The Golden Opportunity in Southern Europe
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) The worst of the Eurozone crisis might be over. The austerity and fiscal correctives imposed in countries like Greece, while unpopular, seem to have stabilized the shaky situation. The European dream, which was threatening to turn into a nightmare given the events of the last few years, looks to have survived. Interestingly, the crises in Europe have paved the way for high net worth non-Europeans to become part of the European dream as well. Investing in property in Portugal, Spain, Greece, and Cyprus in a program popularly referred as the "Golden Visa" can potentially turn around the distressed property sector in these countries.
The Property Glut
Spain alone has between 700,000 to 1 million unsold homes, despite property prices having crashed 50% from peak 2008 levels. With 25% unemployment in Spain, it is unlikely domestic demand will clear this inventory. Portuguese banks, which had repossessed houses in the thousands before the country's 2011 bailout are offering around 10,000 houses on sale at reduced prices. With property investment having declined to just $125 million in 2012, the lowest in the decade, the sector is desperate for a cash infusion.
In Greece, prices of even oceanfront villas have crashed 50%. Between 2002 and 2008 on average 150,000 properties were sold every year. In 2011 only 11,000 were sold, despite a dip in prices. Cyprus acquired the dubious distinction of being the weakest real estate market in the world last year. Home prices there have fallen by around 50%.
"The Euro crisis severely affected property when it was at its peak during the first half of 2012," says Neil Blake, head of EMEA and U.K. Research at CBRE, a leading global real estate firm. "Due to bad debt, banks are no longer willing to lend on residential mortgages on anything other than low LTVs (loan to value ratios)."
While CBRE reports that investment activity has picked up in Southern Europe in 2013, the percentage growth is off a much lower base in 2012.
A Visa Renewal
The response from the four governments, determined to explore every avenue to get their housing markets back on track, has been to embark on the ambitious Golden Visa program. A Golden Visa promises wealthy non-citizens residency in exchange for investments made in real estate in the country.
While plans in Spain and Portugal offer permanent residency for buying a house valued at €500,000 (about $682,100) same as Portugal, Greece has pegged its qualification value at €250,000 (about $341,050). A Golden Visa from Cyprus requires purchasing a house worth €300,000 (about $409,260).
A Golden Visa offers substantial benefits apart from residency. One can travel freely in the 26 Schengen EU countries, and the road to both permanent residency and nationality is made far easier. Countries like Portugal make it very easy for foreigners in terms of the time they are required to physically reside in the country to maintain their status seven days in the first year and 14 in each of the next two years.