What’s not to love about cultural riches and cobbled charms? Throughout most of Europe, the property market remains in the doldrums, which means you can find bargains. From the Atlantic to the Mediterranean…from Ireland to Greece, there’s a tempting array of move-into properties that will leave you change from €100,000 ($137,000).
Traditional France from $90,000
Provincial France abounds in affordable homes. In the southwest, the Poitou-Charentes region weaves together the rural delights of vineyards, forests, and sunflower fields with historic market towns. With a twice-weekly market and a 16th-century chateau, La Rochefoucauld is a charmer of a town on the river Tardoire. It has a wide choice of stores and leisure facilities, plus a hospital and railway station. Bordeaux airport is 90 minutes away and Angoulême, linked to the TGV high-speed rail network, is a 25-minute drive.
Dating from 1846, a restored La Rochefoucauld townhouse, with gas central heating and around 1,180 square feet of living space, is reduced from €68,000 ($93,000) to €55,000 ($75,000). This could make an ideal pied-à-terre—simply lock up and leave, with no maintenance worries. The house is on a quiet square with free parking. See here for more details on properties like this.
Provence for under €100,000 proves difficult, but go next door into the Languedoc-Roussillon region and it’s a different story. Although it’s bijou (505 square feet), there’s a move-into village house with exposed timber beams in the département of Aude. This has been reduced from €71,000 ($97,000) to €66,000 ($90,000). Supermarkets are within a three-mile drive; the village itself has a shop, tabac and news agency, bakery, a café/bar, restaurant, bank, schools, and a hairdresser.
Here you’re in Cathar country—mesmerizing sights include Carcassonne’s fairytale castle. The Mediterranean is just a little over 20 miles away, and there’s no excuse not to sample lunch in Spain—the Spanish border is only an hour-and-a-quarter’s drive away. See here for more information.
Seafront Spain for $82,500
Pundits are divided on whether Spain’s property market will see further price falls. A huge overhang of unsold homes remains, but for the first time in seven years, sales in Málaga province showed an increase in 2013. Spain will always be a popular retirement destination for northern Europeans, and the number of U.S. citizens registered as living in Spain has increased, too. Just over 41,000 U.S. citizens were registered with Spain’s local town halls on January 1 last year—1,300 more than in 2012.
Steeped in memories of Moorish Al-Andalus, the narrow streets, shady gardens, and stunning architecture of Granada make it one of Spain’s most iconic cities. In the Realejo, the old Jewish quarter, a refurbished 913-square-foot apartment close to Campo del Príncipe (which has some wonderful tapas bars) is reduced from €118,000 ($162,000) to €98,000 ($134,000). Find more properties like this here.
Far less touristy and commercialized than the Costa del Sol, the Costa Cálida (Warm Coast) is Murcia region’s slice of Mediterranean sunshine. Even in winter, temperatures rarely dip below 64 F, and on my December visit, I saw people bathing in the sea. With a succession of coves and golden beaches in both directions, Puerto de Mazarrón is an attractive seaside town where the Spanish have been vacationing for years.
The property portal site Kyero.com provides links to local agents such as Fincas Mazarrón. This agency has three-bedroom apartments (967 square feet) starting at €45,689 ($62,500). The closer to the sea, the more prices rise, but you can still pick up a 655-square-foot apartment beside the Paseo Marítimo promenade for €60,207 ($82,500). Check this website for properties like this.
Hill-Village Crete for $122,000
Crete is one of my favorite Greek islands. I once spent a vacation in a stone cottage among the olive groves of Plakias, on Crete’s southern coast. Although a holiday town, it’s not a raucous nightlife resort—people come for the tavernas, the crescent beach, the sunsets over the Libyan Sea and the hiking through long gorges and in the hills. The city of Rethymnon is around a 30-minute drive, or you can take a local bus.
Myrthios is a traditional hill village above Plakias. Here, a restored village house of 640 square feet, with sea and mountain views, is being sold furnished. On the ground floor is an open plan living/dining/kitchen area plus a bathroom/toilet. On the upper floor, a large bedroom has a good-sized balcony /terrace area where you can sip an ouzo and enjoy the glorious views. It’s yours for €89,000 ($122,000) through Euroimmo.
