29 September 2008
After more than a week of unseasonally cool weather, today looks like being another proper summer day, so that the house I have chosen to spotlight came into mind because it is the perfect family summer home near the beach.
It is set well back away from the main resort of Sidari, along the beach road and then inland up a narrow, unmade track, so that you feel to be in the depths of the country even though the beach and shops are within easy walking distance of all but the laziest amongst us.
Built for the family who have owned it ever since, this house has always been a home first and foremost and it retains that cosy atmosphere even now that it is rarely used.
Truly a beach house par excellence.
26 September 2008
Not wanting to be out-done by Susan with the lovely salad picked from her garden, here are some flowers picked from my garden.
I may not win the Corfu flower arranging prize, but I am very proud of my yukka blooms and the purple passion flower which grows up the olive tree outside my dining room window.
I wonder what Diana and Helga will come up with?
Anyone able to offer a home to one (or even two) of these beautiful puppies which are driving their owner mad! As always several people said that they would have one, and then for one reason or another, onlytwo have been taken. They are really sweet, pretty, will be small to middle-size, mum and dad have very nice temperaments - every home should have one!
25 September 2008
With the 'credit crunch' in the UK, many people who have some capital available are finding that it is still not enough for them to buy a property with a mortgage. Now here is an alternative - recently we have had quite a few clients who want to make an investment for the future, but who do not have a large capital amount in order to invest with cash.
They therefore use their available funds for a deposit and costs on a property in Corfu, on which they can obtain a local mortgage, and which they can let during part of all of the summer season to cover the costs of that mortgage. Correctly managed, this should also cover the running costs of the property and leave a margin for upkeep and improvement.
We have clients who have purchased a small property near the beach, with a down payment of around 5,000 euros - a loan of 65,000 euros and a repayment of around 300 euros a month over a full mortgage term, - and the property lets through the summer at weekly rates of 200-500 euros per week. Correctly marketed through one of the internet websites this means that the investment is giving a profit, and she has capital appreciation as well. In the UK they would never have found a property in this price range but here they truly have a 'foot on the property ladder'.
At a higher level, with more expensive property the same applies - loan repayments covered by letting income with good capital appreciation.
HOWEVER - it is important to realise that you cannot go to the bank here and look for a 'buy to let' mortgage as such. You will have to support the application with evidence that your personal income could cover the repayments independently if required. The bank will be interested to know that you plan to let but cannot take this into account when calculating whether or not you can afford to repay the loan. If you apply for a commercial loan then criteria are different.
The most important point when considering this is the letting potential of the property and this is where Corfuhomefinders and Corfu Premier Property can give you advice, having had many years of experience in the holiday letting market here in Corfu.
24 September 2008
Last week's storm, which broke the long run of hot sunshine, also began a conversation in our household about "orbs" in digital photography. We took several photographs of the rain, darkness, and thunder and lightning, and because of the lack of natural light, the flash on the camera bounced off the rain drops producing the interesting effects shown.
Apparently there are quite a lot of people who believe that orbs are an indication of ghostly presence. Whatever you believe, they do look pretty!
Photos taken in the middle of the day!
23 September 2008
It is becoming increasingly popular for Europeans to buy their property in Corfu with locally arranged mortgages. Many of them visit with the intention of buying and know that they will probably find a suitable property, but they do not realise that if they do not bring some paperwork with them, they will have an unnecessary second trip to formally complete application forms, as the application cannot be signed until the paperwork originals are inspected by the bank. Although they can do a general power of attorney with a local lawyer to cover the purchase of the property, this does not cover the mortgage application forms for the bank. Therefore if you think that you have a fair chance of finding a property, either on this visit or in the near future, it is a good idea to bring original paperwork with you, and we can arrange for you to visit the bank to begin the mortgage process in order to obtain a personal 'agreement in principle' based upon your circumstances, which can then proceed as soon you find the right property.
