Authors Posts by Les Calvert

Les Calvert

Les Calvert is the owner and CEO of many internet property and travel related websites including this overseaspropertymall.comand he regularly writes news and articles for his websites, trade magazines and newspapers.

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The Bank of Canada’s surprise decision to cut interest rates has triggered a mortgage war amongst Canada’s major banks. Mortgage brokers reported that the Royal Bank of Canada had dropped its five-year fixed rate for qualified borrowers to 2.84% recently, while smaller, non-bank lenders are offering consumers even cheaper deals. That’s not attracting as much attention, though – RBC’s rate cut is probably a record for a major bank, according to Drew Donaldson, executive VP of Safebridge Financial Group. Robert McLister, founder of, said RBC’s new 3.84% rate for 10-year fixed-rate mortgages was he lowest in the country.

RBC spokesman Wojtek Dabrowski said the bank intended to ‘review the impact of the Bank of Canada’s rate decision,’ and that ‘individual product lines continue to make pricing adjustments in the regular course of business to ensure we provide competitive rates in the marketplace.’

Two other major Canadian banks, Bank of Nova Scotia and National Bank of Canada, also cut their rates in recent days and Toronto-Dominion Bank said it was dropping its posted 5-year fixed rate to 3.09% midweek, cutting 0.2% off the rate.

Part of the pressure on rates comes from falling bond yields. Canada’s government bond yields have fallen to historic lows in recent months. But part of it comes from the pressure on Canadian buyers as falling rates from the central bank meet rising property prices. Every cut to the interest rate a bank can make brings more buyers able to afford credit.

The danger here is that banks leave themselves perilously overextended in the event of a sharp drop in house prices. David Parkinson, economics reporter at Canada’s Globe and Mail, points out that ‘the oil sector has not only been leading the way in Canada’s export recovery, it has also been the big driver in business capital investment… that means the sector has been leading the way in the two key areas that the Bank of Canada has repeatedly identified as critical to sustaining Canada’s recovery.’

If oil is supporting Canada’s economy, and that’s supporting house price growth, what happens to house prices when the bottom drops out of oil prices?

That depends where you look. As a rule of thumb, Canada’s house prices are more affected by oil the closer they are to its production centre, Alberta, as you’d expect. Edmonton and Calgary’s house prices tend to track oil prices pretty closely. Other Canadian cities don’t. Prices in Toronto could actually benefit from lower oil prices, according to some experts, as slashed oil boosts US GDP and fuels both growth and immigration over the border.

The risk to the broader Canadian housing market is a drop in oil prices coupled with a crack in the foundations of the foreign investment and purchase that’s fuelling house prices in Vancouver and Toronto. Absent such an crack, Canada’s banks can fight their mortgage wars in peace.

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Medelin, Colombia

There are some locations that never seem to go out of style for long – the French Riviera, say, or Florida. Then there are victims of the market, like Spain or Italy, old favourites edged out by economic woes. Second homes can be vacation homes or a stepping stone to repatriation, retirement homes or rental prospects. Whatever the purpose, here’s where everyone’s trying to buy this year.

1: Argentina

Argentina has a market characterized by sharp up and down swings. Right now, it’s in a down swing, meaning the opportunity for a real bargain that will appreciate quickly when the market comes back around. Apartments in Buenos Aires are the usual way to get into Argentine property, unless you’re in the mood to buy a ranch.

2: Istanbul, and Turkey

Turkey’s property market weathered the 2008 storm better than many of its neighbours. While about 25% was sliced off the values of housing in Istanbul in those years, prices recovered and then continued to rise at 10% – 15% a year, a rate of appreciation which continues. A standard house in the Turkish capital can still be a real bargain – and rental and resale prospects are good too. Turkey’s economy is growing at 4-5% and half the population is under 30, meaning that as the economy recovers those people will be looking for homes to buy and rent. It’s wise to focus on Istanbul rather than on the vacation properties on the coast, because these are typically supported only by foreigners and the tourist economy, less stable than Turkey’s main economy.

3: Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is an internationally popular destination – it pulls in Europeans, but also purchasers and visitors from every corner of the globe. It sees big volumes of tourists every year, and is a top Caribbean choice for beginner investors. More and more foreigners are heading this way this year, and that’s partly because property prices are very affordable compared to the rest of then Caribbean.
One-bed new builds a few minutes from a beach can be had for $100, 000 (£60, 000) or thereabouts and the rental market is strong.

