 20 miles from the capital Tirana. For more details, ring 08451 258600 or visit www.lalzitbay.com.
Not exactly a romantic hideaway, but cheap. For £26,300, you can buy a studio flat in The Vision, a 23-storey apartment block due to be completed in 2014. Or, push the boat out with a one-bedroom flat that’s twice the size, for £46,000.
Viewed from the outside, a glass-and-aluminium block on a hillside is not going to be the most beautiful building in the world, but it has great views across the sea and over the twinkling lights of Pattaya’s nightclubs. The place attracts six million visitors per year, some of whom might like to rent your place when you’re not there. There’s a swimming pool on the 20th floor, too. You can find details at The Move Channel (www.themovechannel.com/property/details/4254073).
A trullo is a sort of stone-built, pointy-roofed, Italian hobbit home, and there’s one for sale for just under £80,000 at Ceglie Messapica, 25 miles northwest of Brindisi, on the southern heel of Italy. It has everything a compactly sized human needs: one bedroom, one bathroom, two acres and lots of shady fruit trees. Prices in Puglia are generally a lot lower than in Tuscany and Umbria. You can buy a distinctive white masseria (a traditional farmhouse, usually with olive groves and outbuildings), for around £310,000 (unconverted) and £440,000-plus (converted).
St Petersburg Russia
An awful lot lovelier than Moscow, though just as cold in winter. The cheapest way to own an apartment here is to buy out the tenants of an old-fashioned communal flat, in which families occupy their own living rooms, but share, say, a bathroom and kitchen. However, this is a long process (four to eight months), and can take longer if, as estate agents City Realty Russia (www.cityrealtyrussia.com) put it, the tenants “start to play games”. It is essential, then, to make sure your agents can help you cut through the red tape and low-level obstructiveness that you may encounter. As a rough rule of thumb, flats start at £1,250 per sq m for communally owned, £1,600 for privately owned and £3,000 for somewhere with a good view and windows facing the street, rather than a courtyard. Size-wise, apartments range from 25 sq m (small) to 70 sq m (medium) and 120 sq m (oligarch proportions).
If the idea of living in a converted Polish brewery appeals, there are 30 one-bedroom apartments on sale at the former Central Kraków brewery for £64,000 to £73,800. Details from Property Venture, 01932 849536, www.property-venture.com.
The good news about Poland is that house prices have been rising (by 8 per cent in 2010), and the country is hosting the European Football Championships next year. When buying a new home, though, you need to find out if the price is for a “black finish” or a “white finish” (i.e. with the kitchen and bathroom fitted). “Black finish” will add up to £15,000 to the price.
All right, it’s not quite the same as owning a villa in the south of France, but a number of British buyers have been drawn to the idea of owning buy-to-let apartment buildings here. Leipzig is the birthplace of Richard Wagner and was home to JS Bach for the last 27 years of his life.
For £250,000-£350,000, you can become the landlord of anything from 12 to 15 flats in the Kleinzschocher district, three miles south-west of the old (well, restored) city centre. For £2 million, you can buy a whole street (eight blocks).
Zell am See Austria
Sailing in summer plus skiing in winter adds up to a place where there’s going to be year-round letting potential.
Traditional local wooden houses go for £300,000-£440,000, but if you buy in a new-build development such as the one being marketed by Mark Warner Property, 020 7692 0786, www.markwarnerproperty.com (from £314,000), you can buy free of VAT, provided you undertake to rent it out to tourists. This can knock up to 15 per cent off the purchase price.
Nova Scotia Canada
From London, it takes longer to drive to Halifax, Yorkshire, than it takes to fly to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Flight time is around five hours, due to the fact that Nova Scotia sticks into the Atlantic on Canada’s east coast. As well as Air Canada, there’s a budget alternative: Transat (fares from £400 return).
Once you’re there, the place is hardly crowded, and that’s its charm. The total population is just 950,000, which works out at 10 people per square mile, as against 1,800 in New York. Apart from a little 17-mile-wide isthmus connecting it with the mainland, Nova Scotia is surrounded by sea. The car number plates say it’s “Canada’s Ocean Playground”, and the figures bear this out (Nova Scotia has 4,360 miles of coastline).
Foreigners are called “Come-From-Aways”, but can usually get mortgages of 50-60 per cent. Canadian law says you can stay for up to six months in any calendar year without applying for a residents’ extension.
“A lot of Brits say they want to fulfil a dream and have horses on their land here,” says Tom Harris of estate agents Tradewinds (www.tradewindsrealty.com). “For 400,000 Canadian dollars [£260,000], you can buy a property with 10 acres of land; for 150,000 Canadian dollars [£97,000], you can buy a three-bedroom bungalow with five acres.
“Unlike the UK, the seller and buyer sign a contract which neither party can get out of, unless, say, it turns out there are only five acres, as opposed to the 10 acres promised in the particulars.”
There aren’t many European capitals where you can buy a place in the old historic centre for under £300,000, but Tallinn is an exception. Within two minutes’ walk of the ancient main square Raekoja, you can buy a one-bedroom apartment for around £140,000 and a two-bedroom place for £290,000. There’s a firm called Goodson and Red, in Joe Street, (www.goodsonandred.com) which specialises in selling to Britons. There’s also an unusual new eco-scheme called Oxford Park, 30 minutes’ drive from Tallinn. Houses are timber-clad, set in a forest-cum-park and separated by little rivers. Prices start from around £90,000, and the project is being marketed by Property Secrets, 0115 985 3963, www.propertysecrets.net.
No one wants the hours of back-breaking work in the fields, but we all like the idea of growing our own wine. And a clever new scheme offers you the chance not just to purchase a property, but part of a vineyard, too. The smallest two-bedroom town house at the L’and Vineyards tourist village costs £150,000, the biggest villa £704,000; the bigger your property, the bigger your vineyard. Details on www.glowproperty.co.uk, 0800 311 2193.
