Out of the hordes of Britons who moved to Spain, around 90,000 have moved back, and many more are hoping to follow as soon as possible - one newspaper suggested that 20,000 UK citizens want to leave the Costa del Sol alone. Across the country, the figure is thought to be as high as 50,000.
Why have we fallen out of love with Spain? The eurozone crisis hit Spain hard. Overnight, property prices plummeted. Unemployment has reached 26 percent - a record in Europe. The depressed workforce is driving foreign companies out of Spain, and those who relied on their income earned in the tourism industry to fund their Mediterranean lifestyle are now out of work and struggling.
It's not just Brits who are heading back to the security of home - the German, French and Scandinavian populations in Spain have also declined. Only the Chinese population is thriving.
Living in ghost-town limboSpain’s resorts have taken on a deserted look. Half-finished construction projects, begun during the prosperous pre-recession years, are a sad reminder of the country’s downturn.
While many Britons have headed back to their homes in Manchester and Leeds and London, a great many more are stuck in Spanish properties that are worth far less than what they paid eight or 10 years ago.
Susan Birch’s apartment complex is quiet - everyone's moved back to their home countries. But not Susan, who sold her two-bedroom cottage in Gloucestershire for a new life in Malaga in 2006. She won’t say what she paid for her two-bedroom apartment two streets away from the sea shore, but says it was “substantial.”
Now she’s faced with a difficult choice: sell up for a fraction of what she paid and move back home, or stick it out in Malaga on her pension. “I’m in limbo,” the 68-year-old widow says. “I feel trapped here but there's not much I can do. I wouldn’t be able to afford anything in the UK with what I’d make from my apartment.”
Susan's watched her neighbours leave “by the dozen”. “People were leaving every day at one point, and what they couldn’t sell they would just leave behind.”
Looking further afieldWhile the bulk of Spain’s expats headed back to their home countries, a large number relocated to more prosperous shores.
The Sawdon family, from Newcastle, say that they are the lucky ones. “We sold our apartment in Marbella just before the reality of the crisis hit Spain,” says Christina Sawdon. “We went back to the UK to regroup and do some research, and hit upon Fethiye, in Turkey.”
They discovered that property prices at that time in Turkey were, in Christina’s words, “incredibly low.”
The money they made on their apartment in Marbella was enough to buy a four-bedroom villa with a pool in Ovacik, she says. But more importantly for the Sawdons, Turkey’s economic consistency meant stability. “We’ve seen what happened to property prices in Spain and throughout the Eurozone, and we are thankful we’ve bought Turkish property.”
Due to its location outside the Eurozone, Turkey remained relatively untouched by the recession, and its property increased steadily in value while its European neighbours faltered.
Cost of living is also lower. The Sawdons both work remotely, earning pounds sterling. They’ve noticed their money goes much further. “We live much more cheaply now, we’ve noticed the difference,” says Christina.
“We have a similar lifestyle to Spain - lots of sunshine, the Mediterranean beaches, fresh produce and amazing leisure activities. The kids go to a great local school. The difference is, we’re paying less for it, and we’re living somewhere that’s not being battered by the financial storms in the Eurozone.”
Lessons learnedThe number of unsold properties in Spain stands at a staggering 600,000, turning once busy resorts into ghost towns. Real estate experts say the backlog will take nearly a decade to clear.
Keen to learn from their Mediterranean compatriots, the Turkish construction industry proceeded cautiously through the worst of the Eurozone, only building what could be sold and never overstretching the industry. As a result, there are just 60,000 unsold homes in Turkey. Construction has become the largest and most profitable industry in the country, and the projects are becoming better - fewer kitset-style homes, more thoughtful designs using local materials.
Investment senseHerman Bratten swapped the Spanish city of Valencia for the Turkish Riviera in 2009. The retired Swede felt the brunt of the recession, but was relatively lucky, losing just 10 percent of the value of his home on the sale. The proceeds were enough to buy him a three-bedroom villa in the Bodrum fishing village Gumusluk, a 20-minute drive from the airport. This was 2009, before house prices really took off on the peninsula.
Herman was glad to leave the “abandoned city” behind, he says. “If you head just 10 minutes out of the city centre, you can see half-finished building projects. A lot of people lost money in the crash, I think I was one of the lucky ones.”
The former management consultant has since invested in two buy-to-let apartments on the Bodrum peninsula. “Prices are heading up steadily here, it’s a very good place for investment. Bodrum is very popular with holidaymakers so the apartments are always occupied during the summer.” Eventually, “when the price is right,” Herman will consider selling the apartments to other European buyers. “The resale market is very healthy right now, demand is very good.”
Herman says the cost of living in Turkey has been a big factor in its popularity with tourists. “Although prices have gone up in recent years it’s still one of the best places on the Mediterranean for living a really good life on your Euros or Pounds.”
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