Now that Greece has exited the bailout program where it received loans and financial backing for about eight years to improve the public finance sector and revamp the economy; the country has been able to rebuild trust in its economic stability, thus encouraging new investment in real estate. As a top tourism destination, the Greek real estate industry seems to be improving rather tremendously which is evident in the consistency of house prices and the increased investment in real estate via building projects and property development in the country as seen throughout 2018.
Property development and building projects approved in Greece
Another important indicator of the progress made in the real estate sphere in Greece can be gotten from a review of the building projects and property development which took place in the country in the past year. According to the Hellenic Statistical Authority in its recent press release of 12th March 2019 relating to the building projects and permits issued in 2018; the authority revealed that from January to December 2018, a total of 15,325 permits were approved for both public and private premises. This amounted to 3.5 million square metres of surface area approved for property development and a corresponding volume of 15.44 million cubic metres which considers the heights, depths and widths of the entire building projects that were allowed during the year.
Comparing these figures to those obtained in 2017, there was a significant increase of about 10.3% as only 13,891 building projects were permitted in the previous year. The analysis also shows that even though the building project permits only rose by 10.3%, the sizes of the approved building projects in 2018 covered a larger surface area which led to a positive change of about 23.4% in surface area where the 2017 figure of 2.86 million square meter increased to 3.53 million square meter in 2018. Similarly, the growth in the volume of the building projects between 2017 and 2018 was about 21.8% indicating the intentions of property developers and builders in taller building projects such as villas for sale with more capacity.
Property development in Greek cities
This interest in real estate development though spread across the country, is more concentrated in specific regions with a growing trend between 2017 and 2018. There were approvals for property development in all 13 regions of Greece, however, the largest portion of building projects and related activities seemed to be concentrated in the Attica region which encompasses the city of Athens located at the southern part of the country and the Central Macedonia region which is further north of Greece. The Attica region had about 3,068 building permit approvals while the Central Macedonia region had about 2,185 permits approved in 2018 leading to property development of about 684 thousand square meters in Attica and approximately 559 thousand square meters in Central Macedonia. Considering the rate of such real estate development especially in these urban regions, there are numerous villas for sale across the country.
Greek government schemes to promote investment in real estate
This uptick in property development and similar building project activities may be as a result of the proactive nature of the Greek government when it introduced several schemes to encourage investment in real estate in the country. Some of these programs include the residence permit scheme for non-EU investors interested in houses, villas for sale worth a minimum of €250,000 and the reduced property transfer taxes from 10% to 3% instigated by the Greek government to help promote real estate development and attract foreign direct investment in real estate into the country. These two strategies have been rather successful so far as significant numbers of houses for sale are being offered on the real estate market in Greece.
These property development activities indicate a revival of the real estate market in 2018 with an increased pricing of houses in the urban areas where there was a 2.51% growth during the third quarter of 2018 representing the highest percentage rise in prices since 2008. Even within the year 2018, there was a rise of 1.2% in the third quarter compared to the second quarter. Examples of these price increases can be seen in the city of Athens where there was a 3.71% growth in house prices annually by the third quarter representing the city’s highest growth since the fourth quarter of 2007, especially as there was a continuous fall in house prices in the city amounting to 44.1% from 2008 to 2017. The recent increase observed in the prices of houses in Athens has helped foster a rise in the villas for sale available within the city. Additionally, the house prices in Thessaloniki, which is the second largest city in Greece, grew by about 1.9% in the third quarter of 2018, which is a significant growth since the financial crisis in 2008.
Other forms of respite and encouragement for investment in real estate in Greece comes from the low interest rates on mortgage and housing loans which remained at 2.92% in November 2018 for loans with a maturity period of less than one year. This rate, which shows a slight rise from the same time in the previous year when the interest rate was at 2.67%, remains significantly lower than that of November 2008 when the mortgage interest rate was 5.35%. A similar trend is observed in loans with a longer maturity period where the loans held for 1 to 5 years are given at an interest rate of 4.58% and those longer than 5 years have an interest rate of 2.13%. All these rates though relatively low when considering the past 2 decades of the Greek economy still typifies an increase in real estate development activities from the past few years which is being perceived as a representation of the consistent growth in the housing market and property development. These low interest rates on loans allow for individuals and institutions alike to build or buy houses for sale or long-term rental purposes.
Returns on investment in real estate
There is also an expectation of a sizable return on investment in real estate such as those gotten from rental apartments and houses in Greece where the yield obtained from such rental apartments of about 120 square metres in the heart of Athens is approximately 4.2%. Analysis shows that similar rental apartments outside the city centre and within the suburbs yield returns of about 4.5% which is a little higher than the city centre. It is however important to note that rental apartments or houses larger sizes which are located outside the city centre offer a yield of only about 2.6% to 3.2% which is not as much as those of the rental apartments. This phenomenon may be due to the swift urbanization of several regions as people tend to prefer living in urban areas rather than rural or suburban regions leading to crowding of these cities while the buildings in rural areas are dilapidated and require a lot of maintenance.
A general review of the Greek economy highlights the expansion being experienced with a 2% growth rate in 2018 and a projection of between 2% and 2.4% growth in 2019 according to the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund. These optimistic economic projections combined with the relatively low mortgage interest rates and steadily growing rental apartment returns mean that Greece is in a prime position for substantial investment in real estate through building projects and property development of houses for sale and long-term rental apartments. Further, the 2019 ranking by PriceWaterHouseCoopers and the Urban Land Institute in the annual survey of attractive property markets, reveals that Athens has risen to 14th position as more capital funds are focused on investment in real estate both for long-term rentals or houses for sale. All these reasons make Greece the ideal market and bargain economy for strategic investment in real estate in 2019.