The real estate sector in Greece is on the rise. Demand is picking up at the fastest pace since the onset of the economic recession in 2008, and real estate developers are answering the call. According to the latest data released by the Bank of Greece, property prices in Athens increased an estimated 3.7 per cent, year-on-year, in the third quarter of 2018 – attributable in great part to a surge in foreign investment by way of Greece’s Golden Visa Programme. While the price increase throughout the rest of the country was a more moderate 2.5 per cent, investors seeking a high yield – entailing risk-weighted returns of 15 per cent and higher – would be wise to evaluate the opportunities that currently abound in the Hellenic market.
And yet, in a country where an estimated 90 per cent of properties belong to individual owners, investing in Greek real estate can be a daunting task, particularly for foreign investors. Striking a good deal also entails knowing when a property was built, as any house or apartment that was granted a building permit during the past 13 years (from January 2006 onwards) includes a hefty tax-load equivalent to a 24 per cent value-added tax (VAT) – payable by all buyers, with the exception of Greeks acquiring their main residence.
So, what is the best way to tap into the Greek real estate market?
Bridging this gap – and enabling the current investment drive – is the role of local real estate developers who bring stability and expedience to the process, along with a wealth of market know-how, explained Vaggelis Kteniadis, President of V2 Development, a leading residential real estate developer based in Glyfada – a suburb on the Athenian Riviera.
With sights set high on prospects of growth, V2 currently focuses entirely on residential property development, which is where Kteniadis believes Greece can leverage its growing tourism appeal to attract investors – particularly those seeking holiday homes.
In a country that has one of the highest home-ownership rates in Europe, and that is now leaving behind an eight year-long recession, expenditure on home renovations became – during a number of years – a luxury not all could afford. As a result, many buildings were left empty, while scores of others were abandoned mid-construction.
“What we’re doing right now is that we are taking [on] old buildings,” explained Kteniadis. V2 has identified a market niche in the refurbishment of older – at times unfinished – properties, from top to bottom, allowing buyers to capitalise on the benefits of a new modern development, while staying clear of unwanted tax levies. “Since the building permit of that building was obtained before the 1st January of 2006, we are able to give our clients affordable developments without the VAT.”
Previous to 2008, the real estate sector was a main growth engine of the Greek economy, accounting for an estimated 20 per cent of GDP. This figure plummeted during the crisis, with investments shrinking by two thirds.
“The real estate market lost 27 per cent of its value since 2008 until July of 2015,” commented Kteniadis, noting, however, that the green shoots of the sector’s recovery appeared in July, 2015 – in the wake of the final agreement between the Greek Government and the European Union, concerning the Greek debt. “Since then, we are seeing a steady increase [in the real estate sector], which I will say is between 5-6 per cent until today”.
“For the last six months, and for the next three to four years, I expect this [increase] to cover all of what we lost since the end of 2008 — which is probably around 18-20 per cent,” said Kteniadis, highlighting that he foresees the most significant growth in the sector to be reflected across Athens’ south-eastern suburbs: “Meaning from Paleo Faliro to Alimos, Hellinikon, Glyfada, Vouliagmeni (…) because of the biggest real estate project in Europe,” – the long-awaited Hellinikon development.
The €8 billion investment on the site of the former airport will have a multiplier effect on numerous sectors, ranging from tourism and construction to, without any doubt, real estate.
What is apparent, nonetheless, is that V2’s approach is working well. “So far, the international clientele is around 90-95 percent of our portfolio,” said Kteniadis. However, success has been hard won.
“At the end of 2008, we started seeing the first signs of the crisis in Greece, and that’s why we had to search and find alternatives to getting clients” explained Kteniadis. This search would lead to a radical change in the company’s strategy – from being entirely focused on domestic clientele, to becoming a port of call for international investors seeking to tap into Greece’s Golden Visa Programme.
