31 October 2008

Just a short trip back to the UK...

Last week we did a quick trip back to London to see the kids. Actually we saw them for a short space of time, just to be given the list of 'work that needs doing' including shower hoses, bulbs, loo seats, heating timer, window cleaning, boiler servicing, fill the fridge with food - all the things you would consider normal to do on a short holiday! After that they disappeared, one to New York, the other one to uni/work only to re-appear at intervals to see what there was to eat.

However in between the chores, we did fit in a variety of things On our first day we went to the local 'Broadway Market' to check out the wonderful food stalls. As we crossed the park we were given a leaflet for a 'ballet with a bulldozer' which was so intriguing we waited to see what it could be. And it really was, a shiny yellow bulldozer in graceful movement with members of a French ballet company. Incredible.

Couldn't resist looking in the estate agents windows locally to see how much the value of our flat has dropped - but there doesn't seem to be any difference in price from last year - maybe it is just that no one is buying at the moment.

Next day a walk along the South Bank of the Thames, past the London Eye and Tate Modern, to have a look at the second hand book and print stalls - relieved by lunch in a riverside pub where you can sit outside and, if you feel cold, there is a pile of blankets and you are invited to wrap yourself up warm whilst you look at the view.

Two days of chores, then a trip up to visit family in Suffolk, staying in the wonderful Brudenell Hotel on Aldeburgh beach, where you sit in the warm while fishermen apparently enjoy themselves sitting in driving rain and gale force winds waiting to catch small fish on a line which they then throw back. We did a quick bit of driving around to see how much the villages had changed since my 'growing up' days and as we were driving along a large pheasant appeared from nowhere, swooped on the car, collided with the windscreen and veered off.

Later on we went through Aldeburgh cemetery and saw squirrels and rabbits playing hide and seek amongst the grave stones. Obviously we had to check out the property market and found that Aldeburgh still has prices on a par with Kensington and Chelsea - so much for the 'credit crunch'.

Returned to London and spent Saturday at the antiques market in Portobello Road (realising again that some of the super trendy 'interiors' shops carried some of the same stock as we do in the Corfu Homestore but at vastly different prices!) and then wandered through Hyde Park, stopping for pumpkin soup at the Lido restaurant on the lake. The minute the food arrived a battle ensued between us and the local sparrows (I think) as to who would have the most lunch - they literally hop on the plate whilst you are eating and will not be deterred!

More chores, a bit of shopping and an easy Easyjet flight back to Corfu and home, reflecting whilse sitting on the flight on the variety of things you can do in one week in England. Very nice for a short visit but wouldn't like to live there again I don't think.

28 October 2008

Scratch, Scratch

My boxer dog has been violently scratching herself lately, and closer inspection yesterday revealed fleas. I was absolutely horrified, as she's never had fleas and is always as clean as a whistle. I religiously put Frontline on her in the spring, with another couple of applications during the summer, and that is always enough to keep her bug-free.

This morning I popped into the vets to buy some anti-flea product, and he said that there are more fleas around this year because of the warm weather. So check your animals, they may have visitors!

27 October 2008

Autumn Flowers

We all know how lovely Corfu is in the spring with the roadsides covered in wildflowers, but the autumn is just as beautiful, in a more subtle way.

The olive groves are covered in the tiny wild cyclamen, which started to poke their little faces out after the first rain in September. They are still going strong, this year undamaged by further storms and wind. We saw a plot of land last week at Vigla, and decided to name it "Cyclamen Land" because of the swathes of pink along its banks.

My favourite is the autumn crocus, usually a pale pink but sometimes yellow, which bravely fights its way through bracken to face the sun. There don't appear to be any leaves, just naked flowers.

This year, my pride and joy is our rose bed, which has been a real joint effort in our garden. I requested it, with the idea of all coral coloured roses, and my parents planted it. They then proceeded to carry bucket-loads of manure from the Trailriders stables in Ano Korakiana in their ancient Fiat with the roof open to let the smell out! I have seemed to take over the pruning and weeding, and am now enjoying the benefits, although the roses are mixed colours, not all coral as they promised at the garden centre.

26 October 2008

Bargain Property Of The Day

Arches Barn, in the depths of the countryside between Poulades and the Paleokastritsa road.

