Have you always dreamed of owning a property in the sun? Do you obsessively watch those programmes about people who move to the mediterranean or buy a property abroad? You’re not alone; we were those people a few years ago. The thought of upping-sticks and renovating a property in Greece was what we dreamt about. It was all we could think about in fact. Maybe you are also considering a move to the med? Or maybe just a holiday home? Whatever your situation, here are our top 10 tips on buying a property in Greece.
Our personal story: Buying two properties in Crete…are we crazy?
Yes, as a matter of fact we are quite crazy! You see, we hate anything that forces us to conform to a normal structure. We appear quite eccentric because we don’t choose the normal route. “There’s nothing as boring as normal” as we like to say!
If you’ve read my previous posts, then you’ll know about how we ended up living on the beautiful mediterranean island of Crete. If you’re new here, then you can find everything you need to know about why we quit our lives in the UK and our set up in Greece.
Greece itself is a unique fusion of Eastern and Western culture. It’s the crossroads of Africa, Asia and Europe and has cultural, architectual, and culinary influences to prove it. Located in Southeast Europe, Greece has the longest coastline in the mediterranean basin, and the eleventh longest coastline in the world. The country is made up of nine geographic locations: Macedonia, Central Greece, the Peloponnese, Thessaly, Epirus, the Aegean Islands (including the Dodecanese and Cyclades), Thrace, Crete, and the Ionian Islands. Greece enjoys the typical mediterranean climate of long hot summers and mild winters, plus stunning mountain and coastal scenery. It has clung to it’s culture and traditions despite the impending threat of globalisation and the rich vibrant history runs through the core of this country.
Our top 10 tips on buying a property in Greece:
1) Consider if Greece is definitely the country for you.
When we first started dreaming of moving abroad, we were obsessed with Greece. We did consider Italy, but Greece seemed to hold something special for us. Having moved here, I would advise you to think of the distance back to your home country, because it’s only natural to want to visit friends and family from time to time. Greece is much further than France, Italy and Spain, and you can’t easily drive over. There is something to be said for being able to spontaneously jump in the car for a long weekend back home. Having said that, Greece offers a unique culture that you can’t replicate in other mediterranean countries. It’s so much further East and has the influence of Asia.
It depends what you are searching for. If you are only interested in soaking up the sun for a few weeks a year, then maybe somewhere closer to home would suit you better. However, if you are interested in absorbing a new culture, history, language and cuisine, then follow your heart.
2) Visit different parts of Greece
This is the part where we start giving you advice that we haven’t really followed ourselves! Although we had visited several Greek islands in the past, they had been family holidays; I’m not sure that at the age of 4, I was really able to determine if Corfu was the future island for me!
Because Mr Sidestepping-Normal had spent a year working the season in Crete when he was younger, we had a natural link to Crete. It was a familiar island to him and we both recognised that because it’s the biggest Greek island, it has more to offer. It’s romantic to envisage moving to a remote island only accessible by boat, but also consider if that island can offer what you are looking for. Do you need to consider job opportunities? As mentioned above, is it easy to travel home? Will friends and family easily be able to visit you? What is the island like in the winter? Does it shut down without tourism?
3) Make a long list of what you need/want from a property
Before we even stepped foot in Greece, we had made a long list of everything we were looking for. Think of what you need/want from your property to determine the ideal location. Try to balance the romanticised image in your head with the practicalities. We can really really recommend a book called buying a property in Greece by Mark Dubin and Frank Kydoniefs. We purchased this book and it definitely helped us to navigate the pitfalls.
Think of things such as space for friends and family to stay, enough bedrooms, outside space, a parking space, storage area etc. Will you be renting your property out to generate an income? Is the property in a desired tourist location? Will you be using an agent to advertise the property and secure bookings? If so, is there a local agency you can trust?
Head to Greece with a clear list of requirements, and if you are serious about viewing and committing to buying a property, then make sure you take all necessary documents and identification to start the process.
5) Is it going to be a permanent home or a holiday home?
