ECONOMY

Immigrants keep housing market buoyant in the capital

Immigrants are proving one of the strongest forces propelling the property market, revitalizing sales and helping out owners of old flats in Athens city center who otherwise would have been unable to find a buyer. A significant feature of such transactions is that very often they are cash. Market experts argue that despite the decline in transactions in recent months and the maintenance of prices at high levels, the rate of house buying by immigrants has remained stable. «Usually immigrants opt for houses costing up to -200,000, but there are cases where they also look at -300,000 properties,» says Lefteris Potamianos of the Search & Find estate agency. Immigrants also buy and sell flats among themselves, as the first generation of immigrants is now moving up to higher-standard accommodation, giving their place to second- and third-generation immigrants who are now buying their first homes in Greece. Immigrants typically choose older (30-40 year) first-floor flats in the city center for their first home due to their lower cost. As the prospect of returning to their country of origin fades away they usually opt for a better flat in the same or other area, but still old houses. They typically move from areas such as Kypseli and Aghios Nikolaos to Ambelokipi, Nea Filothei and Pangrati. Immigrants who buy houses have in most cases lived 10 years in this country. They have their own tax registration number, pay taxes and choose to purchase a house to avoid paying rent and for investment purposes when they finally decide to remain permanently in Greece. Criteria This section of the market chooses its area of interest using price as the primary criterion. Real estate agents suggest that immigrants are not swayed by the good or bad reputation of every neighborhood or the state of an apartment. However, those who choose the city center do so for its good transport, apart from the prices, while the center is also close to where many of them work. A secondary criterion is the quality of education in an area for immigrants with children. The most popular areas are Kato Patissia, Aghios Nikolaos, Aghios Eleftherios, Sepolia, Kypseli, Exarchia and even Omonia or Vathis squares. The last two areas have very few Greeks living there, so immigrants, who either rent or buy, are keeping the local property market alive there. A National Bank of Greece (NBG) report earlier this year confirmed the contribution of immigrants to the maintenance of demand in the housing market. It showed that immigrants played a decisive role in the increase of the rate of creation of new households and therefore the rise in demand for older houses. By contrast, Greek households mostly went for new constructions, although in the past year more Greeks turned to older houses for reasons of cost. According to the NBG report, immigrants have in the last six years contributed 25 percent to the creation of new households, adding 106,000 households. They originally began renting flats but gradually opted more and more for buying flats mainly in the city center where prices are lower. These acquisitions significantly helped to fund the market of new houses by Greek households. Strong buying interest for old flats in the center, particularly on lower floors, have provided a breather for their owners. Market professionals note that these old flats are immediately sold. The reason there are so many owners willing to sell their flats is the high taxes for renting them out or using them, when they can sell them and buy a better house through a bank loan, agents say.