This lovely old stone barn is a crowd-stopper. Anyone who finds their way down the rather isolated track, which has recently been tarmac-ed except for one short stretch, has their eye drawn inevitably to the beauty of the building. It consists of a huge single space and is begging to be renovated and turned into a country farmhouse-style home.

Situated in an elevated position with south facing views towards a little lake people do actually stop and stare when they pass by. With 4,000 sq.m. of land there is plenty of space for privacy and a pool if required.

The price has recently been reduced from 220,000 to 185,000 euros!

24 October 2008

Property of The Day

These villas on the south west coast in Kanouli, which have unexpectedly come back on the market, are an absolute dream - apart from being an absolute bargain! They are literally a few steps down to the beach, in the best possible sense. The garden simply extends itself down to the small sandy bay just below the house.

There are two semi detached villas, one complete and one requiring completion. Both have three bedrooms, two bathrooms, open plan living room and kitchen, plus a large covered balcony and lawned garden area.

Since they are on the beach the owner decided not to build a swimming pool, but one could easily be installed. The houses also have individual entrances, and paved parking in the driveway.

The area of Kanouli has hitherto been relatively unknown, except to locals, but it is on the area of south west coast currently becoming increasingly popular for high quality villas - indeed some of the more prestigious villa tour operators are now actively looking for properties on this side of the island. This obviously means that the villas are not only a dream home, but also a lucrative letting investment. What more could anyone ask?

Too Many Adventures Recently

Obviously I have been living in the safe environment of Corfu for too long and I fell victim to a bag snatcher on a recent visit to Athens. Actually it was only my wallet out of my bag, but it means that I am now running around trying to gather paperwork and pay vast sums of money to get a new identity card and driving licence.

I'm also wearing a giant structure around my neck supposedly to improve back pain, but its main purpose seems to be to attract huge attention in the street. It is almost like being young again (so many staring people!) I am thinking of setting up a company to market neck collars as an advertising tool. It would have to be something unassociated with possible injury to neck, therefore ruling out Bridgestone (car accident?), Nike (fell over), Nivea (violent reaction to face cream?). Something like - I know! - "InterAmerican, for life's difficult moments".

To cap it all I have a brick replica orthopoedic pillow. Supposed to ease back and neck pain. It doesn't, or if it does so far I have only noticed that it makes every other part of my body suffer, through lack of sleep if nothing else.

23 October 2008

Small World

This week we made one of our 'escape' trips back to England to see our kids. Last year we bought a flat in London, in an area which none of us know and where we really didn't know anyone. On our first venture out to check out a local restaurant we had a very nice meal in the Turkish restaurant closest to our house. As we were finishing our meal the waiter asked where where we were from and as soon as my husband said 'Greece' they dragged the chef from the kitchen - a Greek gentleman called Apostolis. Apostolis has since become not only the caretaker of my son's food supply, keeping him in fresh food instead of MacDonald's on a daily basis, but when one of our new beds broke he turned out to be a carpenter as well.

This time we arrived at Luton, having booked a minicab to take us into London. The driver rang when we landed and I could have sworn he said 'Yassas'... of course he was Greek and chatted for an hour on the way home about how much he wanted to return to live in Greece and how lucky we are not to live in London. We parted on excellent terms with the promise from him that should we recommend him to any of our friends visiting London he would look after them 'like family'.

The next day we were on our first trip to Tesco and a small group of people were selling the Socialist Worker in the street and asking for people to sign a petition against the government. A closet revolutionary, my husband of course agreed, and the lady asked where he was from... of course she was Greek, so I went into Primark while they had a long conversation about the current state of the world. We now have a standing invitation to go and say hello whenever we are in Hackney.

Today we ventured up to Camden Market in search of a few antique bits and pieces for the house. Nothing to buy - all designed to tempt the unsuspecting tourist apart from one wonderful shop of furniture, pictures etc. and I was wildly enthusiastic until I looked a bit closer and realised that they bought their stock from some of the same suppliers as we do at Corfu Homestore - only they must have slightly higher profit margins than we do (or Camden is considerably more affluent) as a mirror we sold for 159 euros was priced at £295.00 and the more I looked the more I realised that most of their stock was from our suppliers - with the main difference that their profit margin is about 5 times as much as ours!

