Who's buying villas in Spain?

Unpicking a horrible PDF

16th May 2018

The Spanish Notaries have just released their full report on foreign activity in the Spanish housing market for 2017 - and it's a whopper.

As ever the Notaries have excelled at taking five months to create a horror show of words and percentages, which has inevitably led to some awful reporting. Since this is perhaps the most important market report of the year, I've shredded their PDF and spent a little time extracting and cleaning the raw numbers.

(If you'd like to play with them yourself, there's a link at the end of this piece.)

The takeaway: It's a record breaker

In short, foreigners are buying more property than ever. 2017 turned out to be a record year with transactions rising 14% to a record breaking 100,000 sales.

(Read that again, because we shouldn't understate how big these potatoes are.)

100,000 sales is nearly double the number sold at the market's peak, and before The Great Crash. In real terms one in five houses in Spain are now being sold to foreign buyers.

That Brexit business...

Brits have long been the single largest group of international investors, and sales to UK buyers have now fallen for the second year in a row, down 5% in 2017.

Before anyone panics, we need (as ever) to set this in context. Once upon a time Brits made up over one third of foreign sales, and now make up just 14%.

But meanwhile other nationalities - particularly Europeans - have been on a Spanish property binge. German, French, Belgian, Romanian and Italian activity is more than making up for lagging British sales.

It's always hard to get the point over just how much British buying power is waning, so here it is as a horse race chart:

Ironically British purchases are still at relatively high levels, so if you read any headline silliness elsewhere, feel free to lift the chart above.

Getting to the source data

To fox the Spanish civil service, I invested in fancy tools to unmangle the report.

Extracting data from PDF's is an enormous problem and I've tried lots of tools over the years, with very mixed success. Adobe finally have their own solution called Export PDF (not a very Adobe name, why not Foxy? Or Blitzen? Or Head Shaker?) which is around £20 per year.

If you're a numbery type and want to use this data in your own work, it's at:

extranjeros-2017.xlsx (22Kb)

What happens next is anyone's guess? I'll take a stab at a solid 2018, with all bets off for 2019. An unimpressive Eurozone economy and the Brexit transition deal may not halt the party, but expect the volume to go down a notch.