By Christopher Clover, FRICS, Managing Director of Panorama, Marbella’s longest established real estate agency.
Christopher Clover has been writing about Marbella property for 49 years.
Modern day Marbella began in the mid-1940s with the arrival of the charismatic Ricardo Soriano Sholtz von Hermensdorff, Marquis of Ivanrey followed by his nephew Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe and his father, Prince Maximilian Egon von Hohenlohe-Langenburg, and their role in the building and opening of the Marbella Club Hotel in the mid-50s.
Ricardo Soriano, Prince Alfonso, and those people they brought with them to Marbella were influential in creating one of the very first models in the world of “residential tourism” which is a type of tourism identified with the purchase and use of second homes. In fact, many dwellings evolve from being a holiday home to something closer to a primary residence, as their owners often evolve from a tourist status to a status resembling that of an immigrant. Due to the affluence and vastly increased mobility of modern society, residential tourism, as pioneered by Marbella and other Spanish coastal areas in the 1950s, has now become a worldwide phenomenon.
Thanks in large part to the vision of Don Ricardo ( see photo on the right) and Prince Alfonso, along with the leadership of many influential people they invited to Marbella during those years, and of many other personalities that followed, right up until today, Marbella has been incredibly fortunate to remain a low density, low rise, high quality jewel on the Mediterranean, unlike the overbuilding prevalent to the east of Marbella and in many other coastal destinations. For a brief history of Marbella, read our article Marbella of the 70s, Our First Years.Due to its incredible climate in the southernmost point of Europe, added to the care taken in its development over the years, Marbella, with its 12-month season, is unique on the entire Mediterranean coast, in contrast to other resort cities which close down at the beginning of autumn and gradually come back to life in the spring. Even in the middle of the winter, Marbella still buzzes with activity and events of all types due to its winter population of at least 300,000 inhabitants, between the official and the “floating” unregistered population.
Over the last years, since the market began to recover in 2012, the greater Marbella area (including Estepona-East and Benahavís) is now seeing hundreds of new properties being built with an emphasis on modern design, most with state-of-the-art installations, including intelligent home systems that allow absolute control of the entire home by just pressing a button, even remotely. In the most consolidated residential areas, there are hundreds of properties that were built at least 20 years ago, and are now being completely refurbished to the highest standards to satisfy the requirements of the current market. The key word now is quality, and never before has Marbella seen such a wide variety and choice of high quality properties available for sale.
The greater Marbella area is in the process of fulfilling every expectation of measured, quality, sustainable real estate development along with substantial modernisation and improvement of infrastructure and services. The result is the increasing popularity of this unique area as a true oasis for year-round residential tourism that caters to the more sophisticated and discerning lifestyle needs of today’s buyer, as well as to the classic tourist that stays in hotels and rented accommodation. Over the following sections we will analyse in depth the state of the real estate market in this area today.
On a national level, according to the Ministry of Public Works and based on the figures of the National Institute of Statistics, 2018 ended with the best results of the last ten years, with 557,919 residential properties sold (not including public housing sales) of which 50,875 were newly built properties and 507,044 sales of resale properties. These figures represent an increase of 9.4% over the previous year with a sharp upturn in sales noted in January 2019.
The Land Registry 4th quarter 2018 reports (page 22) that 12.64% of the buyers in 2018 came from outside of Spain, led once again by the UK, representing 15.54% of the total number of foreign buyers who bought twice as many properties purchased by either Germans or French, second and third respectively.
(Note: there is a slight variation between Land Registry statistics and that of the National Institute of Statistics due to the time difference between signing the deeds and the registration of them.
Real estate expert José María Basañez, CEO of TecniTasa, (one of the largest valuation companies in Spain) is confident in a stable growth of the Spanish property market. He recently stated that “the real estate market is undergoing a moderate and sustained increase…which leads us to believe that this tendency will last, at least, for the first half of 2019”.
