For most of us, buying a property is the biggest financial transaction that we ever undertake and therefore we try to ensure that it is the right decision and that we have taken all the necessary precautions.
For some reason, our attitude to buying property abroad is slightly different. It’s partly because the property prices are usually much lower than they are in the UK and partly because too many foreign property purchases are impulse buys.
You pause in front of an estate agent’s window, having just polished off a lunchtime bottle of wine, and you can’t believe that this amazing property is so cheap.
Unlike the UK, many European countries have a short cooling off period after an offer has been accepted and then you are locked into the deal, with financial penalties should you decide to pull out. Here are some suggestions for acquiring property abroad in a rather safer way.
Research the market and local house prices
The more time that you put in getting to know the housing market in the area in which you are interested, the better placed you will be to recognise a genuine bargain when you see one.
You should be able to find recent data on the national and local house prices for most countries, in the same way that you can look at the British housing market on Rightmove.
In Portugal, for example, the real estate platform Imovirtual reports monthly on house prices. From this you can see that the most expensive property is in the capital, Lisbon, whilst much more affordable property is available in places like Guarda.
Research the locality
Even before you visit the location which you are considering, you can find a lot of useful information with internet research.
You can find out about local amenities, such as hospitals, schools and supermarkets and you can find out about potential problems such as heavy traffic or military airbases and low flying aircraft.
Google Earth enables you to look at street views and get a reasonable sense of what the locality might be like to live in.
Get everything translated
However friendly and helpful your estate agent may be, don’t forget that they are in the business of selling houses.
It’s not that they will deliberately lie to you, simply that it is not their job to explain all the detail of the transaction and that they may assume that you are familiar with local laws, when in reality you are ignorant of them.
For these reasons it is essential that you acquire the services of a bi-lingual, impartial, representative who can take you through the detail of the transaction and who can make you aware of the local legal requirements.
Talk to expats who live there
Wherever you are thinking about moving, you should be able to find online support groups which can give you a variety of personal perspectives on what it is like to live in the area.