How to Buy Property in Albania
Edited by Realtorplus, Wingrider, GTAddict, Flickety and 12 others
Albania has recently been one of the ‘forgotten’ states of Europe, but is now beginning to emerge from the shadows as one of the next emerging destinations for overseas property buyers. With a beautiful coastline on the Adriatic Sea, a developing economy, and a government that has been elected on a manifesto of cleaning up crime and corruption and growing the economy, optimism is high. The country managed to avoid getting involved in the devastating Balkan conflict of the 1990s, and amid the new-found stability of the region, combined with the solidity of Greece on its southern border, Albania has managed the transition from Communism to democracy with relative ease. There have been some issues, and no-one in Albania would claim the system is yet perfect, but things are moving in the right direction.
This guide explains how to £££ property in Albania. It is primarily for those buying from Britain but can help guide anyone investing from overseas.
Consider why it is worthwhile buying property in Albania. Albania is not yet the finished article for overseas property investment by any means, but it is often in this kind of country that the best offers are to be found. In fact, studies have shown that prices in Albania are among the cheapest in Europe – which also means yield has remained stubbornly low. However, as the global economic slowdown hit, the property market in Albania had not developed to such a point where property was overvalued, or excessive development had caused a glut of supply. Therefore, there are those who feel that Albania could be extremely well-placed when the overseas property markets begin to pick up again.
Look for the popular buying locations in Albania. As Albania is clearly still an emerging market for the overseas property industry, for the vast majority of people who buy there in the next couple of years there will be at least some element of investment to their £££. As property buyers will be looking for the tourist market to make up most of the rentals, and then towards the local market as the economy continues to develop, rentability will be a key factor in deciding both what type of property and where they £££.
There are a number of options available for property in Albania, focusing mainly on two types – city apartments and beach properties. City apartments will, for the moment at least, be limited to the capital of Albania, Tirana. As well as being centrally located geographically, Tirana is the commercial and cultural hub of Albania. It is also home to around one in four of the Albanian population, therefore having good potential for rentals as the country develops and the population look for more luxurious property in which to live.
Tirana is also growing and developing its infrastructure as its free market economy begins to mature. Tirana international airport has been recently renovated at a cost of over £40 million, and the current housing stock is of low quality. The demand for new housing has not decreased but banks are not financing like before. Very strict regulations have been introduced since the start of economic crisis in banking sector 2 years ago, and Greece as well having a big influence in the future of Albanian economy. Nevertheless prices remain at reasonable levels per square meter. Real estate investment prospects are still attractive.
On top of this, there is the potential to buy properties to let to students in the future. Tirana is also an educational center, with more than ten universities in the capital itself. Outside of the capital, the best places to invest are along the coastline, which leads from the Adriatic Sea in the north to the Ionian Sea in the south. Albania is already something of an established tourist destination in the local region with many visitors from Italy, Greece, Germany and Italy, particularly during the high season from June to August. As a result, there are already a number of well-established coastal resorts in Albania which could easily present some great investment opportunities in the medium- to long term.
Durrës is the former capital city of Albania, and now an important trading and port city, having become the primary external commercial outpost of the country. Durrës is also the favoured destination for Albanians living and working in Tirana to escape for the weekends, and many of the more well-off inhabitants of Tirana have second homes in the city. Travel from Tirana to Durrës takes just 20 minutes by car, the same as it does from the international airport.
Property is primarily apartments near the centre, and with the tourist season running throughout the whole of June, July and August, and the fact that accommodation is so hard to come by during this period, there are good opportunities to rent property out. Prices are slightly higher here than in Tirana, but rental yields of up to eight per cent should be realistically achievable.
Outside of the main season, the climate in Durrës is pleasant enough to make it and ideal holiday home destination. Capital appreciation is also impressive, with property prices rising by 10 per cent per year for the past two years, though forecasts for the future will be somewhat below this if growth does continue. Further south, Vlora is the second port in Albania, and marks the confluence of the Adriatic and Ionian seas. It is an important trading city for Albania’s exports, but is by no means an industrial blot on the landscape.
The city, the base for a booming tourist trade along the coastal reaches, has a rocky coastline extending in both directions away from it with sandy beaches dotted throughout. Behind the city, the landscape is framed by nearby mountains. Vlora itself is a pretty and colorful city, with wide boulevards and a relaxed pace of life. The palm trees that decorate the place give it a real Mediterranean feel, while the Llogora National Forest is just half an hour away. The drive from Tirana currently takes around two hours. Capital appreciation is estimated to be at around 20 per cent per year.