Other professionals were less reserved in their assessment: the most important real estate investment trusts (SOCIMIs), including Merlin y Colonial (quoted on the Madrid Stock Exchange) and the national property developers Neinor, Aedas, Metrovacesa and Vía Célere, are all in agreement that “the foundations of the market are solid and there is excellent potential for growth in the next two or three years, even though more moderately now than in the past five years”.2
Coming closer to home, in Andalucía, foreign buyers (according to the 2018 statistics of the Registry’s Annual Report) represent 13.12% of total purchasers. It is worth noting that nationalities of buyers change according to the region.
As has been the case for decades now, British nationals are the top ranking foreign buyers in Andalucía by a large margin of 22.49%, followed by the Swedes with 10.09%, and the Belgians in third place with 8.06%. In the Balearics, for example, the leading nationality was the Germans at 37.67%, followed by the British at 15.30% and the Italians at 6.47%.
In the province of Málaga, foreign purchasers represented 28.98% of all residential buyers in 2018.
The greater Marbella area’s real estate market is about two years ahead of the national market and consequently slightly more mature. For example, on a national level, residential sales volume in 2018 has only now reached the crisis level year of 2008, whereas the sales volume in the greater Marbella area is now higher than the peak boom years of 2006 and 2007 as indicated in the charts.
The statistics only show the numbers of properties sold, as per the title deeds issued at the notaries, and don’t reflect the hundreds of sales of properties under construction or off-plan.
It is interesting to note that the greater Marbella area sales volume has remained on about the same level for the last five years, showing a stable market which is in the process of consolidating with none of the signs of overheating as before.
Some of the greatest news in decades for the entire area, not only for Spanish residents but also for non-residents, which will attract new buyers, is that the Inheritance and Gift Tax was virtually eliminated by the Regional Government (Junta de Andalucía) becoming effective from April 11, 2019 with respect to spouses, children, grandchildren and parents (Groups I and II), by subsidizing the tax by 99% which serves as a control tax.
This change makes Andalucia a far more attractive destination not only for permanent residents but also for foreign investors and purchasers of holiday homes.
As shown by the statistics given at the beginning of this article, the British market is by far the most important single foreign market, and even more so in the province of Málaga. Since the Brexit vote in June 2016, there has been a decrease in the percentage of British buyers compared to other nationalities from 21.34% in 2015 to 15.54% in 2018, whilst the actual number of British citizens buying property since the year before the Brexit vote has increased (9,116 sales in 2015 compared to 10,166 sales in 2018), Registry’s Annual Report 2018.
Whereas the overall market increased by 39.76% from 2015 to 2018, the British market only increased 12%.
Please see the chart below on the right for the number of British purchases (compared with all foreigners buying in Spain) for 2018.
At the time of press, it is not clear when Brexit will happen, how it will happen or even if it is going to happen at all. At this point in time, there is no clear roadmap in the British government with respect to this issue.
At the end of the day, there is little doubt that the British market will remain the most important single foreign market for purchasing property in Spain and in the Marbella area in the foreseeable future, as it has been every year since Margaret Thatcher lifted the exchange controls (then called the Dollar Premium) in two steps way back in 1978 and 1979. The market has certainly been affected by Brexit, as one can see from the below figures, but the question is, how much more will the British buyer be affected?
Nationally, in 2018 residential property prices rose an average of 6.7%, the largest increase since 2007 and the fifth consecutive year of increases. Notwithstanding, prices have only now reached 2011 levels and have a long way to go before reaching the pre-crisis highs.4
Clearly there are exceptions to the above, in specific high-demand, prime and ultra-prime residential areas throughout the country. As mentioned previously, sales volume in the greater Marbella area now exceeds pre-crisis levels, but in the locations with highest demand, prices now also exceed pre-crisis levels simply because demand in those areas is now greater than supply. In Marbella, for example, beachside properties on the Golden Mile, especially around Puente Romano, and other specific, highly desirable locations, both east and west of the city, have reached record prices.
Hard evidence shows that the average prices in the greater Marbella area have not yet reached pre-crisis highs, as illustrated in the above graph, based on price statistics from the Spanish Ministry of Housing.
