Is This the Right Time to Buy Property in Spain?

By: Pauline Felward

At times it feels as though the overseas property market in Spain has been doomed for years. On top of this, a recent downturn in the share price of large Spanish property companies provoked another round of media panic, along with the usual 'I told you so' reactions of industry analysts.

While there seems to be a new emerging market appearing on the scene every week to attract the cash of investors, Spain is often used as an example of how not to run an overseas property investment market. Recent revelations revealed the full extent of the corruption at all levels of local government, where planning chief Juan Antonio Roca amassed a fortune of €120 million through backhanders and bribes, allegedly involving the last three mayors of the region.

Meanwhile, developers are keen to sell Spain as a destination that still offers fantastic returns and bargain property to fulfil the dream of a place in the sun.

As usual with these things, the reality is somewhere in between the two sides of the story. There is no doubt the rampant price rises that were seen with the mass speculation of the first years of the 21st Century are over (there were stories at the time of prices on some developments increasing their prices by 10 per cent each week). At the same time, the property market in Spain is by no means dead and buried.

Mark Stucklin is head of Spanish Property Insight, a property information website, has seen the changes in the market. "The Spanish property market is not what economists would call an efficient market, largely because it lacks transparency." He Says, "This makes it difficult for buyers and sellers to know what is going on, creating great opportunities for those people who are really prepared to investigate the market. This is especially so now that the property boom has come to an end, and some buyers are desperate to get out. The key is access to independent information, and seeing lots of market comparables to get a real feel for market prices, which you will never get on a subsidised and rushed inspection trip."

Andy Hawkins, Senior International Property Consultant at Chesterton International comments: "There has been a huge amount written recently regarding the Spanish property market. Most of it has not been particularly positive. However, if the situation is examined closely it is clear to see that some of the media hype does not paint the most accurate of pictures."

In fact, the original package holiday destination is still the most popular place for Brits to buy property overseas, and while you might not be able to pick up a plot of land overlooking the sea on the Costa del Sol for the same price as a small car, there are ways to take advantage this perceived downturn in the Spanish property market.

Whenever there is widespread speculation in a property market, there are inevitably people who have been a little overzealous in their budgeting, or who have been caught investing at the same time as many of the speculators are on their way to new hunting grounds. The result is a large number of properties coming onto the market, for which the owners cannot raise the finance, or who just want to release their equity as they are unable to 'flip' the properties for the large profits they anticipated.

Adam Gale, Managing Director of Duchy Estates, concedes that there is a correction in the market "The Costa del Sol does have a certain oversupply of property, particularly in new build apartments up and down the coastline. It's going to take a couple of years for this stock to amortize, and many will be snapped up for fantastic prices by investors who are confident, like us, that after a few years of correction, the bullishness will return. It is indeed a buyer's market. Both developers and private vendors who are keen to sell property in Costa Del Sol will be more realistic about pricing, maybe even accept an offer, which was unheard of as little as three years ago."

This view appears to be backed up across the industry, as agents see different results at either end of the property spectrum. Paul Rossiter, Managing Director of Costa del Sol based specialist land and self-build agency, Carrington Estates, comments, "I think the bottom end of the market, the 'stack them high, sell them cheap' identikit market has had a big wobble, but conversely, the top end villa market has remained steadfast. Even when Spanish property stocks took a pounding in April, with shares in freefall overnight, there was still no knock-on effect to this sector of the market."

While this doesn't make Spain the same speculators market that it was some years ago, there are opportunities to invest in a place that will become much more stable in the coming years. Spain should follow the trends set by France, in that many of the buyers there in the future will be people who are looking to use the property themselves for large portions of the year. This leads to a more mature, stable market, with sustainable growth. That is not to say that the market for investors becomes boring - parts of south-western France have recorded annual price rises of above 15 per cent in recent years.

Further proof of the maturing of the property market in Spain is the amount being spent on maintaining and improving the infrastructure of the most popular areas. As Adam Gale points out, "In response to the relentless popularity of the region, 2007 is the year for infrastructure improvement by the bucket-load. One glance at the tangles of steel girders and armies of hard-hatted men, and it's perfectly obvious that MÃ?laga Airport is undergoing major modernisation."

If you are interested in the Spanish Costas property market, keep an eye on the marketplace for auction websites, or so-called 'distressed' sales. The properties found here don't necessarily have anything wrong with them; the owners just want to release their capital and are prepared to accept under the market value to do so. As ever, make sure you carry out full legal checks and surveys ahead of buying, but this can be a great way to bag yourself a Spanish bargain. And you shouldn't worry about the prospect of profiting from the misfortune of others - in many cases, these sellers are just happy to be able to release the equity they have tied up in the property.

Mark Stucklin's final piece of advice for those heading to Spain to look for property: "If you do your research, and take your time, you can find great value property in Spain today. But remember that good value is not the same as cheapness, and be prepared to pay a fair price for good quality."

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