Buying a holiday home – choose the area with care!

I am sure most of us have been on holiday at some point, fallen in love with a place (or a person!) and thought that one day we would love to move there (see my previous blog on some of our own experiences in Spain). We picture a lovely apartment or house in a similar sort of environment to the place we stayed in, but done up to our own taste, and now that we have all learned to work from home that idea is even more attractive, since we can just as easily sit at our computers in our new holiday home as anywhere else. Plus, we think, the people are so nice, the weather is so great, and we will have the benefit of better health and an all-year-round suntan. What’s not to like?

Well, quite a lot if you are not careful. First of all, actually living in the quaint little village that you walked from to the beach each day, or the hideaway in the mountains that was so quiet you could hear yourself breathe, may not be quite so lovely in the middle of winter, when the rain is pouring down, the roads don’t drain, and your house is damp and cold as the previous owners didn’t install heating as they only used it in the summer. And doing up your property to your own taste may not be so easy when there are no furniture shops within a 50 km radius, delivery can only be in xx weeks (if you can even find someone who speaks the same language as you to organise it) and making your house a home is more than just a bit of furniture. I remember when I first bought an apartment in Prague in the 90s, I ended up shipping most of my furniture from the UK and bringing things like lamps, pictures and so on on the plane each time I travelled as it was impossible to find what I wanted in the Czech Republic at that time. Imagine trying to do all of that between some remote village in Greece or Spain, especially if you are not going to be there all of the time.

Judging by some of the conversations I have had with friends over the past few months, there is a large number of people considering buying a property somewhere other than their own country at the moment – whether as a holiday home, an escape should Covid strike again, or, even, a new and permanent place to live. In the past two weeks alone three of my friends have announced that they are seriously looking; one in Sardinia, one in Croatia and one in Crete, plus, of course, we ourselves are dealing with several people looking to buy in Spain.

So what are the key things to think about (and I suspect that they apply to most countries):

  • It’s really worth trying to stay in the village/town that you are planning to buy in the off-season in order to see for yourself how the weather really is, how much the area closes down (some parts of Spain, for example, are ghost towns in the winter, and you can barely find a soul to talk to, let alone a shop or restaurant open), how friendly the locals really are when you are not just a tourist passing through.
  • If it’s possible, see if you can stay in the house/apartment that you are likely to buy (relatively easy if it is a rental, not, of course, if not – in which case try to rent somewhere similar and nearby) – that way you can get a better feel for what, really, you would need to do to turn it into your ideal home – and then you can check out how easy it would be to actually do that – are there good shops nearby, how easy will it be to find a reputable architect/builder/painter/plumber, etc in the area
  • Find a good lawyer! Don’t choose someone just because they speak English – ask around and see if you can get some recommendations.
  • Aside from the costs of buying the property, don’t forget the costs that are involved in owning it. Even when you are not there, the amenities have to stay on (you can’t just cut everything off when you leave and then have them switched on again when you return (telephone, wifi, electricity, etc) – in some places, the performance of getting these switched ON in the first place is enough to make you never want to switch them off again!
  • If you are thinking that you might rent your place out when you are not there, check the local restrictions on things like AirBnB – just as in the Czech Republic, many countries are making it near impossible to actually do short-term rentals any more (aside from the problems caused by Covid).

Sometimes, which we ourselves realised, the romance of living somewhere pretty and remote is outweighed by the sheer convenience of being near to or in a bigger town, even if the beaches aren’t so nice, or the surroundings are not as pretty. As I mentioned in my last blog, our first attempt to buy a house in Spain fell through, and even though it was a pain at the time, in the end we were relieved, as we had already started to wonder if it wasn’t a bit too remote, and wouldn’t we really prefer to be much nearer to the town and all of its amenities? If nothing else, we didn’t want to always have to drive, even just to the supermarket.

We also realised that aside from the actual doing up and furnishing of the house, it was going to be a lot easier if we had decent shops within reach (and you can’t get much better than the shops in Marbella!). Plus it would be easier to find someone to look after the house when we weren’t there (and what happens when you are not there and don’t have someone to check on your property will be the subject of my next blog!). Then we found that being able to stock up easily in the supermarket when we first arrived soon became essential (we used to clear the cupboards out when we left, and sometimes arrive back very late at night). And getting things like high-speed Wifi and other necessities was definitely easier than it would have been out in the country (where, still, our friends don’t actually have a working TV!). So, if you have fallen in love with a country – then that’s great. But be prepared to re-think the actual area that you are going to buy in, once you have done your due diligence!

Despite all of the above likely issues, though, the pleasure of just being able to grab a bag and head off to the sun/mountains/countryside/whatever whenever you want is so great that it is worth going through all the potential hurdles to get to the finish. And then all you have to worry about is whether you are ever going to master the language, and, sooner or later, how you will actually persuade yourself to go back home again!