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Are there any areas of Spain that could be considered current investment hotspots? S. Carpenter, West Midlands, May 2007 It really depends how you measure 'investment'. For instance, with regards to the economy, one of the fastest growing areas of Spain is undoubtedly the region of Murcia, which includes the ancient cities of Cartagena and Murcia, as well as the splendid Mar Menor. Murcia, also known as the Costa Calida, has been the recipient of huge capital investment from central government over recent years, the area has a great road network, is served by two international airports at San Javier and Alicante, and a third base has been proposed at Corvera. There is plenty of land available to build, and the area is set to be home to several top-class golf resorts and 5 star hotels within the next 10 years. Murcia has a lot to offer for investors with a speculative long-term view, but has also shown a healthy increase in property prices of 12.9% during the last 12 months alone and the price per m2 is still approximately 20% less than the national average. We expect the rate of growth to slow during 2007, and therefore you need to careful in choosing the areas and types of property that will provide the best return. Go for well-located properties that offer something exclusive - over time, these are most likely to continue being the most desirable properties.

Another fairly undeveloped area is the Costa de la Luz. Stretching from the Portuguese border in the west to Gibraltar in the east, the area is known as the windy coast, due to its Atlantic coastline. While the area is more suitable for fair-weather enjoyment, the Spanish and Germans have been holidaying here for years - just try booking a hotel in Tarifa or Conil during the summer! There are real restrictions on what can be built along this coast, so I would expect supply to be unable to quench the demand in the short to medium term. The area close to the Portuguese border is proving very popular, with large scale golf resorts such as Costa Esuri certainly capturing the imagination of investors.

However, some investors are more comfortable with an area that already boasts a superb international infrastructure, such as the Costa del Sol. Although the region of Andalucia has seen price rises of over 14% during the last twelve months, it seems likely that we have reached a temporary price 'plateau' in some over-supplied areas of the Costa del Sol. There has been an incredible amount of bad press associate with a so-called property crash, particularly along the Costa del Sol. It is true that some areas have an over-supply of lower-end 2 bed apartments, but investors should look at the recent scandal within the Marbella Town Hall as a potential blessing in disguise, as it means a lack of stock in certain hugely popular areas, and allows good-quality, well-located property to remain attractive, even at seemingly high prices. In fact, we have a waiting list of clients that are interested in buying into several superb developments in the Marbella area.

Any market is governed by supply and demand, and investors should take careful note of this. Very often the next 'big thing' may amount to very little if there aren't sufficient transport links to the area, or if there is a lack of infrastructure that would normally support a market for resale buyers or renters. As in most regions throughout Europe, there are often markets 'within markets'. There are still some great opportunities out there, but the fundamentals should always apply - quality and location.

How do I reserve a property in Spain? Is my money safe? M. Towers, Suffolk, May 2007 The reservation process in Spain is relatively straightforward, and a reputable estate agent will be able to lead you through the process. Your money will be safe as long as you follow the correct process and use a good lawyer that can make all the necessary checks.

Normally, if you see a property that you like, a reservation deposit of between 3.000 euros and 6.000 euros fixes the price and takes the property off the market. In the case of resale properties, your offer would then be communicated to the vendor, and if accepted, you would then be asked to sign private purchase contracts and send 10% of the price within a couple of weeks. For new developments, the process is similar, and any staged payments would depend on the developer's particular payment terms.

A couple of things to note: Always ask the agent if the reservation deposit is refundable. Some developers do not offer refunds, so you need to be committed to the purchase right from Day 1. It's always a good idea to allow a lawyer to hold and transfer the reservation deposit (and indeed any further payments) on your behalf. One of the lawyer's main jobs is to ensure that any funds that you are handing over to a developer are covered by a developer's bank guarantee, similar to an insurance policy in the event that they cannot complete the work. For resales, the lawyer shouldn't hand over any of your funds until he/she is satisfied that there are no problems with the purchase.

