Rental costs in Athens vary considerably depending on the size (number of bedrooms) and quality of a property, its location, and the facilities provided. There are several ways to go about finding accommodation:
- Local newspaper classified ads
- Real estate agencies
- Online listings
Both furnished and unfurnished accommodation is available. Property to rent is advertised in the newspaper under the heading ‘enikiassis akiniton’. The usual deposit needed for rented accommodation is two months’ rent. Rental contracts are usually for two years, sometimes longer. If you have a long-term contract you may have to pay up to six months rent in advance. Long-term tenants usually pay for their own water and electricity consumption unless utilities are paid for on a communal basis, a common practice in older apartment blocks.
There is always a considerable number of apartments scattered around popular tourist locations. Many are in the hands of letting agencies who place them with tour operators. One method of searching them out is to read through the holiday brochures of companies that specialize in this type of accommodation. Many of these villas are often not in use until late May or early June, so it is possible to come to a private arrangement usually at very attractive rates.
This can be a complex legal process which should not be undertaken lightly. Expert legal advice should always be sought before entering into contractual terms. Generally, there are no restrictions on non-residents acquiring real estate in Greece even in the border areas. However, both EU and non-EU residents must obtain permission from the appropriate authorities before purchasing real estate in border areas. Once you have purchased your property, you become the freehold owner in perpetuity.
Conveyancing (or conveyance) is the legal term for processing the paperwork involved in buying and selling a property and transferring the deeds of ownership. In Greece, some aspects of conveyancing, such as drawing up the final purchase contract/title deeds and witnessing the signatures, can be performed only by a public notary.
You will undoubtedly need a good team of four – bilingual agent, notary public, lawyer and banker – and a fair amount of patience. The agent will normally barter the purchase consideration on your behalf. If you choose to attend this ritual, be prepared for a long duration, as the relevant merits of the family, the property, the village/town, etc. are proudly promoted by the seller. The agent, in coordinating the purchase process, is also likely to establish, via the lawyer, who the owners are of the adjoining properties. The boundaries are then fixed by topographical survey. Such a survey carried out by an expert could cost in the region of €150.
Your first experience of the notary public will be the visit together with your agent to sign your Sale Agreement using the Greek bible as the swearing oath. The notary public works with your lawyer to ensure that the contracts are drawn up in an orderly fashion and presented to the taxation authorities on time. Before any transaction takes place, your lawyer will carry out searches with the Land Registry. The notary public will not proceed with a contract concerning a property which does not have a clean title, free of mortgage obligations, etc. You will normally be expected to pay a fee of up to 1.6 percent of the ‘notional value’ of the property as recorded in the Contract of Sale.
A good, English-speaking, well-qualified conveyance solicitor is absolutely essential. The lawyer will draw up the Contract of Sale on your behalf (in Greek), arrange the signing ceremony with the vendors, and negotiate the purchase tax with the local taxation office. You should allow 1-1.5 percent of the purchase price for this service.
The vendor will probably require payment in euros. You will have opened a euro account in preparation at either a private or national bank. Normally, your bank will arrange to pay the vendor a ten percent deposit at point of signing contracts and allow a further 30 days for the remaining consideration to be settled, although the settlement period can vary per transaction. Your choice of banker will depend on day to day considerations such as location, opening hours, etc.
The vendor will then be instructed to take the property off the market while your appointed lawyer completes the purchase transaction. Under Greek law, no contract is enforceable unless it is in writing, therefore it is important that once an offer has been made and accepted all purchase documents are checked by a lawyer before signing, to ensure that the vendor has rightful title to the property.
If you do not go ahead with buying the property after you have paid your deposit, you will forfeit it and face potential legal action from the vendor. However, if the vendor pulls out of the deal after receiving your deposit, you are entitled to claim a return of double the deposit in compensation. The compensation will not affect your statutory rights to legal action against the vendor for breach of contract.
After the final purchase contract is signed, the original is lodged at the land registry (ipothikofilakio) and the new owner’s name is entered on the registry deed. It is important to send the signed deed to the land registry as soon as possible (the notary should do this), although the actual registration may take some time. Only when the deed has been registered do you become the legal owner of the property.
Until recently there was no centralized or coordinated system of registering property in Greece and property transactions were recorded by hand in small local land registries. Transactions were mainly recorded in the name of the people involved rather than the actual property. This system, still the only one in some parts of the country, means that a title search can take hours (or even days) as each cross reference is checked against others, a process that is open to error and omission. To rectify this and to conform to EU directives, in 1995 Greece established a National Land Registry where all property will eventually be recorded and registered with an individual reference number and the names of current and past owners. This will facilitate checks on ownership and encumbrances and generally ensure a more secure purchase. The National Land Registry is far from complete and it’s estimated that work will be finished by 2010. Meanwhile, many areas in Greece still rely on local land registries for registration of ownership.