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Marbella Makes a Splash
Wall Street Journal, March 2015

Spain’s top coastal resort is in high demand again, as buyers seek luxury year-round getaways

The ritzy, sun-soaked Spanish coastal city of Marbella is beginning to resemble Southern California more than southern Spain, as a year-round population of about 140,000 grows and an additional 600,000 or more flock there in the summer for power-shopping, yacht-gazing and sunbathing on the beach.

The area’s key selling point is its welcoming microclimate: Tucked between the mountains and the Mediterranean, the city has cooler summers and warmer winters than its neighbors on Spain’s Costa del Sol, and more sun than its rival resorts farther up the Mediterranean coast.

In the 1960s and ’70s, it was a popular destination for European jet-setters with names like Onassis and Bismarck. But like much of southern Europe, Marbella saw prices plunge following the global economic turmoil of 2008. Now, the area is on the rebound, thanks to renewed interest from Middle Eastern and Scandinavian second-home buyers, better infrastructure and year-round appeal to younger buyers.

The Marbella market’s most expensive mansions are mainly in four areas. La Zagaleta and Sierra Blanca feature dramatic mountainside settings, while Los Monteros and the Golden Mile have serene beachfront estates. More centrally located, Sierra Blanca and the Golden Mile offer convenience.

The prices of Marbella’s high-end homes—generally defined as starting at €5 million, or about $5.4 million—dropped about 15% during the economic crisis.

Recent sales in La Zagaleta include a 16,194-square-foot home for just under $9.8 million. The five-bedroom, seven-bathroom villa has 1,722-square-feet of terraces, indoor and outdoor pools, and a home cinema. Marbella’s Tobal Arquitectos, which built about half of the development’s 230 existing homes, did the design.

Diego Tobal, a principal in the practice, says the market’s resurgence reflects a changing demographic in local high-end buyers. “People now live here year-round,” says the 36-year-old, who grew up in Marbella.

This new generation of homeowners may commute to Central or Northern Europe during the week and spend long weekends in the sun, he says. He also has clients now based in the area full-time, including Jesper Buch, a Danish investor in tech start-ups in the U.K. and Scandinavia.

Mr. Buch, 39 years old, wanted to take advantage of Marbella’s good weather and its improved access. He spent years deciding where exactly to live. “I didn’t want front-line beach, and I wanted sea views,” he says, but he didn’t want a remote location.

In 2011, he bought a partially completed house above Puerto Banús, known for its boutiques and yacht-filled harbor. He paid about $1.6 million, then spent another $1.1 million on upgrades.

Today, he has a roughly 8,608-square-foot, seven-bedroom, five-bathroom mansion—with sea views—that he shares with his girlfriend and two children. Amenities include a heated outdoor pool and a full array of smart-home features. He estimates the home’s current value at $3.8 million.

Mr. Buch, like many newer Marbella arrivals, works from his mansion. He often hosts entrepreneurs for long weekends—marked by meetings in his home conference room and downtime in a lounge he equipped with sophisticated speakers. “It’s basically a nightclub,” he says.

The small town of Marbella was reinvented by Spanish nobleman Ricardo Soriano and his nephew, Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe-Langenburg in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The prince’s prime beachfront estate was turned into the Marbella Club Hotel in the mid 1950s, and it soon attracted European high society. By the 1980s, a wider range of sun-seekers had arrived.

Today, homes on Marbella Club Hotel grounds still have special appeal. A furnished, four-bedroom, four-bathroom 3,293-square-foot villa there is listed for $5.4 million.

While Marbella’s main allure is the weather, the expansion of the Málaga-Costa del Sol Airport, a half-hour’s drive away. Marbella—once isolated—is now better connected to major European cities. Also, a high-speed train line, inaugurated in 2007, has cut traveling time to Madrid to about three hours.

Marbella property sales surged more than 28% in volume in 2014 over the previous year. Industry professionals point to the return of Middle Eastern buyers to the market, and consistent demand among Scandinavians, especially Norwegians, who can now get to Marbella in only four hours from Oslo.

