Trying to get under the skin of Venice is notoriously tricky. Shuffling off the tourist veil and blending in with the locals can seem a near-quixotic quest for even the ardent visitor. The reason for this is the city’s unusual demographic. With the advent of more frequent and cheaper flights, the number of tourists has risen while the number of resident Venetians diminishes (the figure has dropped by 50% in the past 60 years). The result is that there are approximately 240 tourists for every Venetian.

* Property for sale in Italy

One way to overcome this problem is to join the gathering throng of foreigners who are buying second homes in Venice. It might not be everyone’s idea of a holiday home destination – no one in their right mind would want to be there in August when the canals can get a bit whiffy – but the investment can pay off. Not only does it potentially open doors to Venetian society but the rise in tourist numbers coupled with the famously high price of hotel rooms is propelling demand for apartments to rent; the city’s buy-to-let market is shaping up to be rather profitable.

Traditionally the property market in Venice was very niche and very Italian. ‘In the 90s, Venice was a sort of sleeping beauty – scruffy and rather unkempt. The property market was extremely inefficient, made up of one-man bands who didn’t speak English and there were few properties on the market,’ explains Sebastiano Doria, of Views on Venice, which last month launched as the Venice associate of Savills. ‘Nowadays, it is changing. The younger generation don’t want to be burdened by the upkeep of the properties and so there is more stock on the market and more interest from international buyers, particularly the British, French and Americans.’

Those in the know tend to stay for the season (the Biennale and the opera) and vacate during the high summer and peak tourist season. ‘Venice will never go out of fashion with tourists so you can expect at least 50% occupancy if you decide to rent out your property,’ explains Mr Doria, whose company has seven years experience in letting properties. ‘A 3-bedroom apartment can rent for as much as EUR 5,000 a week.’

Since 2001, property prices have been on the rise but on the ground the feeling is that they have yet to reach their peak. According to the research company Scenari Immobiliari, the sales turnover of property in Venice increased by 11% last year. ‘It’s a particular market,’ says Rupert Fawcett of Knight Frank. ‘At the top end of the market are foreigners who want a trophy property and will pay anything from between EUR7m and EUR15m for an apartment on the piano nobile of a Grand Canal palazzo. There are others who are enthralled by what they see and want to buy into the lifestyle.’

Views on Venice are in the process of selling five apartments in the Palazzo Mocenigo, one of which played home to Lord Byron from 1817 to 1820. As with the case of much Venetian property, all are in need of restoration. Building work is necessarily expensive in Venice as supplies have to arrive by boat and regulations on renovations of listed buildings are very tight. However, there are bonuses to buying listed property in Venice: the stamp duty is only 6% of the cadastral value—a nominal value of the property set by the state, which is normally between 20% and 30% of the current market value – against 10% for non-listed homes. Any rental income generated is also taxed on a percentage of a nominal rather than actual rent.

Property prices are lower for flats on the ground floor and in the attics of buildings: the former can suffer from the occasional flood, although the so-called MOSE project to provide a tide barrier, due for completion in 2011, should put an end to the famous acqua alta. Attics don’t count the lofty ceilings of lower floors among their charms but sometimes come with the bonus of a roof terrace, which afford yet more wonderful views of the city.

* EUR400,000 is the minimum spend for a 1-bed flat in good condition

* Dorsoduro district is the smartest: Castello is described as ‘up-and-coming’

* Apartments on the important piano nobile (first floor) cost from between EUR7m and EUR15m

Hideaways for sale as of December 2007

Savills International (020 7016 3740; www.savills.co.uk/abroad) are selling a fully restored 2-bedroom apartment on two floors in the Campo San Stefano. One side is flanked by a quiet canal, the other looks out over the Venice conservatoire, EUR1.6m.

For something less painful on the pocket, Knight Frank (020 7629 8171; www.knightfrank.com) are selling a one bedroom, top floor flat with roof terrace in the Dorsoduro for EUR700,000.

Aspirant Byrons can opt to live in his former pad; apartments in the Palazzo Mocenigo range from EUR1.6 to EUR4.6m. Contact Savills International