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COVID-19 sparks Greek house-hunting frenzy

Anthee Carassava Athens
July 14, 2020

Greece has come through the coronavirus pandemic relatively unscathed. Athens now hopes to welcome back vacationers, but increasingly foreigners are looking to pick up a home or investment property under the sun.

A house for sale on Corfu, Greece
Image: Chesterton

The COVID-19 pandemic may have dealt Greece's tourism a devastating blow, but it is proving to be a boon for many European home hunters, turning this sun-drenched country and its islands into the biggest buyer's market in over a decade.

British demand alone has surged by more than 200% in recent weeks, riding a rising tide of investment interest since the UK government announced plans to relax travel restrictions weeks ago, local and international real estate agents say.

Read more: Holiday homes in demand among 'safety-first' travelers

In a spray of data recently released by Britain's biggest property marketplace, Rightmove, Greece ranked as the hottest search destination in Europe, next to Spain, France, Portugal and Italy. The interest, in fact, has been so intense that more than a million online inquiries were recorded on the day the government announced its new travel orders in late June.

Location, location, location

Across the board, the five favored destinations — Greece, Spain, France, Portugal and Italy — reported a 340% rise in overseas interest compared to figures recorded in mid-June, real estate officials say.

But Greece, says Piers Williams of Chestertons Ionian "is really bouncing back … It has been over a decade since we had such activity."
Whether the flood of inquiries will lead to solid sales, however, remains unclear. Despite relaxed travel orders, Britons largely remain wary of traveling outside their country, no less to Greece to seal prospective property deals, agents concede.

A house for sale on the island of Corfu, Greece
A villa for sale on the island of Corfu, Greece, with an amazing viewImage: Chesterton

But German nationals are already on the ground, snatching up deals, they tell DW. So too, are home hunters from France, Austria and Switzerland.

"The phone just hasn't stopped ringing," says Hillary Dawson of Crete Homes. "I have viewings lined up solid for the rest of the summer months," she adds, having just returned from showing a seaside estate to a French couple that lost no time driving down to Greece this week to negotiate a property deal at the island's picturesque town of Agios Nikolaos.

Good news, bad news

Official figures have not yet been released, but industry officials estimate that German property investments alone have spiked by 50% in recent months, targeting large swathes of arid land in the Peloponnese and million-dollar villas on whitewashed islands like Amorgos, Crete, Karpathos and Corfu — all property put on the market largely because of the Greece's tanking national economy.

With the country heavily reliant on tourism and the industry paralyzed by the coronavirus pandemic, the European Union has warned that Greece's economy will contract by 9.7% this year. This would be almost one percentage point greater than in 2011, the worst year of a decadelong recession that nearly pushed the eurozone's poorest member out of the single currency.
The irony? Greece has been hugely successful in handling the pandemic. Its continued bid to keep the country relatively COVID-19-free — less than 200 deaths have been reported among a total number of 3,826 cases — has been the driving force behind the house-hunting boom among foreigners.

"People just feel safer here," says Williams of Chestertons. "And they want to preserve that safety under the sun."

For British clients, the Brexit factors also weighs in. "COVID-19 may have scuppered their relocation designs, but the mad dash is on and all are now rushing, almost desperate to buy a home by the end of the year in order to get [European Union] residency status," Dawson says.

If you build it …

Heightened arrivals from the UK are due later this week, when the government in Athens scraps its ban on British tourists, allowing them free and unfettered entry to the country starting July 15.

Next to the nearly 4 million German nationals who holiday here each year, bringing in more than €2.5 billion ($2.8 billion) in hard currency, British nationals account for Greece's biggest pool of foreign visitors.

A house for sale on the island of Corfu, Greece
A house for sale on the island of Corfu, GreeceImage: Chesterton

Of some 5,750 properties listed on Rightmove alone, 1,754 are on Crete and are mainly private retreats ranging from around €10,000 to over €10 million. More than 25 listings include massive seaside resorts, a cafe bar and large expanses of beachfront property for development.

Read more: Greece: For recognized refugees, the hardship isn't over 

The list is expected to grow, including more commercial plots and investment properties. Short of a miraculous upsurge in bookings in the coming months, as much as 65% of the nation's hotels are forecast to face potential bankruptcy — many of them on the islands of Crete, Rhodes and Corfu, state statistics have shown.

"We have seen no real movement on the commercial front yet," says Williams. But as the summer comes to a close and losses are tallied, many small businesses will have no other choice than to dump losing operations for quick cash, he says.

Demand, supply and liquidity shocks to the world economy are already setting the stage for a deep global recession, worse than that resulted from the 2008 financial crisis, Greece's foreign ministry has warned.