I have a young family and want a place in Spain near to the beach and amenities, with sun all year round. Where would you recommend? D. Blyth, Staffs, May 2007 This depends very much on the budget. If you are looking for sun all year round, then you need to head as far south as possible. The areas of Costa del Sol, Costa Almeria, Costa Calida and Costa Blanca have similar climates, but the Costa de la Luz can be quite windy, which is a welcome respite in the summer, but not too nice on a cloudy winter's day. If you are also looking for plenty of amenities for a young family, then you maybe need to head for one of the more established areas on the southern Spanish Costas. Popular areas in the Costa Blanca include Guardamar, Playa Flamenca, La Zenia and Cabo Roig, all within striking distance of the lively (though overdeveloped) town of Torrevieja. The Costa del Sol boasts well-known names such as Benalmadena and Fuengirola, all home to great sandy beaches and plenty of attractions for all the family. Although the coastal resorts of Almeria are less well-known, places such as Roquetas de Mar, Almerimar and Mojacar offer a good selection of amenities.

Do real estate agents in Spain need to have any qualifications? How do I know who to trust? M. Cox, Cornwall, May 2007 Real estate agents in Spain are not regulated, and need no formal qualifications to be able to be in business. However, there are certain professional organisations that offer membership to agents who meet various criteria that are devised to protect the general public. One of these professional bodies is the AIPP, the Association of International Property Professionals, which advocates all members to operate under a strict code of conduct. If in doubt when choosing an agent, ask to see their client testimonials.

Has the property investment bubble burst on the Costa del Sol? F. Smith, London, May 2007 I think the market on the Costa del Sol is taking a well-deserved and timely 'breather'. On paper, the Costa del Sol property market has been providing double-digit annual growth for the best part of the last 10 years (although prices have been fairly flat for a couple of years now). That is phenomenal growth, and many investors have made significant sums by investing wisely during this time. For those investors seeking similar levels of growth, maybe the Costa del Sol isn't for you. Though property prices are still on the up in certain areas, growth is now slower and in some areas there is increased competition for buyers, with distressed sellers also driving down prices to more realistic levels in some oversupplied areas. We are unlikely to see a collapse in the market, because the regional authorities are closely regulating the amount of building and new developments, and particularly in Marbella this has actually led to a shortage of stock in some of the most popular areas and developments, with waiting lists of buyers in some instances.

Long term prospects for the area are good, due to the region's superb range of year-round amenities, and the ease and low cost of access.

Who are Polaris World? I keep seeing the adverts on TV, but don't know much about them? R. Barrow, Worcestershire, May 2007 Polaris World is a Spanish company that specialises in the building, development, promotion and marketing of several golf resorts within the region of Murcia in southern Spain. Underpinning the whole Polaris World concept are a number of themes that are common to each of their resorts - a golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus, a town centre with a wide variety of facilities, such as shops, bars and restaurants, 24 hour security, and the benefit that any buyer or tenant of a Polaris World property can also enjoy the facilities at any of the other Polaris World resorts, very attractive for potential investors.

The company intends to offer different styles and types of properties and resorts, with a starting price of around 118.000 euros (approx 80k)

So far, the company is responsible for the construction of Mar Menor Golf Resort, La Torre Golf Resort, El Valle Golf Resort, La Loma Resort, Hacienda Riquelme Golf Resort and Las Terrazas de la Torre Golf Resor, plus several linked resorts at their vast site at Condado de Alhama. The resorts are all within a short drive of each other, within 15 minutes of the airport and at most within 15 minutes of the beaches of the Mar Menor or the Mediterranean. Polaris World offers the 'Florida Concept' of home ownership to European buyers of property in Spain - i.e. jump on a plane and within a few hours you can be settled within your fully secure resort, with private golf course, shops, bars, restaurants, spa and a 5 star hotel on your doorstep in certain resorts.

