28 July 2008

The Invasion

Yes, it's that time of year again when Corfu is invaded by Italians. From now until about 20 August the island will be bursting at the seams as yet more ferries arrive with car-loads of Italians.

The Corfiots are fond of Italians and seem to get along with their fiery temperaments in some ways better than our cooler British personalities. It seems that every Corfiot has a smattering of Italian, presumably picked up each year during this busy period. Many years ago, when I had a tourist shop in Barbati, I very quickly learned some useful phrases such as "No sconto" and to count enough to ask for the correct money!

I love (and hate) watching the glamourous Italian ladies on the beach. They all seem to be beautiful and they don't just have a matching bikini and sarong like me, but their colour co-ordination goes on to flip-flops, hair band, jewellery, beach bag, beach towel, Evian spray, and cool bag to keep said spray cool. It must be such hard work for them!

I saw the funniest thing last year on the road. Driving along a straight stretch, there was a queue of traffic which was going very slowly. In the front were two girls on a moped (obviously Italian). The one on the back was wearing a miniscule bikini with a g-string back and a kind of see-through lacy thing on the top. Her bottom was completely visible on the back of the bike, and none of the motorists wanted to overtake.

This is the time of the summer where you need to allow twice as long to reach your destination, and don't expect to be able to park when you get there!

26 July 2008

Dogs And Builders Just Don't Mix

We are building houses in St. Georges and we have two teams of builders working. Our own house has been leaking like a sieve for the past few years but the time is never right to take off the roof to replace it. This year - after the earlier hail and rainstorms - we decided we could not last another winter without a new roof.

Logically we should take one of the building teams to do our house, but for some inexplicable reason my husband employed a third team - “well recommended” - so that we did not delay the building in St. Georges. Good plan.

On the prescribed day (after daughter went back to London and before son arrived from London) the team arrived. One man and his wife. Now we have at least three, sometimes four or five, and we still have the first builder and his wife.

Our dog Scruff is used to having his own dog-proofed garden which has been made escape-proof because he is prone to chase cars and chickens. First rule to builders - don't let the dog out! First action of builders - they left the back fence totally open and off he went. Finally cornered him before he hit the road with the car and dire threats! New plan; dog is either indoors in his (my) armchair or tied up in the front garden, then when I come home and the builders leave at around 4pm I do a circuit of the garden to close all ways of escape and Scruff runs free. This enables him to root about for any rubbish they have left behind (yesterday 6 sardine tins, 8 water bottles, carrier bags, coffee cups etc.) and distribute them all over the garden as he enjoys himself running through any wet concrete left behind. Theoretically he is free to run until 7am when they arrive to start the new day.

Except yesterday I closed the garden and went out to show houses at 6.30pm leaving Scruff peacefully wandering. I happened to be showing the house next door to mine to the clients and as we looked around the garden I spotted a brown flash at the top of the next field - Scruff. Asked clients to wait (they were very understanding), jumped in car (thank god for Fiat Panda 4 x 4), bumped over the field, trapped him by a fence where he was making friends with two boxer dogs, dragged him in the car, hurtled back home, tied him up and went back for clients. Great amusement all round.

Later on I checked how he got out. The builders had kindly left pallets piled up by the fence and he had used them to climb up and over. So I spent a happy half hour upending pallets, dragging old sunbeds, bits of wood and general junk to block the exit, and it seemed to work.

This morning,at 7am the builders very carefully took it all down, opening up the gap again, and the guys who delivered the roof tiles and wood dropped them over the fence - only they didn't… they dropped them on the fence which has now collapsed. So the dog stays either in my chair or tied up for as long as it takes.

Oh yes, and they just came to move the solar panels out of the way so I suspect we have a 'limited' water supply.
Our villa in Halikouna is empty this week and we have one St. George show house empty and the temptation is to move to one of those but how can I face a total removal, not just for us - son arrives on Sunday for a month - but also for the dog! So anyone who sees me, if I have dust and debris in my hair (a piece of ceiling fell in my coffee as I write this) please be sympathetic!

24 July 2008

Some Things Never Change

When I first came to live in Corfu, many of the villagers did their shoping from the little lorries that drove around the island with all their wares hanging off the side of the lorry. This has faded away to a certain extent but last week I was out with some clients, doing the round of a selection of properties.

