Overseas buyers in Spain at record level in 2022
"I don't see any sign of a lack of foreign buyers going into 2023 but the supply side needs to improve."
Throughout 2022 it was obvious the property market in Spain was in post-pandemic recovery mode, at least in the Mediterranean hotspots for overseas buyers. I could sense what was going on because properties I shortlisted for clients were being sold before they had a chance to view. In addition, the supply side was so tight that my short lists were getting shorter and shorter, sometimes with only one or two properties worth viewing and negotiations were being pushed closer to asking prices which, pre-Covid, would have seemed highly optimistic. But without the statistics to back up what you think is happening it’s really just guesswork.
We now have the full year totals for 2022, confirming that overseas buyer numbers reached an all-time high. However, what these statistics can’t tell us is how many of the 143,629 foreigners who did buy in Spain in 2022 would have purchased in 2020 or 2021 but couldn’t, because of worldwide lockdown periods between March 2020 and December 2021, and how many were just normal new demand. Is it the case that a surge of post-pandemic buyers all turning up more or less at the same time has distorted the market, exacerbating the supply-side drought and thereby pumping up prices? I think it’s likely.
The statistics from the three years just prior to the pandemic’s arrival show that 100,000+ overseas buyers had become the new normal; the average for 2017 - 2019 was just over 102,000 per year. We can’t be sure that would have continued but as the 2nd half of 2019 was the best on record it seemed likely. Then Covid arrived to disrupt the figures for 2020 so we’ll never know. The final total of overseas buyers for 2020 was 77,496 so about 25,000 lower than each of the three previous years. In the 1st half of 2021 there were about 5,000 fewer overseas buyers than in the three previous 1st halves, making about 30,000 missing all told. The surge got going in the 2nd half of 2021 and that year finished on a record number of overseas buyers. Now that’s been beaten by 2022 and by a wide margin, up 28.5%.
The 2022 figures quoted come from the Notaries in respect of nationality and prices and the Ministry of Transport, Movement & Urban Planning (MITMA) for the breakdown into national, regional, provincial and municipal sectors.. There were no statistics measuring the market in this way prior to 2007 but in that year, just before the market meltdown of 2008, the number of foreign buyers in Spain was recorded as 57,574 so since then the overseas market has more than doubled. The low point in the cycle was 2008 when the overseas buyer numbers fell to 34,712 and these latest figures show the overseas sector has more than quadrupled since then.
Once we’d seen the numbers for the 1st half year of 2022 it was clear that, unless there was a disastrous collapse in the 2nd half, the year was going to end well even though 2nd half figures are normally weaker than 1st half. The final total was way above what I was expecting and 28.5% up on 2021, which itself had been an all-time high. In the event, 51% of the total of 143,629 occurred in the 1st half of the year, and 49% in the 2nd. And although the market was slower in the 2nd half of the year it was still 38.9% better than the previous best 2nd half before the pandemic in 2019.
At the regional level, in 2022 all the overseas market hotspots on the mainland and the Balearic and Canary islands recorded the highest number of overseas buyers ever in one year. For example, Andalucía had 28,379, up 25% on 2021. The same was true in the Balearics: 8,217 overseas buyers, up 13% on the year and 43% of the total Balearic market.
Provincial & Municipal
And it’s no different at the provincial and municipal levels either. The autonomous region of Andalucía is a good example because not only is it the largest of Spain’s 17 devolved regions it is also biggest property market by market share, accounting for 20% of the total number of all transactions in Spain. Andalucía has 8 provinces but the statistics show that the overseas sector is concentrated above all in Málaga province, home to the Costa del Sol and the prime municipalities of Marbella, Estepona and Benahavís. Although there are 208 municipalities in Málaga province, just these 3 accounted for 27% of all transactions in 2022. And of the 42,206 property transactions recorded in 2022 in Málaga province, 16,818 were by foreign buyers, 40% market share.
Although I don’t see any sign of a lack of foreign buyers in 2023 I do expect to see a fall in transaction numbers when 2023 is compared with 2022. In my view, the post-pandemic surge is over and a majority of the missing overseas buyers from the lockdown periods have now bought. Comparing the results from 2021 and 2022 with the roughly 102,000 overseas buyers per year for the three pre-pandemic years 2017 - 2019 we can see approximately 41,000 extra transactions of which 9,000 occurred in 2021 and 32,000 in 2022. To me, that looks like the 30,000 missing buyers and the balance normal new demand. And if we take the total number of overseas buyers in the six years between 2017 and 2022 (638,927) we find that it’s about where it would have been without the pandemic disruption - roughly 106,000 a year. All-time highs are eye-catching but can be misleading. It seems to me we now have a Spanish property market in which more than 100,000 international buyers per year is the new normal.
An addition issue is that the surge in transaction numbers has made the supply/demand ratio even more skewed than it was pre-pandemic and it was already a problem then. If there are fewer transactions during 2023 it will be more to do with lack of quality property in prime locations than falling demand. People can’t buy what isn’t there and it is the supply side that will determine the strength of the overseas property sector in the short term.
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