4: Spain

It’s symptomatic of Europe’s economic fortunes that Spain has begun to recover its status as the number one destination for British people. Some observers say it’s the best time in 20 years to buy a Spanish property, and it’s very much a tale of two markets: local Spanish markets are still wobbling and may yet fall still further, but expat-driven markets are finding their feet again as foreign buyers come to their rescue. Traditional areas like the Costa del Sol offer good buys for foreigners looking for a second home.

5: Medellin, Colombia

The market in Colombia’s capital, Medellin, has grown by 10% per year for the past six years and shows no sign of abating. The pound is relatively strong against the Colombian peso (so is the dollar, so Brits should expect some Norteamericano competition) and Medellin isn’t everybody’s idea of a South American capital. Looking more like a Central European capital, it has modern infrastructure and a thriving tourist trade as well as a buzzing real economy and plenty of night life. If you’re interested in South America, Medellin almost requires a look.

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Condo Apartment Building in Miami

The Miami real estate market is continuing to perform well, matching its 2013 performance despite increased supply thanks to strong demand. Median and average (mean) house sale prices continued to rise, according to the Miami Association of Realtors.

In the third quarter for 2014, the median sales price for homes in Miami-Dade County was $250,000, an increase of 8.7% on last year, while the median sales price for condominiums rose by 3.5% to $289,000. These latest increases mark the 11th consecutive quarter of price growth in the Miami market for both types of property,

Liza Mendez, chairman of the MAR, said, ‘the Miami real estate market continues to attract the attention of both domestic and foreign buyers, fuelling solid growth and creating opportunities for both buyers and sellers.’

‘While there is more supply available than a year ago, there is still strong demand, and the growth of supply, new listings, sales and prices is more moderate, resulting in a more balanced market,’ Ms. Mendez continued.

Statewide, the median sales price for single family homes was up 4% across Florida form the same time a year ago, according to the latest data from Florida Realtor. The median sales price for condominiums in Florida was up 6.9% compared with the same quarter last year, reaching $139,000.

The average sales price for single family homes and condominiums in Miami Dade county increased 14.9% to $438,431 and 3.8% to $341,927 respectively.

Sales have decreased since last year, however. In the third quarter of this year sales fell across Miami-Dade county by an average of 5% year on year, though that doesn’t necessarily imply a typical ‘price up, sales down’ situation, because the comparison period, the third quarter of 2013, saw record sales activity that was universally agreed to be an unsustainable blip. The majority of the decrease in sales is accounted for by a sharp fall in condominium sales: while single family home sales actually rose 0.2%, condominium sales dropped 9% year on year.

Francisco Angulo, residential president of the MAR, said, ‘in Miami, market performance continues to vary greatly depending on location, property type, price range and other factors.’

‘While in most cases increased supply is offering buyers more choices and less pressure, others are still experiencing significant competition and bidding wars,’ Mr. Angulo went on.

At the current sales pace, Miami has inventory for 5.7 months of single family homes and 8.1 months of condominiums. Compared to the third quarter of 2013, the supply has increased by 13.5% and 33.6% respectively, partly a result of falling condominium sales. A balanced market between vendors and buyers is usually said to mean between six and nine months of inventory, meaning that while the condominium market is becoming a little too buyer-friendly, single family homes remain something of a seller’s market.

Miami’s situation as a favourite US retirement location and a target of choice for foreign investors means that it sees a far higher than average number of cash sales, Since demand shows no sign of slowing for single family homes, the property market in Miami is likely to remain buoyant into the new year and beyond.

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Australia Harbour Bridge

A fifth of British first-time buyers are so eager to get onto the property ladder that they would consider looking abroad for a suitable property, according to a recent survey.

The poll, from comparison website, found that 20% of UK people looking for a house to buy would look abroad for a property. They’re willing to leave the country to find an affordable home – but the figures also suggest that they’re not all that serious about it, at any rate not yet.

For instance, the destinations they listed were overwhelmingly English-speaking – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the USA. Besides distance and language all these nations have something else in common: they’re notoriously hard to get residency in, especially the USA, and lengthy and complex visa protocols mean they’re not necessarily going to save you much money.