Not technically overseas, but about as far removed as you can get from urban Britain. The top house price on the islands is around £350,000 for a three-to-four-bedroom bungalow in the capital Lerwick; less top-of-the-range would be £180,000. If you’re lucky, you might find a restored, traditional croft house for £80,000-£150,000, though many are reserved for, well, crofters. The pace of life here is much slower than on the mainland, apart from all the television crews making documentaries about the slower pace of life. There’s even an organisation called Move Shetland, set up specifically to encourage you to migrate here: 01595 745885, http://move.shetland.org.
Kotor Bay Montenegro
The area has been designated a Unesco World Heritage site, but prices haven’t shot through the roof. You can still get a simple, waterside stone house for around £130,000, while a four-bedroom seafront villa will set you back around £280,000 (www.themovechannel.com/property/details/4322154). Two things to note, warns Britain-based agent Property Venture (www.property-venture.co.uk): surveys aren’t carried out automatically in Montenegro, so you might need to hire an architect or structural engineer to inspect the place. And although as a foreigner you are allowed to buy an apartment, you have to buy land via a company, which you will need to set up.
Kolymbari is one of the few parts of this lovely Greek island where more income is derived from farming (grapes, olive oil) than tourism. There’s not only a Blue Flag beach, but a whole host of little coves and lagoons within a 20-minute drive. Derelict stone farmhouses go for £35,000, but may need expensive foundation and structural work. Two-bedroom places cost from £115,000, three-bedroom from £140,000.
“Under Greek property law, any number of people can own the freehold, with each party owning an equal percentage,” says British developer Mike Saunders, of Snobby Homes (www.snobbyhomes.co.uk), who reports that despite being just a 30-minute drive from Chania airport, the level of new-build activity around Kolymbari is “extremely low key”.
Most Britons who visit Kenya find themselves at some point on lovely Lamu Island, but not many end up owning a beachfront villa there. Roughly a million pounds will buy you a beautiful private home on the edge of the Indian Ocean, from which you can gaze out at the Arab sailing dhows during the day, and breathe in the fragrant jasmine blooms in the evening as you sip sundowners in your tropical garden.
Alternatively, you can direct your gaze inland and buy yourself a slice of colonial Africa at Nanyuki, 110 miles from Nairobi and a lot fresher and cleaner. Here, in the middle of game-rich safari land, there is horse-riding, birdwatching, trout fishing and golf. Not only are you surrounded by flower and vegetable farms, but you’re in the shadow of Mount Kenya, right on the equator.
According to agents Knight Frank, the buying process is not complicated, but it can be slow. “On average, it takes about 90 days to complete a transaction,” they say. “And because buying a beach property requires presidential consent, that can take a bit longer.”
Not to be mistaken for Slovakia, the Czech Republic’s mountainous other half, Slovenia is the pretty little forest country that’s equidistant from everywhere. It is surrounded by Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary, and known as the New Zealand of Europe.
You can buy a traditional wooden farmer’s cottage in bad condition for £20,000, and in good condition for £40,000. Alternatively, you could buy the enormous, seven-bedroom country mansion owned by Guy Speir, a British estate agent who works in Prague. It was built in 1875 for the foreman of the Vienna-Trieste railway, it’s called Hisa Zenia and it overlooks a lovely valley 60 miles from the fairy-tale capital Ljubljana (£748,000). Speaking of which, you can buy a two-bedroom riverside apartment overlooking the city’s central (but tiny) Preseren Square, for £1.48 million.
No shortage of cheap housing for the locals, but when it comes to foreigners, it seems the only places available are palaces. For £1.1 million, you can buy a small but luxurious beach villa at Nam Hai, an upmarket resort overlooking the South China Sea, near the port of Hoi An. And £1.7 million gets you a wave-lapped, three-bedroom beachfront villa at a resort on the island of Con Dao, a 45-minute flight from Ho Chi Minh city (formerly Saigon). Natural wonders include a pure-white-sand beach and abundant marine life (dolphins, sea turtles, dugongs); man-made attractions include a spa, restaurant and health club.
This party island is hardly off the beaten track, but there are few properties in Europe which can outfunk the £2.6m Cala Valdella near San José (00 34 933 562 989, www.lucasfox.com) cascading down a slope and inspired by the tree-houses of the Lost Boys in Peter Pan. There’s a main house, plus two subsidiary houses, all in bright colours; their frames are made of concrete and iron, and the walls of reinforced, insulating, plastic.
Newport Rhode Island, United States
If you like boats, yachts and messing around by the waterside, this US version of Cowes is the place for you. Top addresses are Bellevue and Ocean Avenues (prices from £2.5m-£11.3m), but there are places right on the harbour for around £1 million. You fly to Boston, and after a 75-minute drive, you’re dipping your toes in the water.
You’d need a big family, lots of friends and plenty of money before you made an offer on the Zeki Pasha Waterside Mansion (00 90 530 280 9946, www.sothebysrealty.com.tr). The guide price is £72.3 million, but for that, you get 23 bedrooms and a lot of history: the palace was built by French architect Alexandre Vallaury for one Musir Zeki Pasha, who was a government minister in the second half of the 19th century. Hopefully, he wasn’t claiming for this home on his parliamentary expenses.
Dominating a cliff-top on the south-west of the island, in an area known as the Bukit, stands the glorious Istana, a £4.6m, five-bedroom villa with two infinity pools and a 5,200 sq m estate.
It works both as your own private home plus a commercial holiday property – butlers and chefs on hand (0062 361 738747; www.theistana.com).