An alternative to the more classic Mediterranean destinations but with a twist of Italian, Croatia offers a breathtaking coastline dotted with family-friendly resorts.
With one of the prettiest coastlines in the Med – thanks to its thousands of unspoilt islands and waterside Venetian architecture – Croatia has always been popular with sailing enthusiasts.
Since 2009, though, the country has welcomed foreign house-hunters to its shores too, after it changed its restrictive ownership laws to allow people from all EU countries to own property there (without the hassle of having to do so through a company, which is what Brits had to do).
Croatia hopes opening its doors to foreign homeowners is one way it can improve its eligibility for EU membership, and ultimately the Eurozone. The former is expected to happen in July 2013, and if the hype around accession causes property values to rise as it did in other countries, best snap up a Croatian home beforehand.
Istria wasn’t dubbed the “New Tuscany” for nothing, and it was its proximity to the Italian border combined with its distinctive – and familiar – Italian feel, that first attracted British buyers to buy in Croatia at all.
Novigrad, a charming resort half an hour drive from the border, is a good starting point in northern Istria and has properties ranging from traditional homes overlooking the Adriatic to large villas on the edge of town, priced from around €350,000. Heading south along the Istrian coast takes you to Porec and then Rovinj, both with similar appeal and buying opportunities to Novigrad. If you want to be closer to the airport in southern Istria at Pula – served by Ryanair – the seaside town of Premantura has much to offer.
Another interesting area is the South Dalmatian coast, specifically a stretch that takes in the resorts of Vodice, Primosten, built on a peninsula and regarded as Dalmatia’s most picturesque resort, and Rogoznica, 30 kilometres from Split’s airport (which is actually at Trogir). Vodice is typical of all three – a family resort set around a historic centre of old stone buildings, with a marina, small harbour and long promenade. High-rise blocks are not allowed, so property available includes villas and small apartment complexes.
Split and the nearby islands have also become popular in recent years, with the islands of Hvar and Brac especially fashionable. Apartments in grand renovated buildings around the beautiful old palace of Split are more affordable than comparables in Dubrovnik’s old town.
Dubovnik needs little introduction, already a popular long weekend destination. Buying a home around the city centre, while it would make an exciting city pad and have huge rental appeal – is expensive.
You may need to be patient, as getting the necessary permissions to buy a property in Croatia can take a year, or more. That is why many buyers have gone down the route of buying via a company, which is quicker but can be more expensive in corporate taxes and hassle. Moreover, with title sometimes hard to establish after the chaos and dispora following the break-up of Yugoslavia, it is often better to take things slower.
You will be required to give a 10 per cent deposit along with the preliminary contract. In the boom years vendors often asked for the entire payment to be paid on deposit, which may sound outrageous but can make sense, because (a) the vendor will often allow you to move into the property in the meantime and (b) because the vendor must pay you twice the deposit amount if they decide to pull out - for example after getting a better offer.
When the Ministry of Foreign Affairs approves you, the final contracts are signed before the notary (all agreements you sign must be translated and notarised) and taxes/fees paid.
Buying costs in Croatia include agent’s fees, typically between two and four per cent, stamp duty of five per cent and notary costs of around €50 and another €40 for registering ownership. Legal fees depend on the value of the property and can vary from €1,000-€3,000.
The Croatian bureaucracy has a bad reputation, not only for inefficiency but also for stroppily putting your application to the back of the queue if you make even a small mistake. It is therefore wise to have a highly switched on local solicitor to speed your application to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and ensure that every i is dotted and t crossed.