ECONOMY

Students, immigrants often buy first-floor apartments

At a time when home prices in the capitol are skyrocketing, buyers are investing in less costly first-floor apartments. The first floor in every block of flats is typically the cheapest, especially if it’s in the noisy but convenient center of Athens. Market observers say old first-floor flats change hands quickly. Owners manage to sell them at good prices, often making significant profits. Then, many of them combine the cash with a loan to move to better areas away from the center or at least to homes on upper floors. So who are those buyers? Where does this demand for old first-floor flats come from? «They are bachelors, students and a multitude of economic refugees and foreigners who feed this particular market,» says Lefteris Potamianos, of the Search & Find estate agency. «Of course the needs of each buyer category are different, determining accordingly the areas where they focus their attention.» Areas such as Ambelokipi and Gyzi attract many bachelors because of their accessibility by metro. Rates for old first-floor flats there range between 1,000 and 1,600 euros per square meter. Similarly, Pangrati, Zografou, Ilissia and Goudi are popular due to the easy and quick access to hospitals and universities. Students often buy flats there. Many market professionals say that, at least over the last couple of years, many rural families who have children going to Athens for post-secondary studies choose to buy flats instead of renting them because of the drop in interest rates of mortgage loans. Once the students finish their studies, the families either maintain the flats for their own use or rush to sell them. The majority of first-floor flat buyers prefer smaller sizes, usually up to 80 square meters, because these flats are the cheapest. Also, since many of the buyers are bachelors or students, they don’t need much room. Immigrants who buy houses also buy small, first-floor flats. «Foreigners usually ask for small flats and nearly always for first floor,» Potamianos said. «Of course, if they are families with more than one child then their choices are different, but that depends on their economic situation.» Immigrants often select an area based on home prices instead of reputation or the state of the flat, market observers say. The city center is a popular choice because of the relatively cheap prices for homes and its proximity to public transport. Many neighborhoods in the center are close to their jobs. Children can change these priorities. Immigrants with children often move to areas close to good schools. Most immigrants live in first-floor flats in Kato Patissia, Aghios Nikolaos, Aghios Eleftherios, Sepolia, Kypseli, Exarchia, and near Omonia and Vathis squares. Few Greeks still live in Omonia and Vathis squares, home to economic refugees who either rent or buy. Rates for old first-floor flats in all these areas range between 800 and 1,300 euros per square meter. Most immigrants buying flats have lived in Greece continuously for at least 10 years. They have their own national insurance number, pay their taxes and buy homes both to spare themselves from rent money and for investment reasons, since they realize they have moved to Greece for good. Some of them even opt for loans from domestic banks. Potamianos said these immigrants are responsible citizens who fulfill their financial obligations when buying or renting their homes. «Many economic immigrants work as builders, cleaners or servants,» he said. «Despite their low incomes, the tight economic policy they follow as households, with few expenses, allows them to save some capital and then proceed to buying a flat. Of course they have few options, so they choose the degraded spots in the center and the first floors.» The intense buying interest for old flats in the center, particularly on the lower floors, has undoubtedly provided a precious way out for their owners. «These old flats are immediately sold,» Potamianos said. «Owners want to avoid paying too many taxes, as they did when they rented out their flats. Those who use them by themselves can see now they can buy in some better area with the money they receive from the sale of their old flat plus a small loan.» «It is also common that a flat changes hands as parents give it to their children who in turn prefer selling to renting, or use for themselves,» Potamianos added.