Diversifying your portfolio into euro-valued real estate is a better idea right now than it has been in more than a decade.
The dollar is close to par with the euro, providing U.S. dollar-holders with more purchasing power than they’ve had in euro-land since 2003.Spain continues to suffer the disastrous effects of its burst housing bubble, and everyone’s aware of the ongoing crisis in Greece. Meantime, other markets in the region are rebounding.
Portugal is a top example (Lief and I were so impressed during our visit earlier that we made an investment before leaving the country), and Ireland’s property market is surging.
In the course of carrying out the research associated with our just-published Retire Overseas Index, our editorial team identified the current per-square-meter cost to purchase in key euro-based markets.
Where in euro-land, specifically, should the retiree or property buyer be focusing his attention right now?
Here are some of our editors’ specific recommendations…
#1: Abruzzo, Italy
Abruzzo in Italy is among the most affordable spots in euro-land and also one of this region’s best places to think about retiring. This sparsely populated region where central Italy merges into this country’s more languid south is as picturesque as Tuscany or Umbria but less discovered. You could buy an apartment in a good location in this beautiful province that boasts both coastal and mountain lifestyle options for as little as US$1,015 per square meter. Small but habitable village houses can be purchased for as little as US$50,000.
#2: Istria, Croatia
Another super affordable corner of Southern Europe is Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula, where you could buy an apartment in Pula, for example, for US$1,313 per square meter.
Croatia borders the Adriatic Sea and offers two appealing retirement lifestyle options — coastal and, inland, in Istria, a region of meadows, vineyards, and olive groves. Istria is a fairy-tale land of fortresses and bell towers that so attracted and impressed the Romans that they invested in some of their best building here, including a large and largely intact coliseum at Pula where lions and Christians once entertained. Later, this region was ruled by the Venetians, who also left an architectural legacy. In Istria, both nature and man have worked together over many centuries to create something very special, almost magical. In fact, the ancient Romans referred to Istria as Tierra Magica.
#3: Valletta, Malta
Only slightly more costly is Valletta, Malta. The three-island nation of Malta is a shining First World jewel in the middle of the Mediterranean. An EU member where English is almost universally spoken by the multilingual population, Malta is close to a complete package. Health care is superb, and all Europe is a quick plane hop away. The Maltese people are warm and welcoming with a culture all their own. Right now, you could own in one of the world’s most historic cities, Valletta, built during the rule of the Knights Hospitaller, or Knights of Malta, in the 16th century, for US$1,320 per square meter on average.
Note that Malta imposes restrictions on foreigners buying property in this country. You must spend at least 104,737 euros when buying an apartment and at least 174,514 euros when buying a house.
#4: Algarve, Portugal
Portugal’s Algarve has been attracting foreign retirees for decades and is home today to more than 100,000 resident expat retirees. Thanks to its 3,300 hours of sunshine per year, more sunny days than almost anywhere else in Europe, the Algarve has a longstanding reputation as a top summer destination among European sun-seekers and a top winter retreat for those looking to escape Northern Europe’s coldest months.
The Algarve’s 100 miles of Atlantic coastline are punctuated by jagged rock formations, lagoons, and extensive sandy beaches, many awarded coveted Blue Flags from the European Blue Flag Association. The water off these shores is azure, and the cliff-top vistas are spectacular. In other words, you could fill your days here at the beach, swimming, sunning, and boating. In addition, the region boasts 42 golf courses in less than 100 miles and is generally recognized as a top golfing destination in continental Europe.
You could purchase a place of your own in Portugal’s Algarve today for US$1,345 per square meter on average. Lief and I purchased this month in the small medieval coastal city of Lagos, which we found most interesting from both lifestyle and investment perspectives.
#5: Bucharest, Romania
The old town of Bucharest, Romania, is the only part of this city to have escaped Nicolae Ceausescu’s bulldozers. More recently, this historic area has undergone some restoration. Bucharest’s Old Town today offers walking streets, sidewalk cafes, churches, museums, and restaurants, and the city in general shares Europe’s urban history, culture, and fondness for the arts, architecture, and education.
The average cost of owning in Bucharest at the current rate of exchange between the dollar and the euro is US$1,432 per square meter.
Note that while Romania and Croatia are members of the EU, each of these countries has its own currency. Romania uses the leu, Croatia the kuna. However, real estate in both Romania and Croatia is priced in euros, meaning the dollar-holder benefits from today’s strong dollar.
#6: Budva, Montenegro
You could own a home of your own in seaside Budva, Montenegro, for as little as US$1,839 per square meter. Budva is a 2,500-year-old city on the Adriatic, with a well-preserved medieval walled center. The coast around Budva offers beautiful sandy beaches and a Mediterranean climate.
#7: Athens, Greece
Economic crisis continues in Greece, and property values reflect this. The average cost of owning in Athens today is US$2,116 per square meter. I’d say we’re nowhere near the bottom of this market, though. Should you think about buying? More on this in a minute…
#8: Dublin, Ireland
Meantime, Ireland’s recovering economy is helping to push property prices up. The average per-square-meter cost to buy in Dublin District 2 (a top choice for rental investment and expat lifestyle) is US$3,975. Prices in Ireland in general were up 17.57% first quarter 2014 to first quarter 2015. This is the biggest 12-month increase in almost 15 years.
Should you buy now in Abruzzo or Istria, Dublin or, as I wondered above, Athens?
While the cost of buying is down across euro-land for dollar-holders and depressed in particular regions, in some cases dramatically so, that is not to say all of these markets are appealing for the investor. Cheap is not the same as a good investment. Abruzzo may be the cheapest place to purchase property in Europe on a per-square-meter basis, but I see no reason to believe values in Abruzzo will appreciate anytime soon. This is a depressed region that will remain depressed.
Would this be the time to snatch up Greek property on the cheap? You wouldn’t have to work hard to find a motivated seller for a cash offer. If you’ve dreamt of owning a whitewashed villa on a Greek isle, this would be the time to shop. If, though, you’re looking to invest for upside or cash flow, I wouldn’t put Greece at the top of my list. Your capital could work better for you elsewhere.
Following, for reference, are the per-square-meter costs of owning real estate today in 15 euro property destinations. These prices are based on the average costs of 50- to 100-square-meter, two-bedroom apartments in move-in condition for sale in each market. Note that referencing the property cost per square meter is the best way to achieve an apples-to-apples comparison across different markets.