The paperwork required (and it MUST be the originals, for each person who will feature on the loan application) is:
If you are an employee, at least 2 years of P60s (end of year tax certificate) plus at least one current payslip. A utility bill for your current place of residence is often required and you will have to give information on your current liabilities in your home country. A bank reference from your usual bank is also helpful. If you are self employed, or have your own company, you should have copies of your last 3 years accounts, plus documentation from the tax office to prove that your accounts have been submitted to them and any tax due has been paid. If you are a partner in a company, then you should also have some documentation to prove how much personal income you derive from the company.
The bank will take copies of all documentation and your passports and return the originals to you. At this point, they can begin the application and give you information on the various products available, rates, terms, etc. If you then do not find a property immediately you can leave the application in abeyance, and if you do, then the procedure is already under way.
Banks here are still offering competitive loans on properties and are keen to have European clients, but they are fairly rigid in their initial requirements, so it really does help if you have the information with you when you come to Corfu to look for your property.
Corfuhomefinders and Corfu Premier Property have a good working relationship with many of the banks and are happy to introduce you to those who would be the most suitable for your personal requirements.
22 September 2008
We drove the long way round (!) through Spartilas and across through Episkepsis on one of my favourite mountain roads, in order to enjoy the wonderful views across to the Diapontian Islands, and then down into Acharavi and along the coast. Heading up to Perithia the air became cooler and we didn't see another car all the way up. Once there, it was obvious that plenty of other people had the same idea as us, but we found a nice table at Ognistra, our favourite taverna, and then ordered a lovely selection of perfectly cooked local dishes.
Sitting at the table, we chuckled at the number of cars which drove past all the parked vehicles and tried to find a closer parking spot. Like Susan's photo of the car on the beach, they all wanted to get as close as possible in order to avoid walking a few more steps.
After lunch, we walked around the village, admiring the ancient buildings and imagining how the old inhabitants must have lived. Our visitors from home commented on how in the UK the houses would have been boarded up and have secure fences around them to prevent accidents. Our walk wouldn't have been anywhere near as interesting and fun!
19 September 2008
Conversion from an old stone property, this partly finished house has a large garden and a lovely view. When finished it will be a two double bedroomed house within walking distance of the village shop in the picture-postcard village of Makrades.
For sale in its present state at 90,000 Euros. Owner may consider offers!
A series of concerts by Volante Strings and Friends from Worcestershire UK will take place on 26th (Villa Spanopoulos, Ropa Valley), 27th (Casa Lucia, Sgombou) and 28th (Villa Pacolina, Gouvia) October. They will comprise three delightful evenings of relaxing string music with additional vocal, flute, violin and viola solos; plus Greek traditional folk music with accordion. (See website for full concert details.) Tickets cost 15 euros and include mini mezes and wine.
16 September 2008
Obviously the collapse of the XL Leisure Group has been the main topic of conversation here in Corfu over the last few days, and something that is very hard to avoid. Tourists have been seen checking flight availability on the internet, and our new Vice Consul trying hard to walk the fine line between what she is allowed "officially" to do, and what she would like to be able to offer to the passengers trying to get back to Britain. Everyone seems to know, or know of, someone who has been affected. Just trying to get to the UK from now on has become more difficult and a lot more expensive, as all tour operators still running flights have increased their prices hugely.
One rather interesting fact - there has been next to nothing on the Greek TV news channels about the situation. Does that seem odd to anyone else?
15 September 2008
Have you ever wondered what lies beyond the mainland mountains that we see every day? This is a wonderful opportunity to discover the hidden heartland of Greece. Centrally based in the three star Grand Hotel, Larissa, each day’s coach excursion will reveal a fascinating view of Greece. There will be plenty of time to explore on your own and on the final day a chance to shop in Thessaloniki – including a trip to IKEA!
This excursion (departing on Wednesday 29 October and returning on Sunday 2 November) is organised by Papanagiotou Travel, a well respected Corfu-based company with over 25 years experience in Greek tourism.
