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Gay Times April 08 - Issue 355

A Place In The Sun?

GT’s favourite hot property babe, Kristian Digby, got more than he bargained for when a recent French holiday melted his heart and burned a hole in his pocket. He shares his hot tips and advice about where and where not to buy

Being a ‘confirmed bachelor’ means I have a genetic disposition for some of the finer things in life. I can’t help it, it’s just the way I am. Combine some of my natural fascinations – let’s say lovely property and exotic travel, for the sake of argument – and, my goodness, I go weak at the knees. I tell you, it’s a curse.
In recent years, us Brits have gone crazy for owning palatial properties on foreign soil. I guess it must be a hangover from our empire days. Whatever the reason, property abroad can be a shrewd investment.
I’ve filmed property programmes from many exciting corners of the globe, but buying abroad is a huge commitment, so buy carefully and wisely. I was once shown a property by two guys who had fallen in love with a four-bed house on the coast just down from Rio. The house had stunning gardens rolling down to its own small, private beach and the warm, blue waters of the ocean. The vender only wanted £47,000 for this slice of paradise. However, I looked at a map and realised that over the next headland, hidden from view was a nuclear power station. No wonder the water was so warm! Evidently they didn’t buy the house. I’ve met people who’ve bought houses without checking boundaries and found they actually owned far less land then they first believed. Most shocking of all was a young family who had purchased a house in Spain without realising a covenant in their deeds meant the farmer who sold the house could still legally enter and use one of the bedrooms to store his tools. And did.
To be honest, as much as I’ve enjoyed viewing beautiful houses in equally lovely locations, I’ve never had the inclination to purchase a holiday home of my own. That was until last summer when a cheap break to France became the most expensive journey of my life. That’s right, I left Blighty with a small holdall containing some charming knitwear and sensible slacks, and returned with a five-bed, three-bath detached country house!
I had flown to Bordeaux and made appointments to view a number of houses in the Saint Émilion area. It’s a medieval town famed for being one of the best wine producers in the world and is a World Heritage site. I had absolutely no desire to buy any of the properties I was going to view – this was just an exercise indulging my genetic disposition for houses in exquisite locations. But after seeing a handful of unremarkable gites and villas, I felt rather unsatisfied.
Then the unthinkable happened. I fell in love with an understated yet sublime house nestled between a château and some undulating vineyards belonging to the Rothschilds. The house was a bit neglected. It had that property programme cliché, ‘potential’, a long drive meandering through the vineyards, a breathtaking double-height lounge and dinning room, and a garden that was just crying out to be adorned with a swimming pool. However another UK couple was also interested and had placed an offer. I spent the final day of my trip doing researching like mad on the house and area before putting forward an offer – that was accepted. I flew back to the UK in a daze.
A few months down the line, and now the house is legally mine and work has started in earnest to transform it into a chic country residence. Well, that’s the theory. It’s proving to be an extraordinary experience. My French-speaking skills are almost non-existent, but je ne regrette rien. The château is allowing me to indulge my other natural weaknesses – fine food, wine and furniture shopping. When it’s finally finished, you’re all welcome to come and stay, though we might need a slightly bigger bed. Now, I must get to the bed boutique…

10 Top Tips For Buying Overseas
1. The most important decision is deciding exactly what you want the property to do for you.
2. Think about combining your cash with friends or family: it could bring a villa with pool within your financial reach, rather than simply an apartment.
3. Be careful buying off-plan. You can’t see exactly what you’re buying and it can be a long time before the property is built and completed.
4. The property and area might look yummy in summer when all the restaurants and bars are open, but what about out-of-season? Does the area become a depressing grayed-out ghost town?
5. Buy in a place that is popular with locals as well as tourists. Always think of the exit route from your investment should you want to sell.
6. Don’t be pressured into the wrong decision, but equally, when you feel the property is right, don’t hesitate either. You don’t want to lose out to someone who’s willing to make the decision.
7. Ensure you don’t inherit a debt on the property. Before you purchase, get a solicitor to check for you.
8. Try to arrange your mortgage ‘in principle’, before agreeing to purchase the property.
9. Setting up your pad abroad can be stressful, but a good agent will have an aftercare service to make sure that your needs are taken care of.
10. Above all, remember to enjoy this wonderful experience. By embracing the culture and the local community you can really begin to make your new country your new swanky home.

Words: Kristian Digby

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