Love thy neighbour (at home and away)

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Love thy neighbour (at home and away)

Few of us would buy a home in the UK without checking out the neighbourhood; seeing what kind of cars are parked in the driveways; if the gardens are nicely looked after and that the streets aren't over-run by yobs after dark. So why don't we apply the samecriteria when we buy a home overseas?

Location and price tag are always top of our 'foreign home' checklist, when perhaps it should be people. After all, if you are buying a villa or apartment in a resort – as most overseas home owners do – it helps to know if your neighbours are going tobe the kind of people you would want to sit next to round the pool. It's not so much about distinguishing a Prada from a Primark bikini, but more about sizing up whether there will be a backlash if you ask a screaming child to pipe down or if you will have to ask your neighbour to kindly take his rubbish with him.

On a resort, the likelihood is that your property is going to be pretty close to several others and that you will spend more time in it than you would during a typical day at your home in the UK, so making sure the people next door are 'like-minded' should be a priority.

It is worth making a wishlist. If it's peace and quiet you're after then a property on a large resort may be a bad choice; but if you are sociable, with young children and seeking new friends it could be heaven. If you want to be private and anonymous then splash out on your own pool or opt for an apartment on a small scheme inland from the beach. Making the most of your inspection trip and asking the right questions is key to ensuring harmonious holidays.

I say this from personal experience after years of looking at resorts of holiday homes abroad with one eye on buying. When my schoolteacher husband and I had decided on the southwest coast of Turkey, the developers, a young Anglo-Turkish couple, invited us to stay in their home, a lovely rambling house in the countryside five minutes from the apartment complex near seven-kilometre Sarigerme beach, near Dalaman.

At Hakan and Katie Cinar's nearby home we met a Scottish couple who had bought an apartment off plan in the same 'Valley Apartments' scheme we were considering in this unspoilt area of Turkey where there's a new golf course and Hilton Hotel. On the complex there's a shared pool, tennis court and barbecue area. We spent a great evening together and happily for us they have ended up our next-door neighbours. The Cinars – who run Lycia Properties, from whom we then bought our three-bedroom, two bathroom apartment for £85,000 – actively make sure their prospective buyers meet existing owners as part of the selling process.

“It is important that potential owners know who their neighbours are going to be,” says Katie. “They need to determine what kind of people they are and also to get an independent view of our product and the area. “In our home we organise get togethers and barbecues so people can meet us and other buyers in a relaxed way; we also take them to the bar we own in the village so they can get a flavour of the local lifestyle. We want happy owners, living in happy communities.”

Katie and Hakan also introduced us to professional violinists Caroline and Colin who have bought a villa and an apartment in a neighbouring scheme to ours; and also Robin Phillips, a financial director of a global blue-chip company, his wife Anne and their four children. We got on so well that I nearly missed my flight back home last summer while enjoying sundowners with them!

We have also been introduced to Andy Parks, a chartered surveyor from Muswell Hill, north London, his Polish wife and daughter and the hedge fund manager who, while on holiday in Dalaman a few years ago, went out to buy a toothbrush and came back with a villa. So we've now met most of our neighbours in our eight-unit apartment complex and feel very lucky that everyone is committed to preserving the peace and quiet of our rural paradise. We love watching the kingfishers play in the marshy stream at the bottom of the garden and the wagtails preen themselves by the pool. Hours are spent gazing at the storks and eagles swooping overhead and at night listening to the frogs croaking and splashing in the reeds.

Amongst the other owners we have agreed on uniform sun beds around the communal pool (beige); poolside etiquette (no glass), and for some fruit trees (oranges and lemons) to be planted in the garden. Fortunately most of us don't want to rent out our homes – we're hoping to use it about six weeks a year and also lend it to friends. There is always the risk that the transient neighbour will not be like-minded so we have ensured there is a complaints procedure just in case: he is called Cevki, Lycia's Mr Fixit, whose phone number is on speed-dial. Some developments in Spain limit or ban short-term rentals, but even so it is important to have a basic code of rules and etiquette in place if things go wrong.

Stuart Condren, who is marketing eight remaining properties on the Turkish Apollon scheme in Altinkum in Didim, a few miles west, also advocates sussing out the neighbours before buying. “I bought two apartments before I started selling them,” he says, “and went to speak to lots of owners. I discovered they were all British, which was nice. Not because I minded especially but I didn't want to be the only British owner if all the others were locals. It is important to know that you have a common interest with your neighbours. Also all rentals have to go through us so we can vet people and make sure they understand that they have to respect other people, their properties and the public areas.”.

But getting the right neighbours can have unexpected networking benefits as well as help keeping the peace, as Guernsey hoteliers Pat and Peter Norey discovered when they bought a large three-bedroom apartment on The Landings resort in St Lucia four years ago. “It helps being sociable in a place like this,” says Peter whose son is now helping a fellow owner sell his business. “It is always useful to meet surgeons and lawyers and interesting to see how people have made their money.” Pat and Peter are among a growing number of British people investing in winter sun destinations (some 55 per cent of Landings' owners are Brits over the age of 50) with many discovering that rich pickings can be made from socializing with their affluent and friendly neighbours.

Bob and Freda Lewis, both 72, took a big chance buying their home off plan in the Aphrodite Hills development in Cyprus, some 10 years ago. Their three-bedroom property is in a private enclave of 12 townhouses surrounding a swimming pool. “We bought it to enjoy with our children and grandchildren because it is safe, quiet and has wonderful facilities,” says Freda who with her husband Bob is a keen golfer. The couple were early investors in the resort which has not only proved lucrative (properties like theirs now sell for £700,000) but Freda says has paid dividends on the social front too. They spend four to five months a year in Cyprus where they have made many friends, and they don't mind that their patio garden has little privacy and looks straight onto the communal pool. “We love it,” says Bob, “In fact we now see many of the friends we made here, back in the UK.”



What to ask agents/developers to look out for

Love thy neighbour• Find out what kind of people have bought in the complex you are interested in. E.g. retired, young families, singles, businessmen, international?

• Ask to meet some owners without the agent/developer being present

• Look around the local village; is it scruffy and tatty or well-maintained? This will tell you a lot about the locals and their foreign customers

• Ask if there are any timeshare or shared ownership properties in your scheme, which could have lots of different owners, or if there are owners who have bought to rent? You need to know if you are going to have lots of occasional neighbours

• Is the resort open or closed to outsiders? Check out the security measures

• If you are visiting in low season ask if there are any mass-market tourist resorts nearby which could change the feel of the area in summer

• If privacy is important see if your apartment overlooks the others – or indeed if any overlook you – and what measures you can take to overcome this e.g. erecting an awning, blinds, plants

• Being close to recreational facilities can be good and bad; bad because of the noise and good for access

• Proximity to an airport is only good if you are not under the flight path

Author

A Place In The Sun