ATHENS – With investigators looking into a scheme to avoid capital controls in selling Greek properties to wealthy Chinese buyers, the investors are flocking to scoop up properties on the cheap in a market depressed by an economic crisis, entitling them to get so-called Golden Visas, five-year residency permits that allow travel within the European Union.
While others seeking the permits, including Greek-Americans with family roots in the country may have to wait years to get residency permits that have to renewed frequently, well-to-do foreigners can buy them if they buy at least 250,000 euros ($284,670) worth of real estate, even if they don’t really want the property and only the visa, a lawyer specializing in foreign investors in Greece, who wasn’t named, told Kathimerini.
Chinese realtors, construction firms and tourism agencies have set up shop in Greece and joined forces with local legal firms and real estate companies to help the investors, often also making it easier for them to bypass capital controls in China, the paper said.
That has helped bump up the Greek real estate market, with sales rising on an annual basis by 60 percent in the first eight months of the year and the inflow of capital directed to property purchases shooting up 161 percent, according to Bank of Greece data.
Chinese investments are a big part of this increase, market sources say, and can be attributed in part to the low cost of the Golden Visa scheme with many of the properties then used for short-term rentals such as Airbnb, ironically driving up the rents in nearby buildings and pricing many Greeks out.
Greece has issued more than 3,000 residence permits to non-European Union nationals since the Golden Visa scheme was introduced in 2013. Of these, 661 were issued this year up to August 31, though this figure is expected to rise rapidly as hundreds of real estate purchase licenses are still pending, the paper said.
Greek authorities issued 443 such licenses in 2014, another 507 in 2015 and 557 in 2016, with the number swelling to 931 last year, accelerating the process in a country known for a notoriously slow bureaucracy.
Figures from the Migration Ministry show that some 1 billion euros ($1.14 billion) have been invested in the real estate market by non-EU nationals since 2013, meaning that the average cost of transactions is above the 250,000-euro limit, at 315,000 euros ($358,690).
Chinese businesspeople are the leaders among these investors, with 1,521 licenses, followed by Russians with 438 and Turks with 337.
According to real estate market experts, Russians tend to focus on downtown Athens apartments and on summer homes in Halkidiki in northern Greece, which is a popular destination for Russian holidaymakers.