Europe has been particularly in demand, as many popular destinations can be reached by car from Britain. Inquiries from Britons looking to buy in Europe are about double last year’s level, said Savills’ Hugo Thistlethwayte.
Not all buyers are purchasing second homes. Aedas Homes, a Spanish property developer, has also reported a rise in interest from Britons and said that since the pandemic started more were looking to relocate permanently. A fifth of the firm’s British buyers this year said they were purchasing a primary residence, compared with none in 2019.
“People are counting on spending more time in their overseas home, so demand to live in ‘real’ places with local communities, fast internet and good international schools has boomed,” Mr Thistlethwayte said.
Three of Knight Frank’s offices that have had record years in 2020 are within or close to major towns or cities: Cannes in France, Geneva in Switzerland and Lucca, near Pisa in Italy.
But while demand has surged, it has become increasingly difficult to actually do the deals. “We have lots of viewings lined up but people are having to wait until travel restrictions are eased,” Mr Thistlethwayte said.
Some are so desperate to buy they are not prepared to wait. One Knight Frank client asked the agent to fly a drone around a chalet he was considering buying in Verbier, Switzerland. “He was controlling it so he could check if he liked the views. He made an offer the same day for 5.8m Swiss francs [£4.8m],” Mr Harvey said.
The “Covid effect” has not only been felt at the upper end of the market. Property websites Rightmove, Zoopla and A Place in the Sun, which cover all price brackets, have also recorded a jump in inquiries from Britons wanting to buy abroad.
The most sought-after location on A Place in the Sun has been Spain. There, potential buyers were looking to spend on average £156,000 for a property. France, Portugal, Italy and Greece completed the top five.