Get yourself a piece of the action
Sometimes dreams have to be scaled back. Instead of 'A Place in the Sun', right now for most of us, 'A Month or so in the Sun' is probably more realistic.
Fractional is a relatively new concept in the property market. Instead of purchasing the whole freehold outright, buyers take a percentage, often equivalent to one or three months' usage a year. Unlike timeshare, they are the legal owners of a proportion of the property and have the Deeds to prove it.
Outgoings are also paid on a percentage basis: if you live in a house for three months a year, you only pay 25% of the service, membership and maintenance charges.Many players want to use their bolt-holes part time - fractional allows them to do just that without the hassle of joining a rental scheme.
The other advantage is that buyers can put a toe in the water before laying out megabucks for a whole villa. After a year or two of fractional, you'll be in a far better position to judge the quality of service and hidden extras.
Oh, and just because you're only paying a fraction of the full freehold price doesn't mean you shouldn't bargain hard. In the examples quoted above, negotiations should start at 20% off list price.
The old school charm of the 19th century Blandy Estate has been wowing walkers, drinkers and golfers for some time. Overlooking the Atlantic, the spectacular and challenging 6,656-yard Palheiro course runs through hills covered by trees carefully nurtured by generations of the wine-making family. Semi-tropical gardens, a boutique hotel and a clubhouse with exquisite food add to the ambience.
The Cabell Robinson set-up favours players who draw the ball, and features five par 3s and five 5s. There is one other good course on Madeira at Santo da Serra, and the Seve designed Porto Santo on the neighbouring island a short ferry ride away. A gentle climate allows play 12months a year. Flights are plentiful and cheap.
Built on the hills overlooking Funchal Bay, the award-winning property is actually below the elevated course. A quarter-share of a well finished one-bedroom apartment costs €120,000 (£113,000); a two-bedroom apartment costs €150,000 (£141,000); and a palatial three-bed villa, €260,000 (£244,000).
The prices include free golf for two years, all sales taxes, furniture package, membership of the spa and three half-days on the resort's motor yacht - the marlin fishing just 20 minutes offshore is world class
CANADA: Fox Harbour
Fox Harbour in Nova Scotia is one of the new breed of Canadian resorts aimed at sporty types who want to ski, shoot, fish, sail and moose watch as well as play golf. Opposite the US state of Maine on the Atlantic seaboard, it's a region that appeals to the rich and famous such as Bill Clinton, actors Alan Arkin and Ethan Hawke and composer Philip Glass, who are looking to get away from it all. On Nova Scotia's warmer North Shore, Fox Harbour has its own private airstrip, deepwater marina and secluded beach. Getting there takes six hours from Heathrow to Halifax, then a 90-minute drive.
The 7,253-yard links-style course was voted the best in Canada when it opened in 2001, but given the climate, more than six months guaranteed play a year would be optimistic. Other facilities include tennis courts, a luxury spa and a Ralph Lauren-esque sporting lodge. The Director of Shooting and Fishing Operations will whisk you in the resort's helicopter to the very best salmon fishing and pheasant shooting in the province.
The townhouses (below left) are New England in style and spacious - 4,000 square feet or so. CAN$259,000 (£145,000) buys you a fully furnished quarter share. For such five-star facilities, the price looks reasonable.
Pestana, in the central Algarve, was one of the first developments to have the fractional option, a decade before the current financial meltdown encouraged other Spanish and Portuguese developers to offer the format as a ploy to shift surplus stock. As such, Pestana has a transparent, well thought through, well managed mid- price scheme.
With three good golf courses and 160 properties already sold, the Pestana Carvoeiro Golfe set-up has been going strong for 12 years. Right now, 'mature' is safer than off plan. Being Portugal's largest resort operator, the Pestana Group is unlikely to go bust, a consideration in these troubled times. Both the Ronald Fream-designed Pinta and Gramacho courses are the full 18-hole championship deal. The new club at Silves, aimed more at beginners, is a couple of miles away, with a fourth course planned.
