Albania takes first step on the property ladder

TIRANA (AP) – A real estate boom in Albania? Property experts believe it’s coming. Government ministers promised business incentives aimed at wooing developers during the country’s first international conference on real estate development, a two-day event which ended yesterday. «At this moment, Albania is a good market that should improve the housing stock, increase office space, develop retail schemes and shopping centers,» said Philip Bay of real estate consultants Colliers International. «(We’re) at an early stage of real estate development that will become an attractive market in three to five years,» said Bay, who is based in Sofia, Bulgaria. Albania had one of Europe’s strictest communist regimes, which eventually collapsed in 1990 after keeping the country in international isolation for decades through severe travel restrictions and ruthless state controls. «This is still a virgin real estate market,» said Romeo Sherko of IkubInfo, a local business adviser that helped organize the conference. Albania’s capital, Tirana, currently offers just 28,000 square meters (301,392 square feet) of office space, a figure it hopes to double in five years. Low property prices have already lured investors from Israel, Arab countries and from elsewhere in the Balkans who are hoping to build shopping malls and other retail businesses. Eno Bozdo, the deputy economy minister, said land had been earmarked by the government to create six business parks, one of them up to 850 hectares (2,100 acres), all with good sea and airport access. Albania has good macroeconomic indicators with an average of 6 percent annual GDP growth and inflation between 2 and 4 percent. Experts are calling on the government not to promote low- or mid-range tourism to compete with neighboring Greece or Turkey but to develop its unspoiled areas for high-end trade. «The country has a skilled labor force which should be exploited to create the foundations for the export-oriented economy and generate wealth,» said Bay, of Colliers International.