How to become George Clooney’s neighbour

NABBING a sneaky peak of George Clooney sun bathing is surely priceless. And yet after some investigation, it turns out it might not be as expensive as you’d think. For the sum of €850,000 you could actually own the apartment next door to Clooney on Lake Como – an apartment that benefits from views directly into his garden.

Don’t let the low price of this apartment fool you though. Clooney is not on an austerity drive. His villa cost him a whopping $10m in 2002. Not to mention that other Forbes Rich List favourites Richard Branson, and IKEA’s Ingvar Kamprad live nearby. This is truly a lakeside microclimate for the mega-wealthy. Their lakeside mansions usually go for £10-15,000 per sqm, while those willing to be set back slightly from the water front will find their homes costing £6-10,000 per sqm. And, while Local Italian estate agents might quote cheaper prices, not all of the homes they offer are suitable for the decisive international buyer.

These average prices might seem unaffordable, but little gems like the apartment next to Clooney’s do crop up. At €150 per sqm, on the lakefront home, the apartment is discounted only because it needs to be redecorated. Finding these deals is simply a matter of knowing where to look.

Paul Belcher, the owner of the Ultissimo an Italian property search firm, is a man who knows. He set up the business four years ago after buying a number of homes in Umbria and hitting a brick wall of Italian bureaucracy. “I found out that you needed a lot of patience to learn how to work around it,” says Belcher. He set up the business to remedy this problem for the international market.

Belcher’s ability to spot a bargain is down to a small army of contacts and little aversion to knocking on strangers’ doors. “The property prices around Como can be totally illogical since so much changes hands privately,” he says.

Villa Peduzzi is another shining example of the opportunities available. The property is rumoured to be the only Liberty villa left on the market. Built in 1909 by the famous engineer Rocco Peduzzi, it was left discarded by the family for the last 50 years. Belcher is redeveloping the site, dividing it into two four-bedroom apartments with a swimming pool and a view to die for (see right). The fact that the property is set up on the hillside rather than on the water front means that the whopping 300 per sqmdownstairs apartment is going for just £3.8m. New builds on the hillside can also offer the international buyer a great price. Villa Carolina has incredible lake views and is just €625,000, that’s £6,500 per sqm.

Properties around the lake are certainly worth investing in. Chesterton Humberts’s international expert Andrew Hawkins says: “Much like the prime central London market around Mayfair, the prices in Como never really suffered in the recession and strong international interest keeps many of the problems that blight the rest of the Italian market at bay. The prices have climbed steadily this year and last.”

The rental opportunities are excellent too. Beverley Rosen, a British ex-pat in Como is renting her four-bedroom hillside property for €4,000 per week this summer. While her property does have a great lake view and a swimming pool, the figure she could earn pales in comparison to properties on the lake front.

The trick to finding the right property is simply not be fooled into spotting a bargain too quickly. Belcher says: “The Western shore is favoured for a reason. It gets stacks of sunshine and has good transport links. Road noise also spoils many properties. Italians buyers do not seem to mind this, but this stuff can quickly impact on the owner’s ability to sell or rent.”

Becoming Clooney’s neighbour is not such an arduous or expensive task. All you need is a bit of insider gossip.