The United States was the most popular location among respondents, with 31% saying they would consider moving there, while 29% favoured Australia and 20% New Zealand. Men were more likely than women to consider a move overseas, while respondents aged between 18 and 24 were most likely to want to leave the UK.

Overall, the most popular means to get on the property ladder is the government’s Help to Buy scheme, with 30% describing this as their preferred option.

The poll also found data that’s in keeping with observable trends, such as the 15% of respondents who would consider buying with friends, and increasingly popular choice as the structures of families, lives and careers change. 14% would look at buying a micro home, 13.5% have considered a static caravan or mobile home and 12% consider buying homes with parents or siblings.

‘A lack of affordable housing has resulted in a property market that is closed off to an increasing number of would-be homeowners,’ remarks Matt Sanders, spokesperson for Gocompare Mortgages. ‘As such, it’s hardly surprising that many people feel like they may have to take some rather drastic steps to own a home.’

Some methods are more drastic than others: the same survey revealed some surprising facts about how would-be homeowners view the housing market. 23% said they felt they would only be able to afford a home if they bought one with someone else, while 17% thought they would never own their own home. 10% of respondents felt the only way they would end up owning a property would be if they were left one in a will!

Part of the willingness of first time buyers to move abroad could stem from the fact that they’re facing moving anyway, since many will have to move around the UK to find an affordable property, balancing career and other concerns against regional variations in housing costs. With this in mind, their attitudes to moving abroad make a lot more sense. The question is whether they’ll ever come to fruition. Visas to the United States aren’t getting easier to come by, and Australia and New Zealand are dealing with housing shortages of their own, to the extent that Australia has mooted limiting overseas purchases.

If the current generation of would-be homeowners wants to move abroad, they might find themselves looking more toward the traditional British expatriates’ destinations of France and Spain – and even perhaps towards Eastern Europe and the Baltic states, as work becomes more mobile than housing and EU membership gives them automatic residency rights.

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Buying property abroad

International real estate agents are struggling to give the impression that holiday hotspots like Spain, Portugal and Greece have seen resurgent property markets in the last year, and that buyers who get in quick will get a bargain before prices reflate. However, figures from Eurostat, the EU’s data agency, show much of this optimism to be ill-founded. Across 2013, much of Europe actually saw prices fall, especially in the continent’s holiday areas, while there are many developments in Spain that may never be sold at any price, and many more properties are in the hands of ‘bad’ banks designed to isolate toxic assets.

What does that mean for British property buyers?

Let’s use Spain as a case study.

In Spain, Britain supplies by far the majority of overseas buyers, and most British people are to be found in coastal areas – the traditional holiday hotspots hardest hit by the crash. In many of those areas, there are substantial developments built for a market that no longer exists and which are expected never to find buyers at any price. Unfinished, often sub-standard, the argument over these monuments to hubris centres on whose responsibility the expense is of knocking them down.

And after years of plummeting house prices in Spain, it’s understandable that British buyers would want to tread carefully, but while the picture is mixed there is some good news.

Well into 2014 the Spanish market was providing plenty of grounds for scepticism, but experts now predict price rises in 2015 and prices have actually begun to increase this year.

Professor Gonzalo Bernados, an expert in the property field at the University of Barcelona, believes that house prices in the best districts of Spain’s major cities – Madrid, Barcelonia and Valencia – will rise by as much as 10% in 2015.

Professor Bernados observes that the Spanish economy is showing signs of recovery and that when this is combined with low interest rates, it is more advantageous for many people to buy a home than to rent one.

In a note of warning to those considering buy-to-let, Professor Bernados foresees a decline in the rental market as Spain loses population and the economic pressure in favour of buying. This year has seen the highest number of home sales in Spain since 2011 and both sales and prices are forecast to rise next year.

There are positive signs even in Greece: foreign buyers doubled their investment in Greek property in the first half of 2014 compared to the same period the previous year, and  Greek tourism is recovering faster than the rest of the country’s economy, meaning that now might be a good time to buy a property in Greece.

In Portugal, meanwhile, the news is also, finally, positive. RICS/Ci reports that market confidence is returning, with new buyer enquiries and transactions increasing. ‘PHMS results show sales activity continues to pick up,’ RICS stated in a report, ‘while prices appear to be a step closer to stabilisation.’

