Country Focus: Morocco

With well-priced property and easy access, Morocco is set to be the new jewel of the Mediterranean, says Katy Pownall
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The Independent Online

"Morocco is fast becoming a serious alternative to Spain," enthuses Steve Burns of Palmera Properties. I must admit I had my doubts. Surely Morocco is an exotic location filled with exciting Moorish architecture and a fascinating culture quite ill-suited to the mass market?

"Morocco is fast becoming a serious alternative to Spain," enthuses Steve Burns of Palmera Properties. I must admit I had my doubts. Surely Morocco is an exotic location filled with exciting Moorish architecture and a fascinating culture quite ill-suited to the mass market?

A little investigation, however, proves my preconceptions wrong. Sure enough, on the Mediterranean coast situated between Tetouan and Ceuta is Marina Smir: an up-market leisure port around which development is taking place that has all the attributes of Spain's Costa del Sol and Blanca, minus the inflated prices. The marina itself has been modelled on that of the exclusive resort of Puerto Banus and local infrastructure is comparable too, with facilities including watersports, golf courses, shops, supermarkets, bars and restaurants close at hand. In addition, much like Spain, there are white beaches, turquoise seas and plenty of sunshine.

Properties available for sale at Marina Smir range from one-bedroom apartments to luxurious villas on huge plots. Palmera Properties is offering two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartments and penthouses in the Marina Beach development at Marina Smir, with prices beginning at £40,000. Apartments can be secured for a deposit of just £12,000.

Though of course nothing is certain in the world of property, it seems that resorts such as Marina Smir are also offering the kind of investment opportunities that those who bought in Spain 15 years ago cashed in on. Whispers of a property boom are circulating around investors and agents alike. "Low property taxes and reports of 15 per cent annual increases in property values make it a highly attractive prospect for UK buyers," confirms Burns.

So what happened to the Morocco I had thought existed - the one full of traditional culture, bustling markets and beautiful old architecture? For the past decade, cultural epicentres such as Marrakech, Agadir and Casablanca have been the stalwart of the tourism (and foreign house-buying) industry in Morocco, but this is all set to change under plans announced in January 2001 by the Moroccan Government. In a bid to increase tourist figures from the current level of 5.6 million (2004) to over 10 million in 2010, £2.2bn is going to be spent creating six new coastal resorts complete with five-star hotels, world-class golf courses, spas and accompanying apartments and villas. These resorts will, like Marina Smir, chiefly be in the North of Morocco where few tourists have previously ventured. They will target the mass seaside tourist market.

The first of these new resorts is Saidia, on the Mediterranean coast near Oujda. Here, agents La Luz Property are marketing two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments off-plan with prices starting at €96,000 (approx £68,570). The development is due for completion in 2006.

For those of you who prefer your Moroccan property a little older, the good news is there is also a thriving property market around the more cultural and established towns. Hip Marrakech and charming Essaouira remain firm favourites with more adventurous foreign buyers, particularly those from Britain and France. The most popular areas are the medinas - the old town centre, typically filled with rambling architecture, artisans, cafés and markets.

"There isn't any new build in the medinas of Marrakech or Essaouira," laughs Kamal Araifa of agents Karimo. After all, both are world heritage sites. Most property hunters looking in these areas are seeking the traditional riad - a property built around a central garden or courtyard and standing two or three stories high. Ornately decorated with tiles, balustrades and carvings, they offer large terraces and cosy rooms.

Prices vary dramatically depending on the size and condition of the riad. Araifa estimates that an unrenovated property can be picked up for between €60,000 and €100,000 (£42,850 to £71,400) while if someone else has done the work for you you'll be looking at between €150,000 and €250,000 (£107,100 and £178,500). For €300,000 (£214,300) Araifa reckons on being able to buy a five- bedroom, two-living room renovated riad in a prime position in the Essaouira medina with a sea view.

"Marrakech is big and there is a lot of property available there," continues Araifa. "The cost of living is quite high for Morocco and you need a car. I think property prices are higher in Essaouira because it is a small city and there is not so much property available. It is also close to the sea, which always increases prices. But it is cheaper to live there and you don't really need a car."

Arguably the most beautiful of Morocco's imperial cities is Fez. Though the capital for over 400 years and the spiritual centre of the country, Fez has missed out on much of the adulation heaped on Morocco's more accessible cities. Consequently property is much cheaper, though British Airway's decision to extend their programme of direct flights to Fez may help change this. Kantakari has a two-storey riad in the Batha district with four large bedrooms (two en-suite), two smaller rooms, a sitting room and a kitchen for just £74,000.

Palmera Properties (01253 753 853; www.palmeraproperties.co.uk)

La Luz Properties (01937 843 131; www.laluzproperty.com)

Kantakari ( www.kantakari.com)

Buying in Morocco

There are no restrictions for UK citizens wishing to own property in Morocco. Buying land poses more of a problem as permission must be sought from the Government. Your agent/solicitor will advise you.

No system for formal surveys exists in Morocco though the service is available. It is always advisable to get a qualified surveyor or builder to look over older buildings.

The buying process is the same as in France (the Notary system). Though the Notary represents buyer and seller in the sale, it is advisable to employ your own independent lawyer to check all contracts and the title deeds before signing.

All freehold property should be registered with the Cadastre (Land Registry).

The cost of buying a property in Morocco should come to around five per cent of the purchase price. This includes the notary's fee, property registration and all taxes.

Four to view

A self-build property on two hectares (4.94 acres) in Marrakech, comprising five bedrooms, pool, guest house, and staff quarters. Land costs from €60,000 (£42,000) to €700,000 (£500,000) per hectare depending on the area. Build costs are approximately €5,000 per sq m.

One Source Homesearch (020-7376 7689; www.onesourcehomesearch.com)

In the heart of the Essaouira medina, a decorated Moroccan house with two living rooms, a dining room, a patio with fountain and kitchen on the ground floor. Four bedrooms and two bathrooms on the first floor. On the top a sunny terrace. Price : £123,000.

Karimo Immobilier (00 212 44 47 45 00; www.karimo.net)

A renovated traditional Moroccan house in the medina. The ground floor contains a courtyard, salon and a store room; the first floor has two bedrooms, a living room , a kitchen and a bathroom; and the second floor has a bedroom, a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom and roof terrace. Price £175,000.

Karimo Immobilier (00 212 44 47 45 00; www.karimo.net)

A development of 18 villas - Domain d'Abraj - just south of Marrakech with views of the Atlas Mountains. Each property has a landscaped garden, a heated swimming pool, air conditioning, and is fully furnished. A leaseback scheme offers rental returns of around six per cent. Price: £416,967.

Imoinvest (020-8960 5888; www.imoinvest.com)

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