I am coming to Spain to look at property for 4 days in June. I have arranged to see 4 different agents, but am getting worried that they will all want to show me the same houses. Any advice? R. Patel, Bristol, May 2007 I think you may have taken on a bit too much, and I seriously doubt that you will get the service you may have been hoping for.

Firstly, the property market in Spain is very different to the way the market operates in the UK. If I was going to the UK to look at property, I would have done exactly as you did and booked to see a handful of agents to view a decent portfolio of properties in case I was in danger of missing anything. However, in Spain, a lot of agents have access to exactly the same properties. Certainly, most agents will be able to show you the same new developments, and (depending on the area), agents will also often have access to a huge range of resale properties via a network of collaborating agents. That's great news for buyers. However, all of the agents will want to sell you a property, and the unscrupulous ones amongst them may try to mislead you by offering their own unique opinion of what you may have seen with another agent! This can be extremely confusing and often unsettling for most buyers. There is a way of avoiding this scenario:

When doing your research and speaking to a selection of Spanish property agents on the phone, find out how good they are in sending information to you, in terms of its relevance, time to respond and general attitude and helpfulness in these first dealings. Their relationship with you at this stage is likely to be a reflection of their service in general. Find out how they operate, ask them for client testimonials, ask them about their memberships of professional associations, ask them if they can show you a variety of properties via any Spanish property networks. Try to establish a rapport with one or two of the agents, and then make arrangements to see one or both during your visit. You will probably find that by sticking with one agent who you trust, you will be shown a lot more relevant properties and the area in general, in a relaxed environment. In turn, the agent will be able to offer his/her professional, consultative advice without the pressure of other agents snapping away at his/her heels.

I don't want to drive while I am in Spain, but I want my own place in the sun. Can you recommend anywhere within an easy taxi ride of a major airport, preferably on a good golf course. It must have at least 3 beds and cost less than 200k euros. N. Rossi, Edinburgh, May 2007 Firstly, I am guessing that an 'easy' taxi ride would be one of less than 30 minutes. Secondly, I am also presuming that you are looking to use your Spanish property during the winter months.

Major airports in Southern Spain include Malaga, Murcia (San Javier), Alicante, and Almeria. You will need to check the airlines' timetables to establish which of these airports are suitable from your UK departure point. For instance, some airlines only offer summer flights to particular Spanish airports, which can often rule out buying property in certain areas of Spain.

The golfing capital of Southern Spain is undoubtedly the Costa del Sol, home to over 40 superb golf courses. The nearest to Malaga airport include Torrequebrada in Benalmadena, Alhaurin Golf, Mijas Golf, La Cala Golf Resort and Lauro Golf. Torrequebrada is situated near to the coastal facilities in the bustling resort of Benalamadena, while the other 3 golf courses are slightly inland. With the exception of La Cala Resort, you would certainly be able to acquire a very nice golf apartment on these courses with your budget of 200,000 euros. However, you may struggle to get that 3rd bedroom for the budget. If you are prepared to buy near to the golf courses, but not on the course itself, you should find what you are looking for.

Another area to consider is Murcia and the Costa Calida. Within your budget, you should be able to buy a 3 bed property on the Polaris World resorts of La Torre Golf Resort and Terrazas de la Torre Golf Resort, in addition to United Golf Resorts La Tercia. If you were prepared to sacrifice the 3rd bedroom, you would also be able to afford an apartment at Roda Golf & Beach Resort, just a 5 minute drive from San Javier Airport.

Some of my friends recently bought a Polaris World property in Murcia in Southern Spain. I think it was a 2 bed apartment on a golf course. Is this likely to be a good investment? P. Johnson, Glamorgan, May 2007 Again, it depends on how you measure the property investment angle. Did your friends buy their Spanish property with the intention of selling on quickly, or are they looking for rental income to cover the costs of ownership.

The concept of buying a Spanish property with the express intention of selling prior to completion is probably a thing of the past, and buyers should look upon their purchase with a long-term view, For those speculators amongst you who are looking for a 'quick flip' firstly there are no guarantees that this will happen, and secondly, it's vital to buy at the lowest possible price on the phase, so that you are not going to be competing in a resale market at a later date with someone who bought at a lower price, and therefore has more margin to play with.

