Move it, sheikh it!
Hot new resorts, increased investment and a massive tourism drive are all reasons to hop over to Morocco
Even though it is only 14km from southern Spain, Morocco is almost a world away from Europe – boasting an old-world charm, even more sunshine and much lower property prices. Some of these factors have always made it an ideal location for film production, with numerous Hollywood blockbusters shot on location here in recent years, from Ridley Scott’s Gladiator to Paul Greengrass’s The Bourne Ultimatum.
The latest movie spectacular being filmed in Morocco is Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Bond girl Gemma Arterton and Sir Ben Kingsley, with a release date scheduled for summer 2010. This appropriately enough coincides with Moroccan ruler King Mohammed VI’s Vision 2010 programme, which aims to develop the country’s emerging tourist and property markets. Launched in 2001, the strategy’s goals were to increase the number of tourists to 10 million, create 160,000 more hotel beds, 600,000 jobs, boost tourism’s contribution to GDP to 20%, improve infrastructure, and overall invest up to €9 billion.
Moroccan Tourism Ministry figures show 6.72 million tourists arrived in the country during the first 11 months of 2007, an increase of 14%. Overall, the industry was worth €5 billion. The majority of visitors were from France – not surprising, as Morocco’s second language is French – followed by Spain, Belgium, the UK, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany. The ministry predicts visitor numbers will keep growing by 10% a year, to reach 11.8 million by 2012. At present, travel and tourism represents 9.87% of GDP and is predicted to be 9.93% by 2010. So the King may have to extend his Vision, especially in light of changing global financial conditions.
GEM Estates managing director Andy Welland believes the main attraction of Morocco is “that quality residential property is available just a few kilometres from the Costa del Sol, but at a fraction of the price and cost of living”. But he is also keen to point out that Morocco’s success has been due to good planning. “The random construction that has been seen in recent years in places such as Bulgaria, for example, is something Morocco has watched closely, so they have learned to avoid the planning mistakes of other countries,” he says.
The cornerstone of Vision 2010 is the government-backed Plan Azur. This consists of six main resorts, one on the Mediterranean and five on the Atlantic. Mediterrania Saïdia is the first to be launched, on the north-east coast.
“Logic says that for the Plan to work, this resort has to work, and will therefore get maximum promotion from the Moroccan Government and Tourist Board. The King has taken a personal interest and visits regularly, top hotel operators are already onboard, and there is the expansion and modernisation of the nearby airports of Oujda and Nador,” says David Burgess of La Luz Property.
The resort is being jointly developed by the Moroccan arm of Martinsa Fadesa (which is separate from the Spanish developer that went into administration this summer) and Addoha, a major Moroccan builder. The 7 million m2 resort will have a range of properties, three 18-hole golf courses, 11 hotels, and an 840-berth marina.
Port Lixus is being developed by Belgian company Thomas & Piron, and lies just 30 minutes from Tangier. It’s also the location of the second-most important Roman ruins in Morocco. Thomas & Piron is also behind the Mogador resort at Essaouira, which will house Gary Player’s first golf course in Morocco.
Taghazout, a small fishing village north of Agadir, is home to the argan tree – a species endemic to the area, and whose forests are designated as a Unesco biosphere reserve. And lastly there’s Mazagan in the south, just down from Casablanca and Plage Blanche.
According to Property Frontiers, the Mediterranean coast is warmer, while the Atlantic benefits from the “alizé ” trade winds that have made Essaouira Morocco’s surfing capital. Two and a half hours inland is beautiful Marrakesh, full of traditional riads and villas. It’s also where the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier, Sting and Mick Jagger have holiday homes, and the famous La Mamounia Hôtel was a personal favourite of Sir Winston Churchill.
