by Maria Spiliopoulou, Valentini Anagnostopoulou
ATHENS, Nov. 26 (Xinhua) -- The novel coronavirus pandemic has broken the upward trend in Greece's real estate market, but realtors expect a comeback once the virus recedes.
In a post-COVID-19 world free from lockdowns, demand will likely increase again for airy properties with balconies and gardens in the suburbs or the countryside, real estate agents told Xinhua in recent interviews in Athens.
After the debt crisis that started in late 2009, property prices in Greece nosedived 50 percent, according to the Bank of Greece. The real estate market started to recover in 2017 only, growing by 7.3 percent last year.
However, in the second quarter of 2020, the respective growth figure was merely 4.1 percent. Furthermore, foreign direct investment (FDI) in real estate declined 60 percent year-on-year to about 140 million euros (166.8 million U.S. dollars), the Greek daily Kathimerini reported, citing Bank of Greece statistics.
The Greek housing market relies significantly on foreign investment, in particular since Greece launched in 2013 its Golden Visa Program offering five-year residence permits in return for 250,000 euros worth investment in real estate.
Last year, foreigners invested some 1.5 billion euros in the Greek real estate market. Until October this year, 7,903 Golden Visas had been issued, according to the Migration and Asylum Ministry.
After the initial shock and upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, demand is growing again and the trends are changing, according to market experts.
"At the moment, the Greek market is frozen, but we see big interest in houses with gardens," Kosmas Theodoridis, vice president of Greece's Federation of Realtors, told Xinhua. "The pandemic fueled trends that already existed in certain demographic groups, like newlyweds or new parents, who want bigger homes, houses with gardens or in the countryside. Amidst the pandemic, this trend was strengthened and expanded to other demographic groups as well."
After spending more time indoors due to lockdowns this year, people now seek more space for an office at home or a balcony and garden to entertain themselves in safety, he explained.
"In residential properties we witness a shift from the city centers to the suburbs and to holiday houses," he said.
"The advantages of living in the center, such as being close to theaters, cinemas, cultural events, restaurants and cafes, are now off the table. People prefer to have what they can enjoy even during a pandemic, like a walk in the countryside," he explained.
Foreign clients, most of whom have so far invested in properties in city centers close to tourist attractions that could be rented out with higher return, also follow this trend, Theodoridis noted, citing as an example the Israelis who now look mostly for homes by the seashore.
Alon Zadok, owner of a real estate development company active in the Greek market in the past five years, also confirmed this shift.
"Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, most of them were looking for small to medium units, residential units, fully renovated, in order for them to be able to rent them out and have a nice return. Over the past three months we have seen increased demand for the same, but also for houses, any kind of investment, out of the city center," he told Xinhua on Thursday.
Zadok's clients include potential investors from Israel, Italy, Greece, Turkey, India, France, Lebanon and China.
In addition to advantages such as the good climate, the environment, the living conditions, the safety and the rich history, Greece seems to have gained points with interested investors thanks to its handling of the COVID-19 crisis, Zadok added.
On Thursday, Greek government spokesperson Stelios Petsas announced that the lockdown, which started on Nov. 7 and was initially scheduled to be lifted on Nov. 30, will be extended until Dec. 7 as the epidemiological burden was still high.
"There are some first signs of a reduction in the number of coronavirus cases," he told journalists. "If this pace continues, then the pressure on the national health system will begin to ease and we can plan a gradual return to some kind of normalcy."
On Thursday, the National Public Health Organization (EODY) announced 2,018 new coronavirus infections in Greece in the past 24 hours.
The total number of cases since the beginning of the outbreak on Feb. 26 is now 99,306.
Currently, 608 patients are intubated and 99 people have died in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of COVID-19-related fatalities to 2,001. (1 euro = 1.19 U.S. dollar)
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