Real Estate

Sean Woolley at Cloud Nine Spain: Why the smart money in Marbella is moving inland

Monte Mayor

When weighing up the options of where to call home on the Costa del Sol, my partner Paul and I decided to head for the hills! We had been very happy in our lovely apartment in Los Flamingos Golf Resort – between Marbella and Estepona, Spain – which we had owned and lived in since 2001. We had glorious sea views, underground parking, plenty of storage, 24-hour security and stunning communal gardens and pools.

But after trying to run two successful businesses from the kitchen table during lockdown, we felt it was maybe time to find a little more space. The COVID lockdown brought about a serious re-think!

There we were selling the dream of more space, home offices and remote working in the sun to our clients, and we had almost forgotten to think about looking for same thing ourselves.

However, even as an experienced real estate agent, the search for a new home wasn´t easy. We saw plenty of properties – larger apartments or townhouses that appealed on paper, but the problem for us was that none of them actually felt like an upgrade on where we already lived. And then when we had a peek at some stand-alone villas, they were either beyond our budget or in less desirable areas.

The search was made more difficult still by the high demand over the last 12 months, with many of them ready and able to snap up the well-located and well-priced properties. We made an offer to buy a villa that had been on the market for more than a year, but the vendor wouldn’t agree to our payment terms and another buyer entered the frame and agreed a deal.

We then lost out on another villa after making an offer that was accepted by the vendor, again because we wanted a 3-month completion time. We then turned our attention to plots, and again were beaten to it by another buyer.

It was demoralising to say the least.

In hindsight, we were behind the market. We weren’t in the strongest position – we had an apartment to sell and a mortgage to obtain, and other buyers were entering the market with no such constraints. Of course it was going to end in tears.

Luck plays a role

But then we got lucky! I happened to bump into the agent that had brokered the deal on a property we had been interested in but hadn’t been able to secure three months earlier, and asked if the buyers had moved in yet, only to be told that the deal had fallen apart and that they were going to return the property to the market.

Incredibly, the agent hadn’t thought to inform me that the house may be becoming available again, but that didn’t deter me from trying to buy the property for a second time. I said to Paul that it was meant to be, and that the house had huge potential, so we decided to go for it. We agreed a deal, set a completion date for the end of October and somehow made it happen.

We knew we didn’t have time to hang around! We sold our apartment within 48 hours, secured finance at a competitive rate and a bank valuation that was 30-percent more than the price they were paying.

The house is too big for us, we didn’t want to spend this kind of money or have a mortgage at this level, but we’ve ended up with a beautiful home in a great area, and with around 1 million euros worth of equity since moving in. We’re treating it as our pension pot. The mortgage is coming down over time and the value seems to be increasing, so we are happy from a financial point of view.

Monte Mayor

The villa is located in an area called Monte Mayor. Formerly home to a famous and notoriously difficult 18-hole golf course, the area boasts 24-hour security and a setting in the hills of Benahavis that feels both private and secure, and offers some of the most stunning views on the coast. Just 10 minutes from our former home and 20 minutes from the hustle and bustle of the coast, the location is perfect for us, but is not for everyone.

I wouldn’t recommend the area to families with young kids as you are likely to spend your time driving up and down the hills all day ferrying the kids to football practice or ballet classes. But it really is a beautiful place for grown-ups to enjoy some peace and tranquillity.

The plots in Monte Mayor are all over 2,500 meters 2 , so the area feels very private and exclusive, yet still offers decent affordability compared to most of the more recognisable yet similar-looking areas such as El Madroñal and La Zagaleta.

The plots at Monte Mayor start from around 200,000 euros. Once you have factored in the costs of land work and retaining walls and the cost of building an attractive 4/5 bed home with garden and pool, your total spend will probably be around 1 million euros to 1.2 million. But when you factor in that the cheapest built house in the resort is now priced at approximately 1.5 million euros, there is money to be made for investors attracted by a plot-and-build adventure.

The truly interesting point for me as a real estate agent is just how many people are having
the same idea. No less than 14 villas are currently under construction in Monte Mayor, and several more are being built in the neighbouring Marbella Club Golf Resort, run by the same family which owns the famous hotel of the same name and the Puente Romano Hotel on Marbella’s Golden Mile.

These areas were really regarded as off the beaten track just a few years ago, but now they are back in fashion, and their relative remoteness is actually proving to be the big draw, especially as good development land becomes scarce in the coastal areas.

Five-star locations at a discount

Since the onset of the pandemic, more people are attracted to space, views and nature. Comparisons are often made between Monte Mayor and its neighbouring resort of Marbella Club Golf Resort, and their more illustrious peers located to the east of Benahavis – La Zagaleta and El Madroñal.

There really are lots of similarities. Marbella Club Golf reminds me of a mini-Zagaleta, with its semi-private golf course and equestrian centre. There is a friendly, intimate feeling to MC Golf, perhaps due to the small “lodge-style” clubhouse, which can sometimes be lost at La Zagaleta. And Monte Mayor feels incredibly similar to El Madroñal, with similar landscapes and topography.

The key difference between the regions is price. Generally, land and property prices in Monte Mayor and MC Golf are around 30 percent-to-40 percent less than their equivalents in El Madroñal and La Zagaleta.

As many prospective buyers become priced out of the 5-star areas, newer but similarly beautiful locations near Marbella emerge as destinations of choice. With their combination of views, serenity, space and amenities, those hills to the west of Benahavis may just become the next property hotspot on the Costa del Sol.

About the author:

Sean Woolley is the founder and director of Cloud Nine Spain. With 20 years’ experience of helping clients buy and sell properties in Spain, he’s known as “The Property Doctor” and has contributed to a host of publications. He has recently written the book “From the Ground Up – The Insider’s Guide to Buying Spanish Property,” sharing his years of experience, real life stories, tips and tricks with buyers interested in investing in Spanish Real Estate.

See more of Sean’s posts here.

Read more about Spain in Dispatches’ archives here.

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