Where are the millions of vacant homes in Spain?

by Lorraine Williamson
vacant homes

MADRID – Spain has 3.4 million vacant homes, according to the statistics office INE. And, perhaps surprisingly, most of these are not in Madrid or Barcelona. In recent years, they have been swallowed up by the heat of economic recovery and the increased demand for houses. 

These empty houses represent barely 13.7% of the total national housing stock. They are also not located in other major provincial capitals. However, this problem is often referred to in big cities. As a mantra for local politicians to justify policies such as the expropriation of apartments or a tax on vacant properties. 

Reasons for vacant homes in larger cities 

One of the two main reasons why there are empty properties in major capitals, where at the same time the housing shortage is the highest, is property managers are unable to cover their big rental portfolios due to poor management and a lack of staff. Gonzalo Bernardos explains this to the newspaper Expansion. He is a professor and director of the master’s program in real estate at the University of Barcelona. 

According to Bernardos, the second reason there are empty houses in big cities is that many of the empty apartments need a thorough renovation. and owners are unable to make the out to rent them out. This applies to 60-70% of cases. 

Majority vacant in good condition 

According to the INE barometer, 58 % of the empty apartments, 1.9 million, are in municipalities with fewer than 50,000 inhabitants. The vast majority, about 82 %, are in good condition. However, around 12 % of these homes are in bad shape, 3 % are in very bad condition and finally, 1 % are uninhabitable. 

Many projects that began construction during the boom remained unsold after the outbreak of the financial crisis. Think of the many half-finished residential blocks or empty apartment buildings that you can see in many places in Spain. 

Especially a lot of empty houses in small municipalities 

“In much of Spain, not a single new home has been built in the last 12 years,” says Bernardos. This mainly concerns small municipalities in the interior, many with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants. During the boom, promoters built residential blocks here on the assumption of never-ending demand. Now those places are empty. People move to larger cities in search of work. It is these types of areas that currently have the largest stock of vacant homes. 

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Yebes in Guadalajara 

Yebes, a small town in Guadalajara, is a good example of the effects of the bubble: large projects were built that were halted after the economic crisis. 60% of the apartments in the municipality are empty. 

Excarai in La Rioja 

Another example is Excarai in La Rioja. At 49%, this is where the highest percentage of vacant homes is located according to INE. The Mediterranean coast also has hundreds and thousands of uninhabited homes. In Chilches, a small municipality in the interior of Castellón, 45% of the homes are empty. This percentage is almost equal to that of Benissa, in Alicante. Here, four out of ten homes are vacant. 

Unclear definition of vacant property

But according to experts, it is the INE’s statistics that feed the myth of empty houses in Spain. The INE considers a home to be ‘vacant’ if it is for sale or rent and no one lives there. A bit of an unclear definition, because how to distinguish an empty house from a holiday apartment where there are no tourists for a while? 

Definition in new Housing Act 

Because the concept of ‘vacant houses’ in Spain does not have a clear definition, the government wants to create one in the new Housing Act. “This statistic makes people think that owners have vacant homes for pleasure. 

In 2019, the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, came up with a plan to end the tight housing market and the vulture funds associated with it. Research on the initiative of the mayor himself showed that just over 10,000 of the more than 800,000 homes in Barcelona are empty. That is barely 1.5 % of the stock of the Catalan capital and only 0.3 % of the total number of vacant homes in the whole of Spain. 

INE will update data this year 

The INE wants to update the data from the housing census this year. It can then use the new definition that the government has come up with. With the new Housing Act, the government wants to have an instrument for measures such as the 50% surcharge on property tax with which it wants to penalise vacant apartments owned by owners of more than four properties. 

Also read: Squatters remain a major problem in Spain

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