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REVEALED: Where in Europe have house prices and rent costs increased the most?

Is it time to buy a property in Italy, Cyprus or Greece? House prices have shot up across Europe in recent years but there are major differences between certain countries.

REVEALED: Where in Europe have house prices and rent costs increased the most?
Italy is one of the few countries where property prices have decreased compared to 2010. (Photo by Nils Schirmer on Unsplash)

House prices have risen by an eye-watering 45 percent, and rents by 17 percent, across the EU since 2010, the latest figures released by the EU statistical office Eurostat reveal.

However, there are major differences among countries. In Austria, house prices have more than doubled and rents have increased by 45 percent compared to over a decade ago. In other countries, they have stalled or declined over the same period.

Greece is a notable example, with prices plummeting by 23 percent and rents by 25 percent between 2010 and 2021.

In Italy, house prices have fallen over overall since 2010 although like much of the EU they have been rising again in recent years.  Rent prices in Italy have registered only a modest increase, while Spain has recorded very small rises in both rents and house prices.

Here is the situation in the countries covered by The Local, according to Eurostat.

Finding a new home abroad?

Between 2010 and the first quarter of 2022, house prices have more than doubled in Austria (+114 percent) and have grown even more in Estonia, Hungary, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, Latvia and Lithuania.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What you need to know about buying property in Germany

In Germany, house prices shot up by a hefty 94 percent, in Sweden by 92 percent and in Norway by 91 percent.

Denmark (59 percent) and France (29 percent) also recorded double-digit growth.

Spain was the country with the smallest rise, 3 percent, among those countries covered by The Local.

Over the same period, prices have declined in Italy (-10 percent), Cyprus (-8 percent) and Greece (-23 percent).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The hidden costs of buying a home in Italy

According to Italian real estate agency Tecnocasa, house prices in the country are now 29 percent lower than in 2010, even though a slow upward trend started in 2017. Only Milan bucks the trend, with an 8.5 percent increase between 2010 and 2021.

The reasons behind these data, according to Fabiana Migliola, director of Tecnocasa’s research unit, are dwindling salaries and low capital availability, with most buyers being able to afford properties of up to €250,000.

“Of course, a modest growth of real estate and lower prices compared to many other countries inside and outside of Europe make our country attractive to investors,” Migliola said. “This is a phenomenon we have recorded above all in the holiday home market, as 2021 signalled an increase in the number of holiday homes purchased by foreign buyers, especially from the US, France and Eastern Europe.”

2022 could be a year of adjustment, she continued, but rising interest rates could have an impact on buyers who finance their home purchases with a mortgage.

Looking at prices, the agency forecasts a recovery with a rise between 2 and 4 percent, with high demand currently from Italians.

Scaffolding on a high-rise apartment block

Austria has seen the highest average rent increase over the last 12 years. (Photo: Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Where is it cheaper to rent?

Rents have not risen quite as much as house prices, but they have risen steadily since 2010.

Between 2010 and 2022, rent increased by 17 percent on average across the EU. The highest growth among the countries covered by The Local was in Austria, with a whopping 45 percent rise. Denmark (21 percent), Sweden (21 percent), Germany (17 percent) and Switzerland (10 percent) also experienced a double-digit rise.

READ ALSO: Property: How to find a rental flat when you arrive in Austria

Increases were more modest in Italy (7 percent), Spain (5 percent) and France (8 percent).

The highest growth was in Estonia (177 percent), Lithuania (127 percent) and Ireland (77 percent).

On the other hand, in Greece, rents decreased by a quarter over the period, and Cyprus recorded a -1 percent.

The problem of affordability

While average increase rates only give a partial picture of the real estate market, an additional indicator cited by Eurostat is the housing cost overburden rate, the percentage of people spending 40 percent or more of their disposable income on housing.

READ ALSO: 5 of the most affordable places to buy property in France

Despite its plummeting house prices and rents, Greece had the highest rate in 2020, with one in three people (33.3 percent) spending 40 percent or more of their income on housing.

Other European countries with a high-cost overburden rate are Denmark (14 percent) and Switzerland (14 percent).

Just below the 10 percent line stand Norway and Germany (9 percent), Spain (8 percent), Sweden (8 percent) and Italy (7 percent).

Despite the significant rise, Austria has a relatively low-cost overburden rate, at 6 percent.

How has Brexit impacted British buyers?

For British citizens, Brexit may have added difficulties to the purchase of properties in EU locations. Countries such as Austria have specific restrictions for non-EU citizens and where there are no restrictions, higher taxes and new immigration rules may result in fewer British buyers entering the market.

In Spain, it was reported this week that purchases by British residents, which used to make up almost a quarter of all transactions (24 percent), now only account for 12 percent.

However, a recent survey among 900 British buyers found that only 4 percent had given up plans to purchase a property abroad due to the difficulties caused by Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic. Some 11 percent went ahead as planned last year and 85 percent are still planning to buy.