Most developments in Morocco come with rental guarantees as the rental market is still in development, but hotel brands such as Radisson Hotels & Resorts, Best Western, Beachcomber Hotels and Mandarin Oriental have all shown confidence and entered the market. “Morocco does not have the infrastructure of Spain, and the investment potential is huge – but as yet it is still an unknown market. Prices have risen over the last three years, but stalled in the last six months as the price of the Moroccan dirham has dropped,” says Tom Holian, dealing director at Foreign Currency Direct. So while no country is immune to the present global conditions, Morocco has still managed to perform well, as foreign investment has increased substantially to €713 million from only €191 million in 2002.
Authentic riads are an increasingly popular choice for discerning expats interested in an individual and Oriental-style home. Marrakesh, Fez, Tangier and even Casablanca still have plenty of old and dilapidated riads around – these are traditional houses built around a central internal courtyard or garden. They can be bought and renovated to a high standard using local craftsmen quite cheaply, although the procedures with Moroccan bureaucracy can be difficult. The result for many adventurous buyers has been beautiful holiday homes that perform well as holiday lets too, and many have even been converted into small boutique hotels, which in the tourist capital of Marrakesh are nearly always busy.
FACTS & FIGURES
POPULATION: 33.7 million
CURRENCY: Moroccan dirham
HOUSE PRICES: Prices have risen by about 20%–30% a year, with new hotspot Essaouira on the western Atlantic coast claiming 200% growth in the last four years.
RENTAL YIELDS: In popular Marrakesh, yields are about 7.23% on average, with small apartments generating the biggest yields.
AGENTS: It is best to go through agents vetted by the AIPP (www.aipp.org.uk) or FOPDAC www.fopdac.com. The main developers in Morocco are Fadesa, Property Logic, Thomas & Piron, Colony Capital, Kerzner and Emaar.
BUYING TIPS: After a verbal agreement a “notaire” will write up a contact, which is legally binding. A deposit of 10% for resale properties and 40% for off-plan developments is then made – 70% ortgages are also available.
TAXES: The first three years are exempt from tax on rental income, and the first five years are exempt from property tax. Capital gains tax of 20% is only applied if the property is sold within the first five years, 10% for 6–10 years and exempt if sold after 10 years.
AVERAGE PRICES: Apartments in the Plan Azur areas range from €90,000 upwards, and a villa in Marrakesh starts at about €300,000.
Atlas Golf Resort
PRICE: From €78,460
DETAILS: Situated east of Marrakesh – 20 minutes from the airport and within reach of the snowcapped High Atlas Mountains – this resort has an 18-hole golf course and a selection of one-, twoand three-bedroom villas and apartments.
Experience international, Tel: +44 (0)207 321 5858, www.experience-international.com
PRICE: From €239,465
DETAILS: This development lies 16km from Tangier, northern Morocco, between the Atlantic Coast and a protected forest. Comprising 2,500 homes, the project is scheduled for completion in 2012.
Hamptons International, Tel: +212 2236 1212, www.hamptons-int.com
PRICE: From €97,300
DETAILS: Meaning “the jewel”, this 62ha project lies just 20 minutes from the centre of Marrakesh and has beautiful mountain views. Catering perfectly for family living, it also features 11 swimming pools, an equestrian centre, an amphitheatre and a children’s club.
Gem estates, Tel: +34 952 799 286, www.gem-estates.com
Samanah Country Club
Price: From €399,000
Details: This luxury development near Marrakesh is made up of 580 designer properties, and includes villas with private pools. Traditional architecture is used throughout, and the development also boasts a Nicklaus Design golf course.
Signature residences, Tel: +44 (0)20 7095 8703, www.signatureresidencesworldwide.com
Le Jardin de Fleur
PRICE: From €89,435
DETAILS: Part of a prestigious resort with 5-star hotels, three golf courses and 6km of beach, these apartments will be managed by a leading hotel brand. Rental income is tax free for 8–9 years.
La Luz property, Tel: +44 (0)1937 843 131, www.laluzproperty.com
Sounds of the Sahara
FOLLOWING A MUSICAL DREAM
It was the music and people of the country that brought one Londoner to Morocco
LONDONER RACHEL BLECH HAS always liked music and travel. She first moved to Ireland in 1997 for three months, but that quickly turned into six months and then 10 years. In 2006, while working as a radio presenter for RTE’s Lyric FM she was sent to report on a big music festival in Essaouira on Morocco’s Atlantic coast.