Due in part to the historical lack of reliable statistics in Spain with respect to real sales prices, many owners place their properties on the market at prices which are overly optimistic. Some have gone too far, pricing their properties at a level that doesn’t even entice viewings. Consequently, their properties are not even reaching the market place. This is not unusual in this market and eventually with time, those asking too much will have to accept the reality that the market is good, but not that good!
Fausto Martinez, CEO of FM Consulting, specialises in the promotion of new residential developments and has distinguished himself as a top professional for the quality of his work over almost three decades. In recognition, he was awarded, in November 2018, the prize for Outstanding Businessperson by the prestigious Centro de Iniciativos Turísticas (CIT) of Marbella, a local association of business people and professionals with approximately 500 members. Fausto notes a slight decrease in visits to the new developments: “In recent months we’ve noticed a lessening in the number of visits to the new developments we are promoting which is clearly due to the increased number of new projects currently available on the market on the Costa. Clients looking for a new property today find an immense range and variety of new developments on offer; so many that they are not able to view all of them.”
Clearly, with more projects being built, and with approximately the same number of potential buyers to spread amongst them, some will sell better than others. Therefore it’s more important than ever for buyers to use very knowledgeable and experienced agents to guide them from development to development and help them discern among the many products on offer. So many new projects are beginning to create a very competitive marketplace which is always an advantage for buyers. As always, it is those projects which are in the best locations, with the best design, quality of finishes and most competitive in prices which will be most successful in selling.
The above chart, compiled by Panorama, is illustrative of the numbers of new projects, of units being built, sold or reserved and those which remain to sell. These numbers include only major property developments and do not include hundreds of individual properties which have been or are being refurbished, new individual villas under construction, or dozens of small developments of less than 10 units for sale.
The numbers are significant in that they reflect the boom of new projects in Estepona, a healthy increase in Benahavís, and a slower development in Marbella, the latter due in part to the continued delays in the granting of building licenses by the Town Hall (even though the time required has improved significantly), and also due to the shortage of prime fully-zoned development sites under Marbella’s current General or Master Plan.
In 2018 the Málaga Architects’ Association (Colegio de Arquitectos) approved projects representing 1,107 residential units to be built in Estepona, compared with 800 the year before, according to the statistics published on January 19th by the association. In Marbella, there were projects approved for the building of 587 properties compared with 252 the year before.
It is likely that we will see new large scale building projects starting to materialise at a slower rate now that the best building sites have already been sold, and prices for the few good building sites left are increasing. Building costs are also increasing substantially partially due to the shortages, once again, of skilled labour and certain building materials.
To give an idea of recent sales activity in Marbella itself, ultra-prime areas continue to lead the market and prices are reaching all-time highs. Recently a small, refurbished villa near the Marbella Club sold for €6,350,000 or €18,000/m². A well-located second line apartment in Marina Puente Romano in its original, well-kept condition, sold in the summer of 2018 for €1,750,000 or about €11,000/m² and has been recently totally refurbished to the highest possible standards and placed back on the market at the end of March 2019 at €3,000,000 or about €19,000/m². This somewhat daring “rebranding” may appear excessive to some but it serves to show the extremely high level of confidence that the most professional investors have in the very best locations where there is a low supply of properties available for sale.
During the last year there have been at least 65 properties sold with prices greater than four million euros in accordance with a survey we have conducted, compared to the 40-45 properties sold in 2017 and 20-25 in 2016. The vast majority of these transactions took place within Marbella and Benahavís and at least six of them took place within La Zagaleta, perhaps one of the most exclusive residential country clubs in Europe, where sales are increasing.
The table below gives an additional overview of prices and primarily includes properties sold in the last six months of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019.
Agents are unanimously reporting 2018 to have been “a good year”, with some typical slowdown in the autumn as the statistics themselves reflect. But 2019 has started with a strong spurt in activity in the first quarter, lending optimism that this year has every potential of surpassing the last year in sales volume.
A major recent problem in Marbella was the exasperating long delays in the issuance of building licences by the local Planning Department. This situation caused frustration for those applying for building licences in Marbella which drove many investors or developers to buy land in Estepona or Benahavís where the local planning departments are more agile. However, the good news is that this critical problem in Marbella is being solved, and the backlog of building permits pending approval has already been reduced substantially.