Finally, the gateway to the south of Albania, Saranda, is also an important tourist and trading town, located as it is just a thirty minute ferry journey from the Greek island of Corfu. This is the part of Albania with the warmest, most Mediterranean climate, and commonly known as the most attractive town on the Albanian Riviera. Attractions for tourists, aside from the warm seas, include the ruins of the World Heritage Site at Butrint.
The tourism market in Saranda is booming due to a high number of visitors arriving into town through Corfu. Saranda is only 25 min away by boat from Corfu. Property prices are around €650-€850 per square meter, though capital growth has dropped due to the economic crisis. Renting holiday apartments is becoming a profiting business due to the demand from foreigners which plan holidays in Saranda and surroundings. Recently even the famous Holiday Rental NOVASOL from Denmark is recruiting properties in the south of Albania. This is a sign of the growing interest from foreigners to spend holidays in the coast of Albania.
Know the legal issues. There are currently no restrictions on UK citizens owning and buying property in Albania, but there are certain issues to make sure you are aware of, and that you have all contracts and official documents checked but an independent lawyer to ensure you know what you are signing. You will also need to have a notary public engaged in order to register the £££ and act for both sides during the property purchasing process. In particular, it is important to make sure the title deeds of the property are thoroughly checked to make sure you are buying from the true owners and they have the right to sell to you. Since the end of Communism in the early 1990s, properties in Albania were handed back to the people from the state. It is estimated that some 85 per cent of property has now been checked to have correct title deeds, but the remaining 15 per cent is mostly in Tirana and on the coast, so making sure your lawyer checks this is imperative.
Linked to this is the concept of building permission – the concept of property development is quite new, so permissions were not always sought or granted to construction companies. This situation has now improved vastly, but it is worth checking into this as well. There is a strong history of corruption in Albania at all levels of society since the country emerged from Communism into the free market in the early 1990s, and anyone investing in the country would be well-advised to take this into account at all times. The Transparency International web site (www.transparency.org
) gives Albania a rating of 2.6 out of 10, lower than the 3.1 of Romania or the 4 given to Bulgaria.
The new government which came to power in 2005 has made fighting corruption one of its top priorities, introducing new laws and setting up an anti-corruption task force. As the country is working hard to get in Autumn 2012 EU candidate status and hopes for an EU membership within 2016 are very high. These efforts will continue and are likely to be extended, so the situation in this respect should improve. The 1990s also saw a series of disastrous pyramid schemes collapse in Albania, bringing chaos to the country and rioting as people lost their savings. The schemes were set up as an alternative to banking in the new free economy, with early investors getting their payout from those who came in later on. However, they were badly managed and badly run, and collapsed resulting in the loss of huge sums of money and a government that struggled to govern. Despite this, investors are expected to receive at least part of their money back from the liquidation of the companies in the future, and the economy has bounced back with an average growth rate of 5.5% since late 90'.
Buy a property. The property buying process in Albania is quite simple and well-established. Once you have signed a reservation form and provided certified identification along with your reservation fee, you should always look to engage an independent lawyer that you have sourced yourself, in order to make sure the transaction is being carried out in accordance with the law and that you know for what you are signing.
You should also always make sure that you have copies of all contracts in English so that you can refer back to them at any time you need to.
Some two to three weeks after your reservation, you should receive the pre-sales contract, which is when the initial deposit is paid. This contract will set out the terms of the agreement, the schedule of building for off-plan purchases, and the date of completion.
Upon completion, the final transfer of deeds is carried out. You do not necessarily have to be present at this part of the deal if you are happy to sign over power of attorney to your legal representative.
Finance your Albanian property. Despite the fledgling free market economy in Albania, and the huge failure of the pyramid schemes in the latter part of the 20th Century, there is a wide and competitive range of products available in the mortgage market. Also, many of the larger western banks have entered into the market, making products comparable to the standards we are used to in the most developed economies. Terms are similar to other European finance products as well, with loans of up to 80 per cent of the value of the property and 15 – 25 years. Unlike many emerging markets, interest only mortgages are also available, though the recent economic woes of the major global powers have meant that credit across the world is much harder to find than it was previously. You also have the option to finance your property in Albania through raising finance on a property you own in the UK. You may find a more advantageous interest rate financing this way, and should you not have the 20 per cent deposit ready and available in cash it may give you the option to raise it through a part-mortgage on your UK home. The services of an independent financial adviser at this stage can save you significant amounts of money in the long term.