Marbella’s real-estate crisis began even before the 2008 downturn. Starting in the mid-1990s, the region endured years of corruption, leading in 2013 to the conviction of many local officials, including two former mayors, on a variety of charges related to construction kickbacks. In 2006, Spain’s national government temporarily dissolved Marbella’s city council. Today, the city has a reliable government and sensible planning regulations.

Mr. Tobal, the local architect, sees a silver lining even in Marbella’s troubles. He says the slowdown in building in the wake of the scandals spared Marbella from the worst of the overdevelopment in other areas of the coast.

La Zagaleta, a nearly 3.5-square-mile development, was forged in the 1990s by investors who acquired the former estate of Saudi-born businessman Adnan Khashoggi. Its secluded mountain mansions, with sea views taking in the Rock of Gibraltar and the Moroccan coast, are prized. Residents can pay for access to two 18-hole golf courses.

Los Monteros, where actor Antonio Banderas has a home, also is popular. The fastest-growing demand among high-end buyers, however, is for Sierra Blanca. A 1995 five-bedroom on a half-acre lot is listed for $6.1 million.

Mr. Tobal says today’s year-round residents are more restrained than past visitors. Their mansions may be 16,140 square feet with 23-foot ceilings, but materials like stone and wood temper excess. “We try to be as far away from bling as possible,” he says.

 

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Delicioso! Forget The Only Way Is Essex, Marbella is fast becoming one of Spain’s best destinations for foodies

Daily Mail, United Kingdom, March 2015

When I told friends and colleagues I was going to Marbella for the weekend, there were a few predicable jokes about The Only Way Is Essex association with the resort.

However, long before the reality show came to town, Marbella has long been a hot destination on Spain’s Costa De Sol. 

Known for being a playground for the rich and famous, there has to be more than just good weather and a beach to attract such a clientèle and I was about to find out. 

Situated about 40 minute drive west of Malaga airport, Marbella is one of the most popular resorts in Andalusia, with its own micro-climate being one of the big draws. I spent three days in Marbella in early November and couldn’t believe how warm it was, averaging about 22C with lots of sunshine.

Located not far from Moroccan coast, the Moorish influence can be seen in the Old Town – a charming and historic place, a stark contrast from the luxury hotels and villas lining the coastline.

I was staying the Puente Romano Hotel on the ‘Golden Mile’ – located between Marbella and Puerto Banus. Having recently undergone a multi-million Euro refurbishment, the five-star resort includes seven restaurants and world-class tennis courts, which hosts international tournaments and concerts. 

The hotel is named after the 1st century Roman bridge – believed to be part of the route from Rome to Cadiz – which still stands today in the new Plaza Village – a hub for many of the resort‘s restaurants and bars, used by both guests and Marbella locals.

Upon arrival, I was surprised by the sheer size and design of the resort. While many other luxury hotels fail with their aim for a ‘village feel’ with different blocks of rooms and suites, Puente Romano actually achieved this. 

Rooms and suites were located in separate blocks, with their white walls, hanging baskets and tiling making you feel you were walking around an old Andalusian village. 

The expansive grounds also featured a sub-tropical garden, so nature lovers will be in their element. Also on site is the world renowned tennis club, which also features a gym, so I did pay a visit to burn off one of my meals with an exhausting spinning class.

I was staying in a Junior Suite – the dominant style of room in the resort, which included a lounge area, balcony, separate dressing room and expansive bathroom with Jacuzzi-style bath. My suite was located close to the beach and the Sea Grill restaurant – where I took breakfast and lunch on the first day. While I was loving my suite and the overall look of the resort, the main focus for me on this weekend was Puente Romano’s gastronomic choices.

With its prime location overlooking the Mediterranean, it’s no surprise the Sea Grill was a popular lunch spot. Having checked in a short time earlier, I joined my group in the restaurant for a seven-course tasting menu lunch, with mushroom risotto and tuna Carpaccio among my favourites. Our waiter had also wine-matched our courses so were taken on a journey through predominantly Andalusian wine, as well as other Spanish creations.

