With pandemic raging, Spain's real estate firms head online

FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective face masks walk past a real estate agency during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Madrid, Spain, April 24, 2020. Picture taken April 24, 2020. REUTERS/Susana Vera/File Photo

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's Merlin Properties said on Friday it would roll out an online platform this year that allows clients to view, reserve and rent space in its shopping centres and aims to cut red tape for prospective tenants.

Struggling with coronavirus restrictions on movement that have slashed footfall and left commercial space vacant for months, more Spanish property firms have moved online with virtual visits or e-signatures to draw in clients.

Merlin kicked off its plans with a pilot project for a Madrid shopping centre this week.

Alvaro Guerrero, Merlin's director of shopping centre management, told Reuters the firm's new online system "foregoes the need for guarantors, transfers, and paperwork - you just need a credit card, which is a novelty in retail leasing."

"Everything sped up with COVID," he said.

Footfall in Merlin's 14 shopping centres, representing close to a fifth of the value of the company's property portfolio, fell 28% year on year in the third quarter, while sales dropped 26%, a spokeswoman said.

Online property portal Hogaria, which lists more than 1.5 million properties across Spain, launched an automated valuation tool on Thursday for owners looking to sell their homes or buyers wanting to check the value of their target purchase.

"Now more than ever, the real estate sector needs greater digitalisation to avoid unnecessary movement," Hogaria Chief Executive Francisco Loriente said, saying the tool was designed before the pandemic but the rollout had then been accelerated.

(Reporting by Clara-Laeila Laudette; Editing by Nathan Allen and Edmund Blair)

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