The British have always been attracted by warmer climates in order to escape the wind and rain and typically look for a property on the Continent.
The European housing market has been transformed by the introduction of low-budget airlines and bargains can be found along new routes from carriers such as Go, Ryanair and EasyJet.
Ten years ago, any one buying a second home in Europe would have to spend a fortune on airfares. But today the picture is quite different, with some out-of-season fares costing as little as £30 return.
Spain is the most popular destination with the British, who own in excess of 700,000 properties across the country. This is because Spain has more sun, more flights and a wider choice of properties than other countries. The winter is mild and the sea temperature tends to be the highest in Europe. As a result many people now spend up to six months of the year in Spain, or live there and commute on a monthly basis back to the UK.
Whatever the reason, there is no shortage of buyers. Good quality property, low population density, a beach and golf courses are the main ingredients for many prospective buyers.
The average cost for a second home is in the region of £125,250, but can rise to £3m at the upper end of the market. The most popular properties tend to be newly built, and located on a complex with access to a shared swimming pool, tennis courts and a golf course.
A popular spot with the British is the area stretching from Denia down to Murcia, where there is an abundance of properties. In a new development in Denia buyers can purchase a plot and even choose a style. A property with three bedrooms, two bathrooms a pool and garden starts at £250,000. Something less grand in a smaller development, such as a three-bedroom Mediterranean-style villa with a master bedroom suite, two other bedrooms, an open-plan living area, a roof terrace and small pool, can cost in the region of £180,000. Alternatively, bargains can still be found further back in the hills where it is possible to buy a farmhouse that needs converting, or has been completely refurbished by the previous owner.
Prices range from £200,000 for a property in a poor state to £500,000 for a newly-refurbished villa in the hills, overlooking the sea with a large garden and swimming pool.
Majorca, another property hot spot, offers a discreet haven for the rich and famous, but there are also affordable houses on the market. A recently-restored farmhouse with views of the mountains in Sencelles, comprising three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen and small garden,with a private swimming pool will cost between £200,000 and £300,000.
Alternatively, a purpose-built luxury villa surrounded by championship golf courses and built in the last year might cost upwards of £500,000. New apartments in Palma can range from £280,000 to £390,000 for two bedrooms, with shared facilities including a swimming pool and tennis courts.
However, it is worth noting a great deal of land is being bought by property developers across Spain and the islands, giving rise to a construction boom and an increase in property values.
The Algarve, in Portugal, is loved by sun-worshippers and golfers alike, and the southern coastal strip of the Algarve remains attractive to the British. Portugal is now the most popular destination after Spain and France for second-home buyers from the UK, ahead of Italy.
An estimated 50,000 British nationals live in Portugal. One attraction besides the weather is that the cost of living is almost half of that in the UK. With low-cost airlines, access is becoming even easier and with new developments being built there is no shortage of choice.
The motorway that stretches from Faro airport is also almost complete and will link to the extreme west of the Algarve. This means Faro airport will now be three hours away from Lisbon.
Typically the British choose up-market, purpose-built, complexes where they can have their own pool and garden with sea views. However, the traditional homes among the white-washed villages in the hills are also popular.
Two of the most popular areas are Vale de Lobo and Quinta do Lago, where prices have risen by almost 40% in the last two years.
With such demand, a number of British are buying property off- plan. Apartments come with high-tech fitted kitchens, air conditioning, double-glazing, underfloor heating and en-suite bathrooms, together with satellite and internet connections.
Another area becoming more and more popular is the eastern Algarve where a one-bedroom apartment near a nine-hole golf course can start at £134,000, rising to £360,000 for a three-bedroom apartment. As a general rule, the prices of villas tend to rise faster than those of apartments.
Besides the weather, other attractions include a fabulous choice of wines, excellent food and rustic villages. Whatever the reasons are for moving to Portugal, there certainly is a demand for a wide range of properties from one-bedroom apartments to luxurious four-bedroom villas.
Biarritz, Carcassonne, Lyon, Dijon, La Rochelle and Rouen are just some of the French destinations now easily accessible by low-cost flights from the UK. If you add these to the gourmet dishes of the regions and choice of superb wines it is not surprising the British are investing heavily in French property.
France has long been a favourite for the British seeking a second home for family weekends, summer breaks, or as a retirement home. The French ‘country lifestyle’, popularised by Peter Mayle’s bestseller A Year in Provence and characterised by long, relaxed days, is now a real option for those wishing to escape the humdrum of everyday life in the UK.
There are still some fabulous bargains to be had in France. In Biarritz, for example, it is possible to buy a typical property from the turn of the 18th century in two acres of gardens. It might need some renovation work to its six or seven bedrooms, three reception rooms and two or three out buildings, but for all that it would only cost around £150,000.
With easy access to Biarritz, this has opened up the Basque country with its spectacular scenery, beautiful chateaux, sandy beaches and picturesque villages.
The northern parts of France ‘ notably Normandy ‘ have been opened up with a new flight route to Caen and this should give rise to a whole new area to the British. In the VendÃ©e region, prices are inexpensive and range from £25,000 to £50,000 for a habitable property. The Tarn region, east of Toulouse, has also become popular and you can still buy properties here for under £100,000. It may need another £50,000 spent on it for improvements, but the property could be worth somewhere in the region of £200,000. Buyers gain all the benefits of the Provence region but without the cost.
A last word of advice. Remember, buying abroad is a quite different process to the one we are used to in the UK, so it is worth going through all the steps in the buying process thoroughly with your clients.
Malcolm Corrigan is external communications manager at Abbey National Offshore
Areas of northern France have been opened up with the introduction of flights to Caen.
Some parts of Portugal have seen property prices rise by 40% in the last two years.
There is still a wide choice of properties in Spain, with developers buying up large areas of land.