Prior to assuming the leadership of V2, Kteniadis was Director of Business Development at Prospecta Development in Cyprus, a family-run property developer focused on luxury residential properties. Having faced its own economic crisis, Cyprus became one of the first proponents in Europe of the Golden Visa Programme, after which foreign investments soon began to flood into the Cypriot real estate market.
Kteniadis made the move back to Greece — and to V2 Development — in 2013, at just the right time to maximise his impact, bringing with him the alternative he had been seeking to expand with the company’s client portfolio. Yet, in doing so, V2’s President also became a leading advocate for the development of Greece’s own Golden Visa Programme – which is today the leading golden visa programme worldwide.
Greece’s Golden Visa Programme
Not only is Greece’s Golden Visa Programme considered one of the most competitive European residence-by-investment programmes – providing visa access across Europe with a minimum investment in property of € 250,000 – in the first 11 months of 2018, Greece overtook the US with the largest golden visa programme, having issued 9,756 golden visas (compared to 9,602 conditional green cards).
“I would say that comparing the programs of countries [within Southern Europe], one to another, that Greece is by far the most advantageous one,” said Kteniadis, clarifying that this competitive edge goes beyond investment minimums – the threshold is € 300,000 in the case of Cyprus, and € 500,000 in both Spain and Portugal. The true advantage, he explained, is derived from the excessively low property prices that were brought about as a consequences of the Greek crisis. This, he explained “gives the opportunity to have huge yields on the potential investments.”
The Golden Visa Programme has been a key driver of Russian, Turkish, and – most importantly – Chinese investment in Greek real estate. According to a Chinese real estate website, Chinese interest in Greece doubled in the first quarter of 2018, and tripled in the second quarter. Official figures released by Greece’s investment promotion authority reveal that 1,945 Chinese investors were issued golden visas within the first 11 months of 2018 – more than 4 times as many as those granted to Russian investors, which were the second leading source of investment in the sector.
According to Kteniadis, golden visa holders spend an average of € 330,000 on residential real estate, which is why their focus is on the development of properties ranging between the € 250,000 and € 350,000 mark.
“From the start, we established our first offices in China,” explained Kteniadis. Now, V2 has offices in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen — covering all parts of the country (north, central, and south respectively). V2 also has a strong presence in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam — as well as in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines.
Having cornered the Southeast Asian market, V2 is making inroads in South America: It is in the process of establishing its first office in Brazil. It boasts strong partnerships in Russia, Ukraine, Egypt, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates as well.
From Ergon to V2
That’s coming a long way since V2 was established in 1962 by Kteniadis’ father – who was also named Vaggelis. But the company has been making strides in the sector since its beginnings – when it was initially called Ergon Development.
“It actually is a company that defined Greek real estate the way we know it now,” said Kteniadis. “We were creating new communities by buying huge pieces of land, cutting them [up], and bringing in infrastructure, like water and electricity, and making roads and squares, and then selling just plots,” he added. Greeks were then able to sell these plots to construction companies, receiving apartments in return.
“My father was a pioneer in that kind of thinking,” said Kteniadis. He gave “poor people at that time, the ability to go and directly purchase a property by giving them plots, giving them land, giving them the power to have not even one property in a building, but maybe two or three.”
Young Kteniadis rebranded the company in 2013 as a tribute to his father, following his passing. “His name was also Vaggelis,” said Kteniadis, so ‘V’ multiplied times two equals V2. But it seems it isn’t only a name that was shared by the two – it is also a business savvy and a lasting footprint within the Greek real estate sector.
Greece expects its economy to expand by 2.5 percent this year. And while property prices are nearly half what they were before the crisis, prices are increasing fast — while investors are flocking into the market. The prices of the occupied apartments increased by 2.5 percent, compared to the same quarter data from a year prior, according to the Bank of Greece. Housing-sharing platforms like Airbnb have become very popular — in addition to the growing popularity of the Golden Visa Programme.
What seems clear is that investing right now in Greece’s residential real estate market is perfect timing. However, undertaking an investment with the added expertise of the country’s flagship real estate developer is, quite evidently, an astute investment decision.