Castles in the air
To buy or not to buy when you’re on holiday? Anna Tyzack hears both sides of the story
Hands up if you’re a property fantasist who can’t resist a spot of lighthearted house-hunting while on holiday in Tuscany or the Costa del Sol. “You’ve escaped from your daily life and there’s a fantasy about never going back,” says Jamie Jago, from Savills, who found herself poring over property brochures while on holiday in Cornwall last week. “You stand outside an agent’s window, see a pretty house and mentally you’re planning a new life.”
Fantasy buyers don’t set out to be time wasters. Over a two-week holiday, they convince themselves that if the right house comes along, they will buy it. Most people will wake from the dream on their return home but a few sign on the dotted line before they get on the plane.
“If you don’t do it while you’re there, you’re never going to do it,” says property magnate Peter de Savary, who has bought 80 per cent of his homes when on holiday.
Estate agents can spot fantasist buyers a mile off. “Most people who look at houses in August never buy,” says Miranda Ingram, a journalist and estate agent in France. “They see something and think ‘God, I could afford that’. They’re not really serious. Often, when the sun comes out, they lose interest.”
But it is more than an agent’s career is worth to shun a fantasy buyer. “If you suspect someone is a time waster and they turn out to be a genuine buyer, it can cause great offence and ultimately lose a sale,” says James McNab, of Savills in Edinburgh. “We have to handle tourists who are potential purchasers very delicately.”
Indeed, it is an estate agent’s duty to transform the fantasist into the genuine article. Marianna Domeisen, of Fine & Country in Mayfair, preys on foreigners in London. “We pick them up from their hotels with a driver and usually end up giving a running commentary of the area. If they really are in the buying mood, we are usually able to find them something suitable.”
De Savary bought Skibo Castle, in Scotland, while on holiday with his wife, and transformed it into a luxury club, where Madonna married Guy Ritchie: “We went there to buy a painting,” he says, “but we ended up buying the castle two hours later. When I got back home I said ‘what have I done?’ but it turned out to be a good investment.”
Likewise, recent holidays in Grenada have prompted him to buy several properties he “wouldn’t ordinarily have bought”. He is now selling luxury beachfront homes at Mount Cinnamon (from £361,000 through Knight Frank: 020 7629 8171) as well as two private houses. Fantasist buyers, he says, are usually entrepreneurial. “They always have their eyes open for whatever it might be — a wonderful house or some derelict land. They’re always looking for an opportunity.”
Industry professionals, however, warn against buying a second home while on holiday. David Berkeley, of Stacks Property Search, says: “It’s easy to spot the positives but the negatives can be well masked, especially when the sun is shining. For most, it would make more sense to stay regularly in a hotel, or rent a property. Unless you’re planning to spend a huge amount of
3 time there, the figures just don’t stack up.”
While agreeing that this is “excellent, sound advice”, de Savary, who has made millions through spur-of-the-moment property purchases, believes certain transactions can only be done in the “magic of the situation”.
“Many people, including myself, allow emotion to overrule the brain. It’s a roll of a dice but if the house is in a lovely area, the chances of losing money are low and you will certainly have the pleasure and enjoyment of it.”
De Savary is just back from a holiday in Wyoming and — guess what — he’s buying a ranch. “I went to the Rockies and rafted down the rapids and went to a rodeo. In the next 36 months, I think prices there will go up 50 per cent. Meanwhile I’ll have a lot of fun.”
A true property fantasist, he says, will dream of their holiday home throughout the year. “They’re lovely to think about on the way to the office. And I go to sleep thinking about the hummingbirds at my home in Grenada — it’s so much better than a sleeping pill.”
Get real, get real estate: property magnate Peter de Savary added Skibo Castle to his collection during a fleeting visit to Scotland. Above right: one of the Grenada homes he is selling