Day 1: Metsovo – Kalambaka – Meteora – Larissa
Morning ferry to Igoumenitsa. After driving through Epirus (passing the traditional village of Metsovo) you'll arrive in Kalambaka, a small town situated at the foot of the Meteora – a collection of huge rocks. Here you'll visit the famous monasteries perched on top of the rocks and seemingly suspended in mid-air. You'll then drive to Larissa, the capital of Thessaly, where you'll stay overnight at The Grand Hotel.
Day 2: Volos – Pelion
In the morning you'll depart for the port city of Volos and visit the Pelion region and several of its historic villages (Makrinitsa, Portaria, Milies and Visitsa) which sit high above the coast (see photo). These villages boast wonderful architecture and great views. You'll return to Volos with time to visit the town and enjoy a coffee or two. Overnight in Larissa.
Day 3: Trikala
After breakfast you'll drive to Trikala in fertile north-western Thessaly. After passing through some of the most beautiful mountain villages in the region you'll continue to Pertouli, a traditional village within a forest of tall fir trees. The forest is one of the best preserved in Greece and is a refuge for many species of wild animals. You'll return to Trikala for sight-seeing and overnight in Larissa.
Day 4: Thessaloniki
You'll leave in the morning for Thessaloniki in central Macedonia - the second largest city in Greece. Thessaloniki has had a continuous 3,000 year history and you will find relics of its Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman past, and of its formerly dominant Jewish population. Here you will have the opportunity to spend the day shopping, either in the city centre or at IKEA on the outskirts of the city. You'll return to overnight in our hotel in Larissa.
Day 5: Return to Corfu
You'll travel back to Igoumenitsa via the traditional village of Metsovo. Your ferry will reach Corfu in the evening.
The price of 235 euros includes: ferry tickets, accommodation in a three-star hotel, breakfast and all transfers.
For further information contact Katerina Papanagiotou on 26610 94368 or email email@example.com
Full details of this excursion can be seen at www.papanagiotoutravel.com/thessaly.html
As usual, when it rains in Corfu, it RAINS. Yesterday's storm was a humdinger. Gradually darkening skies, sudden gusts of wind, wide, jagged slashes of lightning and then more general flashing which was reflected back from the green-coloured clouds. And, of course, rumbling and crashing thunder. Day turned to night around 1.30p.m. at the height of the storm. A great and dramatic taste of winter to come and an utter change from the past week of scorching temperatures and muggy heat. There's a wonderful poem by Odysseus Elitis on the subject of the first rain. Almost impossible to translate, the closest I can get is: "With the first drop of rain, summer dies".
14 September 2008
Despite this, there are certain houses/plots of land that we all think should have sold long ago, either because they are bargains, or because they are gorgeous! We thought we could pick some of these out from our lists and share them with you on the blog, maybe not every day, but from time to time.
Here is the first: It is a classic small manor house with a courtyard at the front, outbuildings awaiting conversion and a garden with a lemon tree at the back. Situated in a village in the north west of Corfu, just a short drive to several beaches, it has off-road parking, and shops and buses within walking distance. Price: 295,000 euros, and worth every cent!
12 September 2008
Mothers all over Greece will have breathed a sigh of relief today as the long summer holidays (three months!) officially came to an end. With new haircuts and school bags at the ready, it is always difficult to get back into a regular routine, but it's that time of year at last.
Schools opened today - well sort of...
The very important event of "The Blessing" took place in all schools. The village or local priest will have held a special ceremony inside the school to bless everybody involved. The teachers got an individual blessing, then all the pupils and parents in attendance were "group blessed" and sprayed with holy water. Usually at this point the children erupt into giggles as the priest sprays everybody with his bunch of basil.
I'm sure that in the Junior and Senior High Schools they take things a little more seriously, but I was never allowed to attend one of these as it's not cool to have your mother around at that age.
The first day of school over, everybody goes home, suitably blessed and inspired for the academic year ahead. Tomorrow they will go back to school, be arranged into classrooms, collect their books and go home again. All being well proper lessons will start next week.... fingers crossed!