According to the Mayoress of Marbella, Mª Ángeles Muñoz Uriol, and her team, the number of new building permits issued has doubled between September 2017 and August 2018, and minor works licences have increased by 30% over the same period.6
In 2015, when Spain’s Supreme Court invalidated the General Plan of Marbella of 2010, the previous city plan of 1986 came back into effect by default. The plan of 1986 had not been adapted to the later Regional Plan (known as the LOUA, Ley de Ordenación Urbanística de Andalucía), and prevented the Town Hall from approving any planning modifications. Consequently, the adaptation of the 1986 plan to the LOUA was a top priority for the Town Hall.
Since the approval of the adaptation in July 2018, the Town Hall has initiated multiple modifications to the city plan of 1986 that will finally enable the granting of building licences for many new public facilities and private development projects.7
Even though the time of issuance of building licences has been reduced from a year and a half to approximately ten months, the goal of the Planning Department is to reduce this period again by more than half, to four months. Three specific steps were announced by the Mayoress on 14 March 2019.8
1) Consolidated urban areas prioritized. New protocols were adapted to expedite the issuance of building permits in fully consolidated areas. The old system of dealing with licence requests “first come, first serve”, has been changed so that the building licences that are requested for building in consolidated urban areas with no zoning issues and fully compliant with the General Plan will be separated from the others and dealt with in an accelerated manner by a separate team in the Planning Department.
2) Architects’ Association to pre-study technical elements of a project. An agreement has been reached between the Town Hall and the Architects’ Association of Málaga, where the Association will issue a technical planning compliance report upon request, which will thereby reduce the time needed for the review of the project by the local Planning Department.
3) Larger planning team. In 2018 the Planning Department added several new members to their team to accelerate the backlog of work and the time in which building licences are granted. 9 The size of this team will be increased once again by five more architects, a similar number of lawyers, and three engineers.
Other news from the Planning Department:
Drones to help with inspections. In February 2019 the Marbella police force purchased drones to help expedite inspections of the area, which was also requested by other municipal departments, including the Planning Department.10
In February 2019, three tenders were submitted by major architectural firms for the drafting of a new General City Plan for Marbella. The winning candidate is expected to be selected before the month of June, and a draft of the plan should be ready for preview before the end of the year.
The document’s final approval, however, is not expected to be done until the end of 2021 at the earliest, when the current problems in different areas of the municipality will be resolved in the context of the new plan, putting the chaotic past history of planning permission problems squarely behind us.
The Marbella municipal budget was increased by 15%, that is to say to a total of €283 million, with investments in improvements and infrastructure increasing by 50% to €30 million.12
Within this budget, and among many other specific actions taken throughout the municipality, a program to begin the renewal of urban infrastructure, especially of the older urbanizations, was recently announced in March, 2019.13
Other interesting news which will affect the future of the area is that Benahavís approved its new General Plan in 2018, with zoning in specific areas allowing for the construction of an additional 2,000 homes.
According to a recent report of the national property valuation company TecniTasa, Marbella occupies the third position of the “Top 5” of the Spanish cities with the highest residential rental prices, with a price of €22/m².14
In our own experience the average long-term rental price is €10-15/m² in non-prime residential areas, €20-25m² in prime residential areas and up to €35/m² in ultra-prime areas.
As always, the price depends on multiple factors including especially the location, community services, the age of the property, the quality of the finishes and the quality of the furnishings.
Marbella has become so sought-after for rentals, that it’s increasingly hard to find reasonably priced properties, particularly for those who come to Marbella to work and cannot afford the higher prices that have taken hold in recent years. Marbella stands as the top location on the coast for employment which has given rise to an increase in commuters from other coastal and inland towns where rentals are more affordable.
The more affluent market continues to drive the demand for medium to high quality and luxury category properties against less supply than in previous years, which has sparked a sharp increase in the cost of renting a high calibre apartment or villa.
Added to this mix, the holiday rental market sees properties in the best areas booked months in advance for the coming summer season. Such is the popularity of Marbella, that the rentals market can count on repeat clients year after year which undoubtedly has caused the lack of supply of long-term rentals due to the tempting returns of the summer months.
