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House Hunting in Morocco … Stable Prices, Rising Demand | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Eight-bedroom villa near the Moroccan coast. (The New York Times)

Marrakesh – This eight-bedroom six-bath villa is on a hilltop about nine miles from the center of Essaouira, a walled city of about 70,000 on the Atlantic coast that is known for its Portuguese fort, old market and long beaches. Essaouira is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Marrakesh, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Morocco.

“A lot of people who come to Marrakesh spend a few days on the coast as an add-on” to their trip, said Alex Peto, a partner in Kensington Luxury Properties Marrakesh, the real estate company listing the property.

The 6,781-square-foot house was designed and built in 2009 by the current owners. Following traditional Moroccan style, the rectangular house is made of stone walls and designed around a large central courtyard, with raised, turret-like rooms on each corner. The property includes a heated swimming pool in the courtyard, as well as palm trees, a fountain and a manicured lawn. A wide semi-circular terrace at one end of the house, partly enclosed and with tall windows, has views of the surrounding countryside.

The main living area and five bedrooms are on the ground floor. There are two bedrooms in each wing of the house; a fifth bedroom is currently used as a game room. There are also three bathrooms on the ground floor, as well as a guest bathroom under the pool deck.

The sunken living room has a stone fireplace and is connected to the dining room by a decorative arch. The dining room features built-in cabinets. Wrought-iron French doors lead to the courtyard. The furniture is included in the price; many of the pieces were created specifically for the house by local craftsmen.

There are two kitchens. The main kitchen, connected to the living area, has stone counters and a five-burner range and a large oven, both gas. The second kitchen, in the rotunda below the terrace, includes a wine cellar. It is mainly used for storage and preparation for large events, the owners said.

The flooring in most of the living areas is polished concrete; other rooms have terra cotta or hardwood floors. The ceilings in most of the house are made of wood beams and cedar logs, in a traditional Moroccan style. The bathrooms and many of the other rooms have walls covered in colorful tadelakt plaster, a distinctive Moroccan finish.

The master bedroom on the ground floor has a fireplace, an en-suite bathroom and French doors opening to the courtyard. A staircase leads to an office in one of the turretlike corner rooms on the upper level. Two of the other corner rooms on the upper level are bedrooms, including one with an en-suite bathroom.

The house sits on about five acres with groves of olive, argan and pine trees, as well as a vegetable garden. The property includes a one-bedroom one-bath guesthouse of about 540 square feet (50 square meters) in the garden and separate accommodation for a caretaker near the entrance to the property, with a bedroom and a bathroom (which are not included in the room count). The house has a two-car garage and a parking area large enough for 10 cars.

The area has a cooler climate than Marrakesh, with temperatures rarely rising above 85 degrees. There are stores and restaurants within a 10-minute drive of the house; a beach is 15 minutes away. The small Essaouira airport is about six miles from the house; the Marrakesh airport, which is the primary landing spot for most visitors, is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive.

The real estate business in Morocco is affected by unrest in the Middle East and the ongoing turmoil in some other parts of North Africa, according to Mr. Peto.

“The market in Morocco has been unfairly painted with the same brush,” he said.

Prices over all are down 30 percent to 40 percent from the peak in 2007, he estimated.

But there has been an uptick in sales in the last year, in part because of second-home buyers taking advantage of the low prices, agents say. Essaouira is viewed as an inexpensive alternative to the beach resorts of Spain and France.

“Prices are stable but demand is growing, which might bring prices up next year,” said Philippe Chalindar, an agent with Emile Garcin Marrakesh, a real estate agency.

Valuing property can be difficult, with little marketwide data available. “Each property is valued according to location, size, amenities, standards of construction and condition,” Mr. Chalindar said. Small riads — traditional Moroccan homes built around a courtyard — or villas outside town with swimming pools are most popular these days, he said. In the center of the city, older riads are available for less than $200,000. Properties are typically marketed internationally in euros, but transactions are completed in Moroccan dirhams.

Essaouira’s housing market may get some help from a countrywide effort to improve tourism, agents said. The Moroccan government has a goal of increasing international visitors to Morocco to 20 million a year by 2020, almost double the current levels.

One of Morocco’s most popular tourist destinations, Essaouira is known for its bohemian vibe, which has attracted artists and musicians from around the world. “It’s always been known as a hippie type of place,” Mr. Peto said.

The majority of second-home buyers are from France, but Essaouira attracts a broad international clientele, including retirees from Belgium, Scandinavia, Britain and the United States, Mr. Peto said. In 2015, the budget airline EasyJet began direct flights to Essaouira from London Luton Airport, expanding the British market, he said.

There are no restriction on foreigners’ owning land, except for areas designated as agricultural, said Reda Boulmane, a Marrakesh-based notary. Notaries are public officers and handle the bulk of the transaction, although agents often recommend that buyers hire a lawyer to oversee the purchase.

The process starts with a preliminary contract (known as a compromis de vente) and the notary provides the certificate of ownership when the deal is complete, Mr. Boulmane said. Contracts involving foreigners are typically written in French.

Mortgages can be difficult to obtain and usually require at least a 30 percent down payment, agents say.

Official Morocco tourism site: visitmorocco.com
Moroccan Government information site: maroc.ma

Fees and taxes usually total about 7 percent of the selling price, Mr. Boulmane said. The capital gains tax on the sale of a property is 20 percent of the net profit on the sale, with a minimum of 3 percent of the sales price. But sales are exempt from capital gains tax if the property has been the owner’s primary residence for at least six years, he said.

This property is in a rural area with no annual property tax, according to the owners.

The New York Times