Europe’s real estate agents have been talking up the continent’s resurgent market for two years now. Last year, they had little enough evidence on their side: this year, their optimism is looking more realistic. If you’re in the market for a European home, now might be a good time to start looking!

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Las Vegas

New data from the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors (GLVAR) indicates that the median house price in Southern Nevada increased only slightly last month as fewer homes were sold.

GLVAR reported that the median price of single-family homes sold in September this year was $202,500, up 1.3% from $200,000 in July and August, and up 12.5% from a year ago. Meanwhile, the median price of condominiums and towhouses in September went down slightly, by 0.7% from $105,000 in August to $104,250 in September. While month-on-month rises may have slowed, though, prices are still 9.7% up from a year ago.

The president of GLVAR, Heidi Kasama, said, ‘Our housing prices went up slightly last month, but they haven’t really changed much these past few months.’ Our market is entering a more stable time, with inventory levels increasing slightly and price increases moderating. Overall, I still think this is a great time for buyers to enter the market.’

Ms. Kasama also pointed out that GLVAR’s median local house price remains well below the peak for Southern Nevada property prices, in June 2006, when the median price was $315,000 – yet prices are also significantly above the rock-bottom $118,000 median of January 2012 too, meaning a more stable market. It’s also a good market for investors – median house prices rose by 24% year-on-year in 2012 and 2013.

However, stock is running down. GLVAR said the total number of existing homes, condominiums and townhouses sold in September was 2,982, down from 3,120 in August and from 3,259 in September of 2013. Kasama said local home sales are running about 12% behind last year’s figures. In fact stock is running so low that it may be destabilizing the market: there’s about enough housing stock in Southern Nevada to support current sales for four months. REALTORS® considers that a six-month supply is a sign of a balanced market.

Distressed sales have been falling for the last two years, according to GVLAR. That trend has continued in September when GLVAR reported that 10.4% of all sales were ‘short sales’ – where a lender allows the sale of a distressed property for less than is owed on the mortgage. That’s down from 11.5% in August, and straight bank-owned sales were also down, to 8.8% from August’s 8.9%.

Part of the decline in sales in Southern Nevada is a result of uncertainty in the market as to whether Congress will vote to extend the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, which expired on December 31, 2013. If Congress doesn’t reenact the law and make it retroactive to January 1 2014, there will be an unexpected and significant tax hit for anyone who completed a short sale in 2014, a consideration which is understandably subduing the market in that area.

Another consideration is that the real estate market in Southern Nevada appears to be shifting bases. In September, the monthly total value of real estate transactions was down 11.3% for homes – but it rose 16.8% from August on condominiums and townhouses.

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The narrative we’re used to hearing is pretty simple. Whether the fault lies with an economy that doesn’t provide young people with opportunities or with a lazy, entitled generation that doesn’t know how to save and can’t live without superfast wi-fi, takeout coffee with cinnamon in it and pop tarts for breakfast is a matter of personal opinion, but the facts are very clear. Generation Y – the generation that’s now between 18 and 33 – aren’t moving out of their parents’ houses to form households of their own.

That’s a problem for them – at 18, the basement room looks pretty sweet, but by 30 you’re not so impressive or impressed – and a problem for parents who were looking forward to an empty nest and find themselves sharing staid family homes with their adult children. But it’s a massive problem for the property market in America and in Britain, too, where the same trend is present. Simply put, your country needs YOU – to buy a house, and millennials aren’t cooperating.

Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at, sums up: ‘the story line has been that millennials are not forming households, they’re living with mom and dad.’ But Mr. Smoke points out that that isn’t where they want to stay, if the numbers are anything to go by. In July this year, more than a third of people between 25 and 34 used a mobile device to look at real estate data. That leads him to the opinion that millennials are planning their next move – even if it’s their first – and reaching for the natural tool of their generation, mobile internet, to research the market and learn their options.

That impression is backed up by data from elsewhere. Millennials might be staying with their parents for now, but it’s not the plan – according to a recent Redfin survey, 92% of 25-34-year-olds who don’t currently have a home want to buy one in the future. And they have pretty clear ideas about what they want, according to Nela Richardson, Redfin’s chief economist.