Under the Four Owner Plan, freehold titles are quartered, giving owners three individual months usage a year on a rotating basis. So in 2009 it might be April,August and December; in 2010, February, June and October. With free golf membership for two people included, a quarter share of an entry-level one bedroom apartments costs just €93,750 (£88,000).The same share in a two-bedroom linked villa starts at €146,250 (£137,000). In the Algarve, families prefer summer, and golfers winter, so all-year-round rental prospects are good.
Just across the A22 motorway, Oceânico has added two courses at Amendoeira to the five it already owns at Vilamoura. Designed by Nick Faldo and Christy O'Connor, both setups are top-notch - long and difficult but beautifully crafted and in perfect condition. The development is Moorish in style, and built up on one hillside rather than strung around the course. Most construction should be finished this year. The clubhouse, open since last autumn, is truly palatial.
Amendoeira's basic fractional ownership scheme, Stepping Stones, offers quarter shares: two-bedroom apartments start at €170,000 (£160,000),with three-bedroom villas costing €275,000 (£258,000). For that, owners again have three individual rotating months usage, and a split on maintenance and service charges. Access to all seven Oceânico courses is the big selling point.
Private Residence Clubs
Very popular in the US, these are a variation on the fractional theme. Essentially, you buy a fraction on a particular resort, guaranteeing you a certain number of weeks holiday there every year, with the option of using other destinations in the portfolio. The upside is more flexibility in where you stay; the downside is a less tangible asset less likely to appreciate in value over time. Service charges are also more of a moveable feast.
Just launched, Oceânico Prestige Residence Club is one such scheme. A one-eighth share of a three-bedroom villa at Amendoeira, under this format, costs €170,000 (£160,000).
The company is keen to promote the 'luxury' element: executive car transfers, use of a Sunseeker luxury cruiser, in-house concierge service and access to other golfing destinations. Good service is difficult to put a price on, but I would guestimate you're paying about €50,000 extra for that 'je ne sais quoi'.
BAHAMAS: Abaco Club
The 534-acre Abaco resort, established by Peter de Savary with 'barefoot luxury' as its shtick, is now run by Ritz-Carlton. Designed by Donald Steel, the course is a 'tropical links' with six holes along the turquoise Atlantic, pot bunkers, springy Seashore Paspalum turf, palm trees, giant roller-coaster greens, and lots of wind. One of Sean Connery's favourite courses, think Scottish with a tan. Service and other facilities are exemplary.
Memberships starts at $110,000 (£75,000) with annual fees, including golf costs, costing $7,350 (£5,000).The time that buys depends on the size of property you use - they have studio cabanos right up to four-bed fairwayside villas - and the time of year you go, but probably about four weeks in all. This flexibility is a big plus for many buyers. A bigger investment, up to $285,000 (£195,000), buys more time and space.
Other Ritz Carlton destinations you could 'swap' with include Jupiter in Palm Beach, one in Hawaii, and if skiing rings your bell, Aspen in Colorado.
SOUTH AFRICA: Zimbali
Zimbali near Durban operates a similar scheme.With a good year-round climate, the resort is set in a nature reserve, right on the Indian Ocean. The climate is good for all year- round for golf, swimming and loafing.
The pluses of Tom Weiskopf's 7,134-yard layout are sea views, a balance with nature and the topography of the forested, gently rolling land. Elevated tees and wide fairways invite ambitious play - wind and steamy summer heat add spice. Unusually for South Africa, this is a buggy-only course without caddies.
Half the 234 shares have been sold, about 10% to Brits, 70% to local South Africans. One of the 13 shares in a two-bedroom villa costs 907,500 SA Rand (£64,000), in a huge four-bedroom villa, 1,430,000 SA Rand (£101,000).
For the money, 21 nights are guaranteed with another week almost certainly available. In straightforward financial terms, as a winter getaway it's competitively priced. The only clouds on the horizon are political uncertainty and the country's crime rate.