Carol &
Brian Lucas-Smith
Lucas-Smith Realtors, LLC

to own a
in Europe!

More than 4 million Americans now live abroad full time, and many others have bought vacation or retirement homes outside the 50 states. And, despite the recent weakness in the dollar against the euro and the pound, most real estate experts agree that the European market is a gigantic space of boundless opportunity which continues to be attractive to Americans.

In many ways, the London area of Britain is the most comfortable place for some Americans to have a second home. The culture is similar and, aside from an astonishing range of accents, the language is largely familiar.

The transportation back home also is relatively easy. It takes a little more than five hours to fly from London to New York, barely more than the time it takes to fly to a California home, or to drive to the Hamptons on some summer weekends. Outside of London, many Americans gravitate to the green Home Counties of Surrey.

The range of cultural, educational and sporting events is vast, with a lot of Americans indulging their love of gardens and horseback riding.

Be aware that real estate descriptions vary significantly between Europe and the United States so you need to double-check everything.

For example, European countries do not have multiple listings services. The American practice of sellers and buyers having different real estate agents is fairly new in Britain; elsewhere it has not made inroads at all. And auctions, which are unusual in the United States, are the most common way of selling properties in many parts of Europe.

Real estate in Britain is expressed in square feet, but square meters is used throughout the rest of Europe. And then there is “detached,” for free-standing homes; “semidetached” for two-family homes separated by a common center wall; “terraces” for townhouse-style construction; and, of course, “flats” for apartments.

You won’t hear the term “real estate” very often in Europe. In Britain, you’ll consult an “estate agent” and on the Continent, it is the “property” market

In Spain, the Costa del Sol, from Nerja in the east to Gibraltar in the west, has been a second-home haven for decades. The warm temperatures and all-but-constant sunshine have been a particular draw for the British since the 1960’s, when developers began buying large tracts and marketing vacation homes to people sick of rainy, cold winters.

It worked so well that some property experts believe that by 2008, the number of expatriates buying in Spain will exceed resident Spanish buyers and by 2010 expatriates could make up as much as 12 percent of the population.

It is simple to buy a new villa or apartment off-plan (pre-construction), a common sales method in Europe, and within a year or two, move into a beautiful spot adjoining a golf course with lots of amenities and plentiful shopping nearby. Many of the developers have representatives in the United States and Britain, sophisticated Web sites and easy-to-arrange financing.

Recently some real estate professionals have used the word “bubble” about Spanish properties. The Urban Land Institute’s 2006 report on Emerging Trends in Real Estate - Europe quoted one expert as saying that residential units in resort areas are overvalued by 20 to 25 percent. (According to the Spanish Ministry of Housing, the average cost of property per square meter in 2005 was 1,888 euros, or $2,400, but prices vary greatly according to quality of construction and demand.)

Now that frequent air travel is just part of everyday life, the European tradition has become easy for Americans to adopt.

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