If your friends bought their Polaris World property in order to rent it out, then being on a golf course and within a short drive of a beach is always a good mix, as it offers landlords rental potential and opportunities on a year-round basis. The income potential really depends on how the property is managed, and how much effort goes in to marketing the property. Spanish property doesn't just rent itself. Some effort is needed, and buyers often neglect this. Sometimes, a ready-made rental market can be sitting next to them all day in the office or the pub!

I would like to buy an investment property in Spain. Do you have any tips and suggestions? M. Saxby, West Yorkshire, May 2007 Like any market, there are positives and negatives, good areas and bad, and plenty of success stories and mistakes that are made.

Firstly, do your research. Secondly, try to really establish why you are buying the property. Is it purely for investment, or do you secretly harbour a desire to use your Spanish property investment yourself? There are two ways of looking at personal use of a Spanish home - it can be construed that the more time you spend in the property, the fewer opportunities to rent it and obtain an income. However, some people view their leisure time as an important personal investment, akin to going to a health spa, or out to a nice restaurant.

If you seek no personal, spiritual gain, then you have to put personal considerations to one side, and consider very carefully what would appeal to other people, i.e. the people most likely to buy or rent your property in Spain. The difficulty is that this may be very different to what may appeal to you, and property can be very emotive. A good Spanish property agent can often help you focus and avoid getting too emotionally involved in an investment property purchase in Spain.

Finally, if you fall on hard times or have a change of plan, you need to be quite sure that the property you choose has the potential to appeal to a secondary buyer or to someone who wants to rent it out, and this is where you need to focus on the most fundamental of all property criteria - location.

I want to buy a property in Spain with a guaranteed rental that will cover the mortgage payments. Is there anything you can recommend? S. Singh, London, May 2007 You need to be careful when choosing a property in Spain with the benefit of a 'Guaranteed Rental'. The principle is great - normally the rental income is sufficient to cover the costs of owning the property, and this scenario has obvious appeals for property investors. Sometimes, the figures don't quite stack up. For instance, if you are receiving a guaranteed rental of say 5% per year, but it's impossible for the property to be rented out due to its location or quality, how is the developer or promoter able to afford to pay you your income every year? The answer MAY be that they already had the money in the bank - effectively, you paid for it when you bought the property, simply by paying an inflated price. Some investors are aware of this, and choose to turn a blind eye. But just be careful that you are not going to end up stuck with an overpriced property that you can't shift.

However, there are some great guaranteed rental property options available in Spain, including a leaseback product at the prestigious La Manga Club Resort near Cartagena in the Spanish province of Murcia. Fully furnished apartments and studios are being offered within La Manga Resort on leaseback schemes which also allow for generous personal usage. Investors can receive up to 5% per annum for 5 years, followed by variable income thereafter. When you consider that La Manga has again just been voted Europe's Top Golf Resort, and that the resort is managed by the world-renowned Hyatt Hotels Group, this looks like an investment option with a solid track record and a bright future.

Do you know the Dona Julia Golf Resort on the Costa del Sol? What do you think of it? I am thinking of buying a place there. C. Jensen, London, May 2007 Yes, I have visited the Dona Julia Golf Resort on several occasions. The resort is situated in the district of Estepona, just to the east of Puerto Banus and Marbella on the Costa del Sol. Dona Julia will be home to three 18 hole golf courses, 2 luxury hotels, including the 6 star Park Hyatt Casares Hotel & Spa, plus various shops, bars, restaurants and sports facilities.

