What is the Reality of the Spanish Property Market? Are Banks the Best Source For Cheap Deals?

Spanish house price falls seem to range between: 50% since the 2007 peak, to the official statistics of -7%. Both extremes cannot be correct. So which is the correct figure? Latest figures from the Ministry for Housing show National average prices have fallen 8% over 12 months, from EUR1,780 m2 to EUR1,634.7 m2 today (September ’09 vs ’08).

This seems a modest property price decrease, given latest quarterly house price data from Knight Frank, which shows the USA officially declined -15.4% and the UK -11.7%, Bulgaria -21.9%. Many expected to see double digit falls and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts bigger falls than is being reported. Agents on the ground believe prices in some instances have declined up to 50%. That isn’t to say that is the case with all property, it may be in pockets and where properties have been priced unrealistically, to begin with.

So why is there this discrepancy in figures? Well official figures are not always that comprehensive and because of the way the Spanish conveyancing system has worked in the past, not all transactions may have been captured at the most accurate price. So what is the truth about the price dynamics? It lies somewhere in between officialdom and anecdote, as ever. Coastal properties have suffered more, based on anecdotal evidence, as this is where a lot of housing stock is, whereas inland properties appear to have suffered less as a generalisation.

So what is the best source of cheap deals?

Are Banks the best source of cheap property?

Spanish lenders acquired at least EUR20 billion ($29 billion) of property in the past 18 months, according to data compiled by analysts at Zurich-based Credit Suisse Group AG.

Some buyers assume that the surest way to secure a cheap Spanish property is to access repossessed properties direct from the bank. However, there are downsides to this approach. Repossession in Spain is slow – sometimes more than 12 months. So properties promoted today as ‘repossessed’, may have been around and available for 18 months or so. So it may have been the case that the “bargain” property had already failed to find a buyer for at least a year, maybe longer.

The second drawback is intrinsically related to this point. Due to the length of time it takes to repossess a property, banks will want to pass this cost of effort on. So prices could be inflated to take account of the repossession process. What about developers, sellers and agents as a competitive source for discounted property?

Many bargain properties are still available direct from sellers, developers and agents. It does not cost more to buy through an agent, than it does to go directly to a developer. Pricing will already be based on selling through multiple channels. Agents are a valuable source of advice and guidance through some of these nuances. Many developers and sellers are aware of the market dynamics and have already adjusted prices accordingly. Just because you hear the word repossessions, does not automatically mean there are cheaper properties available.

So what is the outlook for Spain?

Buying into Spain now, while prices are keen, is surely attractive for many who may have found Spanish prices unaffordable in the past. This assumes finance is available to those wishing to do so. Whilst the economic outlook is still uncertain, it remains a favourite among buyers because of its climate, lifestyle and beauty. It is a great time to be getting into the market, if a medium to long term outlook, is taken.

And whilst property price declines have been more accentuated on the coast, inland prices have held up. So if you are feeling uncertain about the prospects and not sure whether more price falls are likely, an option would be to look inland, where prices and values have held up more and are likely to be less volatile in the future.

Sources: Bloomberg, OPP, Economist, RR de Acuna, IMF, Investors Chronicle, Credit Suisse, SPI, Knight Frank