“It was my first time in Morocco and my first time in Africa,” she says. “During the festival I met a crowd of nomadic people from the desert who invited me for lunch, and offered to play their music for me. Taking a complete risk I went with them, and ended up joining them for dinner too – I really liked them.”
On another trip back to Marrakesh to visit her new friends, Rachel felt instantly at home. “I felt I belonged there even though I’d never been there before,” she says. “I had one of those light-bulb moments – it was December 2006 and I was standing in the Djemaa El-Fna square and there was music, the International Film Festival was showing a Bollywood film, and extraordinary spicy smells were coming from the market. My Moroccan friends said, ‘Why don’t you just buy somewhere here and learn Arabic?’ And I thought, ‘I can do this!’”
Rachel investigated what was available for her budget of €100,000, and while she found riads were too expensive, she eventually discovered a two-bedroom apartment in the “nouvelle ville” area outside the old city.
“I chose not to live in a gated community, as my friends are Moroccans. Why would I choose to live in a country where you don’t want to live with the people? Being able to speak French makes life easier, but if you like Irish bars and British cafés you will be disappointed, as even though it’s just over the water from Spain this is a completely different world,” says Rachel.
She now plans to divide her time between Morocco and Ireland, and rent out the apartment when she’s not there. The only complication in the buying process was the mortgage, as Rachel was remortgaging her flat in London, was living in Ireland and is selfemployed. But in the end everything worked out fine. Music brought Rachel to Morocco and now she wants to help others do the same. Together with her nomadic friends, she is setting up holidays for those wishing to discover the music of Marrakesh and the Sahara.
www.rte.ie/lyricfm/magic (Rachel’s music programme, The Magic Carpet) | www.songlines.co.uk/musictravel (find out about her tours) | www.holiday-rentals.Co.uk/91281 (view her apartment in Marrakesh)
Tips & debate
TRASH OR TREASURE?
Head to salvage yards to pick up items that could add a unique touch to your new home
SOMETIMES PROPERTY CAN BE downright boring! The same type of apartment the same all over the world, hanging off the edge of beachfronts or rocks. But it can also be exciting and exhilarating, hence the advent of what many people call “property porn”, where magazines and supplements display people’s glossy, flashy homes in far-flung places. But I am always most impressed with people who take the time and effort to create something different and unique and really get in there to get their hands dirty – people like the Crowthers.
Hugh, an oil executive and Melodie, an award-winning designer, have travelled and lived all over the world, from reconstructing an old farmstead in Cape Town to the creation of a bijou palace in Delhi and rescuing a Frank Lloyd Wright-style ranch home in Dallas. In these frugal times they are an example of making the most of your surroundings and not simply settling for the same as everyone else. For their latest home, a villa in Portugal, Melodie took the initiative to revamp the property using discarded material from the property and from salvage yards.
In the south of the house is a fountain with an old stone lion gargoyle surrounded by 19th-century traditionally blue and white Portuguese tiles. The fountain was made from reclaimed stone window surrounds. Melodie also found two old balconies and door lintels, which she made into a fireplace in the living room. Some more stone salvaged from the estate was also transformed into a handrail on the main stairs.
The stone lintel in their kitchen was found under a huge olive tree when they were clearing the land, and dates back to 1916. As for other historical features, an old mill wheel they dug up was set into the floor in the dining room and the kitchen cabinet doors are 200- year-old teak that was reclaimed from an old sheikh’s palace that was being bulldozed one time when Melodie was in Bahrain.
Melodie describes her work as “ancient recycling” and tells me there are many such architectural salvage yards across Portugal and Europe where you can find pieces of stone or reclaimed material that, if you think outside the box, can be incorporated into your home to make a truly unique property. The Crowthers are now selling their villa to move onto their next big project.
For more details, visit www.uniqueliving.com Shane Mcginley is overseas property correspondent for the Sunday Tribune.