This is an important consideration when buying a property in Greece. Living here all year is very different to visiting for a few weeks in the summer. If you’ll be living in the property permanently, then you will need to think of things such as heating. Although the winters are mild, it still gets cold. The buildings are designed to stay cool rather than keep warm, and some form of heating will be necessary. Central heating isn’t commonplace but some properties have it added. It’s more usual to have log burners and various types of heaters. Think of your current property and what it provides you with; most of those needs will be the same.
Additionally, if you won’t be in residence for most of the year, you will need to think of property and garden maintenance. If there’s a problem inside or outside the property, then who will notice or sort the problem for you? Similarly, if you have a pool, who will keep it maintained? Some people don’t mind hacking down the jungle-like-garden that’s grown in the intervening time since they left, but others prefer to arrive and relax.
It’s common that a property purchased in Greece needs to fulfil both of the above criteria. Maybe it will initially be a holiday home, with plans for it being a permanent move in the future. In that case, try to think of both scenarios and what you might need from the property in the future.
4) Make a list of what you need from the surrounding area.
The surrounding area is just as important as the property itself. Think of the amenities you need and how you will reach them. Will you be retired or will you need to work? Tourism jobs require tourists, so think of the proximity to tourist areas. Talking of tourists, will your friends and family be likely to visit you for a holiday? If you live close to the beach and tavernas, then friends and family are more likely to combine a holiday with coming to visit you. Having said that, you don’t want to be inundated with guests the entire season!
Will you have a vehicle? Or will you be reliant on walking and busses? Similarly, how will you get backwards and forwards to the airport? Where will you leave your vehicle? How much is a taxi from the airport to the property? Airports usually offer long-term car parks where you can leave your vehicle until you return.
How about peace and quiet? What about privacy from neighbours? Maybe you prefer to be in the hustle and bustle? Ask yourself all of these questions and more.
6) Find a trusted estate agent and lawyer
This is one of the most important things you can do. We were recommended our estate agent by someone we knew. We could trust that he was legitimate and that he knew what he was doing. Our estate agent was experienced and had been selling property in Crete for 15 years. You can visit his website called euroimmo.
Moreover, he uses a very talented and competent lawyer who went through the paperwork on both our properties with a fine tooth comb. Our lawyer seamlessly opened our Greek bank account, obtained our Greek tax codes and kept us in the loop at all times. We also gave her power of attorney to sort out anything on our behalf. Your estate agent and lawyer will probably have contacts for a trusted accountant too. Unlike the UK and other countries, everyone in Greece is reliant on their accountant to sort out tax affairs for them. Our accountant sorts out our property taxes and personal taxes every year for a annual sum. You can read more about our finances in Greece, and how we live on €6000 per year. Our advice would be to ask around and get recommendations from people who have purchased a property and can verify the credentials of the estate agent etc.
On a different note, think of the time of year you will be viewing properties in Greece. Everything looks wonderful when the sun is shining, but you need to get an idea of the problems and practicalities of winter. We viewed our first property in January when the weather was a mix of sun and showers. We were able to see if the rain was causing any leaks within the property and it gave us a sense of the climate in winter. You’ll be surprised by how cold and wet it can get during the winter. The sun doesn’t always shine in Greece.
7) View lots of properties
A few years ago, we viewed four properties in a weekend in January. Although that doesn’t sound like many, it still highlighted what we liked and disliked in a property. A couple of them were located too far inland for our needs, and one was falling down and beyond our knowledge to fix it up. We both had a gut feeling that the first ruin we saw, was the one for us. We could have viewed many, many more properties, but we knew that we’d found our dream ruin. Once you have drawn up a long list of requirements, we suggest that you view lots of different properties. You may be surprised by how you feel when you view properties in the flesh.
If you are tempted by a ruin (as we were) then be aware that the process of buying can be extremely long. The old properties are often owned by many members of a family, and everyone must give their consent and sign paperwork. Our little ruin took 2 years to buy, and there are stories of old properties taking much longer than that.
If you are viewing land with plans to build a house, then make sure that the land has a permit. Land outside the village/town boundary must qualify and meet requirements. You will also need a civil engineer and architect to draw up designs and gain planning permission. Research and find recommended local professionals. Your estate agent will have contacts.
