That Athenian Life Will Cost You. Or Maybe Not.

With residential prices on the rise, Athens is still attracting foreign buyers. Exactly what is it that keeps them coming?

City of Athens, view of the Acropolis
City of Athens, view of the Acropolis. Photo: Cara-Foto / stock.adobe.com

Foreign buyers acquiring premium properties in Greece is not exactly news, and yet, this piece of information made the headlines in 2023. It was the price tag that did it: A Swiss national paid some EUR 18 mln for a penthouse in the ritzy Rigilis neighborhood in central Athens. The property, offering views of the historic Panathenaic Stadium, Lycabettus Hill, the Acropolis, the sea, and even the island of Aegina, occupies 320 sqm.

A price tag akin to international capitals

At EUR 56,000 per sqm, it’s no wonder the transaction was noticed in Athens. The purchase, with a price tag seen more often in the likes of New York, London, and Monaco, also confirmed something those in the know have been saying all along: Forget Mykonos… Athens is here to play. Foreign nationals and the wealthy are listening as property prices in the Greek capital continue to rise, making it harder for local buyers to achieve something other buyers are sometimes doing sight unseen: Buy an apartment.

The numbers leave no doubt that the residential market in Athens is heating up. According to Bank of Greece data, in the first quarter of 2023, prices in Attica, the region home to Athens, rose by about 16.5% year-on-year. Residential prices in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, saw a 16.1% increase. Across Greece as a whole, prices climbed up by 14.5%.

Why are buyers – Chinese, Israeli, Lebanese, to mention just a few of the more active buyers’ nationalities – flocking to Greece, particularly Athens? It’s not (only) the weather. Following Greece’s devastating debt crisis, which began in 2009, residential prices started declining, with discounts as much as 50% in comparison to their pre-crisis peak in 2007. While prices have been recovering for a few years now, experts believe there are still undervalued opportunities to be discovered in Athens, more in old properties, as the supply of new developments is rather small.

A European capital on the rise

An early 2023 global study compiled by Britain’s CIA Landlord Insurance found that despite continuous price hikes, residential properties in Athens remain among the most affordable within the studied European capitals. While one sqm of residential space will set you back EUR 6,000 on average in Stockholm, or EUR 3,790 and EUR 3,190, respectively, in Rome and Madrid, in Athens, the average price for sqm is EUR 1,940.

This price, of course, is nowhere near what one would pay in the capital’s most expensive areas, such as Kifisia in the north of the city or the seaside suburb of Vouliagmeni. EUR 1,940 per sqm will also get you nothing in some of the central districts known for their charming streets and beautiful architecture, such as Kolonaki, Mets, and Koukaki.

But investors come anyway. Golden Visa, a popular program for attracting foreign buyers in exchange for a residential permit, was redesigned in 2023, with the minimum amount for participation doubling to EUR 500,000. With the program initially requiring spending at least EUR 250,000 on real estate, Greece had some of the lowest entry requirements among similar programs in the European Union. The doubling of the participation fee is also seen as a measure to prevent the residential market in the most coveted locations from overheating.

There are reasons to be cautious. According to data from the Bank of Greece, in the first three quarters of 2022, foreign buyers spent some EUR 1.27 billion on real estate properties in Greece, marking a historic 60.2% increase on an annual basis. Approached by 3Seas Europe, the owner of a real estate agency with a portfolio of properties in the central neighborhoods of Athens, was very honest when asked about the share of Greek customers currently served by his agency, “Zero. Sadly, there are very few prospects of this changing anytime soon, especially for those who can’t rely on family support for their first purchase.” In other words, properties easily achievable by foreign buyers remain out of reach for many Greeks, even at these still somewhat discounted levels.

A worthy investment

Taking a stroll in the center of Athens is enough to get the full picture, with the ubiquitous smart locks holding the keys to yet another Airbnb apartment adorning the entrance of most buildings. A 2022 article in Foreign Policy revealed that only one of the companies managing such properties on behalf of their owners has some 1,200 short-rental apartments in its Athens portfolio.

“When I realized that with my savings, I could afford only a small studio in the outskirts of Cracow, it didn’t take much time before I showed up in Athens looking to buy,” one Polish buyer tells 3Seas Europe. Her timing – post-crisis, pre-recovery – was perfect. Instead of a tiny studio in Cracow, she ended up with a 70 sqm apartment in one of Athens’ much less popular but very affordable neighborhoods. Her apartment can also be found on Airbnb, but only when she’s not staying there herself for her “sun fix.”

Meanwhile, in the sought-after Pagrati neighborhood in central Athens, a real estate agency favored by foreign buyers has some new offers on display. Gone are the little flats requiring lots of work but less investment. One of the offers in the neighboring Kolonaki neighborhood will set you back EUR 4 mln. But hey, the apartment comes with its own pool.

Galina Ganeva

a journalist with experience working for some of the most influential Bulgarian publications. She mostly writes about the intersection of society and culture

Latest from Business