The Office of National Statistics reported this week that many more British people are buying abroad, reflecting agents? testimony that second homes on the continent and in America are becoming extremely popular.

In the past decade, the value of foreign property owned by UK residents has increased by around £16bn to just over £23bn in 2004, a staggering increase of over 300%. In the last five years alone, the value of properties abroad owned by Brits doubled, says the ONS.

In 2000 the number of second homes owned by British residents in Spain was 47,650 but this figure rose to 69,284 for 2004. Second most popular is France, where UK residents owned 35,296 homes there in 2000, a figure which grew sharply to stand at 51,322 last year. The ONS says that Spain and France now make up over 70% of European property investment by UK households.

The USA ranks third in the popularity stakes, and Portugal fourth, with Italy fifth most popular with UK buyers.

James Price of Knight Frank told Countrylife.co.uk: ?I think these statistics hold a lot of truth in general, but the top end of the market is different.

?In Spain, the market on the mainland has been flat for us recently, although the Balearics are always going to be extremely popular.

?Lots of people are looking to buy in France, and the market there is responding, by providing a lot more serviced apartments, and hassle-free managed environments, which is what our clients prefer. Italy has a lot of good growth areas at the moment, with the ever popular Tuscany still in demand.?

He also pointed out that another reason for people’s enthusiasm for buying abroad is increased accessibility as large numbers of airports, particularly in Europe, open up to international flights.

As for the US: ?I have seen demand for America from our clients wax and wane,? he said. ?The weak dollar has obviously been an incentive to buy for quite a while now, but people more recently have been tending to look closer to home,? he observed.