Overseas property - 'A list' investments

Posted on: 14 August 2012 by Laura Henderson

Despite the current credit squeeze, destinations with celebrity 'buy-in' continue to raise the investment watermark. Laura Henderson checks out two of the best

Celebrity hang outsThere’s no place like home. But if you’re a celebrity, chances are there’s also no place like your second (or even third or fourth) home.

For cash-rich time-poor stars, holiday boltholes are almost more important than their primary ones, says Sarah Francis MD of prestige agents Sifex: “Because that’s where they go to recharge their batteries. Celebrities these days have the freedom to buy pretty much anywhere and are always on the lookout for the locale that offers something more, that certain je ne sais quoi that’s hard to define.”

See-and-be-seen protocol aside, adds property industry analyst Robert Jacobs, there’s good reason why top-tier locales continue to attract celebrity ‘buy-in’: “Limited supply, a wealthy investor pool and one-of-a-kind real estate help to cushion established haunts like Tuscany and the Cote d’Azur relative to the wider vagaries of the market; even with the current credit squeeze, prices in these so-called ‘super-prime’ markets generally remain robust because property turnover is less dramatic. Buyers aren’t concerned with comparables, they’re in it for the long-term, so if you can afford to invest, there’s a lot to be said for hitching your wagon to the ‘A’ list train.”

St TropezSt Tropez

In the 50s everyone fell in love with Bridget Bardot’s jewel in the crown on the Cote d’Azur. The ancestral home of the G-string bikini, a renegade few today complain that St Tropez is not what it used to be, but that doesn’t deter film stars, models and moguls alike from hopping off their yachts for a spot of retail therapy and al fresco dining. Just the right balance of quaintness and bling-with its fishing village environs and array of designer shops lining the cobbled streets; the town still possesses a gentle beauty; buildings restrictions are stringent; modernisations and drastic face lifts are simply not allowed. 

Star gazing

Johnny Depp, Joan Collins, Posh and Becks and Ivana Trump. 

Hot spots

Top-heavy with events from the Giraglia Rolex Sailing Cup to the International Polo Cup, the resort also packs a punch with glamour hangouts including the Beach Club on Pampelonne and ‘IT’ lunch haunt La Voile Rouge complete with impromptu champagne spraying and a disco beat so loud that conversation is saved for afters. A short drive from this maddening crowd takes you to the rolling hillsides and vineyards of Var, and the charming, old-fashioned village of Ramatuelle.  There you can buy fresh baked brioche and pain au lait at the bakers and sip a café crème in the shady village square. 

Reasons to buy

Guaranteed sun for 320 days a year, some of the most stunning coastlines and a rich and rambling inland. Real estate returns are historically strong with a ‘waiting-list’ investor pool ensuring properties hold their value. Prices rose by around 5 per cent in 2011, with new build now filtering into the equation as older re-sales capitalise on their scarcity value. Development restrictions ensure a quality product; new stock ranging from ultra-exclusive domains (small gated estates) to single residences usually with large gardens or even areas of woodland. Smaller budget clients can still find a niche buy in the more cost-conscious locations of Port Grimaud and Marine de Cogolin, where original fisherman’s houses selling for £400,000 are tipped to rocket in price. 

What’s on the market

Outlying villages such as Garde-Freinet and Ramatuelle with their classic Midi views have struck a chord with UK buyers; small village homes to update and stone built cottages selling for upwards of £500,000. High-end developments like the Gassin Golf and Country Club and Les Parcs previously shunned in this part of France, are catching on; many adopting the local vernacular in terms of materials used and room sizes hence the abundance of farmhouse style doors and slate tiles at Golf Gassin; a three-bed villa setting you back £3.5m. La Croix Valmer where Joan Collins has her villa, boasts wonderful sea views to the south and the Ile du Levant. Adds Sifex’s Sarah Francis: “You can still find something here for dramatically less money; a six bed detached villa with private pool and acres of ground setting you back around £2.7m.”

Florida KeysFlorida Keys

Joined to the rest of civilisation by nothing more than a narrow umbilical causeway, the sought-after hideaway of the Florida Keys has long been associated with big name authors and movie stars, from Bogart to Hemingway. These days the bohemian attractions of this polka-dot island chain are luring an altogether different clientele-barefoot champions of leisure and investment savvy retirees looking to dock in one of the few remaining unspoilt corners of the American continent. Palpably more cosmopolitan than Miami to the North and world renowned for their eco-tourism and living coral reefs, the Keys have historically kept a strict handle on property development with around 300 residential building licences granted each year. House prices, despite the wider national downturn, remain well above average for the state of Florida, with a steady stream of investors keen to join the 7,500 Brits historically enjoying pre-recession house value increases of 10-15 per cent per annum. 

Star gazing

Kelly McGillis of ‘Top Gun’ fame, Pierce Brosnan, Drew Barrymore and Mischa Barton.  

Hot spots

It’s tough to pin-down an itinerary in the Keys. The whole point of the place is to kick back and take life as it comes. Those keen to party on down will find plenty on offer in boho Key West-legendary Duval Street where Ernest Hemingway enjoyed a sundowner or three, lined with trendy eateries like La Trattoria. 

A stroll down Petronia Street in the historic Bahama Village is a must. Settled by Bahamians in the 19th century, this neighbourhood is a slow-mo mix of old and new with clusters of antique shops and exotic fine food stores. If you have to settle for just one experience, then Mallory Square hits the spot-a nightly hoopla down at the historic waterfront where you can watch the sun set into the Gulf of Mexico. 

Reasons to buy

The climate, (average temperatures top 80 degrees) and laid-back lifestyle are reason enough, but the overriding plus is the community atmosphere built around the many boating, fishing and diving pursuits, where everyone from the resident millionaire to the neighbour who runs the local diner mixes in. The islands’ captive holiday market also provides year round rental opportunities, detached family villas netting in the region of £2000 a month. Says Scott Atwell of Keys Caribbean: “The Keys certainly meets all the key investment criteria in terms of location, climate and lifestyle. Even the buying process is straightforward, but it’s essential to enlist the services of a fully licensed buyer’s agent to take you through the sale process.”

What’s on the market

For stunning waterfront villas, try raffish Key West, the islands’ heritage hot spot; three-bedroom frontline homes at boutique resort Harbour House starting from £750,000. Choices open up further, for those willing to consider the lesser-known islands; five-bedroom detached homes with private moorings in the charter boat capital, Islamorada fetching upwards of £2m. Detached family villas rank a close second in popularity to condominiums (apartments), a perennial favourite with overseas buyers and comprising 45% of the housing stock. Maintenance-light, with on-site facilities and managed rental programmes, they make sound investment sense. As Veepka Westedt of Century 21 Real Estate points out: “Key Largo and Islamorada are a big hit with the Brits,” she confirms “Celeb duo Richard and Judy recently bought their condo through me.”     

Laura Henderson is a property expert, columnist and author specialising in overseas investment markets. Her latest book Tricks and Mortar: The Little Book of Property Wisdom is out now on Amazon.  

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