What I particularly like about Dona Julia is its proximity to the beaches of the Costa del Sol. It's very unusual to come across a golf course, and particularly a large scale golf project of this nature, situated so close to the water's edge. Some of the developments for sale at Dona Julia are actually frontline to the golf course, yet within walking distance of shops, bars, restaurants AND the beach. That all adds up to a pretty good mix for holidays and investment potential. The developments within walking distance of the beach include El Patio de Dona Julia and Marina de Dona Julia. Also check out the payment terms of the Hercesa project at Dona Julia - this is a frontline golf project with an easy walk to the sea, and approximately 15% to pay at contract.

Do I need the services of a real estate agent in Spain? Surely I am better off approaching developers directly? S. Whatley, North Yorkshire, May 2007 I have spoken to several clients who have tried to 'go it alone' by searching independently for property in Spain. Most of them have agreed that it is not an easy thing to do, and most have been left feeling frustrated or confused. The truth is that estate agents are experts in their field, and have access to virtually all the information and products that property buyers are looking for. Bad press accounts for a lot of any mistrust that has developed in the market, so my advice is to choose who you deal with carefully, but also with the consideration that the vast majority of estate agents in Spain are honourable and professional. If you follow my tips in choosing an agent, you shouldn't be disappointed with the service provided.

Some buyers believe that they will be able to get a special deal if they approach developers in Spain directly. This can be misguided, as developers only sell at one price, regardless of whether you make a direct approach or are introduced via an agent. If developers started discounting their prices to direct buyers, the agents simply would not work with them in promoting their product, and hence the developer's main marketing weapon would be redundant. Also, buyers should take into account the added value that an agent can bring to the table, in terms of legal support, after sales care and general support throughout the purchase, all of which would be missing in the event of dealing with a developer in Spain on a direct basis.

I want a holiday home in Spain in a classy area, not overrun with Brits, but with access to English speaking people and good services. Any suggestions? N. Bower, Essex, May 2007 I have to be careful here, as very often entire areas of Spain can be tarnished with the same brush, without justification in most cases. I have seen reports in UK national newspapers of whole regions like the Costa Blanca and Costa del Sol being referred to as some sort of British ghetto. For sure, certain areas within these regions are home to a high population of British expats, attracted by the sunny climate and low cost of living. But to brand an entire region in this way is irresponsible. Within minutes of being in the midst of a high expat population on one of the Spanish costas, you can be in a typical hillside Spanish village, or in the centre of an historic city, with not a Brit to be seen. And of course we mustn't lose sight of the fact that some of these expat areas have become so popular with the Brits because that is exactly what a lot of people are after - a little piece of Britain nestled in the Spanish sun.

However, for buyers seeking a piece of the real Spain, there are lots of choices, but obviously you may not have access to English speaking people or the range of services that you would take for granted in the UK.

If it's the coastal regions that appeal, a lot of clients find the best solution is to go for a region that can offer world class, cosmopolitan, year round facilities, such as the Costa del Sol or Northern Costa Blanca, with quality properties, classy marinas, vibrant towns and plenty of golf courses, yet trying to steer clear of any British ghettos. Areas that have a great, international feel include Marbella on the Costa del Sol and Moraira in the Costa Blanca. In these areas, there will be an international influence and an Englsih speaking community, but 5 star facilities and services, coupled with a classy atmosphere.

I want to relocate to Spain with my family, but need to find work. How should I go about it? I am a 31 year old recruitment consultant in the UK, married with a 2 year old daughter. My wife is an accountant. T. Lane, Cheshire, May 2007 With this being a move for all the family, it really needs to be a decision that everyone is happy with. Although the climate and lifestyle will probably be a whole lot better than your life in the UK, the 'grass isn't always greener' in sunny Spain.

Firstly, research your areas. Maybe take a few trips to Spain, each time to a different area. Check out the local newspapers, contact recruitment companies for advice about opportunities for a couple with your skills, particularly with your own background in the same field. Also, check on anticipated rates of pay. Remember that the average salary in Spain is lower than the average in the UK, so you won't necessarily have the same income, even if you landed identical jobs to those you currently have. It's really important to choose an area of Spain that is going to provide you with career opportunities. Don't choose the area just because it looks good on a postcard. And don't be unrealistic. Just because you have seen a couple on TV make a go of being farmers or bar owners doesn't mean you will be able to follow suit.

