Hundreds of citizens from mostly neighboring countries, such as Albania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Russia, are showing interest in buying real estate in northern Greece, particularly the prefectures of Thessaloniki, Halkidiki, Pieria and Imathia. However, time-consuming procedures in obtaining permits – the process can go on for between seven months and three years – discourage many of them, turning them to the Aegean islands or other countries. The main reason for the delays is that the aforementioned districts are border areas, where foreigners used to be forbidden from buying property but now are required to have their applications approved by military authorities. According to data issued by the Armed Forces General Staff and published by the Athens News Agency, the authorities approved about 500 applications by non-EU citizens in the 1991-2006 period in these areas. Of these, 359 were in Thessaloniki, 126 in Halkidiki, six in Pieria and seven in Imathia. Now about 250 applications are pending in all border areas of the country, largely the result of the rise in immigrants’ living standards and increasing access to banks. Ethnic Albanians, who form the largest immigrant minority in Greece, seem to prefer Thessaloniki (152 applications approved) during the period in question, followed by Georgians (41) and Bulgarians (27). Of the 126 permits issued in Halkidiki, 24 were for Serbian citizens, 23 for Bulgarians and 22 for Albanians. Multifold demand According to Dimitris Garoufas, the number of applications would have been much higher in the absence of the time-consuming procedures, as property sellers cannot reasonably be expected to wait for such a long time for the prospective buyers to obtain their permits. Ioanna Hrousala-Bilisi, the president of Thessaloniki notaries, says their association is considering calling for a lifting of the designation of Thessaloniki as a border area. «If this requirement is waived, I estimate property buying by citizens of these countries will rise tenfold, judging by the interest expressed,» said Dimitris Garoufas, the president of the city’s bar association. Hrousala-Bilisi also notes the multitude of documents required to follow up the application, including proof of the origin of the funds to pay for the property so as to make sure it is not connected to illegal activities.