One to One: Simon Conn, overseas property expert

The most popular overseas markets among UK buyers, admiration for Richard Branson and a talent for mimicking a sound from the 1970s 

Which overseas markets are most popular with UK nationals at the moment?

From the enquiries we received last year, Spain, France, US, Portugal, Ireland and Italy. Interest has been growing in South Africa, although there are not many mortgages available, and Greece and Cyprus were also popular.

Spain has taken France’s crown as the number-one destination for buyers. When people stay there they often think about purchasing instead of renting or staying in a local hotel. LTV rates are up to 70 per cent.

A word of warning: be careful what you buy as the number of agents/developers in the market has increased dramatically. Please ensure you carry out due diligence, including looking into their past experience and recent sales (for example, quality of build and delivery times).

Despite slipping to second place, France is still buoyant. Buyers are taking advantage of very low interest rates and mortgages are still available up to 80-85 per cent LTV. Before the recession, only the more expensive areas were popular, but all regions are now of interest.

The US has hung on to third place in the popularity stakes. Enquiries for higher-priced properties continue, usually in the $500,000-plus bracket. New York, Florida and California continue to be the most popular places.

Like Spain, Portugal has seen an increase in the number of agents. There are higher-LTV mortgages available, up to 80 per cent. People have recognised the quality of the build, the lower density of properties in the surrounding area and the potential value for money.

Italy is still busy, with interest rates remaining low. However, the maximum LTV rate is 60 per cent, having been at 60-70 per cent last year.

There is still no lending available in Greece via my sources, unless the property is valued at €1m or above. The good news, however, is that lending in Cyprus has returned, with LTV rates of 60 70 per cent and a minimum loan of €50,000. Please be careful about local legal and title issues.

South Africa is very popular, despite concerns over the economy and civil unrest. Lending is still very restrictive, with only 50 per cent LTV for non-South African nationals or 70 per cent for South African expats. Interest rates are around 9.5-9.75 per cent and mortgages are still only available in rand.

With its low-priced properties, Turkey still gets enquiries. Interest has waned in the past year, probably due to the troubles nearby, so people have become more attracted to Western Europe.

Do you see the Mortgage Credit Directive as a help or hindrance for purchases abroad?

Underwriting abroad has been similar to what is being proposed here for years. But people should also look at their reasons for buying – is it for retirement, holidays or investment? The proposed rise in UK buy-to-let costs may make overseas investment more attractive.

What is the best advice you have received?

Don’t look back; positive thoughts outweigh negative comments; and actions make reactions. Also, I never take life or myself seriously.

Who is your all-time hero and why?

Richard Branson. I admire his way of developing ideas, making them happen and recognising good members of his team to drive these products forward and manage them efficiently.

As a child, what was your dream job?

My mum wanted me to be an actuary but I wanted to be a meteorologist.

Do you have any secret talents?

A couple: first, I am a dog whisperer; but the one that makes everyone laugh is that I am a good mimic of the old-fashioned trim-phone ring. Years ago I was in a restaurant and kept doing my impression. I lost count of the number of times the waiter answered their phone, only to find no one at the end of the line.

Company profile

Headcount: Just me and a PA

Address: Based in Hove

Tel: 07739 033266

Website: www.simonconn.com

History: Simon Conn has over 35 years’ experience in the overseas property market and has worked for a number of major financial services firms.

He spent 12 years at L&G, first as a financial consultant and then as a sales consultant. He left to become an IFA (still on overseas mortgages), working with HFS and Tribune. Later he set up Conti Financial Services Limited and, with his wife, built a specialist overseas mortgage brokerage. In 2007 the firm engaged in a merger and, at the end of 2008, Simon decided to develop his own concepts within new, but similar, markets, involving more consumer-type issues.

Simon is well known in the overseas mortgage industry and is a regular media commentator on matters relating to the purchase or refinancing of overseas property. He has been involved in arranging finance in more than 50 countries and has developed a worldwide network of specialists to assist with local issues such as legal, insurance and currency exchange.