'70pc' price falls in Spain draw in British buyers
More wary than before the crisis, Britons are nevertheless once again actively buying property on the Continent and elsewhere.
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By Richard Dyson
For sale: a large, luxury, seafront villa with four bedrooms, a boathouse and uninterrupted views of the fabled Mar Menor in south-east Spain. Two airports within 45 minutes' drive. Was €2.1m, now – a 70pc reduction – yours for €650,000.
Not far away, at the Mosa Trajectum golf course, a two-bedroom detached villa, previously on the market for €245,000, now priced at €125,000.
A luxury two-bedroom apartment in nearby Roquetas, was €294,000, now €95,000 – that's more than two-thirds off. And so on.
The Spanish banks that repossessed these properties are so desperate to get shot of them, according to the agents, they will even offer new buyers large mortgages at excellent rates.
Are these and the thousands of other similar advertisements the fabulous opportunities they seem? Or are they just more debris in the wake of Spain's bombed-out and oversupplied property market, unlikely ever to attract much interest, and probably never worth the "previous" price?
It seems a combination of steep reductions in price, such as the examples quoted above, combined with a slow return of consumer confidence here in the UK, is driving a resurgence of interest in buying abroad. And the markets most associated with the eurozone's financial problems are receiving the greatest interest.
The Overseas Guides Company, which since 2005 has published buying guides covering countries most popular with British buyers, said "appetite has returned with a vengeance". Demand for guides is up 50 per cent on last year, said the company's founder Richard Way, with interest in Spain especially strong.
A sense of bargain-hunting among Europe's economic "casualties" was also apparent regarding Cyprus, he said. The crisis engulfing Cypriot banks broke in January, triggering an almost immediate interest in the stricken island's property market. "Cyprus was the only destination to receive more inquiries in March than in both January and February, suggesting vulture buyers were circling," Mr Way said. He also reported very strong interest in Ireland, another country whose property market has tanked.
Property is "cheap" in Greece and Portugal, according to the OECD, but prices are still too high in Spain and France
World First, a foreign exchange company which specialises in large, property-related transactions, similarly pointed to an increase in business volumes linked to Ireland and Spain. The past three months showed a 52pc growth in money transfers to Spain and a 63pc increase to Ireland, it reported. This compared to a 5pc fall in transfers to France and a 16pc fall for Italy – where house prices have remained more stable.
Similar patterns emerge from Rightmove Overseas, the international version of UK property website Rightmove. Analysis of last June shows no overall change in the order of countries most searched, with Spain topping the list followed by the USA, Italy, Portugal, Australia, Greece and Ireland. But the data does show that searches for Spanish property increased by 2pc, compared with an 18pc decrease for France. Rightmove said Greece, Portugal and Ireland all showed increases.
These countries have suffered the greatest property "corrections", according to data from the OECD - going from the position where housing was overvalued relative to the long term, to a position today where it is in some cases "cheap".
Mr Way believes one overriding factor is at work: a "resumption of confidence" among the type of people who want and can afford to buy a holiday home abroad or to retire there. Crumbling prices might be what is luring them, but the real interest is in the same profile of property as before the crisis. "They want pleasant communities that are easy to access, good facilities and a better climate than Britain's."
Now that it appears that Spain and other countries have survived the worst of the crisis, demand is returning for the kind of property that attracted most interest in the past. "Yes, there is huge unemployment in areas outside Madrid," said Mr Way, "but in the most desirable parts of the Costa Blanca life for English retirees is largely as it always was.
Provided you are financially self-sufficient, it is a lovely place to live." Clare Nessling, director at Conti, a UK-based mortgage broker which arranges loans for Britons buying in Europe, agreed: "Spain has had its problems but its core appeal hasn't changed. For many it's a lifestyle choice – they're attracted by the climate and culture rather than by earning a prospective fortune. You can still buy with confidence."
Mr Way pointed out that while "prices have fallen in the desirable areas, they have not fallen that much". But areas that were intensively developed and failed to succeed before the crisis are still problematic today – whatever their price. "You hear reductions of 30pc or 50pc, or more," he said. "I would question these figures and wonder if the properties were ever reasonably valued before the so-called reductions. For a quality property in a good location, whose value was not previously overstated, a 20pc reduction since the peak would be feasible."
At the pinnacle of the buying-abroad market – where the very rich spend huge sums on buying properties as trophies and investments – different dynamics are at work. Here, according to a recent study by estate agent Knight Frank, a sense of crisis is still present and buyers are seeking locations that offer the ultimate security as well as returns, for which they are prepared to pay huge local taxes.
Knight Frank took a theoretical property costing $3m (£1.65m) in 15 of the world's most expensive "prime" locations, the top five of which are, in order, Hong Kong, Singapore, London, Sydney and the Bahamas.
The "entry cost" of making the purchase differed hugely, with Hong Kong buyers paying 25pc of the price in stamp duty and taxes, at the most expensive end. In London, where demand continues to grow the costs, including stamp duty, were just 7.9pc by comparison. Moscow was cheapest of the world's prime cities with no duties at all.
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