I have recently come back from a trip to England where I was struck, yet again, by the obsession with property on TV. There are programmes on extensions and additions (which inevitably run over budget) and on decorating a home in order to sell it (totally different from decorating your home to live in it, which is another programme again). There are programmes about leaving the city to live in the country, and leaving the country to live in the sunshine. Whichever way you look at it, people are on the move! Recent research shows that some 200,000 UK residents are looking to move abroad in the next two years. But how many are thinking about moving back there, I wonder? And not only back to England.
I have been talking to several people from various Northern European countries, and they are all saying the same things – namely, they are getting fed up with the Algarve or the Costa del Sol, and recent visits to their home countries have made them see the places in a new and improved light. One friend of mine told me about a visit she had made to her native Germany. Eating out surprised her. A main course at a very nice restaurant in Hamburg was only slightly more expensive than a toasted sandwich in southern Spain. A business colleague of mine, whom I met in England, said that he was amazed – eating out in London is now cheaper than in Portugal, he feels. Is Southern Europe becoming more expensive, or is Northern Europe more competitive and therefore better value?
Talking of prices and value for money, I want to thank those of you who have taken the time and trouble to join in the ‘Price Watch’ campaign – and I also want to thank Nick Holme who is my ‘White Knight’ in this. I pass on to him (without any of your names) the prices that I receive, and he is creating the master plan.
I have been very surprised by the huge variation in prices on the basic items on our shopping list, and by variations across the region. So far the most expensive shop seems to be AliSuper in Silves: as an example, the average price of a 100gm jar of Nescafe coffee granules seems to be around 2.75 euros – in AliSuper it is a whopping 4.08 euros! A five litre bottle of Luso mineral water varies from 59 cents to 99 cents in different branches of Modelo – and is 1.24 euros in AliSuper. Keep the information coming in, please – you never know, we might even persuade some of the more expensive stores to come into line!
The problem with shopping is that, normally, you just don’t have the time to go to a lot of different shops comparing prices, do you? You tend to assume that if you go to one of the major chains, the prices will be competitive and, for many people, time is money too, so it is probably worth paying another couple of euros if you save an hour. But unless you have something to compare them to, you just don’t know where you are in the overall scheme of things.
That is a pretty dreadful link back to property, and the Homes Overseas Property Awards that were held in London, at the Dorchester Hotel, no less. Homes Overseas is a well-established and well-respected international property magazine and for this, their first competition, they included their five main destinations – Cyprus, Florida, France, Spain and Portugal. Within each country there were prizes for the best villa and best apartment, and there were also a number of overall prizes for various specific categories. It was very interesting to see the style – and prices – of villas and apartments in these other destinations, and to read the judges’ report about the prizewinners. Yes, cynical readers, this was a proper property competition!
Real professionals – architects, surveyors and property journalists – flew to the various destinations to inspect the short-listed properties, and in some categories they refused to give awards if their very high standards were not met. All of which bodes well, I feel, for the competition in the future. What is even nicer is that Portugal came away with a clutch of the overall international awards, for which the resorts can be justifiably proud. Praia d’el Rey in Obidos won Gold for Best Golf Development, Vale do Lobo won Gold for Best Luxury Development and Alma Verde won Gold for Most Environmentally Aware Development. Congratulations to these resorts and to the others who won prizes in the national section – Quinta da Boavista, Oceanico Developments and Parque da Floresta.
But there were several categories where Portugal’s name was conspicuous by its absence. Nothing in the Best Retirement Development – nobody here has really tackled that as a market, have they? Best Marina Development – not a squeak. Could be because neither Vilamoura nor Lagos entered, I don’t know, and I would love to read the judges’ comments about our wonderfully, um, colourful marina at Albufeira! But, overall, I was very proud to be there on the night cheering all our prizewinners, and to see how well we stand up against the competition.
Because competition it is in the field of property. It’s not just a question of whether a potential buyer wants to buy in Lagos or Tavira, Vilamoura or Vale do Lobo, it’s broader than that. Does the buyer want Portugal or France – or Cyprus or Florida or Spain, come to that? What about the newer options in Eastern Europe? From what I’ve heard, Croatia is getting its act together very nicely, and Bulgaria is another one to watch. OK, it’s not Europe as traditionalists would have it, and it’s probably a longer flight – but by all accounts these places have all the charm that the Algarve had 20 or 30 years ago, and many people find that attractive.
This is the ongoing dilemma, isn’t it? There is demand for property, so developers are buying up land and creating developments faster than you can say “planning permission” or “protected Natural Park” – and yet in doing so, they are destroying the very environment that made it such an attractive place for people to come to. So those that liked it the way it was will move out, and those who never knew it ‘before’ will move in, blissfully unaware that it was ever anything different.
I’d better stop before this gets too convoluted – I think the modern expression is, “I am so not going there!”