On our way to the first piece of land in Boukari we saw a lorry laden with bedspreads hanging everywhere - on the back, on the tailboard, on the sides, on the bonnet - as it made its way down the tiny beach road which winds down the south coast from Messonghi, through Boukari, and on down to the fishing village of Petriti. Through the loudspeaker he announced that all his stock was 15 euros.

We looked at the land, went to the next piece of land, then a potentially lovely development just crying out to be completed, and then started up the hill inland. Half way up the steep hill we saw him again approaching the village of Kouspades. We went off to look at another village house, then started back down towards the coast and there he was again!

We veered off to a tiny beach called Kaliviotis (I had heard of it but despite having lived here for more than 25 years I had never actually been) and the phrase “off the beaten track” certainly applies. We looked at a house nearby, wandered down to the beach, chatted to some of the locals who have built their houses right by the beach, watched a couple of fishing boats come in, and then left to head back towards Corfu Town.

On one of the dirt track roads, what a surprise, there he was again - dust flying up from the wheels and all the bedspreads hung on the lorry, with the loudspeaker blaring - the best bedspreads on the planet, now only 11 euros each!

We stopped briefly in the village of Argyrades and then left for our final stretch back up the coast on the main road and yes, there he was again!

In all that time I never saw anyone stop him to buy anything but he never stopped trying. In fact when I left home the next morning I half expected to see him just down the road from my house, still proclaiming the 'best bedspreads on the planet'! Nice to see some things don't change.

21 July 2008

A Baptism

The trouble with making regular contributions to a blog like this one is that if you are actually doing lots of interesting stuff you don't have time to write about it afterwards.

I've had a really busy two weeks, with my three UK-based sons visiting us in Corfu, plus my sister-in-law and niece from Athens, for the christening of our first grandchild - daughter of Mia and Marcus, the editors of Island Magazine.

It was a case of all hands on deck to help with the provision of a huge celebratory feast after the baptism service which took place in the Monastery of Vlaherena in Skripero.

The Greek Orthodox ceremony is an amazing experience. The first part - at the back of the church - is basically an exorcism, during which the godparent undertakes to denounce evil powers on behalf of the baby.

Only after the child has thus been cleansed do the participants
(mother, baby, godparent and priest) move to the front of the church for the baptism. To be absolutely sure of doing a proper job, no part of the baby is left un-wetted - but luckily the star of the proceedings soon recovered from the ordeal to rejoice in her, now official, name of Phaedra Valentina.

Traditionally, she should have been known only as Beba until after the christening, and sometimes a godparent takes it upon his or herself to choose the baby's name, so that the parents only learn what their child will be called when it is too late to wish they had chosen a godparent with better taste!

One of my English friends in Athens experienced this first hand. She thought the godfather was joking when he told her that it was his job to give the baby's name to the priest, and her precious little one went in to the church as Ben and came out as Poseidon!

19 July 2008

A Quick Dip

The beach equivalent of the people who park so close to the supermarket door that you have to squeeze your trolley through a tiny space, is the owner of the car in my photo, who arrived on Barbati beach one day last week. Obviously his swim was going to use up so much energy that he couldn't face walking from one of the many parking spaces further up the lane.

17 July 2008

Starbucks With A Difference

On our way back from looking at a wonderful plot of land right on the sea near Aghios Gordis, Diana and I found ourselves with not quite enough time to go into the office - it takes too long to find somewhere to park, which is then usually at least 15 minutes walk from the office, but we had some paperwork to complete so found ourselves with a lovely excuse to visit the newly opened Corfu branch of Starbucks!

We each chose a very healthy fresh fruit juice and then ruined the effect by sharing the most wonderfully wicked caramel chocolate brownie - very highly recommended by both of us.

We managed to have a successful "working snack" but it somehow just didn't feel right to be listening to Bob Marley in the background, in a coffee shop that we both associate with city life, and yet looking out over an archetypal Corfu view of Mouse Island and Vlaherna Monastery (above).

16 July 2008


Today we have had very strong "maestral" winds, around force seven. Driving up the north-east coast the sea was a vivid blue and the white horses were being whipped up by the wind into a fine spray across the top of the blue. Very exciting.