It would undoubtedly be hugely helpful if one or both of you learned Spanish. This would give you a head start over other candidates.

Also, don't rule out a change of career. Think about the boom sectors in the area of Spain that you choose, and ask yourself if you would be prepared to work on a commission-only basis, as most sales roles only pay a low monthly wage, and some not at all. Analyse your current finances. If you could go to Spain with a few months worth of salary saved up, this may also give you some flexibility as to the nature of the roles you take up.

Choose your accommodation carefully. Maybe go for rented property first, until you are settled and have found your feet. Your first base may not necessarily be where you end up.

In general, choose your area carefully, research the opportunities, get some form of commitment from a potential Spanish based employer, and keep a back door open in the UK if things don't quite work out....then go for it!

What is a snagging list, and do I need to do one when I buy a property in Spain? R. Jones, Hertfordshire, May 2007 A snagging list is a list of any faults in a property that need to be rectified before you become the new owner. You will normally be asked to provide a snagging list by your lawyer prior to completion, so that checks can be made with the vendor or developer to ensure that any remedial work has been carried out before you hand over all your money and complete the purchase.

If you don't prepare a snagging list, then there is no legal responsibility on the vendor or developer to repair any of the defects. Having said this, newly built properties have a 10 year building insurance in the event of structural defect. Your estate agent should be able to help with the snagging list and should also be able to prepare one on your behalf if you are unable to get to Spain to do it yourself.

Is there any way that I can get to hear about new property investment opportunities in Spain? S. Thatcher, Norfolk, May 2007 Keep reading the newspapers and magazines for details of new properties. But some of the best opportunities sometimes never make it that far. Your Key to Spain offers a newsletter update service, enabling you to be kept informed of special offers, investment opportunities, new releases etc.

I've recently heard about a corruption scandal in Marbella? I have a property in Elviria, an area of Marbella. Do I need to worry? W. Byrne, Ireland, May 2007 The corruption scandal in Marbella centres around a succession of Mayors who it is alleged have acted illegally in mis-spending public money and lining their own pockets in return for granting building licences in areas that were deemed to be unsuitable. While the politicians are languishing in jail, an interim committee has been formed to try to sort out the sorry mess, and to get the town hall of Marbella back on an even keel. A small number of projects under construction have been halted. It is unlikely that any of these will be demolished, due to the human element that must also be taken into consideration. For the time being, any projects approved in the Town Plan of pre-1986 are ok to be built, but the granting of new building licences in Marbella has been frozen until a proper review of the situation has taken place.

A couple of developments that were under construction in Elviria were halted at an early stage. If you already own your property in Elviria, then you should be ok, but check with a Spanish lawyer to ensure that your property has a legal 'licence of 1st occupation'.

I'm thinking of buying and restoring an old finca in rural Spain. Are there any potential pitfalls to my plan? J. McNamara, Merseyside, May 2007 All I can say is 'be very careful'. There are a number of obstacles that lie in the way of you achieving your objective.

Firstly, get good legal advice, as you will need your lawyer in Spain to thoroughly check the property that you are proposing to buy. There are very strict laws governing the use of rural land, and how many square metres can be built on each plot. You may even find that the old house at the heart of the plot should never have been built in the first place, or has been built to the wrong dimensions.

If you get the go-ahead for your project, choose your builders very carefully, and make sure that the budget and timescales for the restoration are realistic.

If you are thinking of living in the restored finca, you then need to appreciate that the idea of the idyllic rustic hideaway in Spain may not be quite what you had in mind: Will you feel comfortable with your nearest neighbours being a pack of wild dogs? Will you be comfortable fetching your water from the well at the bottom of the garden? How will you cope when the electricity goes off and you can't speak Spanish?

If you CAN cope with all of this, then your investment will be truly worthwhile and you can look forward to your new life in Spain.

