Its celebrity residents include George Clooney, Donatella Versace, Virgin tycoon Sir Richard Branson, soccer coach Jose Mourinho…and could include you.The beauty of Italy's Lake Como has long made it a magnet for rich and famous homebuyers. Nearly 200 years ago the Romantic poet Shelley said it “exceeds anything I ever beheld in beauty” while in Roman times the statesman Pliny the Younger owned not one but two homes on the lake.The good news is that today's buyers can pick up a dream home there without having to pay anything like the US$10 million Clooney did. Even in Laglio – on the lake's south-western edge – where the Hollywood actor bought his 25-room villa in 2002, a converted warehouse development of 36 apartments came on the market recently with prices starting at just US$170,000.In Lenno, some 12 miles away, you can pick up a new-build apartment for around US$200,000 while in nearby Tremezzo expect to pay around US$300,000 for a two-bedroom apartment with a view of the lake. If you are prepared to sacrifice the lake view, US$175,000 can get you a two-bedroom house. Bear in mind that purchase fees, commissions and taxes usually amount to an extra 12-15% on the price of new-build real estate, and 7-10% on other properties.Prices become even more affordable if you venture further north to lakeside resorts such as Pianello Lario, Domaso and Musso, areas that can be particularly fertile hunting ground if you are shopping on a budget of around US$300,000 or less.In Pianello Lario, a lake-view development a few hundred yards from the shores and complete with swimming pool offers prices starting at US$135,000 for a one-bedroom property, US$180,000 for two bedrooms and US$255,000 for a villa. The proximity of the Alps keeps rental demand pretty high, typically up to US$1,200 a week. Head to Gravedona just five miles away and a two-bedroom apartment with lake-view can drop to US$125,000.Getting in and out of the area is no problem either, especially as no fewer than six airports lie nearby. The closest is 30 minutes away in Lugano, just across the Swiss border. Three more are in Milan, all within a 90-minute radius, while the other two are slightly further away in Brescia and Verona.Despite the slowdown in property prices worldwide, the Lake Como property market has remained buoyant, helped in large part by strong demand from Swiss bankers to the north and well-heeled Milanese 40 miles to the south. One of the key factors behind its appeal to real estate buyers is its natural beauty, which has the added benefit of ensuring a steady stream of tourists and rental income. The lake, in the shape of an inverted “Y”, is Italy's third largest behind Lakes Garda and Maggiore, measuring some 45 miles from top to bottom and with a 110-mile shoreline.Its northern reaches draw skiing enthusiasts because of the proximity of Alpine ski resorts while the town of Como, at the lake's south-western tip, is particularly popular with golf fans as there are seven golf courses within a 10-mile radius.But arguably the most sought-after and scenic part of Lake Como is its middle section, where it splits into its two legs. This stretch is overlooked by the towns of Menaggio, Varenna and the pretty town of Bellagio – dubbed the Pearl of the Lake. Prices tend to reflect the area's popularity, with $425,000 for a two-bedroom lake-view property in Menaggio being typical.
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