For our first dinner of the break (and my ultimate culinary highlight of the whole weekend), we ate in the two Michelin-starred Dani García restaurante. Malaga-raised chef Garcia has created an exciting and unique culinary adventure with his 16-course ‘Once Upon A Time’ tasting menu. The excellent waiting staff really turned each course into theatre with their presentation, with many dishes arriving covered to produce that ‘ta-dah’ moment. Many courses, such as the Nitro-Tomato-Ceviche and ‘Crochet’ (seafood cream with squid ink lace) were so surreal and fantastical, you almost didn’t want to ruin them by sticking your fork in to eat. The perfect portions of the dishes meant we had room to continue straight through to the final course, when we were presented with the Mad Hatter’s teapot serving petit fours from a little drawer which was a magical end to the banquet.

On my second day, we were keen to see the ‘real Marbella’ so headed into the Old Town for a guided tour. After ambling about the charming winding streets and alleys and checking out the Moorish and Medieval remains, we headed to D.Oliva’s shop for an olive oil tasting session. We were enlightened with the surprising fact that Italy actually buys a lot of its olive oil in from Spain and labels it ‘bottled in Italy’ and was advised to steer clear of plain old olive oil in favour of virgin and extra virgin.

With our appetite well and truly whet by this stage, we headed to Taberna la Niña del Pisto, a traditional tapas bar serving Cordoban cuisine. I can highly recommend the Salmonrejo (similar to gazpacho topped with Iberian ham and boiled egg) and fried aubergine with cane honey.

Following our sojourn into the old town, we had the remainder of our meals on the trip in the resort. For those looking for a break from Spanish cuisine, there’s the Japanese Namasake restaurant serving sushi and sashimi, with an extensive Sake menu. In contrast to the other light and airy venues on site, Namasake was dark and sleek and gave more of a nightlife vibe, helped along by its creative cocktail menu. Our tasting menu was delicious, particularly the fried crab and fish sashimi.

The following day we headed across the plaza to the bistro BiBo by Dani García, for a nine course tasting menu. Having the standard set high by his namesake restaurant next door two days previously, we had high expectations and weren’t disappointed. The Crab Kimuchi served on an ice plate with Ajoblanco Oysters and the Fried Marinated Sea Bass were sumptuous.

Overall, I left Marbella completely surprised with what I found. The Old Town brought a cultural and historical side to those looking for more than just a sunshine break. However, my lasting impression was how Marbella was a perfect destination for foodies and wine lovers, having thoroughly enjoyed a range of high quality and delicious dishes. As we finished our dessert at BiBo during our last meal, we all admitted our own home cooking was looking a grim prospect in comparison, no matter how handy we were in the kitchen!

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THE SPANISH PROPERTY MARKET IS BOUNCING BACK AFTER A FEW TOUGH YEARS, OFFERING BETTER VALUE THAN ITS EURO COUNTERPARTS

 The Sunday Times of London, March 2015

Observing the Spanish property market is like looking at that famous optical illusion of a face. Do you see the beautiful young lady or the warty old woman?

The picture varies dramatically from one region to another, between the sunshine coasts and hilly inland villages, and from whitewashed town to whitewashed town. It also varies wildly between economic indices, as Spain’s official sources are notoriously open to interpretation.

But here’s what we do know. Possibly. Tourism in Spain is booming. Last year saw record visitor numbers — 64m — and where there are tourists, there is demand for holiday homes and villa rentals, tapas bars, furniture shops and all the rest. Everyone wins.

Spanish unemployment is still stratospherically high, particularly among under-25s, the best educated of whom are migrating. Yet the economy grew by 2% last year — a fact that led the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, to praise Spain for having restored confidence through its economic reforms.

Then there’s the euro. Its fluctuations have steered our desire for Spanish holiday homes: from the boom times, 11 years ago, when the pound bought €1.50, to the dreary days of 2009-11, when near parity put us all off. Now we’re back in the happy zone, with £1 buying €1.38.

“Our office in the Costa del Sol is seeing first-hand the resurgence in appetite for Spanish property,” reports Marianne Gilmore, commercial director at the foreign-exchange broker Moneycorp. “A year ago, a €250,000 property would have cost about £204,000. Now it’s about £182,000.”

As for the eternal question “Are we nearly there yet?”— in this case, whether house prices have hit rock bottom at last — there is disagreement. Some fund managers think they have further to fall; some agents in Barcelona think they reached it two years ago. Tinsa, a property valuation firm, believes the Spanish market is back on track and predicts no change in average prices — when you even out all the regional differences — in 2015.

