Rewind to December 2010 and there I was, sat in the Red Sea sunshine, sipping a beer and people-watching beside a swanky new marina. Gaps between the blocks of new apartments behind me revealed the fairways of an 18-hole golf course, interspersed with holiday homes and a few luxury hotels. While I wasn’t necessarily experiencing authentic Egypt – it could just as easily have been the Med or Caribbean sparkling in front of me – it was all very civilised.
Just a month after my stay at the resort of El Gouna, a self-sufficient five-star community surrounded by desert 20km north of Hurghada, things in Egypt turned markedly uncivilised, as the country got swept along with the Arab Spring uprisings – and the rest as they say is history.
The footage of the revolution we saw on UK TV was predominantly Cairo, a world – and few hundred miles of desert – away from Red Sea tourist resorts, and the environment I’d experienced a few weeks before.
Intrigued, I emailed a resident English lady, Jenny, I’d met in El Gouna who assured me it was business as usual there, just a lot quieter. Like us in the UK, she and her expat buddies were following events in the “outside” world on the TV. Noticeable effects within the resort included less people, due to foreign holidaymakers opting to stay away from Egypt, and the internet and mobile phone networks were down temporarily. Were her husband and she worried about it or considering leaving? Not a chance.
I doubt that when Jenny and her husband bought in El Gouna in 2007, they ever thought they were buying in a country that three years down the line would be subject to a revolution. I wonder if knowing what was to come would have put them off buying there? Actually, after speaking to Jenny about her experience, I don’t believe it would have done.
There are countless “El Gounas” all over the world, that’s to say self-contained resorts offering Western tourists and holiday homeowners a luxury lifestyle within a protected environment. Jenny’s story brings it home just how detached such resorts can be from the real world. It’s not necessarily a good or bad thing, just a lifestyle option for those who want it.
Many people have been put off buying in Egypt, but look closer to home and similar doubts will be going through anyone tempted by a property purchase in Greece right now. The obvious worry is that Greece could still leave the eurozone – not a welcome prospect for anyone who’s just forked out for a property there in euros.
Then there’s the – unlikely – scenario of the level of civil unrest increasing and spreading – the recent TV footage of Athens and other Greek cities hardly make you want to be there. But actually away from these areas – a bit like El Gouna in Egypt – I’ve a sneaky feeling life on many of the Greek Islands hasn’t changed much, with expat life continuing to revolve around the beach, village market and local taverna.
While the Greek government has increased taxes on property owners as part of its austerity measures, one British property agent on Corfu recently told OGC that supermarket prices are actually dropping there, as the main chains compete for business. She thinks taverna prices will follow suit gradually. On property, she noted: “Property is always comparatively safe, and whilst it is true to say that those already owning here are likely to make a loss if they want to sell now, if they can hold on a bit longer, or if they bought long enough ago to still have the exchange rate on their side, then it needn’t be all doom and gloom.
“There are some superb bargains around as those people who really need to sell realise that they will have to accept a lower price if they want to get their property to move. Greece will always have people wanting to come and live here as it is so lovely.”
Choosing where to buy a second home used to be uncomplicated. You went on holiday somewhere, fell in love with the place, had a look at the local property market and made the decision to buy a home there. You didn’t need to worry about the possibility of the local currency changing, the threat of revolution or your property depreciating in value. However, take a broad view of things and sensible approach to a purchase and not much has changed.
Ask yourself this: would the London riots of August 2011 have put you off buying a second home in the Cotsworlds…?
Richard Way is editor of The Overseas Guides Company and an expert on buying property abroad