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COVID-19 Sends Foreigners Looking to Buy Greek Vacation Homes Cheap

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Villa in Santorinia. (Photo by Eurokinissi/ Klodian Lato)

ATHENS -- Having your own home is one way to avoid the risks of COVID-19 from staying in hotels and short-term rentals like Airbnb, and foreigners who can afford it are turning to looking at buying vacation homes in Greece on the cheap.

While Greece's hopes to lure tourists by touting the country's relatively successful rate in holding down the number of cases and deaths have so far been dashed with lower-than-expected bookings, people still afraid to fly or drive to another country for summer vacation, interest by foreigners in buying homes is soaring.

In a feature, the German public news broadcaster and site Deutsche Welle (DW) noted the overnight trend developing as Greece lifted its lockdown, although the government moved to reconsider after tourists brought infections with their luggage.

Greece is one of the safest places during the time of COVID-19 that is still raging in the United States and other parts of the world, an incentive indeed to visit and vacation.

But people with means want to take it a step further by owning, not renting or using hotels.

Curiously, the hunt for safe retreats now has created, the site said, one of the biggest buyer's markets in Greece in a decade, before the onset of an economic and austerity crisis that saw property and home values plummet, leading to speculative buying from rich foreigners and companies.

It's being sparked primarily by the Hellenophile British, who've long had a love affair with Greece but were barred from coming until July 15 on direct flights because the United Kingdom, like the US, has seen COVID-19 out of control after Prime Minister Boris Johnson – like US President Donald Trump – favored the economy over life.

British demand for Greek properties has jumped 200 percent in only a few weeks, real estate agents told the site, with data from Britain's biggest property marketplace, Rightmove, showing Greece the hottest search destination in Europe, along with Spain, France, Portugal and Italy. 

There were more than a million online inquiries recorded on the day the UK government announced its new travel orders in late June, about the same time that the British film The Trip to Greece was released, a giant free ad for the country.

Piers Williams of the British property firm Chestertons Ionian told the site that Greece "is really bouncing back … It has been over a decade since we had such activity,” the country reaping the benefits for an early lockdown that made it safer than most.

That hasn't yet translated into sales because looking at property online from your home is one thing and going there to buy it is quite another, of course, and many British are said to still be reluctant to go anywhere with the virus still around.

The British and others have competition as Germans are said to be eyeing buying Greek properties too, said DW, along with house hunters from France, Austria and Switzerland, Greece getting more attractive ironically because of the Coronavirus.

"The phone just hasn't stopped ringing," said Hillary Dawson of Crete Homes. "I have viewings lined up solid for the rest of the summer months," she said after showing a seaside estate to a French couple in the picturesque town of Agios Nikolaos.

There's no official figures yet but industry officials told DW that German property investments alone have spiked by 50% in recent months, focusing on even arid land in the Peloponnese and million-dollar villas on islands like Amorgos, Crete, Karpathos and Corfu, put up for sale as Greece's economy is taking a hit from the cost and aftermath of dealing with COVID-19.

Greece's economy is heavily reliant on tourism, the biggest revenue engine that brings in as much as 18-20 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of some 175.42 billion euros ($200.3 billion) annually.

The driving force behind the keen interest by foreigners is how safe the New Democracy government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has made the country, people looking to hide away from the virus.

"People just feel safer here," said Williams of Chestertons. "And they want to preserve that safety under the sun."

Dawson said for British clients there's another factor: the UK leaving the European Union by the end of the year. 

"COVID-19 may have scuppered their relocation designs, but the mad dash is on and all are now rushing, almost desperate to buy a home by the end of the year in order to get (EU) residency status," she said.

Next to the nearly 4 million German nationals who holiday in Greece each year,  bringing in more than €2.5 billion ($2.8 billion) in hard currency, British nationals account for Greece's biggest pool of foreign visitors, said DW.

While private properties may find themselves with pools of buyers, as many as two-thirds of the country's hotels could wobble or even go under during a year with almost no bookings, the summer already looking lost.

"We have seen no real movement on the commercial front yet," said Williams, but if even a relative few inquiries turn into purchases, it will mean property owners cashing in, although leaving out many Greeks in their own country.