Absolutely nothing to buy so we decided to cheer ourselves up with our favourite walk along the south bank of the Thames, past the Tate Modern, National Theatre and, since as usual in London on Sundays a lot of the tube systems are not operating, we called a cab service, the largest in London with a fleet of 2,500 cars.

After a few minutes of discussion with my daughter about her schedule for the coming months, so that we could actually plan to occasionally be in the same place at the same time, the driver said 'Excuse me miss, what work do you do?' and when she explained that she was a 'booker' for bands and DJs, he said 'I don't suppose you know my nephew...he has a club in Manchester!'. Of course she did, so we had a lengthy discussion about nephew, stepdaughter (also involved in the club) ex-partner who Hannah happened to have lunch with in Sweden last week, etc etc.

Small world - absolutely!

Bargain Property Of The Day

Sometimes a bargain price hides a sad story, and this property is a case in point. Belonging to a family who just didn't manage to live the Corfu dream, these two modern single storey houses are now the subject of a repossession order.

The photo shows what the two bedroomed house used to look like and all the basic features are still in place although most of the fixtures and fittings have been removed.

Located just a couple of kilometres from Roda, the houses are in a large, level, fenced garden. One has two bedrooms and a separate kitchen and living area, and the other has a combined living/kitchen and three bedrooms.

A perfect combination for someone searching for a place to live and a rental property to provide an income, we understand from our lawyers that the properties can be sold separately with some small alterations in the division of the land.

A real bargain at 375,000 euros.

22 October 2008

Doggy Tales

On Friday a couple of small dogs ran out in front of the car as I was driving into work with the result that I hit one of them. I HATE injured animals (even on TV) and had to force myself to stop the car and go and look. He was writhing in the middle of the road - busy straight stretch near Emeral - and the other one was running in circles around him.

Luckily someone else going in the other direction stopped as well (though most didn't) and with two cars on the side of the road stopping the speed of the other vehicles we (well me, really) managed to undertake rescue operation in the middle of the traffic. I ended up with scooped-up dog in car and took him to the vet in Corfu town.

Miraculously, maybe because he is only a puppy, he escaped serious injury, and his inability to walk appeared only to be as a result of shock. Despite the fact that he took off my number plate, he only had a bloody nose and gums. Still cost 25 euros for antibiotic, but could have been much worse.

Result, however, is that we now have a second dog - a smaller, look-alike version of our existing one.

21 October 2008

Property In Corfu - Bucking The Trend?

We had our first sale this summer to someone who, despairing of ever being able to buy a decent apartment in London, decided to get on the holiday home property ladder instead. She is now the proud owner of a gorgeous little newly built house in the south of Corfu, just minutes walk from the sandy beach at St. George. She has already furnished it and spent her first holiday in her very own place in the sun in Corfu, having spent under 60,000 pounds in total.

There are also several enquiries from more established couples who are giving up on the idea of buying in Britain, and others who have realized that with the cash or loan they have earmarked for an extension in the UK they can afford a whole house in Corfu.

Far from being depressed, therefore, the market in Corfu seems to be filling a gap. We will probably shortly be seeing the arrival of clients who don't want to leave any spare cash in the bank, and would prefer a rental investment in Corfu that they can also use themselves and have fun at the same time as keeping their money safe.

The Hazards Of House Renovation

Helga has been very busy lately working on the old house she has bought for herself. Being a perfectionist, she wasn't happy with the finish of the wooden floors upstairs, so decided to sand the whole lot down by hand to get a really smooth finish. This has taken her ages to do.

Imagine her delight today when she reached the last part of the floor in the main bedroom, just behind the door. She shut the door, applied plenty of elbow grease, breathed a sigh of relief at her accomplishment and went to leave the room, only to find that she'd shut the door on herself with no handle to open it. She was locked in the bedroom, with her mobile phone on the other side.

With only very elderly neighbours nearby, her cries for help were eventually heard, and the rescue attempt began. Several screwdrivers were thrown up to her, but they were all too small to turn the lock, and eventually someone unscrewed their own doorhandle, attached it to a rope and she was able to pull it up and set herself free.

