By Christopher Middleton – 3:56PM BST 01 Oct 2012
Visit the Lalzit Bay development, on Albania’s Adriatic coast, and there’s not that much to see. A fenced-off building site, some half-builtapartment blocks, and several miles of sandy beach. It is the kind of scene you might have witnessed 50 years ago on the Algarve, before big-time tourism took off. And there lies its appeal for sharp-eyed property hunters.
From Sarandë in the south to Shkodra in the north, Albania is going places. In a few years, there will be a swish modern development at Lalzit Bay. It will have 500 properties, an eight-storey hotel, health club and imported palm trees from Malaysia. Not bad, considering that 15 years ago, it was hard to imagine Albania as a country with any kind of future. Having been ruled since the Second World War by communist dictators, the nation then descended into chaos. This was thanks to a pyramid investment-scheme craze, where half the country poured their life savings into get-rich-quick projects, then lost the lot. For much of 1997, Albania was controlled not by its government, but by gangs of armed men.
Since then, a lot has changed. Visit the capital, Tirana, and you encounter a surprisingly handsome, broad-boulevarded city. What’s more, it is connected to the coast by an efficient, fast-moving highway for all but the final 10 minutes of the 45-minute drive. Even as you read this, the last 5km (three miles) are being tamed with a layer of tarmac. It’s easy to pop over for holidays, too: British Airways flies to Tirana five times a week. You can buy an Albanian apartment with sea view for as little as £30,000, while a pint of beer costs barely £1 and a bottle of winein a restaurant is just £4.
On top of which, Albania has a pleasantly sunny climate. It sits on the Adriatic Sea, next to Greece and Macedonia. Tourist numbers are shooting up, too: 4.1 million last year, as against 300,000 in 2004. There is still a fair amount of corruption, however. Forty-eight per cent of firms report the necessity of bribes. There can be complications about land ownership. It was all given back to private individuals post-communism, yet disputes still arise.
But the country’s prime minister, Sali Berisha, is prepared to offer a guarantee. “When British people come to Albania to buy property, their money is safe,” he says. “When they buy land based on official state documents, no other claim on that land will be accepted. I give full assurances on that.” Strong words. And they mean that if you do splash out a few million lek on a villa or apartment, your investment is safe. No stray Albanian expat (and there are a million of them) will evict you for being on his great-grandfather’s land.
That said, it’s still a good idea to employ a local lawyer who knows their way around the country’s property inheritance laws. Unless specified otherwise in your will, 50 per cent of your house goes to your spouse, and the other 50 per cent is divided among the children. This includes those from any earlier marriages (your spouse’s as well as yours). There are other things to bear in mind. Buying a new-build, you will have to pay extra for parking, air-conditioning and kitchen fittings. This is on top of the asking price.
In short, Albania is untried territory. But that hasn’t deterred Chris Esdale-Pearson, 65, a retired ship’s pilot from Harwich, who has bought a one-bedroom apartment at Lalzit Bay. The flat measures 57 sq m, cost £54,000, and is a 30-minute drive from Tirana’s International Airport. Although the property won’t be ready until next year, along with the other first-phase buildings in the development, Chris is confident in his purchase. “My wife Pepie and I have gone for a long-term investment in an emerging market, where we will be able to spend lovely holidays, and explore off the beaten track,” he says.
They will also be able to rent out their apartment when they are not around. There is plenty of demand. Up-market Lalzit Bay, in particular, will attract prosperous holidaymakers from Italy and Germany. “We estimate that a two-bedroom apartment costing €70,000 (£56,600) will generate rents of €500 (£404) per week, over the peak summer months, at 75 per cent occupancy,” says Ravin Maharajah, one of the partners behind Lalzit Bay.
There’s certainly plenty of undeveloped potential in Albania, according to Kate Stinchcombe-Gillies, of rental site Holidaylettings.co.uk. “Typical holiday apartment prices range from £285-£490 per week,” she says. “You have beautiful beaches and great nightlife, alongside Unesco heritage sites.”
Remaining undiscovered has also meant Albania has avoided the worst of the economic storms surrounding much of Europe. While the rest of us have been experiencing the double-dip, Albania has prospered.
“We did not feel the recession – in fact, our economy grew,” adds Prime Minister Berisha, with a twinkle in his eye. “Not bad for a nation which was once the second poorest in the world.” Clearly, Albania’s undiscovered days are numbered. For canny investors, now could be the time to strike.
What you need to be aware of when you’re buying in Albania:
• Who owns the land? Make sure the person selling you the property is the bona fide owner of the land.
• Beware of forged title deeds Hire an independent lawyer, who knows their way around the country’s property law. Some 15 per cent of properties do not have State-authenticated deeds.
• It’s safer to buy new Especially in a remote region, where historical ownership may be hard to prove. There is much less risk of this in a big city.
• Get assurances in writing from developers Even if you’re buying into a big scheme, check they own the land on which they are building.
• How high is your home? New buildings of more than four storeys are illegal in much of rural and coastal Albania.
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