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This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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EXPLAINED: How to restructure and reduce your mortgage in Denmark

Denmark's unique borrowing system has enabled thousands of people to restructure their mortgages this year, cashing in on high interest rates which have caused a drop in market value of covered bonds. We explain how it all works and how you can potentially pay off a sum of your mortgage.

EXPLAINED: How to restructure and reduce your mortgage in Denmark

How does the mortgage system work in Denmark?

Denmark has a unique mortgage model, which is regarded as one of the best in the world.

When you take out a loan to buy a house in Denmark, the bank finances the loan through a covered bond [Danish:realkreditobligation,ed.] What makes the model unique is that you as the borrower know exactly what covered bond is issued to finance the loan.

“This direct link is very special to Denmark,”  Peter Jayaswal, executive director at Finans Danmark told The Local.

“You can follow what the market price is for the bond that is funding your loan in the capital market. A German borrower for example has a mortgage by the German bank issuing a loan using a covered bond. But there is no link, so the homeowner doesn’t know what the bond is.

“In Denmark, you can see it exactly. You can go onto your bank website everyday and follow the market price. That means that we have this early repayment system where I as a borrower am allowed to prepay my loan by buying back at market price the bond that has funded my loan,” Jayaswal explained.

When interest rates are increasing, it means that the price on the bonds is decreasing and this is why thousands of homeowners in Denmark have bought out their bonds this year, at a low market value and paid off a portion of their mortgage. 

READ ALSO: Interest rates encourage Danes to restructure mortgages

So how can I make this early repayment on my mortgage?

The first thing to do is to set up a meeting with your bank so they can assess whether you will benefit from the drop in bond value.

The market price of covered bonds is well documented in Danish media but you can also follow them on your bank’s website or by asking for an appointment with your bank to assess your current mortgage.

“You may at some point in the past have taken out a mortgage of 1 million kroner with a one percent fixed interest rate. To keep it simple, let’s say the loan is without amortisation.  When you took out this mortgage, the bond was issued at 99 kroner meaning that the nominal debt will be around 1,010,100 kroner to give a 1 million kroner revenue.

“Today you can see the interest rates have increased and the price on the bond financing your loan is say 80 kroner. As a borrower you can buy the bond in the market at market price and prepay the mortgage loan. But you only need to take out a new loan of around 808,000 kroner to do this.

“So you can take a new loan out at 808,000 kroner and use this to repay your existing loan and reduce your debt by around 200,000 kroner. This transaction can be done simultaneously by your bank, so you won’t end up with two loans,” Jayaswal told The Local.

What about interest rates on my mortgage?

The interest rate you get for your mortgage can be fixed or variable and they mirror the prices investors pay for the bonds. 

Fixed rate mortgage

Today, the fixed interest rate is five percent. This means that if you decide to buy your bond at the lower market value, you will have to take out a new loan at a higher interest rate.

“Using the example of reducing your mortgage by 200,000 kroner by buying the bond at a low market value, every month you are now paying an interest rate of five percent fixed term, rather than your one percent you had before. So you are paying more each month for the benefit of paying off a portion of your mortgage early and the benefits will decrease over time. 

“You usually break even after around ten to fourteen years but the bank will calculate this for you,” Jayaswal said.

“If you know you’re moving in two to three years, it makes sense to get a new loan with a higher interest rate because you’ll have to repay the loan anyway when you move. But if you think you’ll be in your home a long time, keeping this loan, then you need the interest rate to decrease in ten to fourteen years.

“And that’s the problem because we must be frank and say we can do all the forecasts but in the end no one knows what future interest rates will be, so it has to be the decision of the borrower,” Jayaswal explained.

Variable rate mortgage 

The other option is to take out a variable interest rate mortgage to buy the bond, which today is around three percent. However this carries a risk, as the interest rates are adjusted on a regular basis. F3 loans, for example, are adjusted every three years, while F5 loans have adjustments every five years.

“Changing from a fixed to variable interest rate, to reduce your debt and avoid an increase in interest rate, comes with a risk that you don’t have a fixed rate for 30 years, so you are more exposed and that’s very important be aware of,” Jayaswal told The Local.

On Monday, the company Totalkredit, the largest provider of real estate loans for private homes, auctioned flexible loans with resulting interest rates exceeding 3 percent on the F1, F3 and F5 loan types. That means the interest on these types of mortgages will be at their highest for several years.

According to Finans Danmark, Danish home owners have repaid 337 billion kroner of their mortgages in the first three quarters of 2022. Many of these home owners have chosen to switch to variable interest rates. You can swap back to a fixed-rate mortgage at any time but you also have to be aware that these rates may have increased by then too. 

How do I decide which option to take?

“I always say to people, feel free to go to your bank, ask them to make the calculations for you, so you have the foundation to make a decision”, Jayaswal says.

“Some might think a 30-year mortgage at a fixed rate of one percent is great, especially because today interest rate is five percent. Others won’t mind paying a five percent interest rate for a few years, because they want to reduce their debt today and believe interest rates will decrease. It is up to the borrower to decide.

“It’s not that one option is better than the other, it’s that you have opportunities and this is unique in Denmark,” Jayaswal said.

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