– Time to buy a home abroad? Where the strong pound meets inexpensive housing

Property prices are recovering – and your pound will go further. Telegraph Money research reveals where people are looking, and where the bargains can be found

Data compiled for Telegraph Money shows a surge in interest among British buyers looking to buy abroad, driven by the pound’s new strength against the euro.

Buying a €500,000 Italian property, for example, now saves £26,041 compared with January 2014.

The euro has weakened against sterling because of fears over quantitative easing, designed to rescue languishing European economies, and a possible standoff between Europe and Greece. All this has pushed the pound to a seven-year high, boosting the spending power of sterling buyers.

Now, 48pc more Britons are searching for property in Spain and Ireland than a year ago, Rightmove data shows. Interest is also up elsewhere. In the United States it has increased by 38pc.

Our extensive research, presented in the charts, below, shows which countries balance cheap exchange rates with inexpensive housing, using official figures from Eurostat, the EU’s data agency, and the OECD.

HiFX, a foreign exchange firm, echoed Rightmove’s data, registering a 27pc rise in inquiries from Britons who want to buy property in the eurozone. Buyers shouldn’t delay, experts say, as the pound could weaken as the general election draws closer.

“A hung parliament will inevitably leave markets uncertain as to which political party will govern the country and the pound is likely to weaken,” said Andy Scott of HiFX.

Sterling also buys more currency outside the eurozone. Marianne Gilmore, of foreign exchange specialist Moneycorp, said that now was a good time to buy Polish zloty or Croatian kuna, where exchange rates are far better than in 2014.

Sterling doesn’t go quite as far now in Switzerland, following the country’s decision to float its currency free from the euro. In mid-January £100 would have bought 155 Swiss francs, now this sum buys 137 francs. With prices for a small chalet in the Alps starting at around £2.5m, Swiss property is further out of reach of British buyers.

See also: One country you haven’t thought of – where your pound now goes 30pc further

Where property buyers are searching – and what the market says

Country Annual increase in property searches (per cent) Typical mortgage rates Annual change in house prices, December 2014 Undervalued or overvalued by OECD?
Ireland 48% 5.25% 15% Undervalued
Spain 48% 2.75% 0.3% About right
France 41% 2% -1.2% Overvalued
Italy 41% 3% -3.8% Undervalued
Greece 32% Restricted lending Not tracked Undervalued
Portugal 22% 5% 4.9% Undervalued

Sources: Rightmove, Simon Conn, Eurostat, OECD

What next for prices?

Property values across Europe are on the rise again, according to figures from Eurostat. The most dramatic increase was in Ireland, which saw 15pc annual price growth towards the end of 2014. Michael Grehan from Irish estate agent Sherry Fitzgerald said there was every reason to expect further increases.

“This will be particularly evident in urban centres where supply is most constrained,” he said, particularly for three and four-bedroom homes.

Monaghan, a county near the border, saw a threefold increase in interest from British buyers over the past year. Estate agents estimate that rural locations are undervalued by as much as 60pc and therefore offer strong investment potential.

Portuguese property values rose by 4.9pc from 12 months ago, a far cry from the end of 2013, when prices increased by just 0.6pc.

In the second quarter of last year Spain saw its first growth since 2011, a 0.8pc increase. Murcia, which is in the south-east and popular with British expats, has seen the biggest increase in property searches (75pc more than last year). Currently, the average budget for a British buyer in Spain is £379,000, higher in Barcelona (£556,000) but lower in Lanzarote (£109,000).

French and Italian markets are struggling, with prices in France down by 1.2pc, and 3.8pc lower in Italy. Experts say a lack of interest from wealthy foreign buyers, such as Russian investors, has had an effect, disguising an otherwise strong property market.

Roddy Aris of Knight Frank International said: “We expect to see ‘super-prime’ property prices continue to come down in 2015, after a 7pc price drop across the French Alps, but the core market will remain buoyant.”

The Eurostat House Price Index shows strong growth in Ireland and Portugal

Undervalued markets

Housing markets in Italy, Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Germany are said to be undervalued, according to two main measurements used by the OECD, last collected in May.

The first uses a price-to-rent ratio, which measures the profitability of owning a house. The ratio is compared with the long-run average to see if it is higher or lower.

The second ratio plots prices against wages.

“There is a growing sense that prices are low by historical standards and that there is a considerable upside for early investors moving into these markets,” said Liam Bailey of Knight Frank.

For overpriced property, the data points to Britain and France.

House prices in the US, also viewed as undervalued by the OECD, have staged a strong recovery. But property is still cheaper than in Britain, despite a strengthening dollar. The average UK house price of £250,000 buys a seven-bedroom home in Davenport near Orlando, Florida. Mr Bailey said: “The US is looking interesting and New York, Miami and LA should take off in 2015.”

Country Annual rise in real terms Price vs rents Price vs wages
France -2.2% (2013) 129 128
Germany 5.1% (2013) 91 83
Greece -7% (2013) 84 103
Ireland 4.3pc (2013) 96 92
Italy -5.5% (2013) 93 108
Portugal -1.5% (Q1 2014) 83 94
Spain -4.9% (2013) 104 107
UK 3.5% (2013) 134 125
US 6.6% (2013) 104 90

OECD Data, May 2014, where 100 indicates house prices are in line with rents or wages

MAP: countries with the cheapest and most expensive property markets

Falling mortgage rates

You can borrow at home on rates as low as 1.19pc for a two-year fix. Many may remortgage against a pumped-up UK house price to fulfil foreign ambitions.

Costs abroad are higher – but falling. Europe’s central bank, with its official rate already at 0.05pc, will drive down market rates with its QE plan.

In France the best 15-year fixed rates have fallen to 2.55pc and should fall further.

Simon Conn, an overseas broker, said: “British borrowers are increasingly interested in Spain, the Balearics and the Canaries, where interest rates are around 2.75pc and lenders expect a 30pc to 40pc deposit.

“Italy is still flourishing, with Umbria and Tuscany more popular, due to interest rates of around 3pc, not as low as France or Spain.”

In Ireland, where lenders remains cautious, borrowers must pay a 50pc deposit for holiday homes, and 40pc for buy-to-let, with rates at 5.25pc.

Borrowing in an undervalued market, such as Greece or Bulgaria, can be nigh impossible, Mr Conn warned. “Greece is still very restrictive on lending, unless the property is worth at least £1m, but this may improve in 2015.”

Outside the eurozone, expect to pay 3pc in the US and 4.5pc in Australia.

– One country you haven’t thought of – where your pound goes 30pc further

How much are British buyers willing to spend?

Country Most popular destination Average budget of a British buyer
Ireland Cork £134,000
Spain Andalucia £379,000
France Aquitaine £202,400
Italy Toscana £107,000
Portugal Algarve £397,000
Bulgaria Burgas £24,000
USA Florida £135,000

Source: Rightmove, December 2014

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