I think she will be finding herself the butt of lots of "blonde" jokes from now on.

19 October 2008

House Prices In Corfu - Another Cultural Difference

We keep being asked why properties that have been for sale for several years are still the same price. Why don't the vendors reduce the price in order to sell their house?

In fact, regular visitors to our websites may have noticed that quite often prices go up rather than down, which makes a change from the general trend worldwide at the moment!

In Greece property is treated very differently from in England. The normal UK pattern of buying a small house and gradually "trading up" is not common in Greece. The paternal or maternal home is normally kept in the family and used by one, or more of the children of the family, who may then acquire a further house on marriage as a wedding gift, resulting in several houses belonging to the same family. This means that houses on the market are often second or third houses and there is no great rush to complete the sale. Owners don't need to sell quickly in order to buy the next house on the rung up the ladder. It also used to be considered rather shameful to sell property - perhaps the neighbours will think you are in financial difficulty, or business colleagues suspect your solvency. This has changed a little bit recently, in part because of the new tax laws that penalize multi-property ownership, but the general rule is that owners are not desperate to sell and will wait, if necessary for years, to attract the price they want.

In the meantime, building materials have almost doubled in cost in the past 12 months, so an existing house of two or three years is comparatively cheaper than an off-plan or new build. Its vendor may well look at new prices and think "My house would now cost xxx euros more to build, therefore I'm going to add a bit to the asking price".

It is logical - in a Greek way, and may help to explain why prices here - so far at any rate - are not dropping.

There are always exceptions. For the next couple of days I'm going to make the "Property of the Day" a house that has recently been reduced in price. Keep a look out for some great bargains!

16 October 2008

Property Of The Day

Some houses are obviously going to be popular right from the start and this is one of them. Only on our website for a couple of weeks, we have already been asked to show it several times, and have an appointment there tomorrow morning as well.

A traditional stone village house with a garden and a sea view, it is still in its Cinderella state, waiting to be transformed into someone's dream holiday home.

15 October 2008

September or October?

Can't remember how many times I have been asked what the weather is like in Corfu, and whether September is better than October or vice versa. My usual answer has been - not very helpfully - to say, "If September is sunny, then October will probably be wet, but if we have a lousy September, then October will most likely be glorious." This, of course, is fine for those of us who live here and absolutely no use at all for people trying to plan holidays many months in advance! 2008 has been a case in point, with September being a wash-out (literally) from the 15th onwards, and October treating us to glorious warm sunshine.

13 October 2008

Which Spiros?

I laughed a lot at Susan's blog, it really was very funny when it happened and even funnier to hear Susan mixing up her Spiros'.

I used to live in Spartilas and there were lots of Spiros' - one of them my ex and two more of them with the same surname as well. The problem was got around by each one having a nickname, sometimes inherited from his grandfather (probably also a Spiros) and other times just given to him in the past for some odd reason or another.

So, to name but a few, there was;

Spiros - Voxias. Named because of not being able to pronounce "Panagia Voithia" when he was a little boy.
Spiros - Bolovas. He was a bit silly when he was a boy (according to my old mother-in-law).
Spiros - Boeros. No idea where this came from and neither does he!

There are loads more. In fact there is a whole family who have bird names as nicknames and another called "lemonade" and his son "ginger beer".

Maybe we should start doing the same, but goodness knows what they'd come up with for me!

12 October 2008

Just Popping Down To The Shops!

We have a shop of our own, English Imports, recently renamed Corfu Homestore to reflect the wider household ranges - furniture, linens, throws, cushions etc. as well as the usual greetings cards, gifts, china and Christmas supplies. So you would think that when I needed things for our villas and apartments I could supply myself, after all we furnish complete homes for our Corfuhomefinders clients! If only I were that well organised. Theoretically I should plan, list and order accordingly when we order for the shop. However, it doesn't seem to work that way and by the time I get my brain in gear to do my own list, the shop order is already under way. I usually manage to find a few things from us, and a few more from other local shops, but never everything I seem to need.

