Buying a holiday home is a huge waste of money

As millions of us come back from holiday, many will dream of owning a home in the sun - crazy property-struck fools that we are.

Right now, 5.4 million Britons are considering buying abroad, according to HSBC, even more than before the financial crisis. Have we learned nothing?

Spain and the Balearic Islands are the top dream destination, attracting 30% of buyers, followed by France at 16%. Italy, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, the Caribbean, Florida and Turkey are also dream home hotspots.

If you've been seduced by dreams of a place in the sun, here's a measured word of warning. You've lost your mind, because buying a holiday home is the biggest waste of money ever.

Twice yearly, really

Before you protest, you happy holiday homeowners, here's the proof. The average owner visits their holiday or second home just twice a year, according to new research from household insurer Schofields.

They didn't plan it that way. Two-thirds expected to visit their bolthole far more when they originally bought it, but never get round to it.

Work, family commitments and lack of cash were the main reason people leave their holiday homes empty and forlorn, although an entrepreneurial 17% said they did so to maximise guest bookings.

Sun-baked and half-baked

A holiday home is an alluring dream. I regularly find myself browsing Spanish property websites to see how far prices have fallen, and whether they have fallen enough for my budget.

Prices are lower, skies are bluer. What's not to like?

But like most dreams, it eventually bangs its head against hard reality. The truth is, you've got too many other things to do.

Curse those jobs and families.

Bills, not thrills

You won't get to that holiday property as often as you like, but you will keep paying for it. First, there's the purchase price. Yes, Spanish holiday home prices have fallen more than 30% in the last five years, but you're paying in sterling, which is also down 20% against the euro.

Then there are local property taxes, legal fees, mortgage administration charges, and that's only the beginning. Your expenses don't stop when you exchange contracts, they're just getting started

You have to furnish your exotic new financial liability. Do it up. Pay for insurance. Carry out maintenance and repairs. Cover utility bills. Pay local taxes. You may have to hire a cleaner or stump up a monthly service charge.

And that's before you factor in the cost of actually getting to your property (although that won't be so expensive, as you're only going to visit twice a year).

X-rated expat tales

Plus there's always the chance you will end up buying the holiday home from hell, and lose everything. I recently spoke to British expats whose Andalusian retirement dreams were destroyed in an instant when the local police called to explain, not very politely, that they were the proud owners of an illegal home.

Nobody told them, not even their lawyer, that the developer hadn't got planning permission. Some lost hundreds of thousands of pounds. Several in the Valencia region saw their home torn down before their very eyes, without compensation. Others are stranded in the deserts of Murcia, with no running water or electricity.

Expat pain isn't restricted to Spain. Thousands of British homeowners in Cyprus risk losing both their holiday home and their UK property, in a vicious legal dispute over mis-sold mortgages.

I asked one couple, who were waiting to hear if their home in Almeria would be torn down, what advice they would give to the current generation of Spanish property buyers.

Their answer was succinct: "Forget it. Stay at home or go elsewhere."

[How to earn free flights with your credit card]

Oh, I give up

Well, I've tried. I've done my best to make you see sense. It won't work. You still dream of a place in the sun, and in my dafter moments, so do I. So how do we make it match up to reality?

Before you go any further, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do you really want to go to the same place on holiday, year after year? Can you afford the flights? Do you have the time? Don't you want to see the rest of the world?
  2. Even if you do want to go to the same place, wouldn't it be easier and cheaper to rent a holiday home instead, or stay in a hotel?
  3. Can you afford all the costs of running a holiday home, including mortgage, insurance, maintenance, repairs, service charges and taxes, not to mention those twice-a-year flights?
  4. Have you done your research? Do you know what similar properties are selling for? Is the local council planning to build a municipal waste incinerator in your backyard?
  5. Is that bargain property really a bargain? Cheap isn't always cheerful, especially if you're stranded in a half-built complex a mile from the nearest communal water pump, or squeezed between the autoroute and municipal tip. Location, location, location are key words in any language.
  6. Have you taken the right advice? You must appoint an experienced English-speaking lawyer, with no connections to your seller, estate agent or property developer, to avoid conflicts of interest.
  7. Is your property legal? Your lawyer must confirm you have got all the necessary planning permission, licenses and consent. You must also pay for an independent valuation, even if buying in cash.
  8. Is your mortgage in the right currency? If you earn your income in pounds, but your mortgage is in euros, you are at the mercy of currency swings, as many expats discovered when the pound collapsed after the financial crisis.
  9. Are prices still in freefall? Spanish house prices could still plunge another 25%, according to newsletter Spanish Property Insight.
  10. Do you plan to retire there? Visiting your property twice a year makes a lot more sense if you plan to stay for six months each time.

So what do you think? Do you still want a place in the sun?

[How to get rid of your holiday debts]

What can you get for your money in Spain?

Benhavis, Marbella; £6.6million guide price
This sea-view villa has access to two golf courses and a helipad. It features five en-suite bedrooms and a cinema room. Fine & Country Spain... more 
Benhavis, Marbella; £6.6million guide price
This sea-view villa has access to two golf courses and a helipad. It features five en-suite bedrooms and a cinema room. Fine & Country Spain less 
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Yahoo Finance UK
Wed, Jun 5, 2013 12:00 BST