Property Investment: Spoiled for Choice in Europe’s Emerging Markets

You could be forgiven for thinking that property is the new dot.com. It seems that anybody with a few extra bucks to spare is trying to get in on the current boom. Pushed along by the many television programmes selling hot new property destinations, newspaper articles regularly highlighting the returns to be made in foreign property markets, and the abundant websites offering property all around the world, would be investors are rushing by the thousands into emerging markets accompanied only by the certainty of making a killer return.

Many of these are young people who, priced out of their home markets are eager to get a foot on the property ladder in cheaper markets abroad. Others are coming in off the back of property booms in their own country, particularly the British and Irish and increasingly, the Spanish.

But while investors may be dreaming of a property that will offer high rental yields and high capital growth at the same time, sourcing the right property markets in which to make that investment is vital to achieving solid returns. With so much attention being focused on emerging markets, it is difficult for the rookie investor to know exactly where the next revolution in property is going to be.

Bulgaria, for many, is the obvious choice. For the small time investor or holiday home buyer, Bulgaria offers an affordable entry point. Receiving massive attention from the media, it has become a hot bed of investor activity, particularly around the Black Sea Coast and the Ski resorts. With property prices far below the EU average and capital growth averaging 60-70% per year, it’s not surprising. Bulgaria’s growing reputation as a tourist destination is also in its favour and many speculate that the Bulgarian property market will mirror the trends that were seen in the Spanish property market, particularly after its entry to the EU.

Many predicted that the ‘Eastern Eight’ – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovenia and Slovakia, on entry to the EU would contribute to the biggest property boom Europe has experienced in at least the last 10 years. While investor interest in the new Europe countries is significant, particularly among the Irish, British and Germans, prices are not rising at alarming rates and to some extent over saturation of the market by investors has meant that rental yields are not as high as they might be. While the property market in some of these countries has taken off on the back of EU accession, others such as Slovakia are struggling to raise their profile when it comes international investors.

Investing in European emerging property markets brings the risk that comes with investing in any new territory. However, for those daring enough to take the risk, the returns are far higher than those achieved by investing in the more traditional markets such as France or Spain. Take Romania as an example. Moving into a markets such as Romania now would require a great deal of courage, particularly when the country is still battling organised crime and negative world opinion, but the chances are that ten years down the road, Romania’s small Black Sea coastline will take off in much the same way as Bulgaria’s has over the past five years. The rewards are always greater for those brave enough to go in early.

Dubai is another strong contender among investors interested in emerging markets. Dubai, for many, has the winning formula; sun, sand, glamour, spectacular developments, liberal tax regimes and reasonably priced property. Though Dubai’s property market is probably the most glamorous and sophisticated in the world, it is still possible to pick up a bargain property that is sure to yield high returns. A one bed roomed apartment just 20 minutes drive outside Dubai can still be bought for around £35,000. While rental yields have dropped from 8 – 9 % in the last year to a more realistic 6 – 7 %, these are still healthy returns compared to major Eastern European contenders. The major concern with Dubai is that currently it is largely a speculators market, with properties being bought and sold several times before the builders have even left. If speculators decided to pull out, it could lead to total collapse of the market. However, measures are being implemented to discourage speculation with banks lending only on the original cost of the property, leaving investors the task of seeking alternative finance for the premiums that can be incurred on transfer of properties.

It is worth bearing in mind that all property markets, not just those that are newly emerging, carry risks. The key to making a success of any investment is good research. Gathering as much information as possible and keeping up to date with market trends is vital to making an investment project go smoothly. This is even more relevant when buying property in foreign markets. Seek professional advice, work with reliable agents and always be willing to do your homework.

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