Despite the obvious strong offshore winds, the beaches were busy and many holidaymakers had their lilos out as usual. Many a time I have seen people blown far out to sea, only to find that they are unable to paddle back in again. Some abandon their lilos and swim back, others hang on (bravely/foolishly?) and are rescued by one of the boats in the area. What I always wonder though, is where do all the abandoned lilos go? I can feel a song coming on...

15 July 2008

Xerxis, The Barbati Dog

Corfiots don't have the best reputation when it comes to animal welfare, but Xerxis is proving this to be untrue.

He belongs to Barbati. In the summer he spends most of his time in the shade underneath one of the boats at Spiros Boat Hire in the middle of the beach and he is fed from the various bars and tavernas along the beach. In the winter he is more at home on the Verde Blu development, being looked after mainly by the caretaker there, but if you ask around, most Barbati folk have dog food at the ready for him.

We reckon he must be at least 13 years old. A good few years ago he was involved in a car accident (probably his own fault for chasing it!) and came out with a badly broken leg. Our very own Helga, who had a tourist office in Barbati at the time, organised the vet to repair him and he was returned to the beach with a big plaster cast on his leg. It didn't last long as he quickly chewed it off, and he has been left with a leg which appears to bend the wrong way. It doesn't stop him chasing cars though!

In Greece it is illegal for dogs to swim in the sea, but Xerxes goes in for a crafty dip now and then when he gets too hot. Regulars to Barbati are used to his large frame creeping into the water, but other visitors are afraid or angry to see a dog in the water. At this point everybody is very quick to say, "He's not my dog!".

14 July 2008

"It's here somewhere"

I don't know what Diana is complaining about, at least she can SEE the house she is trying to sell to potential buyers!

I had a lovely old stone house in the heritage village of Agios Markos for sale a few years ago. I hadn't been there for a few months and, after gingerly picking my way along the very overgrown path with clients following bravely behind, we arrived at the spot to view the house only to find it had disappeared!

In fact the fig trees and the ivy had become so overgrown that it was only possible to see the top corner of part of the roof. The brambles around the house made it totally impossible to get into the property, so needless to say, I didn't make the sale that day.

I've seen these TV programmes too, offering useful advice like, "Place a pot of geraniums by the front door." Here they could do with, "Hack away the bushes so that the garden is visible."

13 July 2008

Selling houses - Corfu style

I have just been watching a wonderful programme on UK television called 'Selling Houses' and it is one of those where an expert advises sellers on how best to present their properties to ensure the quickest possible sale. The advice is invariably, 'Declutter, neutralise, send the dog to kennels, rent new furniture, put most of your personal items in store' etc.

When we prepare our own properties for sale we do make a point of choosing attractive furnishings, to complement the houses and enable the potential purchasers to visualise themselves living there. The Solar House in Ano Korakiana (above) has been renovated and then furnished and equipped to reflect the spirit and style of a traditional Corfiot village house. Similarly in The Strawberry Villa and Cyclamen Villa (both at St. George’s South) the design and furnishing is intended to reflect their seaside locations and lifestyle. Some developers also are aware of how to showcase their properties, such as Verde Blu Studios in Barbati who have a show house to best portray their properties to clients, but we do not seem to be able to convey this to the bulk of our vendors.

As I was watching, I was wondering quite how we could persuade more of our owners here in Corfu to adopt these methods. OK, so some of the 'renovation projects' are pretty much derelict and it wouldn't really matter what you did to them, they are still ruins and sold as such, so however anyone visualises them is entirely 'in the mind'. However, I was remembering a few occasions when I have ventured an opinion as to how we could perhaps sell the property more quickly.

In one village house it was extremely difficult to see the potentially attractive courtyard, with several ground levels, a vast mulberry tree and the possibility for a stunning outside space, since the entire outside space was full of old bits of wood, broken brick, roof tiles, rubbish and so on. I suggested that the courtyard be cleared, so that on arrival, potential buyers could immediately see the possibilities. Next time I went the courtyard was clear but when I opened the door into the potential third bedroom I found all the junk from the courtyard!

In another house, where original 'Art Deco' style wallpaper was falling off the walls, the chandelier hanging out of the ceiling, the lino curling up from the floor and broken bits of furniture lay all around, I ventured to suggest that the house would benefit from being cleared. Sure enough the next time I went it had been cleared - into the previously quite attractive courtyard. So not only was it visually reminiscent of a ghetto but we nearly broke our necks scrambling over it to get to the front door.