6 September 2008
Different contractors and developers complete their initial responsibilities at different stages. Many leave certain areas unfinished so that clients can make their own choices, and of course pay extra for them. A good developer will give a detailed list of everything he plans to use, and if you agree to this then this is what you are paying for. Changes are often a cause for disagreement – if midway through the build you decide to make alterations you must ask what the difference in cost will be as they will not necessarily be at the same price, and if they involve bringing workers back to the project for further visits you will obviously be charged.
The costs begin before you get anywhere near building. You will have to obtain a planning permit, pay an IKA deposit and a deposit for VAT on the project, before you begin the build.
Obviously you then want a costing for your house. It is easy for a builder to give what looks like an economic quote, until, for example, you find later he plans to do no outside work, leaving you with a nice house still on a building site and a large bill for paths, parking area and landscaping.
Build costs depend on so many variables. Situation of plot - does it need many retaining walls, does it need an access road, does it have power close by, or are you going to have to pay for columns to bring the power to your site? Ditto for water - or are you going to have to pay to dig for a water supply? One or two floor design? Design including basement or not? Pool and permit included or not? What type of ground is it - hard to excavate if it is solid rock, or not - making a vast difference in terms of initial work for foundations and septic tank.
Does the builder include light fittings, kitchen cupboards, all tiles, shower/bath units, loos, wardrobes, sufficient power points? What type of doors and windows? Electrical kitchen goods, fireplace, central heating piping and/or complete heating, aircon, door handles? The list is endless and this is why quotes vary so much.
Some builders are quoting 1,200 euros per square metre for a build and others quote 2,000 euros plus. Most offers hold good for a maximum of three months since in the last few months, as everywhere else, we have suffered large price increases in the cost of materials, plus the cost of building permits, and the linked IKA costs have risen three times in the last three years. It is not possible to give even an approximate figure until you have some land and a possible plan in mind.
You can see now why I said “How long is a piece of string?” but as I say there are so many variables and so many builders give quotes that turn out to be incomplete, because you both have different assumptions about what a ‘finished’ project means. It is essential to analyse exactly what is included in your estimate,
A project manager will charge you a percentage of the cost of the project, but he or she is the one person who is totally responsible for asking the correct questions of the builders, the power company etc., calculating the costs and making sure the project is completed to your satisfaction. Your project manager is also the person who continues working when the build is complete, to the installation of permanent electricity, the finalisation of accounts for VAT and IKA purposes with your civil engineer, and accountant, and generally ties up all the loose ends, so that no expenses come back to haunt you further down the line.
At Corfuhomefinders and Corfupremierproperty, we are involved in both newbuild and renovation projects and have established a system with our project managers/builders where we just keep on asking questions – “Is it included in the quote?” “Can we do it any cheaper?” “Are you sure that’s the colour the clients wanted?” “Is that power point in the right place?” “Why don’t we do this?” We probably drive them mad – but we make the point – we want to be 100% sure that our clients know exactly what they are paying for and that they actually get what they are paying for.
Building and labour costs are not cheap here and many items, mass produced in larger European countries, are either locally hand-made or imported, making them proportionately more expensive. Also for an island as small as Corfu there is a considerable amount of development in progress, good builders and craftsmen are in demand and have no reason to lower prices in order to obtain work. It is all a matter of perseverance, patience and a certain amount of humour, and in the end you get there. And as you sit on your balcony in the sun in April or November, when you would be freezing elsewhere, you might just consider that it was all worth it!
THE AMATEUR NATURALIST 14-19 September 2008
An Ecology week in Corfu with David Bellamy & Lee Durrell
"Corfu is the garden of the gods."
This seminar is aimed at amateur naturalists, of any age, who want an introduction to the natural world from leading experts in the field: David Bellamy and Lee Durrell. The programme is designed to be suitable for advanced amateurs who want to learn about the world of Gerald Durrell's "My Family and Other Animals", as well as for children and family groups developing a deeper sense of the ecological variety of the natural world.
