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Why foreigners are buying more property than ever in ’empty Spain’

Why foreigners are buying more property than ever in 'empty Spain'
The medieval city of Ávila has seen an increase in property purchases by foreign buyers. Photo: Jacqueline Macou/Pixabay
Despite the pandemic, some of Spain’s most sparsely populated regions are seeing foreigners buy up more properties than ever before. Here are the places where they’re buying and why overseas buyers are taking an interest in areas that have long been overlooked. 

Our lives may have been dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, but that didn’t stop foreigners from buying 46,303 properties in Spain over the course of last year. 

This is a high figure even though it represented a 26 percent drop when compared to 2019’s stats from Spain’s Registrars College of Real Estate Agents

One of the most interesting findings of the 2020 report is that the inland regions of Extremadura and Castilla León were the only communities in Spain which actually saw an increase in the number of property purchases by foreign buyers last year. 

The province of Ávila – which shares its name with its capital, the majestic walled city of Ávila – recorded a bigger share of foreign buyers (10 percent) than Barcelona (8.7 percent) and Madrid (4.7 percent). 

Castilla Y León’s other provinces – Valladolid, Burgos, Soria, León, Segovia, Palencia, Salamanca and Zamora – all saw more foreigners buy properties in 2020 than in 2019. 

The regional percentage of foreign buyers in Castilla Y León (3 percent) and Extremadura (1 percent) still pales in comparison with what provinces like Alicante (36 percent) or Málaga (29 percent) get, but the increase in purchases from overseas in Spain’s interior still reflects the growing interest there is in areas which have been overlooked for decades by foreigners. 

Both regions fall into what’s come to be known as la España vacía (empty Spain), an area which encompasses large swathes of the country’s interior which have suffered severe depopulation over the past decades, as Spaniards left their villages for the big cities to find work.  

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The following map by one of the associations fighting against depopulation in Spain shows in red the places that have lost the most population in recent years, with area 2 to the east covering large areas of Extremadura and Castilla Y León. 

Why are foreigners taking an interest in properties in empty Spain?

Firstly, properties in this part of Spain are considerably cheaper than in coastal locations. 

According to 2020 figures by Spain’s National Statistics Institute, the average cost per square metre for a property in Castilla Y León is €828/sqm and in Extremadura it’s the lowest in Spain: €559/sqm, whereas in Catalonia the average price is as high as €1,877/sqm. 

Another major reason is the consolidation of remote working in Spain and across the world as a result of the pandemic. 

“The coronavirus has uncovered a lot of truths that seemed carved in stone, and one of them is remote working;” Fernando Encinar, head of research at Spanish property website Idealista told Voz Populi.

“There have been millions of people who have discovered that they can do remote work. This will have a very relevant impact on companies, where we live, for Spaniards and Europeans”.

Back in March, The Local reported how US nationals topped property searches in Madrid, Salamanca, Ávila, Cuenca and Segovia, and came in second in others such as Guadalajara and Seville.

This bucks the trend of what most foreigners look for in a property in Spain – for it to be close to the coast – as all these provinces are situated in Spain’s interior, where summers can be sizzling hot and winters can be bitter cold.

“Ávila is one of the cities which has the most hours of sunshine in southern Europe,” Encinar explained. 

“There is a huge opportunity to repopulate part of empty Spain with European people looking for something more than sun and beach.

“These are places that have plenty of hours of light, sunny weather, very good infrastructures and an extraordinarily good health system”.

The allure of starting a new life in a part of Spain which is steeped in history and true Castillian culture may also be an added bonus for foreigners who are looking for a more authentic experience of life in Spain. 

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