Liz Rowlinson

Is now the time to snap up a European bolthole?

Is now the time to snap up a European bolthole?
Savigny-le-Vieux, Manche, Normandy €455,800 (Leggett)
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It takes a lot to put the British off buying a bolthole on the Continent. Not even the twin headwinds of the pandemic and Brexit have deterred some determined sun-seeking buyers over the past year, for whom endless chilly staycations don’t cut the mustard.

There is no doubt some people who had planned to buy in southern Europe have purchased in Cornwall instead in in recent months but that has had the effect of driving up prices in UK coastal hot spots even more, highlighting the affordability of places such as Brittany.

For the Anglo-French estate agency Leggett Immobilier, the biggest areas for British buyers this year have been Normandy, Brittany and the Loire Valley. Not only can home owners take the ferry or Le Shuttle and drive to these areas of northwest France, removing the hassles of flying, but the pound generally goes a long way. The most typical budget is €100-300,000, but you can get a fabulous six-bedroom maison de maitre with a tower and a wine cave for €455,800

Domestic buyers have made up for the drop in British buyers. 'There were 1.2m sales across France in the 12 months to August 2021, up from the usual 800,000 a year,” says Trevor Leggett, the company’s chairman. 'With French interest rates still pretty much at an all-time low the market looks set to remain strong throughout 2022.'

The Spanish housing market is also significantly bigger than it was before the pandemic. According to the Association of Spanish Notaries there were almost 500,000 home sales in the first nine months of the year, 16 per cent more than the same period in 2019. According to the Land Registry, foreign demand in Q3 2021 was up 8 per cent over Q3 2019, points out Mark Stucklin of the market analysis portal, Spanish Property Insight.

'The Germans are now the biggest foreign buyers, having overtaken the British for the first time ever in Q3,' he says. 'The UK market is showing the strain of Brexit but is still number two [in Spain].' Transaction costs have not increased due to our new third-country status, but minimum income and private healthcare cover requirements for a visa has made relocation more expensive, as it has done in France (needed for stays of over 90 days).

But, as ever, the rich are different and the high-end market in Mallorca has thrived. The agent Engel & Volkers reports strong British demand – enquiries from British clients in the north of the island have increased 22 per cent in 2021 over 2020. Their average sale price of deals to British in 2021 is just over €1.4m, a mixture of large apartments, fincas and villas around Pollensa, Alcudia, Deià, Valldemossa and Soller. In the east, a finca amongst a citrus grove and vines is for sale at €1,495,000.

Traditional finca with pool and holiday rental licence near Artà in Mallorca €1.495 million (Engel & Volkers)

The stone farmhouse remains the dream for many in Italy too and there have been some ‘significant transactions’ of country estates in Tuscany and Umbria, suggests Savills.

Meanwhile, Italy’s flat tax regime – of €100,000 per annum – is attracting a steady flow of wealthy expats, especially to Milan and the lakes.

'Cities like Venice and Rome have been slower to recover from 2020’s lockdowns but are returning – across Rome in 2019 there were 32,000 transactions, in 2021 there have been 40,000,' says Jelena Cvjetkovic of Savills international team. Last year tax credits or ‘superbonuses' were introduced to tempt people to upgrade to energy efficiently. This three-bedroom villa in the hills outside Florence is ready to move into, at €1.2m.

Three-bedroom villa near Florence, Casa & Country

Portugal’s tax regimes have also been a factor in attracting buyers to its Atlantic coastline, from around Lisbon, though fashionable Comporta to the Algarve. The Golden Visa – offering a residency permit to non-European Union nationals with the purchase of a property above a certain value, depending on its location/age – has started to attract British buyers. Although it is ending at the close of this year in Lisbon and Porto, it will be continuing in the Alentejo region where this two-bedroom property is for sale on a vineyard resort at €560,000.

'Over the last two years we have sold to buyers from over 30 different countries. The UK market was 30 per cent of our market last year,' says Zoie Hawker, managing Partner of Fine & Country Algarve. The average British buyer for the agency spends just over €1m.

But the low-to-middle end of the overseas industry is also ticking over, and it’s not just bullish estate agents talking up the market. Freeform, the TV company behind Channel 4’s A Place in the Sun report that of their latest batch of new shows being filmed this autumn, there’s been a 79 per cent success rate of the buyers putting in an offer for one of the homes on the programme. This is up on the typical 50 per cent rate of the last few years, showing that anyone willing to put themselves through the current complications of air travel really is serious about buying.


Portugal: Properties on the L’AND vineyard from €560,000

Written byLiz Rowlinson

Liz Rowlinson is a property writer and Editor of A Place in the Sun

Topics in this articleProperty