(Editor’s note: This is Pt. 1 of a two-part series by Christina Hudson, drawn from Christina’s real-life experiences house hunting in Athens. You can jump to Pt. 2 here.)
The search begins…
Last year, my husband and I started looking to buy an apartment after years of renting in the Athens area. Neither one of us was really interested in becoming a homeowner, but the skyrocketing cost of rentals in recent years made us change our tune. So, now our dinner conversation has suddenly turned to bank loans, down payments, square meters and so on ….
It is a fun and exciting process at times, but conversations are not always super relaxed.
The topic of housing is getting more and more stressful, both for Greeks and for many expats living in Greece.
Well, for one, salaries in the country remain pitifully low by European standards (the fifth lowest in the European Union, actually!*) while the prices of housing (and groceries and heating oil and natural gas, and so on and so on …) just keep rising.
While the prices may still seem low-ish in comparison to some other European capital prices, they are, overall, seriously out of proportion vis-à-vis local incomes. There are good deals to be had, but they are few and far between. Even in the last six months, comparable houses have gone up in price by one-third in some cases!
Real estate agents in Athens have changed their practice in recent years and they now typically take a commission from both seller and buyer.
Of course, there are always exceptions, but the kicker is that most agents don’t do much or even have the ability to do much.
The endless paperwork and legal obstacle courses require hiring both a notary and a lawyer in order to take care of issues that would – in many other countries – be sorted out by the agent.
Other issues would need to have been taken care of by the seller before (s)he places the house on the market. The house-hunting process in Greece often functions a bit differently in ways both good and bad! Sometimes the chaos works in our favor and sometimes it doesn’t.
Where deals go to die
Another thing to keep in mind is that deals can always fall through. We all know that as a general rule, but here it can happen much further along in the process than you would expect possible. Many have fallen in love with a house, spent a fair amount of time reaching a compromise, had a structural engineer do all the necessary checks, gotten along in the paperwork, etc., only to have the owner suddenly raise the price by 30 percent or the would-be buyer’s lawyer suddenly discover a long lost cousin who has a valid claim to half the property.
Yes, there are many problems and traps that a good agent and legal advisers can help you avoid, but it is hard even for a superhero to steer clear of all the potential legal potholes.
Greek bureaucracy is overwhelming. Bureau-crazy, as I like to say. (Awful red tape leads to awful puns –sorry!) Again, buyer, beware! Don’t get too stressed but do double-check as much as you can for peace of mind.
Listings are often non-exclusive
The other issue is there are so, so, so many real estate agencies, and many homes are listed non-exclusively, meaning that each agency has countless listings and gets countless calls. You might call and provide them with all your criteria and get only one, maybe two calls in response from any one agency. After that, it is just luck if they remember and match listings to clients after that first contact.
Due to all this, you have to regularly call and remind agencies you are still looking and, when you do, they might scan their files right then and there to see if they have any properties which might interest you.
Be a squeaky wheel. It works here. Polite but insistent. Otherwise, you might never get a call.
In many cases, the agent has so many listings (since most sellers list with as many as they can) that you and he or she will be viewing the house for the very first time at the same time. (This was the case when I went to see a top floor apartment which had an actively leaking ceiling, smelled of mould and the windows of which had all been left wide open, presumably to combat the smell. The cherry on the cake were the pigeons roosting in the living room … sigh.
“Why not buy directly from the sellers then?” you ask? Good question!
The truth is, though you might get lucky and find a place via word of mouth, you are unlikely to find an ad for a private sale which hasn’t been snapped up within a few days of being placed. If you do see one, don’t get your hopes up. Sometimes the ads are placed to run for weeks and others seem to run endlessly despite the fact the house might have been sold ages ago. Yup, you guessed it. This has happened to me on several occasions.
* Author’s note: See Eurostat wage statistics for Europe here.
Read more about Athens real estate here in Dispatches’ archives.
Read more from Christina here.
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.