Wed, Aug 09, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Western Europeans snap up property in sun-kissed Croatia


Half-way through her first month as the proud new owner of a place in the sun, Debbie Grieve is planning her little patch of paradise.

"This bit here will be planted with olives and lemon trees," she says, pointing to the front of her rebuilt stone and terracotta villa. To the rear where the new lawn is beginning to peep through the rich red earth, she envisages a swimming pool by the terrace and built-in barbecue.

"We're going to stick a pool in the garden. Kidney-shaped. You definitely need one here," says the teacher and mother of two from Essex, England.

Mrs Grieve and her husband Elliott, who works at an investment bank in London, have just spent 200,000 euros (US$257,888) on a four-bedroom house in Croatia's sun-kissed region of Istria, a peninsula on the Adriatic sea with a quarter of a million people.

"We heard this was the new Tuscany. But you can't get places in Tuscany like this any more," she says.

Like thousands of other Britons high on the UK's property boom and desperate to secure a second home in southern Europe, Mrs Grieve is more than happy to have come to Istria, a rising star of the color supplements and TV relocation programs.

Irish film producers, Scottish lords and a descendant of Bismarck have long moved into Renaissance palaces and country estates around here. Now the international property developers are also moving in.

Around a dozen British estate agents are already active in Istria and the Dutch are snapping up what they perceive to be bargains. The Germans and the Austrians have been here for years. Suddenly, prices are soaring as the supply of dilapidated old stone cottages struggles to keep up with demand from the west European middle classes.

"The demand is huge and there's not that many houses left to sell," says Andrija Colak who runs a local property consultancy. "The locals don't like the old stone houses, they thought they were worthless. But the foreigners love them and are offering lots of money."

David Gasson, a UK estate agent living in Istria, says he sells 40 houses every year to Britons and that prices are rising by around 30 percent a year.

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