Magazine article The Spectator

The Pitfalls of the Foreign Property Bandwagon

Magazine article The Spectator

The Pitfalls of the Foreign Property Bandwagon

Article excerpt

Are you suffering from villaenvy? Do you have the uncomfortable feeling that you belong to the bourgeoisie's very own underclass? You mean, you don't actually have a home abroad? As more and more Brits stampede into the market for apartments in Spain, farmhouses in Umbria, maisons de maitre in Languedoc or even their very own little Croatian island, don't you just despair at being left out?

If you do feel the urge to join them in turning a corner of yet another foreign field into an Anglophone enclave, pause for a moment before you succumb to that idyllic prospect bathed in strong sunlight and 1,000 hollow promises from commission-hungry real-estate dealers.

Having neither the energy nor the inclination to convert a wreck, I spent a week of the summer looking at new houses on a large island in the Mediterranean - and came away from the experience with nothing hut a keen sense of how easy it would be to have a few glasses too many of the local firewater and end up making a huge mistake.

We stayed in a villa - the show home, in fact - on a brand-new (so brand-new that it was still being built) development of houses and apartments with its own 'private beach'. Well, as we all know, the key to buying property is location, location, location, so that seemed just peachy. But there is no such thing as a 'private beach' in the Mediterranean. So while the pebbly strand was pretty deserted on weekdays, at the weekend the indigenous equivalent of white-van man and his extended family descended, hauling barbecues, beatboxes, beach umbrellas and ancient, black-clad female relatives out of their trucks and disporting themselves in noisy enjoyment. Nothing wrong with a bit of local colour, of course, but it kind of put paid to the 'exclusive' tag attached to the place.

And then there was the house itself. From a half-hour look round - probably all you'd get - in the company of an eager salesperson, it appeared as lovely as in the brochure. But you have to live in these places to get the real measure of them, something prospective buyers don't usually have the chance to do. So they (you, blindly eager buyer) would not have spotted that the wiring system meant that you couldn't have the pool lights and the kitchen light on at the same time, that the kitchen light was actually an unlovely fluorescent strip, that the boiler packed up several times a day (we got so embarrassed about getting them round to fix it that we spent the last three days without hot water) and that the dustbins were attacked with some vigour on a nightly basis by interesting local wildlife. We get enough of that in south London, thanks very much.

Even the sparkling cobalt rectangle of swimming-pool was not all it seemed to be. Though it was hard to make out initially, through the dazzling play of sunlight on the surface of the water, the mosaic tiles were not actually mosaic tiles - the pool was lined with an infinitely less classy kind of sticky-backed plastic that looked like tiles. …

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