27 April 2015 – Financial Times
Is the influx of Latin American buyers a sign the capital has turned a corner?
Over the past decade and a half, making even a modest investment in Madrid’s housing market has been a bit like taking a rollercoaster ride. Since the market reached its peak in early 2008, average house prices in Spain have dropped by 35 to 40 per cent, according to a report issued in March by the Spanish Savings Banks Foundation, known by its acronym Funcas. New developments on the outskirts of Madrid have been some of the hardest hit.
Other figures suggest an even greater drop in values: also in March, the Spanish property portal Fotocasa.es calculated that the average home in Spain has lost 45 per cent of its value since the peak of the Spanish housing boom, with values in Madrid (a 44.6 per cent drop) representative, more or less, of Spain as a whole.
But both Funcas and Fotocasa.es report glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel: Fotocasa.es recorded a 1 per cent increase in home prices in Madrid in February, while Funcas says that the Spanish housing market is now in an “incipient, gradual recovery”.
As in Barcelona and the Balearic Islands, where small price rises have also been recorded in recent months, overseas buyers are helping to create a mild sense of optimism.
In Madrid, the most enthusiastic foreign homebuyers are heading from across the Atlantic, rather than Europe, according to Alberto Costillo, prime residential director at Knight Frank Spain. A “perfect storm” is bringing a new wave of wealthy Latin American house-hunters to Madrid, particularly from Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela.
“Madrid has advantages of culture and language, and Latin American buyers have long thought of Madrid as a safe haven. But with an improving Spanish economy, and the recent fall in the value of the euro [Latin Americans are more likely to have savings in dollars than euros], they see now see a real opportunity here,” says Costillo.
With its pretty boating lake and rows of statues, many wealthy foreign buyers look to purchase property near the city’s celebrated Retiro Park.
In the grid-like Salamanca district adjacent to Retiro Park, Knight Frank is selling a three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with 187 sq metres of living space, parquet floors and air conditioning in a building dating from the early 20th century for €1.47m.
In the well-heeled neighbourhood of El Viso, part of the Chamartín district north of the city centre, a 402 sq metre duplex apartment with four en suite bedrooms and a txoko — a combined cooking and dining space more commonly found in homes in the Basque Country — has an asking price of €4m. On sale through the agency Rimontgó, the unit has three parking spaces and the building has a pool and a gym for residents’ use.
“[El Viso is] quiet and exclusive, but also well-connected with the rest of the city and within easy reach of the downtown,” says José Ribes, director-general of the agency handling the sale. “This is a part of town most associated with aristocrats and intellectuals, but in recent years it has attracted people working in the financial sector, politicians and sportsmen.”
Salamanca and Chamartín are home to many of Madrid’s best restaurants. The capital has 12 Michelin-starred restaurants, compared with 23 in Barcelona. But Madrid is the only one of the two cities with a three-star restaurant — David Muñoz’s DiverXO, where dishes are called “canvases” and diners are asked to arrive “with an open mind”.
Central districts of Madrid are densely populated, but some of the city’s satellite communities, particularly to the northwest, offer more leg room for buyers. In Pozuelo de Alarcón, nestling among pine trees and benefiting from cool breezes from the nearby Sierra de Guadarrama mountains, a gated housing estate called La Finca is home to some of the capital’s wealthiest residents, including footballers from Real Madrid such as Cristiano Ronaldo.
Typical of the sprawling, cubist-style homes at La Finca is a five-bedroom, seven-bathroom house with almost 2,000 sq metres of living space. The property has a two-bedroom housekeeper’s apartment, a lift, indoor and outdoor pools, a gym, a sauna, a cinema, a wine cellar and a carport for six vehicles. On sale through La Finca Real Estate for €11m, the house stands on a plot of just over a hectare. However, according to one estate agent who prefers to remain anonymous, potential buyers are sometimes put off La Finca “because of its reputation as a playground for soccer stars”.
On Calle de Serrano, a broad, tree-lined avenue in the Salamanca district which is sometimes referred to as Madrid’s golden mile for its high-end shopping, there are few signs of the economic downturn, dubbed la crisis in Spain. However, the recession has hit some of the city’s public infrastructure.
Guillermo Bernardo, a former banker with two young daughters who now runs his own cabinet-making business, points to cutbacks in the maintenance of neighbourhood parks and gardens. “The Retiro is Madrid’s calling card, and it’s immaculate, but there is less money these days to clean and repair local playgrounds,” he says. “The perception that most people have is that the state of the economy hasn’t changed a lot but we may be about to turn a corner. Nothing is forever, not even la crisis”.
● Buyers should budget 6 per cent of the sale price to cover land registry taxes
● Estate agents typically charge vendors a commission of 3 to 5 per cent
● Madrid has the third largest metropolitan area in the EU by population size
● Units in a building without a lift are unpopular and may be difficult to resell
● Madrid has hot, dry summers and cool, usually sunny, winters
● Violent crime is rare but pickpocketing and bag snatching can be a problem
What you can buy for . . .
€500,000 A modern, 90 sq metre flat with two bedrooms in the Chamartín district of Madrid
€1m A 140 sq metre, three-bedroom apartment in the Salamanca district, within walking distance of Retiro Park
€5m A seven-bedroom house in El Viso with an outdoor pool on a plot measuring 1,000 sq metres
Original story: Financial Times (by Nick Foster)
Edited by: Carmel Drake