Britons Buy Homes In Spain, Driven By Strong Pound

5 March 2015 – El Economista

The strength of the British pound makes (house) purchases in Spain more affordable.

Low returns on deposits (at home) encourages Britons to seek alternative investments.

Sun, financial repression and low prices. This perfect cocktail is converting Britons into the main buyers of homes in Spain, especially in areas near the beach. That is because, in addition to the traditional appeal of the coast, Britons are now facing poor returns on their savings at home, due to measures taken by the Bank of England, and because they expect to see a recovery in the real estate sector in Spain. The appreciation of the pound against the euro makes the investment even more affordable for the average Brit, who is also seeing prices in his own country year on year.

An example is Londoner Barry Leverington, who thinks that his money is better off in a Spanish home than it would be earning next to nothing in a British savings account. The bank employee, aged 33 years old, is looking at properties in the Mazarrón Country Club, in Murcia, where two-bedroom villas cost as little as €75,000.

“Anyone who has some capital can buy in Spain, with almost no mortgage, and there is potential for prices to rise”, explains Mr Leverington in a telephone interview. “I grouped together some savings, and with the current low interest rates, I realised they were dormant, not doing anything”.

Foreigners return to Spain

Mr Leverington is not the only one. Foreigner buyers are returning to the Spanish real estate market, attracted by economic growth that exceeds the rates in most of the rest of Europe and by the signs that prices are bottoming out after years of decreases. In fact, sales of homes to foreigners accounted for 13.9% of total sales in the fourth quarter of 2014, a new record.

Britons are the biggest foreign investors, because the zero interest rates on savings accounts (at home) and the prospects for rising house prices in Spain mean that keeping their money in their own country is a much less attractive option.

In total, foreigners invested €6,050 million in Spanish properties during the first nine months of last year, 30% more than during the same period in 2013, according to data from the Ministry of Development. The 40,338 homes purchased represented an increase of 27% with respect to the same period a year before, with Valencia, Andalucía and Cataluña topping the list as the favourite destinations for foreign purchasers.

Interest from overseas investors is increasing after many left scarred, following the collapse of the Spanish real estate market with the onset of the global financial crisis and the burst of the local property bubble. The legacy from this collapse is a stock of more than 1 million homes, many of them in the South and East of the country, in areas very popular with Britons and Europeans.

House prices have also suffered a corresponding crash, having fallen by 42% since their peak in 2007, although in coastal areas, some properties have lost up to 50% of their value, according to estimates from the property appraiser, Tinsa. Nevertheless, it seems that the trend has changed, as the rate of decrease slowed from 9% in 2013 to 3% last year.

Deposits with no returns

The Bank of England has maintained interest rates at a historical low of 0.5% since 2009, which has impacted the interest rates offered by banks on British savings. A financial repression, which is making Britons look for alternatives for their savings, and from there Spanish property looks like a good option.

In addition, it is becoming increasingly expensive to invest in homes in the United Kingdom, where prices increased by 25% between December 2007 and December 2014, according to the Office for National Statistics, led by London, where prices increased by 18% last year alone.

Moreover, the recent increase in the value of the pound against the euro, which has appreciated by 13.5% in the last 12 months, means that homes in Spain are even cheaper for the Brits. This is an important effect to consider, according to the real estate expert José Luis Ruiz Bartolomé, “when something is gifted, it is even more attractive than when you purchase it with a strong currency”.

“People like me want to achieve some kind of return on their savings and they won’t get very far in the real estate market in the UK at the moment”, says Mr Leverington. “Properties in Spain are currently under-valued. It is a win-win situation for everyone”.

Spaniards are also returning to the market, although at a slower rate. The purchase of homes by Spaniards increased slightly by 2.2% in 2014 to reach 319,389 properties, the first increase since 2010, according to date from INE. A ray of light for the sector, although it is still a long way from the highs of 2006, when 955,186 homes changed hands.

Marbella, at its peak

Another symptom of the improvement is that despite the (housing) stock, cranes have reappeared in some areas of major cities and on the coast. Darío Fernández, from the consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle, explains that “we are seeing demand for primary residences from Spaniards in Madrid and Barcelona, and demand for second homes from foreigners in coastal regions. People are confident that the economic risks have disappeared, and see that prices are still very low”.

In fact, in some areas, such as Marbella, demand is so high that international funds are partnering up with local players to buy land and build new homes, adds Fernández. Currently, there are 400 homes under construction in the Malagan town, the highest number in the last six years.

Mr Leverington, the London bank employee, is going to travel to Murcia in June to get to know the area, and if he finds a property he likes, he will buy it. “I have already spoken to some estate agents, I don’t want to wait much longer, because as soon as there is any good news, the market will recover and I don’t want to miss out”.

Original story: El Economista

Translation: Carmel Drake

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