Since the law was passed by the Junta de Andalucía in 2016, short-term rental properties (up to two months) in Andalucía must now be registered for that purpose. The compliance procedure is not complicated and it can be easily handled by a solicitor.
Further rental protections to tenants were passed into legislation by the government in March 2019, including providing an extension to the maximum length of time a compliant tenant can stay in a rental property on a long term lease (now extended to 5 years), as well as several other measures.
The tax office has also imposed controls to tighten the noose around those property owners renting their properties and not declaring the rent to the tax office. Compliance, as always, is highly recommended, and a qualified tax advisor will be able to help a property owner through these steps.
In any area where residential tourism has developed over the years, real estate sales are intimately related to the number of classic tourists staying in hotels or in touristic accommodation. This is especially true in Marbella, given the high quality of tourists attracted to the area and its world-famous lifestyle, many of whom fall in love with this area and decide to buy a part-time or even full-time residence here, just as tens of thousands of people have done since the 1950s.
Spain has set a new record of 82.6 million international visitors in 2018, a little less than one percent increase over 2017, representing an impressive increase of 43.7% since 2012. There was an accompanying increase in tourist expenditure of 3.1%, a figure approximating €90 billion.15
For the second year running Spain has surpassed the United States in international visitors, and is the second most visited country in the world behind France. The largest number of tourists come from the United Kingdom (18.5 million) and Germany (11.4 million) followed by France (11.35 million) and the Scandinavian countries (5.8 million).16
The same is true for the Costa del Sol, with a record number of arrivals at the Málaga airport in 2018 of 19,021,704 arrivals, again a slight increase of 2.1% over 2017.17 Due to the enormous popularity of the Costa del Sol with the Middle Easterners, direct flights are now scheduled in the summer season from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar. In fact, there are direct flights to Málaga from 131 different destinations. The entire Costa del Sol and especially Marbella are prime beneficiaries of these direct flights.
Three renowned international hotel chains have disembarked in Marbella. The arrival of Nobu Hotel, opening last year in Puente Romano, coupled with the announcement of Starwood’s “W” Hotel and Resort to be built on the beach just west of the Don Carlos Hotel and the Four Seasons Hotel and accompanying branded residences are perhaps the most significant good news in Marbella in decades, and represent the acknowledgement on a worldwide platform of the high-quality resort destination that Marbella is today, ushering Marbella into a new era.
The Four Seasons project was announced in September 2018, and celebrated by the developer consortium behind the project with a major event held on the new site shortly thereafter, for the symbolic “laying of the first stone”. The event was attended by the President of the Junta de Andalucía, the Mayoress of Marbella, and a veritable “Who’s Who” of politicians, local and international businesspeople and professionals in tourism and real estate.
The establishment of these outstanding hotel chains in Marbella will accompany the legendary Marbella Club and Puente Romano hotels, along with a few others that have helped create a legacy for Marbella that is synonymous with quality. Many of the loyal high-level customers of these new brands will discover, or rediscover, the Marbella of today resulting in many more affluent tourists visiting the city, which in turn, is certainly great news for anyone owning a property or running a business here.
At the same time, this will contribute to the further expansion of the strong shoulder season activity into the winter months, which has been a growing trend over many years, thereby consolidating Marbella as one of the few resort areas on the Mediterranean basin that can be enjoyed year-round.
Ricardo Arranz de Miguel (photo on right with Christopher Clover) is owner of the Villa Padierna hotel and one of the area’s pioneer property developers, with projects such as Los Flamingos, La Quinta, Monte Halcones and several others to his credit. He is also President of the National Association of Property Developers and Residential Tourism, and one of the partners in the exciting new Four Seasons project. He gave us an enthusiastic vision of what he has termed for many years, the Golden Triangle of Marbella, Benahavís and Estepona:
“Residential tourism continues to be one of our main economic pillars. Parallel to this business sector, the arrival of large international corporations interested in building first class hotel complexes stands out. Four Seasons, one of the most important brands in the world, is already a reality in Marbella and I am convinced that its presence will attract other new initiatives. News such as this should awaken our enthusiasm.
