When I was in Athens in July 2013, effects of the austerity measures that had been in place for more than two years by that time, intended to help save the ailing country and its bankrupt economy, were visible everywhere. Traffic was light, restaurants along the shore were mostly empty even though it was the height of the season, garbage was rotting in giant piles across Athens, Greeks we spoke with were frustrated and demoralized, and real estate prices were low.
This last, of course, was of particular interest to me, and one big question on my mind at the time was whether real estate in Greece was a good investment.
I concluded no then, and I’m still not convinced this morning after the anti-austerity party won yesterday’s elections in Greece.
The euro is down to 11-year lows, hovering around US$1.12 as I write, so investing in something in the Eurozone is an idea anyone with U.S. dollars in his bank account wants to be paying attention to right now. Currency pundits are calling for euro parity with the U.S. dollar before the end of this year. We haven’t seen that since 2002. Again, this is a window of opportunity that you want to consider acting on.
At the same time, it’s possible Greece won’t be using the euro long term if the anti-austerity party now in power doesn’t keep to the terms agreed for the bailout provided by the rest of the Eurozone in 2010.
Should we care what currency Greek property is priced in? It doesn’t matter much if no one is buying Greek property.
So the question becomes whether the new government of Greece can turn the country’s economy around… erase a 25% or higher unemployment rate… and reduce debt levels from their current 175% of GDP.
Real estate prices have fallen every year in Greece since 2008, including double-digit declines in 2012 and 2013 before a further single-digit decrease in 2014. And we could be nowhere near the bottom.
The only reasons to get into the Greek property market today are speculation or an interest in residency in this country. When prices do eventually bottom out, whenever that turns out to be, I can’t imagine any compelling reason for them to appreciate again anytime in the near term.
However, maybe you don’t care about property appreciation. Maybe you’d like to retire to Greece or establish a backup residency in the country. If either of those things is the case, you’ll be interested to know that Greece offers a residency-through-real estate investment option. The program was launched in 2013. It hasn’t received much attention because (unlike similar programs in Portugal, Spain, and Ireland) it doesn’t lead to citizenship… only residency, which has to be renewed every five years.
A 250,000-euro investment in real estate in Greece is the threshold… which is less in U.S. dollar terms today than it’s been since the program was launched. Still, you’re looking at an investment, today, of at least US$280,000.
What could you buy in Greece for 250,000 euros?
Apartments in Athens range in price from 1,500 euros to more than 3,000 euros a square meter, depending on the building and the area. Compare this with an average price in Paris of around 6,500 euros per square meter and a high in that city of 15,000 euros per square meter. From a per-square-meter price, Athens looks like a good deal compared with Paris and other European capitals.
It gets even better if a colleague who is looking to retire to Greece is correct in his assertion that current asking prices can be negotiated down as much as 50% or more in some cases, especially for vacation properties—that is, properties that locals aren’t in the market for and that foreigners are afraid to purchase right now.
The bottom line for Greece is that nothing to date has worked to turn its economy around, so the Greeks have voted for the new guy promising them a better life by getting rid of the austerity measures they’ve been suffering through for years. If the new guy implements sound policies, maybe Greece will see better days sooner rather than later and its real estate market will turn around, as well.
I wouldn’t take that bet, though. I’d recommend you stay away, too, unless you just want a beautiful vacation home overlooking the blue Aegean all your own. If that’s the case, you could get the best deal of your lifetime right now, especially if you’re shopping with U.S. dollars in your wallet.