Typical values dropped by 5% in 2014, but transactions rose significantly (although still to only a third of the number seen in peak 2006). Purchases by foreign buyers in 2014 were up by 28% on the previous year, and one in five of them was British. The property portal Kyero reports that January 2015 saw the highest number of online Spanish property searches since the company launched in 2003.

In the province of Alicante, which includes the Costa Blanca, foreign buyers accounted for 47% of total property purchases in 2014, while in Malaga province, which includes the Costa del Sol, they accounted for 40% across the board and 75% at the luxury end.

Mortgages are cheap again — Euribor, the interbank rate charged between European lenders, is about 0.3%. Banks are newly buoyed up by the forthcoming quantitative easing measures, which are designed to boost the flagging eurozone economy, and are battling to offer the best deals. Yet about 85% of overseas househunters buy with cash.

Anyone considering entering the Spanish property market should also bear in mind the high buying costs — 10%-13% of the sale price — as well as agents’ fees of at least 5% when you come to sell.

For most people, however, buying a home in Spain isn’t about second-guessing the market. It’s about loving the climate, the landscapes, the beaches, the food, the festivals and the lifestyle so much that the only way to handle leaving is to start sneaking looks at property portals as soon as you get back home.

What is not in doubt is the huge array of property for sale in Spain, from high-quality new-builds on the beachfront to wonderful old fincas in the hills — extraordinary value in some cases; eye-watering expense in others.

Cheap and cheerful

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Bloomberg

Blackstone Group LP (BX), builder of the biggest single-family rental home business in the U.S., is using its experience to replicate the model in Spain, where property prices have dropped up to 40 percent.

The world’s largest private-equity firm, which has spent $7.5 billion buying 40,000 homes in the U.S., agreed in July to purchase 18 apartment blocks from the city of Madrid for 125.5 million euros ($173 million). The firm is bidding against investors including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. for another 1,458 housing units being sold by Madrid’s regional government, according to three people with knowledge of the auction, who asked not to be identified because the information is private.

“Building a business from scratch without a single employee and buying something like $150 million in homes per week requires a learning process,” Anthony Myers, senior managing director of real estate at Blackstone, said at a conference in Barcelona last week. “When we looked at the situation in Spain, we thought we could see something similar, where we could replicate a lot of the systems and technology that we created in the U.S.”

The New York-based firm is seeking to transplant an investment that’s transformed housing in parts of Atlanta, Phoenix and California into one more suited to Spain. Blackstone is competing with foreign and domestic distressed investors that are seeking bulk purchases of low-cost housing units, mainly apartments that are already occupied, in cities where local governments need to sell assets to trim deficits

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BBC NEWS

A picture of a construction worker in Spain
Spain has seen its first quarterly economic growth since 2011, according to data from the country’s National Statistics agency INE.

The country’s GDP grew 0.1% in the July-to-September period, after contracting for the previous nine quarters.

Its growth confirmed last week’s estimates from the Bank of Spain.

Spain, the euro zone’s fourth-largest economy, has had more success than any other major economy on the Continent in carrying out the export-or-die prescription issued by the European Union, led by Germany, after Europe began to founder in 2008. The idea was that exports, backed by pro-business regulatory changes, would generate the foreign exchange needed to pay down mountainous national debts, while creating factory jobs that could give a lift to falling domestic spending.

Spain’s growing international sales, with exports of goods up by nearly 7% this year, are all the more impressive because even powerhouse Germany has seen recent weakness in sales abroad. The latest figure also beats the average growth during the boom years, before the global financial crisis hit.

Signs of an export-led Spanish turnaround have propelled the Madrid stock market up some 30% since June and prompted luminaries such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Carlos Slim to invest in Spanish ventures.

Spain’s exports of goods and services are up 21% since 2008. As a share of gross domestic product, they have risen to 34% from 26.5%, allowing Spain to leapfrog Italy and France in that measure.

The statistics mean Spain is officially out of recession.

The INE said an increasing number of exports supported the growth, with a boost to the tourist industry from holidaymakers avoiding northern Africa and the Middle East.

Ben May, economist at Capital Economics, said the growth was encouraging and cited business surveys that suggested there “may be more to come in the near term”.