The housing market in Croatia remains depressed. House prices are falling. Construction activity is declining.
In Zagreb, the capital, the average asking price of flats was down by 0.3% in January 2012 from the previous month, and down by 4.8% from a year earlier, at €1,738 per square metre (sq. m.), according to CentarNekretnina, the largest Croatian property portal.
On the Adriatic Coast, Croatia’s most popular tourist destination, the average price of flats was down by 1.7% from the previous month and down by 4.1% from a year earlier, at €1,787 per sq. m.
The most expensive apartments are in southern Dubrovnik-Neretva County, with an average price of €3,424 per sq. m. in January 2012, followed by Split Dalmatia, with an average apartment price of €2,525 per sq. m.Property prices in Croatia have been falling for the past three years.
As of October 2011, the total number of residential building permits dropped by 2.8% to 5,080 from the same period in the previous year, according to the Croatian Bureau of Statistics.
House prices are expected to fall by another 10% in 2012, according to local property experts. In Zagreb, prices are projected to fall by about 10%, according to Domenico Devescovi of CentarNekretnina. “Prices will continue to drop also in other places," Devescovi adds.
The property market has been adversely affected by the country’s stagnating economy and the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis. Croatia’s economy is expected to shrink by around 1.3% in 2012, after registering 0.4% growth in 2011, after contractions of 1.2% in 2010, and 6% in 2009. Worse, the possible imposition of a property tax could exacerbate the already grim scenario.
The high point of the boom was perhaps 2007, an exceptional year in the Croatian housing markets. The average price of newly built dwellings in Croatia surged 26% to HRK11,252 (€1,514) per sq. m. from HRK8,939 (€1,203) in 2006. This was in sharp contrast to 0.7% (3.9% in real terms) drop in house prices in 2005, and the negligible 0.3% increase in 2006 (2.8% drop in real terms).
While housing demand and supply has been increasing since 2001, the erratic movement of house prices can probably be attributed to changes in speculative demand. Wealthy Croatians traditionally park their wealth in housing in times of uncertainty. For instance, when the economy started to weaken in late 1998, demand for new housing increased substantially. The average price of new houses rose by almost 20% in 1999 - the year of President Fradjo Tudjman’s death - while the economy contracted 0.8%.
There are about 70,000 foreigners who own property in Croatia, mostly along the Adriatic Coast. Due to complexities regarding taxation and foreign ownership rules, most of them bought through a company.
Real estate is more actively traded in the Adriatic coastal areas and other popular tourist destinations. The Northern peninsula of Istria is home to a property boom fuelled by German buying.
Around 55% of approved permits for foreign acquisitions were granted to Germans. Austrians come in second place with 16% of permits granted, followed by Britons (6%), Hungarians (4%) and Dutch (3%).
Of Croatia’s 20 counties (or regions), the five most popular with foreign buyers are on the Adriatic Coast: Istria (33% of foreign-owned properties), Primorje-Gorski Kotar (26%), Split-Dalmatia (12%), Zadar (8%), and Dubrokniv-Neretva (6%). Only 3% of foreign buyers chose Zagreb City.
During the War of Independence (1991-1995), dwelling completions dropped to less than 10,000 annually, from the previous annual 20,000-30,000 (1981-1990). The war also left a significant amount of the dwelling stock damaged.
The post-war period was equally challenging. The shift from socialism to a market economy saw much privatization in favour of authoritarian President Fradjo Tudjman’s cronies. Dwelling construction increased to an average of 12,787 units p.a. from 1996 to 1999, still far from enough.
Tudjman’s death in December 1999 and the subsequent election of a new government led to substantial reforms in the economy and a sudden increase in house prices in 1999. As a result, construction surged to 17,487 completions in the year 2000. Around 18,000 dwellings were completed annually from 2002 to 2005. Improved economic conditions combined with the launch of cheap housing programs and changes in ownership laws, plus new zoning restrictions and building regulations, then led to further increases in construction activity.
The number of dwellings completed rose to about 25,500 annually from 2007 to 2008.
However the recent downturn dampened enthusiasm for construction, and completions fell to 18,740 in 2009. There were only 11,950 dwelling permits issued in Croatia during the year to November 2010, down from 24,585 permits in 2008.
Interest rates on housing credits loans have been rising recently, to an average of 6.3% in 2010, despite record-low ECB rates. Most mortgages in Croatia are variable rate, indexed to the euro (previously to the deutschemark) or Swiss Francs.
Commercial banks still dominate the housing finance market, though the building societies’ share of loans has increased from 1% in 2003 to 5% in 2010. But Croatia’s mortgage market has seen significant development during the past decade. The old large state-owned banks have been privatized, and commercial banks have been restructured. Austrian, Italian and German banks have entered the market, leading to better capitalization and more competition.
As a result, the mortgage market grew from 4.7% of GDP in 2000 to 18% of GDP in 2010, as interest rates fell during the years to 2007. From 2002 to 2007, the amount of outstanding housing loans rose by 31% annually. However, due to the global crisis, outstanding housing loans grew by just 1.4% in 2009 and 7% in 2010.
Croatia’s long-term rental market is very small, concentrating on short-term holiday rentals for foreigners and tourists. Long-term rental properties are concentrated in the metropolitan areas of Zagreb, Dubronik, and Split.
In Zagreb, a 120-sq. m. apartment rents for about HRK9,290 (€1,250) per month while a 200-sq. m. apartment has a monthly rent of HRK16,945 (€2,280).
Three-bedroom seaside flats located in the Adriatic Coast rent for about HRK8,919 (€1,200) per month. On the other hand, two-bedroom houses in the same area command around HRK13,378 (€1,800) per month.
Gross rental yields in Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, are moderate, at around 5.5% to 6.0%, according to a Global Property Guide research conducted in September 2010. There is no particular connection between size of apartment and yields.
There was 0.4% growth in 2011, according to Croatia’s central bank. In 2009 Croatia fell into recession and its economy contracted by 6%. Then in 2010, the economy shrank by 1.5% Croatia’s economy had expanded by an average of 4.6% from 2000-2007, but growth slowed to 2.4% in 2008 due to the global financial crisis.
Real GDP growth is projected by the government to be 0.8% in 2012. However, local economists and other private organizations are skeptical, expecting the economy to slip into recession in 2012, shrinking by 1.3%, due to the euro-area’s sovereign debt crisis and domestic spending cuts, according to the Croatian Banking Association. This is in line with the World Bank’s forecast of 1% economic contraction this year.
In 2011, the country’s budget deficit was about 6.2% of GDP, the highest level in the past 8 years. To slash the budget deficit to 4.2% of GDP in 2012, the new government proposes to cut spending by HRK4.6 billion (€604 million) this year.
The country’s inflation reached 2.3% in 2011, according to the Croatian Bureau of Statistics. The inflation rate is expected to be 2.4% in 2012 and 2.5% in 2013.
Croatia is now due to join the European Union in July 1, 2013, provided that all 27 member states ratify accession. EU membership is expected to bring foreign investment and stronger economic growth.
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