I have been offered an off-plan 2 bedroom apartment in Conil on the Costa de la Luz where I holidayed last year. The apartment is front-line beach, bang in the middle of town, a new-build with a 10 year guarantee and high spec. It has a superb large roof terrace with sea views and I have met and trust the English developer. Is this a good long-term investment at 200,000 euros? S. Clifford, via email, August 2007 It looks like you may already know the answer to this one!

Whilst there is never a guarantee of the profitability or performance of any investment, this property certainly ticks a lot of boxes. Firstly, the fundamental fact of life is that developers will eventually run out of land on the beaches of Spain. Already, there are so many restrictions in place with regards to planning, meaning that beachfront properties are likely to be a good long-term bet anywhere in the world, but particularly in Spain.

Costa de la Luz is a relatively under-developed stretch of coastline, and has yet to become a magnet for mass tourism. This is probably due to 2 factors. Firstly, there really isn't a major international airport within easy reach, and secondly, although it is most definitely the 'coast of light' it can also be incredibly windy. This means that unlike the neighbouring Costa del Sol, the area is unlikely to attract a large winter tourist trade.

And although the Costa de la Luz may not be one of the first-choice destinations for Brits, it is incredibly popular with German and Spanish tourists, to the extent that it is virtually impossible to secure a hotel room in the area during July and August, ideal if you are looking to rent the property during that time.

Just make sure that all the usual legal checks are carried out - i.e. that the builder has been allowed to develop the land, and that there has been no illegal over-build.

We would like to buy a property in Marbella, and have already made several unsuccessful offers on 3 different properties in the area. We had been reading that vendors were desperate to sell, and that we should be making offers 20% below the asking price. This is what we did, but it's become a very frustrating process, and we are not sure whether we should abandon our plans. G. Tobin, Cheshire, August 2007 We have received several similar comments/questions in recent weeks, all specifically related to the Marbella region.

The current state of the Marbella property market has received a huge amount of press and TV coverage in the last 12 months, and the vast majority of reports suggest that the market is either on the verge of collapse, or that is has already collapsed, and that buyers would be well-advised to snap up a bargain at the expense of the 'typical' vendor who is desperate to sell.

Certainly, most buyers in the Marbella area are aware of these reports and are circling like vultures, ready to pick at the bones of distressed sellers and failed investment purchases. However, there is a real 'tug of war' going on right now in Marbella, with vendors not acceding to the pressure of these buyers, and holding firm in the hope and belief that either offers will improve or that the market will return to some form of level playing field.

In my opinion, too many of these articles have made sweeping generalisations that simply do not apply in the majority of cases. Like any property market, there are different segments, price brackets and hotspots, with varying pressure points on demand and supply, thereby producing 'markets within markets'. Only by really understanding these can a potential buyer get his/her tactics right.

Not every vendor in Marbella is desperate to sell. While the majority are now accustomed to selling their property below the asking price, expectations of 20% - 30% reductions are wide of the mark. I was recently told of a buyer who wanted to purchase a beachside apartment in one of Marbella's best areas. The asking price was 500,000 euros - the buyer offered 350,000 euros. The vendor didn't even bother to respond to the offer and even went so far as to tell the buyer's agent that his clients would not be welcome in his home again.

A lot of vendors simply do not need to sell - they would rather sit on their investment, perhaps renting the property to cover their annual costs, and waiting for the market to bounce. Although the number of buyers has dropped by around 50% from its peak 5/6 years ago (mainly due to the current absence of speculative investors), the buyers in today's market are lifestyle buyers, and are keen to choose the best stock in the best areas.

The vendors who are struggling at present are those who are financially over-exposed and who are 'stuck' with unwanted properties in over-supplied areas. These are the properties that the 'vultures' can attack with ease. However, these same properties are the ones that are of least interest to the lifestyle buyers. So instead, potential buyers have been conditioned by the media into making crazy offers for good quality properties in the best areas....and this is why we are seeing a refusal of vendors of this type of stock to budge.