The problem also seems to be that in Greek minds, furniture and appliances are ‘ageless' or rather, they never reach a 'sell-by date'. Where we might decide that finally that broken washing machine has to go, or that lumpy settee needs to be replaced, in the minds of many people here, ‘It might just come in useful'. A friend of ours remembers immaculately equipping and furnishing a new home for her parents-in-law, only to find shortly afterwards that the collection of broken fridges, cookers, washing machines etc. from the old house had moved to the new house with them and were lined up on the balcony because one day 'We might need them.'

I went to value a house which was so crammed with old cookers, fridges, plastic kitchen tables etc. that it was hard to fight my way through to look at the rear of the property. When I said that I thought it would help to sell the property if the house was cleared, giving an idea of more space inside the house, there was an expression of horror on the face of the vendor who immediately said 'But the buyers will probably want this furniture!’ One step on from this is where the vendor insists that the property is advertised 'fully furnished' where the furniture is of an age, style and standard of comfort (and possibly woodworm) which we would probably have consigned to the rubbish pile 20 years ago. Still one person’s junk is another person’s 'reclamation'!

So many properties would benefit from even a small 'declutter', if only on the day when we go to take photographs for the website, but it is just a concept that does not yet seem to exist here in Corfu. I would love to be able to establish the Corfuhomefinders and Corfupremierproperty consultancies on 'How to prepare your property for market' because the fact is that it is often nearly impossible to appreciate the finer points of a property when it is crammed with current and past furniture and many years of cherished belongings. But it seems unlikely in the near future. Still, I suppose one day we will go to a standard family home to find neutral colour schemes, squashy cream sofas, beautifully arranged cushions, coffee beans roasting in the oven... but maybe not quite yet and anyway, it would be boring wouldn't it?

11 July 2008

Cool Taxis

All taxi drivers will be obliged to have air conditioning in their cabs and price lists in English and Greek by this autmn. There is also a new scheme that will allow taxis to be ordered by cell phone text message. Taxi drivers will not be allowed to charge extra for offering vehicles with air conditioning. The text message initiative will come into effect by the end of the year, as will the creation of a four-digit phone line that passengers will be able to call to report poor service.

10 July 2008

A First Winter in Corfu

Sophia de Rosa Ortiz came to live in Corfu in 2007. She has written an account of her first winter on Corfu and it's an interesting read for any summer visitors who have wondered what life is like when the last tourists have gone home. You can read Sophia's article here.

9 July 2008

Art Exhibition at Triklino Vineyard

From 14 July until 2 August four artists (two of whom are from Corfu) will be exhibiting paintings, installations and sculpture at Triklino Vineyard. Alexis Mitropoulos executes special art and architectural constructions; Corfiot artist Nikos Kokalis studied Fine Arts at the University of Thessaloniki and his works can be found in both state and private collections; sculptor Dionisios Zois was born in Lefkada and works and lives in Switzerland; local painter Spyros Alamanos teaches at the Art School in Corfu, is a founder member of Corfu Art Gallery and a member, as artistic advisor, of the editorial committee of the literary magazine "Porfyras". The exhibition will be open from Tuesday to Saturday between midday and 7.00 pm.

8 July 2008

Buying Property in Greece - Beware of Misleading Information!

Much of the time on this ‘blog’ we dwell on the amusing side of Corfu life and property, but sometimes subjects crop up that need serious comment.

Occasionally, when we have a request for a particular type of property or a specific area where we have nothing available to offer our clients, we liaise with other agencies who might have something in their portfolio. Hence, I have spent some time today looking to see if anyone has a particular type of property for sale. In the course of this I have been fairly horrified to see some agencies featuring pages of specific information, much of which is outdated at best, or at worst, inaccurate.

The information has ranged from the 'fact' that there is no Capital Gains Tax in Greece - there is, but criteria are not necessarily the same as in other countries - and that 'the Corfu property market is rising at 15% per annum' - don't we all wish it was but as far as I know there are no published statistics to support this. The only items which have certainly increased, are construction costs and planning permits and their ancillary costs. They write that an agency can open a bank account free of charge for you - well, it has always been 'free of charge' but now in these days of money laundering you have to attend in person and provide specific paperwork to the bank.

