ECONOMY

House prices have reached a plateau

Greek house prices, particularly in Athens, are tending to stabilize, according to Bank of Greece data, after rising continuously in recent years, and a future fall is not ruled out for some sections of the market. The annual rate of increase in house prices across Greece slowed to 2.2 percent year-on-year in the first nine months of 2004, against 6.2 percent in the same period in 2003. Data for Athens are particularly interesting, as prices in the January-September 2004 period actually fell by 0.9 percent, after a 4.9 percent rise in the same period the year before. From early 2004 house prices in the capital had shown a falling trend, recording a 2.3 percent yearly decline in the first three months compared with a sharp 10.8 percent rise in the first quarter of 2003. The second quarter also showed a decline (0.6 percent) and only in the third did a consolidating trend emerge, with a minimal 0.2 percent rise compared to the third quarter of 2003. Similar declining trends are seen in all cities. The annual rate of increase in city house prices slowed to 5.4 percent in January-September 2004 from 7.8 percent the previous year. At the same time, the annual increase in mortgage loans slowed to 23.8 percent in the last quarter of 2004, from 27.1 a year before. The sum of mortgage loans represented 20 percent of gross domestic product in December 2004, against 17.3 percent in 2003, but remains below the eurozone average, at 34.3 percent in December. For 2005 the central bank projects that mortgage loans will pick up again, after slowing since late last year. Regarding interest rates, the average of all mortgage loans fluctuated in 2004 and ended the year slightly lower than in 2003. Eurostat data show that Greece is the most expensive eurozone country to buy a house through a bank loan: The interest rate for a long-term (over 10-year) loan to buy a house was at 5.34 percent on average in the last quarter of 2004, with Italy second at 5.02 percent.