That’s important because we can expect millennials to one day comprise the majority of the housing market, as their parents stop buying and younger people with less income and different interests can’t buy as much market share. The wants and needs of the ‘baby boom’ generation shaped the American housing market for decades, and millennials, says Ms. Richardson, will do the same. Mr. Smoke agrees, and points out that there are 87 million millennials in the USA – compared with 75 million boomers.

Amenity-rich urban environments are currently the big draws for millennial renters, the segment of the population that has a say about where it lives. All the clichés are in place, like coffee shops and bars, but so are some eminently practical, down-to-earth considerations like walking to work and proximity to transportation. Ms. Richardson thinks that when millennials come to buy homes, they’ll transfer this amenity-rich lifestyle right along, and she foresees a suburbia transfigured by millennial preferences. But there’s another alternative. What if millennials are the generation that repopulates American cities – and what if the same happens in the UK and Europe?

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Fears about a recurrence of a new property bubble dog the Scandinavian housing markets – with some reason. In Denmark, the price of an apartment in the port city of Copenhagen has risen twice as fast as house prices in the same area, according to Denmark’s statistics agency.

It means apartment prices in Copenhagen now are higher, relative to income, than they’ve ever been in Denmark – and there’s never been a bigger mismatch between house and apartment prices either, says Danske Bank A/S (Danske), which is both Denmark’s largest bank and the parent company of the country’s second largest mortgage lender. The sales price of an apartment rose by 6.3% year-on-year in May this year; house prices rose by 2.4% year-on-year in the same period.

Denmark isn’t the only Scandinavian economy that’s showing signs of pressure, and Sweden and Norway are both already working to cool their bubbling housing markets, especially in major cities.

Sune Mortensen, vice president at Nykredit Realkredit A/S, Europe’s biggest issuer of mortgage-backed covered bonds, weighs in. ‘You see growth again, you see rising home equity again,’ Mr. Mortensen says, adding, ‘when we saw that the last time, people lost their minds and their good sense.’

Apartments have been a better indicator than houses of the direction of the housing market, and the apartment market is speeding up at a far faster rate than the house market. An 80-square-metre apartment in Copenhagen now costs the same as a 140-square-metre house, according to Christian Heinig, chief economist for RealKredit Danmark, Danske Bank’s mortgage arm.

So what’s causing the disparity? Low interest rates, which restricted price falls after the 2008 collapse to about 20% (for comparison purposes prices fell in Spain by 46% overall and up to 70% in some areas), now risk sending prices rocketing as credit comes into the reach of more people faster.

Mr. Heinig thinks this risks causing a second bubble, especially in the Copenhagen area, and points out that low interest rates and a market led by red-hot major cities and not appreciably cooled by rural slumps is a worldwide phenomenon. The peak in prices represented by Copenhagen isn’t just tall – it’s narrow too.

In Copenhagen’s suburbs prices are almost a third lower. ‘The risk,’ he told Bloomberg, ‘will naturally rise as soon as the Danish economy moves into high gear at the same time rates stay relatively low for a long period.’

Denmark may have the same housing market problems as a lot of other countries – but it has some issues that are all its own too. Demand for Denmark’s covered bonds, which fund virtually all mortgages in Denmark, may be fuelling price increases by holding down the cost of borrowing and increasing demand. Add in the increasing safe-haven investment from Ukraine, where investors fear political unrest and see Denmark as secure, and there’s a recipe for danger. When that combines with a rising tide that makes Danish families to forget the lesson of the 2008 crash – ‘be wary of debt’ – it’s easy to see why so many people are concerned.

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Australian Housing

Figures have been released showing that land prices in Australia are on the rise. The increases are largely concentrated in the country’s capital cities, and there was a sharp difference between the increases in capitals and in the country as a whole. The news comes as the property market in Australia attracts attention for price growth that some commentators say signifies a bubble.

At the same time, auction sales are also rising in Australia. According to RP Data spokesperson Robert Larocca, scheduled sales by auction rose by 12% in September 2013, with capital cities seeing most of the action.

Australian land prices have risen sharply, with an average 6% rise across capital cities to a AU$247, 000 median lot price, but in the regions the increase has been negligible, with growth of only 0.6% to a median AU$156, 000 price.

