Your best bet: surf or turf?

Is a sea view a must? Or do you want peace, quiet and acres of space? MARK STUCKLIN weighs the pros and cons of coastal living against those of an inland idyll.

Sunday Times Home Section, 11th September 2005

There was a time, not so long ago, when the only place to buy in Spain was on its coast: that is, the Mediterranean Costas, from Brava in the east to del Sol in the south. Over the past five years, however, the countryside has been giving the coast a run for its money. Responding to demand, British estate agents have sprung up in the villages of Andalusia, Murcia and the Valencian region.

According to Andalusia-based Tim Hodges, who runs the buyers’ agency County Home Search in Spain, “Close to 50% of British buyers are now asking themselves the question: ‘Surf or turf?'”

Surf’s up:

Sea views
Really good sea views in Spain don’t come cheap, and the affordable ones often turn out to be a small splodge of blue just visible beyond the motorway. If it weren’t for the high prices that decent sea views command, and the worry that all but beachfront properties might end up looking onto the backside of a new development, the “surf or turf” question would be a non-starter. Good sea views are an expensive purchase, but buyers value them.

Coastal climate
The sea helps to keep coastal areas warmer in the winter, while cool breezes coming off the water keep the temperature down in the summer. Many Brits buying inland don’t realise just how harsh winters in Spain’s interior can be, or how unforgiving the scorching summer heat.

Greater choice
There is certainly no shortage of property on the Costas, though many argue that overdevelopment is precisely why prospective purchasers should avoid the coast.

Even so, if you are looking for a no-hassle modern property, such as a villa on a golf course or a lock-and-leave apartment in a gated community, then you will find the widest choice on the coast.

Infrastructure and facilities
Feel like a curry for supper? Want to play 30 golf courses in 30 days? Need a doctor who speaks English? An international school for your kids? Whatever it is, you will find it on the coast, so development and crowds do have their advantages.

The economic importance of coastal tourism also means that the coasts get the lion’s share of government spending on infrastructure, such as transport and communications.

The Turf club:

More space for your money
While E250,000 (Pounds 169,000) might still buy you a two-bed Costa apartment, for about the same amount of money inland you can buy and refurbish an old farmhouse with dreamy country views, period charm and orchards or vineyards thrown in.

However, it does depend where you buy, as in Mallorca, northern Catalonia and posh parts of Andalusia, such as Gaucin, prices are high for inland property. But on the whole, your property budget goes further inland.

Country pursuits
If it’s tranquillity you’re after, the Spanish countryside has it in abundance, though if you don’t have a good water source or a connection to the electricity grid, life can become a struggle. Interior tourism is starting to boom in Spain, and will make life in the countryside richer and more appealing to a wider market than in the past.

Investment prospects
“Prices on the best-known coasts, for instance between Malaga and Estepona, have risen so much in recent years that it is difficult to see how coastal property values can maintain their past momentum, for the next few years at least,” says Hodges.

On the other hand, prices in the deep countryside are difficult to predict, owing to lower demand and a less liquid market. Though some inland areas have done well in the past 12 months -Albacete, in Castilla La Mancha, was the best performer in Spain with price rises of 36% -demand fundamentals in most inland areas are not as encouraging as they are on or near the coast.

For instance, in Teruel, an inland area to the east of Madrid that has received considerable attention from the British press after it was singled out by a television programme as one of the top 10 places in the world to invest, property prices have fallen for two consecutive quarters -the worst performance in all of Spain. So as an investment, at least, rural property prices are likely to be more volatile, and more risky, than coastal property.

Best of both
Hodges says: “The strip of land between 10km and 20km inland offers a happy medium of reasonable prices, relative tranquillity, coastal climates and manageable access to beach and deep countryside.”

Hodges sees investment potential in this strip, as infrastructure improvements make pretty towns such as Casares more accessible and more buyers opt for this compromise. “In comparison to the best-known Costas, the areas just back from the coast now represent good value.”

For investors and homebuyers alike, Hodges recommends the borderland between surf and turf. He cites the price differentials between Coin, where the average price of a three-bed villa is about Pounds 250,000 and Marbella 14 miles away on the coast where you’d pay Pounds 510,000. East of Malaga, there is a similar differential between inland Competa (Pounds 170,000) and seaside Nerja (Pounds 320,000).

© Mark Stucklin (Spanish Property Insight)

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