The Amateur Naturalist will be a week-long adventure combining talks from eminent speakers. In addition to Lee and David we anticipate that early adventurers who participated in capturing endangered species in both Gerald’s time and now, as well as leaders of conservation projects, will enlighten the audience on the difficulties and dangers of conservation.
Gerald Durrell is quoted as saying when he first arrived in Corfu,
“It was like being allowed back into Paradise”, he whispered "Our arrival in Corfu was like being born for the first time". We hope that this will be the sentiments of those joining the Durrell School this September.
Click here to download the full programme and an application form.
5 September 2008
The people have spoken and the oddest book title of the past 30 years has been selected: Greek Rural Postmen and their Cancellation Numbers. The impenetrable-sounding book, a comprehensive record of Greece's postal routes, is published by the Greek Hellenic Philatelic Society of Great Britain, which "exists to encourage the collection of Greek stamps and to promote their study".
The Diagram Prize is The Bookseller magazine's award for oddly named publications, and this 72-page book has won the Diagram of Diagrams, for the weirdest title in the past three decades. It nipped in ahead of People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It, and How to Avoid Huge Ships.
"I think the voters wanted a feelgood story about rural postmen because of all the news of post offices closing around the country," said The Bookseller's charts editor Philip Stone. He has so far been unsuccessful in his attempts to contact the book's author Derek Willan to let him know about his win. "There's no prize but the boost in sales is surely prize enough," Stone said. "When we announced our last shortlist, sales increased by 1,000%, from one copy sold in the two weeks previously to ten afterwards."
The Diagram prize was launched in 1978 as a way to relieve boredom at a particularly tedious Frankfurt book fair. The Diagram of Diagrams saw the public voting for their favourite odd book title from 30 years of former winners. More than 1,000 votes were received, with Greek Rural Postmen taking 13% of the public vote.
"The posties pulled off a real shock here," said the prize's custodian Horace Bent. "The pre-tournament favourite was the prize's first ever recipient - Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice. The 1978 winner picked up the 15-year anniversary gong in 1993. But right from the off, it was Gary Leon Hill's People Who Don't Know They're Dead that set the pace. It topped the polls for more than three weeks until, at the very last moment, the Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers pipped the People Who Don't Know They're Dead at the post."
Why The Madam as Entrepreneur: Career Management in House Prostitution, American Bottom Archaeology, and China National Publications' title Population and Other Problems did not make the top three was not explained.
The Bookseller is now receiving submissions for the 2009 Diagram prize. Stone said that Strip and Knit with Style, out next month, is already a strong contender.
The start of the school year is big business in Greece. Perhaps because the summer holidays are so long - the best part of three months - when September comes around, everyone with school age children enters the spirit of the season, and gets out their wallets and purses and sets off to the stationers. Stationery shops that, for the rest of the year, look like ordinary shops, all of a sudden seem to spill out on to the pavement with vast arrays of school bags - suitably decorated and designer-oriented towards the target market. Pink and sparkly for junior girls, bright reds and navy blues for junior boys - with the cartoon favourite of the year blazened on the front. It's a definite no-no to start school with last year's colours, or last year's hero on your bag. At senior school level, colours are grungy but the logo has to be the "right" one - your offspring's reputation is at stake. As well as the bag, it is essential to have a new "cassetina" or pencil case, filled to the brim with co-ordinating pencils, felt-tips, jell-biros, pencil sharpeners, glue sticks, and so on and so forth. Parents need very deep pockets at this time of year!
Autumn is coming. The days are obviously shorter - waking at 7 a.m. it is only just daylight, now that we are into September. Whilst it is still hot, and the daytime sun shines as brightly as a month ago, there are sure signs of the change in season. This is the view from our house today - September 5th. Early morning mist in the valley - last seen in early summer, will now be a regular sight as we move inevitably into autumn.