RP Data’s national research director Tim Lawless commented that price growth is being driven by factors including a lack of vacant residential land and an overall reduction in land lot size. ‘The follow-on effect for the housing market has become a key contributor to the rising cost of housing – this is particularly noticeable in capital city markets,’ Mr. lawless said.

That sharp rise focussed on capital cities has some people worried, pointing to the fact that by some measures Australia’s houses are already overpriced. Australian homes are among the world’s most expensive when measured against rents and incomes, key indicators of affordability and of the market’s link with the real economy. The Bank for International Settlements, which acts as a central bank to the central banks of the world’s nations, pointed out that the Australian housing market looked vulnerable to sharp corrections when it released its report earlier this month. For a number of countries, including Australia, the report stated, ‘current property prices are much higher than those implied by the historical relationship to rent,’ and therefore ‘there could be a reason to expect a price correction in the future.’

Across Australia, that process may have already begun. Across the country prices have been flat for the last three years, a blanket view which masks sharp increases in Melbourne and Sydney and drops in prices in the regions.

What’s even more disconcerting is that in the background, China’s economy is grinding slowly to a halt. As that happens, demand for Australia’s key industry, mining, falls too, undermining the real economy even as a wildly out-of-balance housing market struggles to stay on the tightrope. Even in Sydney, where prices have been rising, regulators like the Reserve Bank and the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority have been letting investors know that ‘they shouldn’t expect house prices to continue to rise,’ according to financial journalist Jonathan Shapiro.

The form that the correction is likely to take is that owner-occupiers will reduce their demand, and that when that happens, investors, many of whom are already jittery, will start to sell.

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Costa Del Sol

Spanish House Prices Rise – And Foreign Buyers in Spain Face Regulations That Give With One Hand, Take With the Other

House prices in Spain are rising again. In the second quarter of this year, prices in the country, one of the worst affected by the financial crash of 2008, have risen for the first time in six years, according to the Instituto Nacional de Aestidiscica (INE).

The annual variation in the property price index (IPV) increased more than two points in the second quarter of 2014, rising to 0.8%, the first positive rise since 2008. The price indicator of new houses showed an increase of 1.9%, three points higher than the first quarter of this year and the first positive increase since the last quarter of 2008.

These positive indicators have provoked analysis out of all proportion to the tiny 0.8% rise in prices, exactly because it is a rise. What it isn’t is a sustained long-term growth in a housing market powered by a real economy. In fact, Spain’s unemployment rate has actually risen slightly. Construction industry data is unpromising, and credit availability is an ongoing bone of contention in Spain.

Further price adjustment could be around the corner, and there is the danger that a modest rise in prices might trigger vendors, both institutional and private, to act to shed properties which they have been eager to offload for some time. A major obstacle to the development of fluidity in the Spanish market has been the unwillingness of vendors to drop prices any lower: the current slight rise might trigger a fresh round of sales.

As with many national statistics, the figures hid major regional variation. What’s really happening in Spain isn’t a timid recovery: in some areas it looks like full recovery, while in others the nosedive continues. In Valenciana, sales rose by 4.3%, a respectable increase. In Murcia, they fell by 11.8% year on year. The big winner is Malaga province, location of the Costa del Sol, where prices have jumped by 24% year on year – as against 10.7% nationally.

For British buyers, the ground in Spain is shifting in other ways too.

Plans to axe the tax allowance for retirees are mooted right now, meaning that British expatriates living on pensions could face a tax rate of 20% on their income, losing up to €4, 000 a year. The move would be wildly unpopular: expats, and those who would like to become expats, can look to better news from elsewhere on Spanish taxes though.

The European Union’s top court in Luxembourg recently ruled that Spain’s tax system is against EU law, and that accordingly, the Spanish government will have to alter inheritance tax laws which disproportionately privilege Spanish over non-Spanish people. Spain’s government has yet to be clear on when this will happen, but it does have to comply with the instructions from the EU.

What does this mean for British and other overseas buyers? If your income is mostly from a fixed source like a pension you probably stand to lose out financially. Others stand to gain from the changing tax rules. And the market remains uncertain: there are bargains to be had, and growth in some areas is already well underway, while others remain depressed, meaning the potential for rental is reduced. Some Spanish locations will always be popular – witness the revival of the Costa del Sol.