European classics still all the rage if you want a place in the sunshine

IF you fancy picking up a nice cottage in the Irish countryside, or a villa in Portugal or Greece, then now might be the time to start looking. In the wake of the financial crisis most potential buyers were put off by uncertainty, but now the eurozone is in crisis and the pound is relatively strong, some buyers are starting to look favourably on bricks and mortar.

“Since the market collapsed at the end of 2008, international property has suffered not only at the hands of the recession, but at the crumbling pound and lack of lending facilities for higher risk transactions,” says Camilla Mabbott of estate agent Aylesford International. “2009 and most of 2010 have been pretty stagnant with many sellers dropping their prices to entice buyers, compensate for the poor exchange rate and get out of trouble themselves.” In the past few weeks, though, she says that the market has started to pick up as bargain-hunters come into the market. In 2011, she says, “we expect the trend to continue and people will gradually come out of the woodwork.”

These buyers are generally looking for safe-havens – old favourites like the South of France, Tuscany, Ibiza and Corfu are proving popular right now. “Prices have come down by between 10-30 per cent,” says Mabbott. She adds that places with amenable tax regimes, especially in the Caribbean, will continue to attract buyers.

A recently-launched property fund called Vikare decided to start with one of the true European classics – Tuscany. “As well as a beautiful place to spend leisure time, Tuscany is an area where investment can be extremely stable and lucrative,” said the firm, pointing out that 11m visitors a year go there. The global reputation means that it is pretty much recession-proof: even when Europeans aren’t going there, Asians are. An “undiscovered hotspot”, says Vikare, is Valdera, an area that is often compared to Chianti. Vikare points out that construction in Tuscany is strictly controlled, and therefore over-supply is unlikely to become a problem.

For those who are more interested in an owner-occupied property, the key is to look for those areas with price stability, liquidity and security. In other words, places where demand is always high and is unlikely to be shaken, whatever happens to the economy. Buyers are not necessarily looking for places that will make them money, but ones that offer a high quality of living for buyers and their families. The continuing high demand in these areas also means that if the need arose to liquefy an investment, then there would always be plenty of buyers and there is little chance that the investment would significantly lose value. Examples of such stalwarts include Geneva, Cyprus, Tuscany, the Cote d’Azur and Barbados. Right now there is a gap between sellers’ expectations and what buyers are willing or able to pay, but if vendors are willing to price sensibly, then good quality properties are still finding buyers.

Italy remains a firm favourite and a solid investment, says Claire Hazle, a negotiator at Knight Frank. “Italy has long been regarded as a solid investment for the long-term lifestyle purchase, providing you with much more than just an overseas holiday home,” she says. “Here you acquire a piece of the lifestyle, the food and wine, the history and architecture, majestic views and welcoming locals. Buying property in Italy offers you a safe and trusted destination with excellent international links and a solid infrastructure.”

Tuscany and Umbria are currently both excellent areas to look, she says, with prices starting at around €800,000 for a well restored farmhouse with pool and views. In Tuscany she suggests looking at the Cortona area close to Lake Trasimeno and reached from Perugia International airport, which has direct flights from London Stansted. In Chianti she recommends looking in Figline Valdarno, a quaint Tuscan town on the river Arno located about 20km south east of Florence with a manageable commute to an International School and Florence/Pisa Airport.

Also proving a sensible buy now are city boltholes – this is a good time for a “restoration project”, Hazle says. In Florence the San Niccolo area on the south bank of the Arno is popular, a “very arty community with lots of quirky cafes, shops and nightlife”, while in Venice the Guidecca area has become “trendy” and offers new, modern property at more competitive prices.

Intriguingly, one of the hot-spots for the next few years could be Greece. As those Greeks
who still do have money remain nervous about investing their money, they will switch to property. In the context of that country, that means holiday resorts.

In fact we are already starting to see some quality resorts getting under way, such as the Aman resort outside Athens, which is already under construction. Clever investors might also be looking to the likes of Spain and Portugal where, however ugly the clouds on the financial horizon, the sun will always shine.

AKAMAS BAY VILLAS, CYPRUS

On the spectacular Akamas Peninsula on the north west coast of Cyprus, this development consists of 40 three- and four-bedroom villas, each with a pool and landscaped gardens. You can customise your property, adding a cinema room, gym or wine cellar. Residents can make use of the nearby Anassa Hotel, with its spa and restaurants. Akamas Bay is 25 miles from Paphos International Airport.

From around €1.6m to €3.967m. Contact Cybarco on 020 8371 9700 or Knight Frank on 020
7629 8171, www.knightfrank.co.uk

VILLA IN TANNERON, SOUTH OF FRANCE

Just 25 minutes from the centre of Cannes in the heights of Mandelieu in the village of Tanneron, this property has a sea view over the bay of Cannes. Set in approximately 1.1 hectares, the villa comprises 650 sq m and has a swimming pool, pool house, tennis court and golfing greens. There are six bedrooms and six bathrooms, including a master bedroom with dressing room.

€4.95m, through Beauchamp Estates, www.beauchamp.com, tel: + 33 (0)4 93 94 45 45/020 7499 7722

APARTMENT IN SAN FREDIANO, FLORENCE

On the south side of the river in the San Frediano area and just 20 minutes from the airport, this elegantly restored, 185 sq m apartment mixes tradition and modernity with exposed beams on the ceilings and swish modern design throughout. It’s set over two floors and has glass sliding doors that lead to a decked courtyard. There are three bedrooms and the same number of bathrooms.

€1.25m, contact Knight Frank on 020 7629 8171

VILLA BARCARELLI, TUSCANY

This 400 sq m country house has six bedrooms – five en-suite – including a master suite with its own staircase to the garden. There is a tennis court and a 14x6m solar-powered swimming pool, with a pergola and a poolside kitchen. As well as the main house, there is a 50 sq m guest cottage, also with a solar-powered heating system. The grounds have their own olive grove and the property is set in 100 acres of woodland, which includes a private lake. Just 30 minutes from Pisa airport, the closest town is Palaia. Recently reduced from €3.8m to €3.5m, through Aylesford International, www.aylesford.com, tel: 020 7349 5100