There are no mentions of current changes in banking requirements, changes in the remit of power of attorney, changes in taxes on some older properties, the introduction of VAT on new properties - virtually every property purchase has different criteria - and it is dangerous to generalise. Clients visiting with a view to beginning their purchase might then easily not have the correct documents with them, meaning that they cannot immediately proceed.

Another inaccuracy is that if you have the correct income you can definitely have a mortgage 'often for 100%'. This is absolutely untrue - mortgages depend on so many variations of applicant and property that it is impossible to give a general opinion and call it 'definite'.

Similarly, random specific figures as to the cost of building (exceptionally low I might add) seem to be a feature on some sites, when anyone with half a brain knows that a building quote depends entirely upon what the builder is going to DO, i.e. a precise building specification for an individual property including a definition of the quality level, items supplied, build period etc.

I have also just seen a terrifying printed quote from clients buying an ‘off plan’ property from a local developer, who said that ‘There are no formal specification documents ...no proper architect’s or engineer’s drawings …there do not appear to be any formal building regulation ...do not expect the level of documentation or drawings that you would get in the UK.’ THIS IS SIMPLY NOT THE CASE. All reputable developers have documentation drawn up in minute detail, a full building specification and full documentation, together with pricing estimates and a time schedule – if these are not readily available on an ‘off-plan’ development then alarm bells should start ringing. Trust is very nice, but fixed specifications, plans and prices are even nicer!

Finally some lovely quotes from a local agency who should know better;.'It is handy to have a residency card' - it is not 'handy' it is an essential if you are indeed now a Greek resident. And finally; 'It is always best to check with a civil engineer' - it is not 'best' it is IMPERATIVE!

We here at Corfuhomefinders and Corfu Premier Property cannot claim to be infallible, no one can, but what we do claim is that we will always consult the experts before we present something to our clients as 'fact'. We have years of experience and solid background knowledge of financial and planning regulations, but equally we know that these regulations are incredibly complex and are getting more so with the passing of time. Misleading information can end up costing clients money and causing heartache. When we are not sure we always ask for accurate, up to date information - we would rather say 'We don't know,' and then find out, than give figures or facts which later turn out to be incorrect.

4 July 2008

A Famous Russian

It's amazing what interesting people we meet when out showing properties - another reason I love living here, I'm sure I would never have met them in my old life working for an insurance company in Swindon!

Today we had some Russian clients looking for a smallish house near the sea where they can bring their family to enjoy the sunshine and life here. The lady told us, " Corfu has magic. When you have been here you can't go anywhere else".

Chatting in the car, I asked what they did for a living in Moscow, and was told that the husband is a writer. I further enquired - a writer of what? She modestly replied that he writes science fiction books and in fact is the most famous living author in Russia at the moment, with his books translated into many languages. No name dropping, but we Googled him and sure enough, he is VERY famous!

Sharing My Corfu

We had family visiting from North Carolina, USA, last week. It was their first visit to Corfu, although they had heard a lot about it from us and been avidly reading Island Magazine and this blog! Their holiday here started off in Italy with guided tours of several cities and then the Minoan ferry from Venice. Corfu was their chance to relax and unwind after the organised sightseeing, and the Chandris Hotel in Dassia provided the ideal base to do so.

Leaving hot and very humid North Carolina in the summer, they were expecting to cool down when they arrived here, but we were in the middle of our seemingly regular June heatwave. The heat didn't deter them though. As long as the car was air-conditioned and the ice cubes plentiful, they kept their cool.

I knew that Lucy had enjoyed the quaint villages of England, so we took them to some of our most traditional and picturesque villages - up to Old Perithia, through Ano Korakiana, the harbours at Agios Stefanos and Kassiopi. These she found enchanting, but was less impressed with the narrow roads, being more used to the wide straight highways of her home.

Both Lucy and her husband Robert were keen to sample as much local food as possible and largely left the choice of menu to us. What a great excuse to eat out at our favourite haunts every evening! One very memorable evening was spent at Agnadio Taverna on the road to Spartilas. The food was excellent, the view (of course) breathtaking, and to top it all there was live Greek music to entertain us. To contrast, we then introduced them to "our local" - Strapounto in Kato Korakiana for grilled meat and the best chips in Corfu.

