» Property abroad: homes with character

Property abroad: homes with character

For Britons considering buying an overseas property, the over-riding priorities have always been guaranteed sunshine and a convenient, accessible base.

Never mind that what they bought was an identikit apartment or just one property within a large development.

However, over-development and falling values has made this type of property a less attractive proposition. As a result, many buyers are looking for homes with character.

Many of those who have bought abroad have gained in confidence and are now seeking something unique, a property with its own story to tell.

And they have the inside knowledge and experience to find something off the beaten track.

Andrew Hawkins, head of international at Chesterton Humberts, sees the trend as being part of a more considered approach to buying, grounded in the realities of the market.

'Buyers are seeing an overseas property as a mid to long-term investment, making it more of a lifestyle purchase,' he says.

'Since the recession, high-volume, new-build properties that are identical in style have been slower to sell as buyer numbers have decreased and properties are forced to compete against each other. As a result, characterful properties have fared much better.'

Ann Wright, international development manager of agents Prime-location International, also sees British buyers becoming keener to broaden their horizons. 'While overseas buy-to-let investors prefer to play it safe, buying standard apartments and villas, second-home owners are increasingly looking for a property with individuality.

'Those that have retained some of their original features are always popular.'

Jan and Andy Pratt are part of this adventurous new breed. They bought their first property in Majorca several years ago.

'It was a new-build in a pretty setting and came with everything you'd expect, including a swimming pool.

'But we felt we were either too young for the location, because there were plenty of older people, or not young enough, as we didn't have children of school age.

'We realised what we really wanted was a property that would allow us to express our style.'

The Pratts began their search in the Old Town of the city of Palma, where they discovered a house tucked away in a quiet corner, but only minutes from some of the bustling squares in the city.

'We loved the fact there was so much history around us — including the old catacombs, tunnels that link to other big houses and palaces below the streets. The property was pretty much a wreck when we found it, with pigeon lofts and animal troughs on the terrace. What is now our kitchen had apparently been used as a brothel.

'The ground floor had been a print works, with an enormous ancient press; that is now the garage.

'We knew we'd found something different, but it also had generous outside living space and great views. There was parking within the building, a lift to the front door and privacy.'

The duplex property that Jan and Andy bought has been turned into a beautifully restored home with two bedrooms, both ensuite, a large living room and open-plan hall.

The kitchen and indoor dining area lead on to a large private terrace with built-in seating for outside eating and relaxation.

'The views across the rooftops are spectacular. We can watch the sun setting behind the cathedral,' says Mrs Pratt. 'At night, the churches are floodlit and you can see cruise ships lit up in the dock.'

Now feeling the need for another challenge, they have put the property on the market, priced at £1.08m, through Shortcuts Property Search.

Restoration specialists Sextantio in Abruzzo, central Italy, is typical of the companies trying to offer something different. It has transformed a fortified medieval village, restoring a number of characterful homes with courtyards, patios and alleyways, surrounded by pastures and fields.

The House in the Courtyard is one of three homes approached via an ancient covered alleyway. It's in the heart of the village with views of the piazza.

Nearby is the intriguingly named The House with the Grotto. The living area still has its original fireplace, while the grotto has become a stylish bathroom.

Prices for the properties, which come furnished, start from £170,000 with Realitalia. As well as an on-site concierge service, homes are part of the management programme run by the on-site hotel, the Albergo Diffuso.

Meanwhile, in the Dordogne, France, Leggett Immobilier is selling an interesting house that blends Moroccan, Middle Eastern and Italian influences.

It's on the outskirts of a village and minutes from the bustling market town of Riberac. The four-bedroom, two-bathroom house, which has a large sitting room and study, comes with an artist's studio. It is on the market for £633,000.

Also in France, a former staging post for mail between St Tropez and the interior, La Garde-Freinet, is on the market.

It combines the elements today's buyers tend to look for: appealing surroundings, personality and good transport links to Britain.

'The journey along the road linking St Tropez to the inland is a beautiful trip through the Maures mountains,' says Jim Pickering, of Sarl Agence Fraxinoise, an outpost of Winkworth.

'At the top of the pass the ruined fort above the medieval village of La Garde-Freinet looks down on the gulf of St Tropez, and on a clear day to Corsica.'

Though the journey from the coast to La Garde-Freinet takes only 15 minutes, it was once an arduous journey.

A mile from the town, horse and carts used to stop at an ivy-clad staging post for the watering trough and shade.

That staging post has been converted into a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home with a rustic kitchen, living room with an 18th-century fireplace and master bed¬room with ensuite bathroom.

It's surrounded by shady terraces, has a garden full of fruit trees, roses and vine, and a swimming pool . There are several annexes offering possibilities to extend.

A new road bypasses the property, but traces of the old one remain and can be used as a footpath to the village, while the water trough now irrigates the vegetable garden.

The house, a 30-minutes drive to St Tropez and one hour from Nice airport, is on the market for £905,000 through Winkworth.

'It's these unique types of properties that offer buyers a sense of finding somewhere really special, without narrowing the market when they come to sell the place on,' says Primelocation International's Ann Wright.

Andrew Hawkins adds that buyers should 'keep the potential for resale in mind.

'Ensure the unique features that drew your interest aren't something that will create a problem when selling on, but will wow future buyers just as much.'

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