4 September 2008
A huge amount of research went into the final decision to buy what we both now consider to be the absolutely ideal car for Corfu - Fiat's 4x4 Panda. It is expensive for a small car, but that very smallness makes it possible to venture into narrow village streets, turn round on a euro, and sail along bumpy tracks without scratching the sides on overhanging brambles. Sarah says it is like riding in a rubber car! (Technical details can be found in the review entitled "Car for Corfu" in the Sept/Oct 2007 issue of Island Magazine.)
Diana and I were together in Corfu Town when we first saw the orange test drive turbo diesel cross version of the Panda and said in unison "That's what we want!" It even fulfills our desire to be "green" in that the 4x4 only engages when the clever car decides it is necessary.
At this stage Diana's old car gave up the ghost and she couldn't wait the necessary two months for the turbo cross version, and settled for an extremely smart black Panda. Still 4x4, still diesel, but not quite so "startling" to look at as the orange version.
I decided to wait, and my orange "lady toy" has been my pride and joy for a full year. It is an extremely good advertisement for Corfuhomefinders as it does get noticed! The drawback of course is that I get noticed too, and people are forever coming up to me and saying, "Saw you in Kassiopi last week", "You were late back from town yesterday", etc. etc. Not only can I now never squeeze through a traffic light at amber, overtake on a slightly dodgy double white line, or shake my fist at anybody (not that I would EVER do any of the above!), I also find that people flash their lights, honk their horns and wave at me. So, please, if you see me bowling merrily along and I don't wave back, it's only because I can't quite recognize you and yours in your ordinary everyday silver or black vehicles!
3 September 2008
2 September 2008
No, not Corfu! This was the headline in a UK tabloid yesterday, predicting the weather for the next few days. Great shame since it is the last week of the school holidays!
At the same time I was belatedly reading a Sunday Times article where one of their journalists had decided to be economic and stay at home in Britain this year for the annual family holiday.
Surprise, surprise, it wasn’t economic and they spent most of their time sheltering from the weather. She finished the article by saying that 2008 was their last ‘summer’ holiday in the UK. And of course she is not alone. So many people envisage their annual holiday as being more expensive than staying in Britain, and yet those of use who live here, or visit regularly, know that the traditional holiday pastimes cost less (or nothing) here.
It costs nothing to walk every morning with the kids along the beach (in the sun). It costs less for the family to go out and have a memorable meal, and the kids will actually be appreciated and enjoyed by the locals, instead of just tolerated as they are in England. And a trip with a local boatman will cost pennies and give hours of fun.
Holidaying in Corfu does not require much luggage. In the UK you need ‘all weather’ gear, for Corfu you need your favourite t-shirts and shorts and a little number for the evenings, that’s all.
Agreed, to come to Corfu you have to suffer airports and flights – but after that a maximum of an hour gets you to your destination and virtually whatever time you arrive there will usually be somewhere to get a coffee or food, or even have a swim. In Britain you might well suffer five or six hours trapped in a car only to arrive in the rain and be told the restaurant closed at 9.00 pm (9.00!!!!).
Could these be just a few of the reasons we decided to live here and why so many northern Europeans buy their holiday homes here, whether they buy a small village house, a convenient house near the beach or a super luxury villa.
For so many Corfu represents a haven for people looking for a peaceful, easily accessible holiday home – and then, in so many cases, a permanent home.
One of the first things I like to do when I visit England is go and have a good Indian meal - I've never really enjoyed any I've eaten here.
Last evening I was invited out to dinner by a friend, and we arrived at Shakes Bar in Dassia. I was expecting to eat a typical British pub meal, and having eaten there before I knew that the food is always good quality and freshly prepared. This year, however, Sarah (the chef, not me) is also cooking Indian food, and there is a nice selection of favourite Indian meals on her menu.
Deciding to give it a go, my friend and I chose two different chicken dishes, with some pilau rice and a paratha (sort of thin unleavened bread). Everything was delicious, and the flavours and spices were rich and aromatic. It was definitely the best Indian meal I have eaten here in Corfu, and one to rival my favourite restaurant in England.
So much for my diet, I will be going back next week to start working my way through the menu!