This time, needing all sorts of bits and pieces for myself I decided a trip to IKEA would fit the bill. A good opportunity to cover the entire range of absolutely everything I would need to finish show houses and get the villas ready for the 2009 rental season. Well organised.

Not so simple. In England we get in the car and drive, and in 30 minutes we have IKEA, B & Q, M & S, Laura Ashley etc. Slightly different here. Plan several days in advance and find someone to feed the dog. Get up at 05.30 to catch the Lefkimmi ferry at 06.30. Drive for 5 hours - quite a bit of motorway but don't believe anyone who says it is 'almost all' the new road to Thessaloniki. Take care to avoid the seemingly hundred of car transporters on their way to Bulgaria. Take note - once you hit the 'new road' THERE ARE NO PETROL STATIONS - you have to leave the road, drive to the service area and then go back on. There are not even any once you get to Thessaloniki, you still have to leave the bypass and follow signs off and then back on. On the way I finalised my list, dimensions for blinds/mirrors/picture frames etc. Spiros, my husband, commented that we should be able to do everything the same day and leave early the next morning to come back to Corfu. (He is not one of life's shoppers and seems to think that everything arrives by magic).

Arrive IKEA 1.30 pm. Shop until 6.30 pm. Manage to buy a small sofa (not on my list), several bookshelves (not on my list), bathroom mirrors, lots of lamps, frames (not the ones I wanted), bits of kitchen stuff, rugs (not the planned colours), and on up to 1,200 euros. No curtains (the ones I wanted, only in stock in black!) no blinds, only the expensive ones and I wanted a LOT! No curtain rails - wrong sizes, and when I found the ones I liked they didn't have the fittings in stock. Quick snack stop - piece of pizza, prawn sandwich and coffee - only 6 euros, not bad! Oh yes, and a chocolate soufflé between us which definitely won the prize for sickly dish of the day - but a great energy boost.

At 7.30 having spent an hour paying/packing/arranging transport for the items that wouldn't fit in the car, we were on our knees as we went off to find our hotel, The Royal (above), only about 10 minutes drive from the store. It was supremely comfortable with a massive bath and oodles of hot water to collapse into. It is new and is worth every cent of the 95 euros (including breakfast). The restaurant wouldn't win many stars but the food was OK and the wine better! After a good breakfast and lots of coffee, the next morning we headed back to the store to finish the shopping in what was supposed to be an hour. The shop opened at 10 and 'just a few final bits' took until 12.30 at which point we totally emptied and repacked the car and set off in glorious sunshine, anticipating a quick trip home. Just for a change the weather was against us and after an hour the heavens opened and we got torrential rain, fog and storms far more suited to January than early October. Still, in spite of that we managed to catch the 5.30 ferry and arrived home at 7 pm, totally shattered, but having bought lots of useful things. I hope!

11 October 2008

Leaving On A Jet Plane

Easyjet and Aegean are doing well from the Corfuhomefinders team over the next couple of days.

Susan is sending her youngest back to Uni before setting off to Athens herself for a weekend away.

Di's son returns to Uni and work in London, and my daughter goes off to pastures new in the South West of England.

Loraine's daughter returns to Corfu for her half term break from school in Scotland. And then Helga is off to Holland to visit her family.

Then we have to get them all back again for Christmas (apart from my son who is going in the opposite direction). We are all waiting to hear about the possibility of a direct Christmas flight, but in the meantime will be scanning the websites for the best deal from whichever area of Britain they are starting from.

Once we've sorted out our younger generation and Helga has returned, then it's our turn for holidays - our reward for the often 7 day week during the summer.

See you at the airport!

10 October 2008

Too Many Spiros'

It's a well known fact about Corfu that practically every third person is called Spiros and the only way to distinguish one from another is by adding that particular Spiros' occupation (Spiros the plumber), home town (Spiros from Doukades), or the identifying tag used on all government forms - father's name (Spiros of Yiannis).

A while ago Sarah and I experienced what has gone down in memory as "The Spiros Incident". We were on a carefully planned circuit of the north of the island, with various appointments carefully planned to gain maximum use of our time and minimum use of our petrol. We therefore had an arrangment to meet our first property owner - Spiros - on the roadside in Kassiopi, our second - also Spiros - outside our favourite cafe, and the third - yet another Spiros - in Acharavi. So far so good. The situation was a little bit complicated by the fact that we hadn't previously met the second Spiros, so asked for some identifying feature. He told me that he would be wearing a white "thingummy".