8) If you feel unsure then rent for a while
If you don’t feel comfortable with any of the properties you’ve seen, then maybe renting short term will iron out any reservations. Renting a property allows you to explore the area, make friends with local people and highlight the pro’s and con’s.
We were very impatient and desperately wanted to buy a property in Greece. But if you aren’t in any rush, then renting before taking the plunge and buying a property is a really logical idea. Renting in Greece is very affordable, and you may discover that renting suits you just fine. If you are looking for a slower pace of life with less responsibility, then renting offers a great option for you.
Although renting a property is never secure long-term, it feels more guaranteed in Greece because there is less competition. The long-term rental market isn’t huge, so a property owner would feel very fortunate to have a permanent tenant in their property.
8) Think of bills and costs
It’s a huge commitment to buy a property in a foreign country, but there is also the commitment of long term bills. If you only plan to use the property for a few weeks per year, then consider the maintenance costs and bills that you will incur. If you plan to buy an apartment within a complex, do they require a monthly or annual maintenance charge?
Factor in the cost of property tax, swimming pool tax, house insurance, municipality taxes (built into the electricity bill). Regardless of how many weeks you use the property, you will still need to pay these taxes. There are also one-off costs for the lawyer, notary, land registration and it’s advisable to make a greek will.
If you require a mortgage in order to purchase a property in Greece then do the necessary research. We can’t personally give any advice in this area because we bought both our houses in cash. However, I’ve heard that since the financial crash, getting a mortgage is much harder than it used to be.
On a similar note, you must consider how you will transfer or take money to Greece. There are a few different methods, but we have always changed small sums in cash at a travel agency. For large sums of money, it’s not viable to use a highstreet travel agency. There are a few different methods you can use, but we opened an account with a foreign currency specialist. We use TTT Moneycorp, but there are lots of others to choose from. It’s really easy, and you can quickly exchange and send large sums of money abroad.
There’s always a cost involved when moving house, but moving country can be expensive. If you are planning to pack up your furniture and belongings and send it all to Greece, then you will require a professional moving company. We were ruthless and got rid of the majority of our belongings, but we were still left with boxes of belongings to send to Crete. We also did some research and realised that it’s hard to find good quality vintage furniture, so we sent a couple of items that we knew we’d regret getting rid of. Likewise, we sent lots of good quality tools that were gifted to us by my dad (his hoarding tendencies finally paid off!) We always use Nomad International for large and small shipments. They are professional, affordable and everything has arrived on time and in great condition.
Do you plan on sending pets to Greece? We moved our beloved Dora-dog over to Greece to be with us, but it wasn’t cheap. First of all we had to obtain a doggie passport, next we had to buy a very expensive special flight approved crate, and then we had to pay for her to be flown by aeroplane. We got three different quotes to fly her from special pet couriers; they ranged from £1200 to £700. Ring various different pet couriers that specialise in flying animals and find the most affordable.
In theory you need to gain authorisation for any changes you make to a property, but this is often overlooked and work is carried out regardless. None the less, if you plan to make significant changes, such as adding rooms and extra floors, then you will need a licence. We have experience in this area and spent a lot of money securing a licence in order to add another floor to our little ruin. As it turns out, we don’t have the money to achieve what we had planned, but we still ended up paying a whopping €6,000 for our licence. The process was lengthy and tiring and if we’d known it would have cost that much, we never would have started the process. We live and learn!
10) The grass isn’t always greener
It’s easy to have rose tinted glasses on when imagining living in Greece. Sun drenched summers, greek salads and crystal clear beaches may swirl around your head, but you must remember that the grass isn’t always greener. Not all problems can be fixed with a glass of wine on the terrace. There will realistically always be a language barrier, and even if you aim to become fluent, it will take a few years. Greece is a country with a unique beautiful culture, but be prepared for things to be done differently. There is a different mentality and it takes some adjustments.
In summary, if you approach a move to Greece with optimism, a willingness to learn and you’ve done your homework, then there’s absolutely no reason why you won’t succeed. My parting advice would be to keep an open-mind. Accept that things will be different and challenging, and you will be handsomely rewarded. We think that you should do whatever it is that you desire to do; don’t let people’s opinions influence your decision, we never have! Good luck!
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