Recent reports from industry analysts have even mooted that the market is about to split into 2 distinct segments - with lower quality, poorly located properties set to slide, while the best located, high quality stock (e.g. Marbella postcode, near to beach, golf etc) is seemingly set to rise......remember that there is actually a shortage of this type of stock and the competition of new-build developments due to planning restrictions imposed in Marbella within the last 2 years.

Ultimately, it's simply a case of supply and demand. My advice is to find a good agent who can lead you through these localised market trends, someone who is able to challenge your expectations and pre-conceptions, and ultimately help you to secure that perfect place.

We are considering a property in Spain for regular holidays and rental to friends and family. The Costa del Sol is our preferred area. In order of importance we need good tennis facilities, swimming, golf and close to beach. We also like skiing in the Sierra Nevada. We have a teenager and two smaller children. We don't know where to start looking. Budget 250,000 euro for 3 beds. Can you help? Also - what can we expect to pay annually on average for a management fee on a complex? S. Kennedy, Cambridgeshire, September 2007 When it comes to the Costa del Sol, you have 2 distinct choices - to the east or to the west of Malaga.

To the west of Malaga,you will find the most well-known resorts such as Fuengirola, Benalmadena, Marbella, Puerto Banus and Estepona. Due to the enormous popularity of the area, prices are likely to be on the high side, particularly if you are seeking a resort-style project that can offer plenty of amenities for the children.

Away from the jet-set prices of Marbella, the area towards Estepona offers a greater range of alternatives. Part of this area is under development and there are some well-priced properties within easy reach of the beach and tennis facilities. Your biggest obstacle in this part of the world is your requirement for a 3 bed property. Most developers build their apartment blocks with a very small percentage of 3 bed stock - the vast majority of units have 2 bedrooms. Their lower supply and availability means that the 3 beds normally hold their value well. Typical prices will be in the region of 260k to 300k euros. In all cases, the communal areas of these properties will boast landscaped gardens and communal swimming pools.

The best development for all of the facilities that you mentioned would probably be The Village at Valle Romano, with on site sports and leisure facilities for adults and kids alike, plus a Paul Robinson Football Academy and tennis centre. With its handy location close to the beach and Estepona marina, it ticks a lot of boxes......except one.......there are no 3 bed apartments being constructed.

The eastern side of the Costa del Sol would serve you better for the skiing in the Sierra Nevada, but there is less choice in terms of available property. Although prices tend to be cheaper, the region doesn't offer all of the attractions and amenities at the other end of the coast.

A final alternative, although not in your desired area, would be the self-contained resorts of the Costa Calida. Again, ideal for families, these resorts have everything imaginable on site, including golf, tennis and other sports, shops, bars spas and restaurants, plus 24 hour security and a range of services that include home shopping and babysitting.

Prices for a 3 bed apartment within the vast Polaris World resort of Condado de Alhama, just 10 minutes from the beach, start at just 140,000 euros (less than 100k), while 3 bed apartments at the nearby resorts of Roda Golf (with its very own beach club) and Corvera Golf are available from approximately 250,000 euros.

Management fees are different to community fees. With regards to community fees, these vary from project to project. Community fees are paid by each owner to cover all costs relating to the external and communal areas, such as gardens, stairwells, lifts, pools etc. Normally the biggest expense for a community is security, particularly if the service runs for 24 hours, as effectively this amounts to salaries for 3 people. Whilst this can be absorbed fairly comfortably between 2,000 owners on a large-scale resort, the charges can seem prohibitive if the community consists of say, 50 owners. Typical monthly charges vary from 100 euros per month (for a smaller development with no security service) to 150 - 200 euros for a similar property within a large-scale resort with 24 hour security.

Management fees are the costs associated with a 3rd party 'managing' your property in your absence. This service normally costs between 250 and 500 euros per annum, with additional costs for additional items, such as cleaning, key handling, client meet and greet etc, which are normally charged on an hourly basis.

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