It was a real delight to share "my" Corfu with such appreciative guests, and by seeing it through fresh eyes, a reminder of how lucky we are to be living here.

3 July 2008

All Inclusives - the last word

Some friends had a conversation yesterday with guests at an all 'inclusive hotel'. They had come out for a walk and a drink. The guy said ' It's so nice to have a pint in a a glass - in the hotel everything comes in plastic cups.' and then he said 'It's nice to have a pint - in the hotel you would have to go to the bar and get five separate plastic cups to make up a pint.' Finally he said, 'Anyway it's nice to come out - everything finishes in the hotel at 11 pm.' He also said that the food was fairly grim and there was nothing the kids liked to eat, so they were living on chips! Having said that of course, they had paid under £2,000 for their entire holiday and, unless they wanted to, they could have spent absolutely nothing at all whilst they were on holiday.

Final, final gem. Apparently some hotels give the kids different colour wristbands, as this gives them a different entitlement to food and drink.

The world is definitely not as we used to know it. The other day, having been to take photos of some beachfront land in Halikouna, we went to eat in the nearby taverna. It is an area known to visitors but not in a resort, just a pretty taverna above a tiny harbour at Alonaki. The mix of fellow diners was local Greeks, local foreign residents, Serbian visitors, Italian visitors, German visitors and British visitors - a wonderful mix - just how it always used to be.

2 July 2008

Corfu's Best Kept Secret?

It's not meant to be a secret, obviously, but from the amount of use it gets, it might as well be. What am I talking about? The basement parking at Lidl in Alikes!

We are very quick to criticize supermarkets and other large department-type stores that do not provide enough parking space. My own family's particular bugbear is that there is ALWAYS someone who parks practically inside the supermarket, totally ignoring the marked parking spaces all of 10 metres further away.

Yesterday (Saturday) in temperatures of 39C, at peak shopping time, with the car park at full-to-bursting, Lidl's wonderfully cool basement parking area was virtually empty (see photo). So praises go to the architect who designed this building, even if it is under appreciated by the majority of shoppers, and praise also to the management of Lidl who, presumably, ordered the building to be built with plenty of parking.

1 July 2008

The 'All Inclusives' Again

This week we heard that a prominent hotel group is taking over the largest hotels in Agios Gordis, and in Pelekas and the aim is to provide 'upmarket' all-inclusives. This led to yet more discussions about why anyone would want to come 'all-inclusive' to Corfu.

In our office in Dassia people often wander in and chat to Helga about their holidays, many of them wearing the famous wristbands. (Are they not reminiscent of those issued to hospital patients?) She has noticed increasingly that when she asks if they are enjoying their holidays, they say 'Fine thanks', but none seem to say 'Its great'. One frequent comment is 'There isn't much to do here - its very quiet and a lot of places are closed'. Sorry, but what to do you expect if all visitors eat, drink and shop entirely within their hotels and spend absolutely nothing out in the villages - the business owners are going to sit there just for fun!

In a conversation with the manager of an AI hotel Helga asked him how they managed on such a low 'per head' budget. Among the points made was that in the a la carte restaurant of a four star hotel they have to give prawns as a choice once a week and they give large fresh shrimps. On the all inclusive meals they have to use the cheapest tinned prawns, mixed with rice. And in the four star the waiters serve you. In the all inc. you serve yourself - how can the hotels afford to pay waiters on the budget they have?

Perhaps if we costed out the holiday before booking we would calculate how much it costs to buy food and cook yourself, plus the flight, plus the room, plus the cleaner, electricity, air fare, transfers etc. If you calculate all that (and the tour operator's profit) how much is left for food and drink? How can the hotel afford to offer high quality?

Net result, guests leave Corfu dissatisfied, not having sampled the best of anything! Guests who have been out all over the island, tried local restaurants, talked to loads of local people, visited different beaches, shopped in local shops - they are the ones who go home happy and come back time and time again - and they are also the ones who decide to buy property and spend larger parts of their lives with us here in Corfu - so do their families and their friends. This is the perfect tourism, one which enhances all our lives - locals, 'adopted locals' like us and visitors who become friends and 'adopted locals' themselves'.