Be ready to pay the Albanian property fees and taxes. Transaction costs for buying a property in Albania are very low. There is no £££ tax, and property transfer costs amount to three per cent of the £££ price. Legal costs, including a public notary and your own representation should come to no more than €2,000. Once you have bought in Albania, running costs of property are also low. Municipal tax rates vary from location to location, but are typically €0.25 per square metre per year in the coastal areas. Income tax is just ten per cent, as is capital gains tax, which has only been in force since January 2008.
Get the appropriate visas, residency and work permits. Upon entering the country with a valid EU passport, you have the right to stay for up to 90 days without applying for a further extension of your visa. For stays of more than 90 days, and up to five years, you are able to apply for a residency permit at the nearest police station to your property. There are a number of documents that you need to have in order to gain this permit, some of which must be notarized, and some of which must be obtained from the courts and police services in your country of residence stating that you are not currently under investigation or subject to any criminal processes (the so-called ‘good boy letter’). Once again, with Albania pushing for EU entry in 2014, these restrictions will have to be relaxed to allow freer movement to other EU citizens, and the ability to cross borders and reside freely will need to be addressed.
The provision of primary health care for the Albanian population is one of the areas in which the government is aiming to improve rapidly. At present, just one percent of the national budget is spent on health care, and with 25 per cent of the population officially below the poverty line, and there is a real need for this to improve. That said, life expectancy in Albania stands at a healthy average of more than 77 years. Until this situation with the health care provided by the state is improved significantly, it is wise to make sure you have personal health insurance for the time that you are in Albania.
Albania has been the quietest of the states to emerge from the shadows of Communism to a free market economy and democracy, but despite some quite public setbacks, is well on the road to expanding its influence in Europe and the world, and this goes equally for the property market. This part of Europe has seen some impressive growth over the past five years as the countries of the former Yugoslavia make their way to independence. Many of these are yet to have the full set of accoutrements that go with a developed market and economy, but that has failed to deter investors and speculators.
There is no reason why Albania cannot enjoy the fruits of opening up its property market, along with the development of the tourist trade, to have the same effect. This in turn will allow the infrastructure and the facilities available to the population as well as visitors to grow and develop. In theory, the growth in both the economy and the property market was to continue to some degree until the proposed candidature of Albania for EU entry in 2014. However, the global recession has slowed growth in all emerging economies as the foreign investment from richer nations dries up and even overseas property buyers' retreat until the storm is over. Additionally, one note of caution is that nothing is signed or sealed on the issue of EU entry at present.
Albania is one of the truest ‘emerging’ markets in the world at present. The infrastructure and services somewhat lag behind what should be expected in a modern, western European country, but progress is being made. The potential for the new democracy, the new economy and the new hope among the population for Albania to sit happily alongside Greece, Montenegro and Croatia is there, and in years to come there is no reason why they should not be regarded as at the same level of development.
Another unfortunate remnant of the Communist era is a transport system that is old, outdated and neglected. Trains, roads and buses are below-standard, but this situation is beginning to change. The international airport in Tirana has recently undergone a refurbishment, and the government is spending money on the construction of a new highway between the capital and Saranda. Government funding for new road-building schemes across the country is increasing.
With emerging markets there are risks, and it would be unwise to go into buying property in Albania without being aware of these. Make sure you judge your attitude to risk carefully so that you are comfortable with the developing infrastructure, the fledgling free market economy and the relatively new government. So long as you are aware of the situation, and take appropriate advice along the way, Albania could be the last true emerging market in its region.
Clearly the global recession is having an effect on the pace of development of the economy and infrastructure of Albania. However, when the world emerges from the ravages of this situation, Albania could be one of the places that adapts quickly to the new world. As with any property investment overseas in the current climate buyer should be very careful, but Albania could be a market to watch in the future.
The crisis in EU and specially in Greece and Italy is without doubt affecting Albanian economy. Both these two countries have by large the biggest concentration of Albanian economic emigrants, and they are at same time the main economic partners of Albania.
Still with Albania getting more and more in the focus of Travel & Tours companies this will bring more safety and security to the foreign investors in Albanian properties. Tourism is bringing more income to Albania. And to a certain point this will also be a front runner for the property development of the Albanian coast. First resorts have started to be build in the country.