Restored Home in Tuscany—$116,500
You don’t have to be a millionaire to afford Tuscany. Good-value village houses can be unearthed among the castle-crowned hills, meadows, and ancient chestnut woods of the Lunigiana, Tuscany’s northwest corner. These are not wrecks requiring months of restoration, either. They are stone houses where renovations have already been done.
Most Lunigiana villages are within a 20-minute drive of Aulla, a large shopping/service town, and the beaches along the “Gulf of Poets” are within 40 minutes. An extra bonus is skiing in winter—the runs aren’t Europe’s highest or longest, but the ski villages of Zum Zeri in northern Lunigiana and Cerreto Laghi and Pratospilla on Emilia Romagna’s borders attract plenty of locals for a fun day out.
With walking trails and river swimming nearby, La Riccia, in Comano village, is a two-story stone house of around 1,397 square feet. Priced at €85,000 ($116,500), it has wooden-beamed ceilings, two bedrooms, a pretty courtyard, a terrace, and extra rooms in an adjoining converted barn. Motorway and rail access is around a 15-minute drive; reaching Pisa airport takes just over an hour. For more information, see here.
Most people have heard of the famous Italian Lakes—Como, Maggiore, and Garda—but not everyone has heard of Lake Bolsena. Bordering Tuscany and Lazio (Rome is little more than an hour away), this lovely sapphire lake is ringed with medieval towns and villages where house prices are a fraction of what you’ll pay around the lakes of northern Italy. One of the lake’s settlements is Valentano. In the historic center, an 828-square-foot apartment is €65,000 ($89,000). Small villete—vacation homes with little gardens in modern residential areas—start at the same price. See here for further details.
A Thatched Cottage in Ireland for $123,000
Go to Daft.ie, Ireland’s largest property portal site, and pick a county. County Kerry, for example. In the country’s southwest, it packs in all the mountainous drama and picture-postcard beaches you could wish for. Near Killarney town and its lakes, a semi-detached thatched cottage with two bedrooms and 915 square feet of living space is on the market for €90,000 ($123,000).
On the west coast of Ireland, county Clare is another scenic beauty. Here you’ll find the Cliffs of Moher, Doolin with its renowned, traditional music pubs, and the starkly beautiful uplands of the Burren. Hiking trails take you past prehistoric dolmens and in spring, orchids and other rare flowers turn the landscape into a giant alpine rock garden. At the time of writing, the above site listed 277 properties below €100,000. They include a one-bedroom cottage on the shore of the Shannon Estuary for €34,950 ($48,000). €80,000 ($110,000) buys a three-bedroom/two-bathroom bungalow on the outskirts of the seaside resort of Kilkee.
Negotiating Strategies for Long-Term Rentals in Europe
Affordable long-term rentals in most places are easy to come by. But if you don’t want to pay a ridiculously hefty premium, search local sites. The rents sought by North American agencies who arrange European rentals bear little resemblance to the true market rate.
Rent of €250 ($342) a month for a three-bedroom furnished property in Drimoleague, a pretty Irish village in West Cork, sounds very affordable to me; see: Rent.ie. And €400 ($548) monthly doesn’t sound too excessive for a three-bedroom townhouse, in a development with communal pool and gardens, in Spain’s Pinos del Valle village. As it’s only 30 minutes from Granada, the Costa Tropical, and the hill villages of the Sierra Nevada, there’s much to keep you occupied. See here.
But long-term rental rates are usually at least a three-month minimum and more often six months-plus. Thing is, numerous vacation properties stay empty in the low season. If something takes your fancy, ask if the owner can offer a long-term rate. If you don’t speak the local language, many Brits with European vacation properties list here and here.
In locations with a glut of unsold properties, you may be able to negotiate a good rental rate over the short term, either with a local agency or directly with the owner, for a furnished property that’s on sale. For those who purchased with the idea of renting it out, any income is preferable to none. Obviously, you will have to leave if the property is sold and the new owner demands immediate possession. But you can save money and get to live in a highly desirable home…which may be perfect if you’re only testing the waters.