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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 October, 2004, 08:53 GMT 09:53 UK
Property speculators look further afield
By Bill Garrett
BBC Money Programme

Raj Patel
Raj Patel hopes to make money from his Scottish investment

It's the latest phenomenon in the housing boom - people so desperate to get their share of rising prices that they're hopping on a plane and going to places hundreds or even thousands of miles away to buy a house.

They don't actually want to live so far from home, or sometimes even to visit at all.

Instead, they want tenants to pay their mortgage while they watch their property prices rise.

It used to be called "buy to let". Today, it's more a case of "fly to let".

But with UK house prices stalling and the additional uncertainties of owning a property far from home, is this a risk too far?

Life of leisure

Raj Patel is one of the new breed of investors prepared to take the fly-to-let gamble.

Prague's middle classes are looking for houses to rent

He's just bought a flat near Carstairs Junction, a quiet suburb near Glasgow, hundreds of miles from his home in Hertfordshire.

If he can rent it out for around 350 a month he'll cover his costs and make a modest profit, but he has bigger plans.

"My strategy is to build a portfolio that will provide a good income," he says.

"It would be nice to have a choice of whether you wanted to work."

Cheap flats

Mr Patel is following the advice of Ajay Ahuja, 32, who runs a London-based company Property Hotspots, one of several companies offering advice on buy to let properties.

Ahuja claims his own portfolio of properties is now worth over 7m.

Scotland now appears to be one of the last so-called property hotspots in Britain which offer the chance of property price growth and a realistic rental income.

Tim Johnston and his friend Alistair Reynette-Smith
Tim Johnston and Alistair Reynette-Smith are impressed by Sofia

If you're used to London prices, the 35,000 you could pay for a modernised two-bedroom apartment might sound cheap.

But what are the risks?

Even for those who believe they have found a hotspot with growth possibilities, current uncertainty in house prices and rises in interest rates could make the investment too risky.

And there's also the danger that so many people are now going in to the buy-to-let market that there are just too many rental properties on the market to guarantee a regular rental income.

Maria Scott, the Personal Finance Editor of the Observer, has a simple rule of thumb which should make potential investors think twice.

"Any point where anyone thinks an investment is a sure thing has got to be the time when you have to think this is too good to be true," she says.

Middle classes

Despite that, some people are prepared to take a bigger gamble and travel even further in the hunt for buy-to-let bargains.

Property investor Jason Purvor thinks there's little price growth left in the UK market, so he has cast his net wider.

Mr Purvor has decided the best bargains are now to be had in the new EU member states, so he's just spent a few days checking out the potential in the Czech Republic.

Now he's fired with enthusiasm.

"Looking around Prague, what you find is that the middle classes are starting to emerge now that they are away from their communist past," he says.

"They are looking for properties they can rent in the centre... because that's where a lot of the EU investment is going into, a lot of the jobs are being created there."

A gamble

Other people are prepared to go even further.

Tim Johnston has just been to Bulgaria with his friend Alistair Reynette-Smith to size up a new development of flats for sale in the capital Sofia.

They know that currency fluctuations, foreign bureaucracy and language problems could all add to the hassle.

Mr Johnston feels he knows the risks, but he believes the potential rewards are worth it.

"It's a bit of a gamble, but the people who make the money are the people who take the chance," he says.

But for the truly brave investor there are still many opportunities out there - if you've got the nerve and enjoy a bit of travel.

Ever thought about buying a property in Shanghai?

Swanky new apartments in a country with a fast-growing economy start at a cool 100,000. A course of lessons in Mandarin might cost you a little less.

Fly to let was broadcast on BBC Two on Wednesday 13October at 1930.


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