So off we set. Just before we were due to arrive at destination number one I received a phone call from "Spiros" to say he was waiting at the cafe. So we made a quick change of plan, thinking that we could stop at the cafe first (to meet the second Spiros who had phoned me) and then turn back to Kassiopi to meet Spiros number one, perhaps a bit late, but never mind. Arriving at the cafe, there was a Spiros, but it was Spiros number one, wearing a white shirt ("thingummy"?). By now totally confused, was this the Spiros who was supposed to be at the cafe but not yet, the Spiros with the white "thingummy", or the Spiros who I thought had telephoned to say he would be at the cafe? In my defence, all three had very similar voices, and the phone reception is not good in the Kassiopi area, but even so... We did finnaly get sorted out. There were two Spiros', in the end, both waiting at the cafe (by pure coincidence) and one waiting in Kassiopi. All three were wearing white!

7 October 2008

Creepy Doll

A recent visit to the lovely village of Lakones led to Corfuhomefinders being given an old stone village house to sell. Village houses with gardens are rare indeed, and when they come with a sea view as well, as this one does, we feel entitled to get enthusiastic.

In need of renovation, the house could be made into a real beauty. It has not been lived in for some time, though it is still partly furnished, with its contents liberally sprinkled with flaking plaster and spiders' webs. It is quite common to find large stuffed animals, teddy bears and dolls taking pride of place in the "front parlour" of village homes. My photo shows the current occupant of the living room, who gave us a bit of a fright when we opened the front door!

6 October 2008

A Favourite Walk

After a lovely Birthday lunch for my son, we decided to take advantage of the sunny afternoon and enjoy one of our favourite walks from Spartilas.

At the top end of the village is the area locally referred to as "Gabos" which describes an area of gardens and cultivated land. It's the place where all the village have their grapevines and grow their vegetables but on a Sunday afternoon we were the only people there.

To reach "Gabos" you go to the top end of the village,and on the bend at the top of the hill there is a tarmac road going straight on. If you don't fancy the walk back up, you can drive down here and park at the bottom, but we were feeling energetic and walked all the way. Once at the bottom of this road, the gardens spread out before you and you can either stick to the main road or venture off on any one of many little roads to the sides.

I didn't have my camera with me today, but in a couple of months (or weeks if this rain keeps up!) the lake in the middle will be full. The photograph above was taken in the spring when the lake is home to frogs and toads which make an amazing amount of noise calling to each other. At that time of year I would recommend wellington boots so that you can go to the lake edge to paddle and observe the wildlife.

2 October 2008

We Do Better Than Just Flowers

On the subject of flowers and vegetables, so beautifully presented by Susan and Sarah, I just have to say that whilst I am definitely not renowned for my knowledge of plants, I actually seem to have managed the ultimate in ideal Corfu greenery - I have a combined Bougainvillea/tomato plant - beauty and nutrition!

Somehow or other some of the sun dried tomatoes managed to fall off their tray into the Bougainvillea and in the spirit that 'anything grows in Corfu' decided that the Bougainvillea plant was a good home - hence a large number of very healthy tomatoes.

Having said that, the downside of my garden is that the Gardenia given to me as a present by my daughter at Easter, having delivered a flower every two or three days for the first couple of months, was then excavated by the dog, rescued by me, replanted, survived about a week but after 're-excavation' by dog finally gave up the ghost. In fact, virtually every other plant in the garden has suffered the same fate. Perhaps next year he will have outgrown this antisocial habit and I can have a garden with flowers (and tomatoes) again.

1 October 2008

Kalo Mina

1st October - it's now officially Autumn, so we can all get out our winter clothes and start eating "fakes" (lentil soup) again.

September passed by in a blur for me this year, with visitors for most of the month and lots of new clients looking for property. The weather seemed to change from high summer to autumn overnight, so let's hope that October will be more settled and balmy.

I'm not too keen on the darker mornings though, so will be glad when the clocks soon change and it's full daylight at 7am instead of a gloomy start to the day.