Real Estate

Christina Hudson: An expat primer on apartment life in Athens, Pt. 1

The majority of people in Greece live in apartment buildings. Apartment buildings have actually played a very interesting role in the human geography of this nation. Have you ever heard of the Antiparochi system? It explains a lot about why Athens and other Greek cities went from elegant Neoclassical havens to the concrete jungles they are today, but that’s a post for another day.

Of course there are single-family homes and townhouses here and there, bu in most Greek towns and cities, apartments are the norm, even in most of the more affluent suburbs.

A bit of background

Until the crisis of the late Aughts really hit Greece, many inhabitants were sort of cash poor but property rich. It was not uncommon for people to supplement their salaries with a rental income source. Average salaries were never great here so, that was not even a huge luxury for many but a necessity.

A lot has changed since then and not for the better.

Inflation has skyrocketed and salaries have, to a large extent, remained the same or been lowered. Gentrification has hit especially in many parts of the capital city and many locals have had to sell off their family properties in order to make ends meet.

Quality

Those who haven’t been forced by circumstance to sell are often renting out apartments which haven’t been updated in ages and are sometimes lacking in even most basic maintenance. The cost of living crisis is really showing in some apartment buildings. Grubby exteriors in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint, mildew or mold problems along exterior or interior walls, ancient elevators, broken steps on the common stairwell and so on are much more common than ever before.

Due to the tight market, however, landlords or sellers can usually get away with that. Things are slowly changing as (especially in certain urban or seaside areas) property developers (sometimes Greek, sometimes non-Greek) are churning out high-end accommodation, catering to foreign tastes and pocketbooks and changing the standards.

Of course, if you choose such a place, you will not be supporting ordinary locals but, if you can afford a hefty rent, you can secure high-quality housing.

The valid complaint of Greeks (who are not property developers or major landlords) is that they are being priced out of the housing markets by short-term rentals and luxury condos and very expensive long-term rentals aimed at people making a salary outside of Greece.

A sampling of real estate websites shows apartments in central Athens renting for between 450 euros per month for a 40 m2 studio to 2,500 euros for 275 meters. Apartments sell for as little as 100,000 euros for a 60m2 one bedroom to almost 2 million euros for a luxury penthouse.

Here’s a more detailed overview:

Price ranges for a 130-140 square-meter, 3-bedroom apartment in the Athens area. (Many people use one of the bedrooms as an office, as most Greek apartments don’t have separate office spaces.)  

Prices in smaller cities, towns and villages tend to be lower unless they are exclusive properties in popular seaside areas.

Inexpensive 
580-780 euros/month plus utilities and any shared expenses for the building, such as a cleaner for the common spaces

110k-230k purchase price

Middle-market  
1100-1400 euros/month plus utilities and any shared expenses for the building, such as a cleaner for the common spaces

320-520k purchase price

High-end
1750-1950 euros/month plus utilities and any shared expenses for the building, such as a cleaner for the common spaces

640-840k purchase price

Apollo Tower

What’s out there?

A lot of apartment buildings in Greece are three or four stories tall though sometimes they can be quite wide and contain lots of dwellings side to side. Let’s just say that our towns and cities have a lot of concrete. Thankfully for those of us who have a touch of acrophobia, we don’t (yet) have too many super-tall apartment blocks here.

In Athens, there are a few scattered here and there, such as the 25-story Apollo Tower in the Ambelokipous area of Athens. The maximum building height limits were abolished for some years and this building and a few similar ones were put up during that time. The apartments of the Apollo Tower are occupied by a mix of homeowners, tenants and medical practitioners. In the area of the Apollo Building you can find many 7- and 8-story blocks of flats, if that’s your thing.

If you want to live a more urban lifestyle, you will probably end up in a bigger building. Those have their pros too, of course, especially for many young people and digital nomads. Find out about parking, public transport and those sorts of practical issues wherever you go.

If you are using a real estate agent to buy or rent, it helps to give them a set of pretty specific criteria before you begin viewings as some (not all, of course) agents will try to show you anything they want to move with little regard to your requirements.

Make sure to emphasize your preferences and ask whether they apply to any property they suggest before going on a viewing. Don’t assume anything as very few things are standard in the realm of Greek housing.

Also, be aware that sometimes agents, sellers and landlords will hike up prices depending
on where you are from and the prices they think would seem reasonable to you.

Be sure to do some market research before providing agents with your budget. Green spaces are typically quite small in the major towns and cities, especially around apartment buildings, so be sure to mention if greenery is a must for you.

Floor-through apartments (i.e. an apartment which takes up the entire floor of a building) are my personal preference, mainly because the buildings in which they can be found are usually smaller and typically have more garden space, light and balcony room. They tend to be quieter and less hotel-like but are also pricier.

If you are moving to Athens specifically, but have never visited and need some tips on the lay of the sometimes- charming concrete jungle, my two-part series will help.

Bare bones

One of the things which comes as a surprise to many newcomers to Greece when they start viewing apartments to rent or buy is the fact that, except for the furnished places, most units are completely empty. That means that you have to bring or purchase your own washing machine, dishwasher, oven, fridge, light fixtures and so on every single time you move. These things of course can be costly and difficult to move and install so be sure to budget that in when you are making plans.

You also need to plan move dates carefully so you know when exactly your new home will be functional. For instance, if you want to be able to cook as soon as you move, you need to line up an electrician to install your oven and kitchen exhaust fan soon after moving day. Like anything else, this convention has its pros and cons. There is no chance of ending up with a rusty old washing machine and cruddy refrigerator, but, some appliances don’t like being trucked around and might act up as a result, plus, what a waste of time and money if you aren’t actually putting roots down for a long stretch.

Of course, in that case you can always opt for some designer- furnished luxury apartments, but those can be very pricey and you might feel like you are living in a movie set. Not to mention that many of those places were snapped up from families experiencing financial woes and flipped into places that no local with an average salary could ever dream of renting.

As for privately-owned furnished apartments, beware. It is not uncommon for a large Greek family to use their extra apartment as a storage space for all the furniture that isn’t good enough for them to use but which they haven’t gotten around to selling or donating. An ugly hodgepodge of styles often ensues.

You have been warned!

Also, if you are a young (or older person) looking to share accommodation as for instance is the case with many single professionals or digital nomads, you should know that your best bet is to pair up with another new resident from abroad as roommate culture isn’t really a thing here.

You might notice that many singles here in Greece prefer to live at home rather than share a place with a friend. The reasons are often cultural although, in some cases, they are financial.

Check back soon for The Apartment Life in Greece, Part 2.

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Read more about Athens here in Dispatches’ archives.

See more from Christina here.

 | Website

A Pittsburgher by birth, Christina T. Hudson is also half Greek and has – so far – spent most of her life in Athens, the chaotic but captivating capital city of Greece.

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