Property market not in crisis but recovery still far off
Athens Plus, 21 November 2008

The Greek property market so far seems to have escaped the slump experienced by its foreign peers but a recovery is still far off, experts say.

"The market slowdown in Greece has not yet assumed crisis proportions, as in other countries... Demand in the residential property market is currently being affected by the global financial crisis which is leading households to postpone building permit applications," Alpha Bank said in a research paper.

According to Bank of Greece data, nominal property prices in all urban centers other than Athens actually rose 2.3 percent on average in the first half of the year, compared to the same period of 2007. Last year, the respective figure was 3.8 percent. In the Athens area prices appear to have remained at last year's level, despite the fact that demand is still on the rise, as indicated by the 15.1 percent increase in mortgage lending in the first nine months.

Such figures are leading analysts to project a market recovery in the second half of 2009.

"Prospects for the sector continue to be favorable in the medium term," said the Alpha Bank study, which suggests that the market problem is not lack of capital but rather in the generally poor economic climate.

However, there are also pessimists who consider that a fully-fledged recovery will take much longer than a year and will depend on the normalization of financial markets. They argue that the surplus of unsold houses will meet demand for up to two years, which means that for supply and demand to reach equilibrium there will have to be zero construction for at least one year.

But supply continues to rise at a relatively high rate and it is argued that demand would have to double to absorb the existing surplus. As a consequence, according to the pessimists, recovery should not be expected for three years, provided the world economy also recovers from its present woes.

It seems a realistic scenario, fully compatible with the qualitative characteristics of the Greek realty market, that is, the high percentage of home ownership and the high concentration of population in large urban centers.