It is necessary to convince – and obtain the commitment from – both the private sector and public administration to take advantage of this historic opportunity that the Costa del Sol offers at this moment. We have to keep encouraging the public administration on all levels to make a greater investment commitment and lend special sensitivity and support to those projects that will nurture our surroundings while bringing wealth to our community.
All private development projects undertaken should be sustainable and environmentally friendly on one hand while the public sector should encourage private investment by providing the necessary infrastructure that will satisfy the more demanding requirements of today’s society, thereby guaranteeing a smooth coordination and coexistence between private investment and the public sector.
Only by working in this way together, will we be able to guarantee the future of the Golden Triangle of Marbella, Estepona and Benahavís and continue its consolidation as the highest quality and luxury destination that has always characterised this area.”
Having followed the evolution of real estate in this area with fascination for almost 50 years, we totally support the words of Ricardo Arranz. Gone are the days where people will choose to come to the Marbella area exclusively because of its good weather. The seeds of “quality residential tourism” which were planted in the 1950s by Ricardo Soriano and Prince Alfonso and those who followed them, are still growing and flourishing, appealing today to a much broader market than at the beginning.
Marbella is quickly moving into a new era of world-class residential tourism, with property developers who are far more sophisticated than in the past, who are working successfully to attract the more seasoned, cosmopolitan buyers and tourists of today. While a greater contribution is still needed from all levels of government, progress is being made. It’s an exciting time to be involved in real estate. As Ricardo Arranz says, “There is a feeling of optimism and excitement in the air!”
1. From www.idealista.com “Los visados de vivienda repuntan y despiden 2018 en niveles que no se veían desde 2009”, 28 February 2019.
2. El País, Cinco Días: “Las grandes inmobiliarias prevén un ciclo sólido para los próximos años”, 14 January, 2019.
3. El Periódico: “España dará la residencia a 400.000 británicos en caso de ‘brexit’ duro”, 1st March, 2019.
4. EL Pais: “El precio de la vivienda subió un 6,7% en 2018, la mayor alza desde 2007”, March 8, 2019.
5. The prices quoted in this section are intended only for the purposes of providing an orientation as to general price ranges in accordance with our market experience.
6. La Opinión de Málaga: “Marbella dobla el número de licencias de obra mayor para viviendas”, 5th September, 2018.
7. Excmo. Ayuntamiento de Marbella: “Marbella culmina, con la adaptación del PGOU de 1986 a la LOUA, el proceso para la normalización urbanística de la ciudad”, 27 July, 2018.
8. Diario Sur: “Marbella pone en marcha un plan para agilizar los trámites urbanísticos”, 14 March, 2019.
9. Excmo. Ayuntamiento de Marbella: “La concejalía de Ordenación del Territorio refuerza distintas áreas con más personal para seguir reduciendo los plazos de tramitaciones urbanísticas”, 9 December, 2018.
10. Diario Sur: “La Policía Local de Marbella incorpora drones para vuelos de inspección por todo el término municipal”, 9 February, 2019.
11. Excmo. Ayuntamiento de Marbella: “La alcaldesa felicita a José María Morente por su nombramiento como director general de Urbanismo de la Junta y le agradece su “trabajo y profesionalidad” durante su etapa en Marbella”, 12 February, 2019.
12. Diario Sur: “El Ayuntamiento de Marbella aprueba de forma definitiva los presupuestos de 2019, que rondan los 283 millones de euros”, 20 December 2018.
13. Diario Sur: “Marbella saca a sus urbanizaciones del letargo”, 3 March, 2019.
14. Diario Sur: “Marbella, al tercer puesto en el ‘Top 5’ de las ciudades con el alquiler más elevado de España”, 14 March, 2019.
15. Europa Press: “España bate récord en 2018: 82,6 millones de turistas extranjeros y un 3,1% más de gasto”, 16 January, 2019.
17. Diario Sur: “El aeropuerto supera por primera vez en 2018 la barrera de 19 millones de pasajeros”, 15 January, 2019.
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