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The Best And The Worst Markets In Europe

Although some European markets are marking growth, latest data on residential prices indicate that things in Europe, like in the United States, are slowing down, according to a survey published by Forbes magazine on April 1.

Ireland is the worst performer in the magazine’s chart for European best and worst property markets. Its market was hit first and hurt most by the global economic meltdown. Prices of Irish real estate fell by seven per cent in 2007, folowing a 12 per cent rise in 2006, according to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), a nonprofit property consultancy based in Britain. That's a serious downturn for an economy that has recently been seen as the whiz kid of the eurozone, Forbes said.

Spain is also suffering. Only a year ago, housing market there was blossoming, boosted by overseas demand for the country's coastal villas. But house-price growth slowed to three per cent in 2007, from nine per cent previous year.

Greek and Estonian residential sectors have lost 0.5 per cent each in 2007. Poland’s housing market, on the other hand, is doing well. With its 28 per cent price growth, posted last year, the country tops the list of the RICS survey, encompassing 21 leading economies in Europe.

Poland is tightly followed by Cyprus and Iceland. There, residential price inflation accelerated last year, to 15 per cent - from 7.6 per cent , and nine per cent , respectively. Norway and Sweden, with an annual growth of 10 per cent, are among the “winners” as well.

Rising interest rates set by the European Central Bank (ECB) are largely to blame for last year's downturn and stabilisation will not reign in soon, according to Forbes. Unlike the US Federal Reserve, the ECB is averse to cutting loan rates, which means the effects of the credit squeeze have not been exhausted yet.

While Germany, Europe's largest economy, has been enjoying a mini-economic renaissance in the last few years, its housing market lagged behind the pace of upsurge. Not helping matters, is the fact that Germany has one of the biggest rental residential sectors in the world: some 58 per cent of all its households rent, according to

Meanwhile, a slowdown in the French economy is also hurting its housing market, with a similar lull happening in the United Kingdom, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Britain's key hot spots are still the posh Central London districts of Kensington and Chelsea, Liam Bailey, head of residential real estate research at the London-based Knight Frank, said. But growth even in Britain's capital, which boasts some of the most expensive property in the world, is slowing. In mid-2007, quarterly growth in prime London was around 8 per cent - now it's at around 2.5 per cent, according to Knight Frank.

There are some countries, such as Bulgaria and Latvia, which were not included in the research quoted by Forbes. This is simply because the RICS has not been able to get their government statistical departments or housing associations to release the relevant information. However, although these housing markets have seen phenomenal growth, even they are on the wane, the magazine ssaid.

"There was a peak in growth in the Baltic markets, but it's over," says Gareth Williams, Knight Frank senior research analyst. "You won't see the 40 per cent to 50 per cent growth rates again in those countries." The peak for Latvia was in the beginning of 2007; Lithuania was a little earlier, he says, quoted by Forbes.

Latvia's mortgage market (the total value of mortgage loans outstanding) rose by 86.5 per cent in 2006, according to research by the European Mortgage Federation. In Bulgaria, it grew by 73.5 per cent for the same period, and in Estonia by 63.4 per cent. But even that was a fall from the 97.2 per cent, registered in Latvia and Bulgaria in 2005.

"The Irish are big on cross-border investment," says Williams. "The Germans are buying in places like Bulgaria. Also, a lot of property there is purchased by Russians."

These are just a few of the prime property hot spots generally thought to be safe bets. Others include London, Monaco, France's Dordogne and gorgeous coastal locations like Cote d'Azure or the northern Sardinian beach paradise of Costa Smeralda.

Europe's luxury markets have survived the global crunch almost unscathed, which could be ascribed to the fact that buyers of expensive houses don't typically take out mortgages - they can usually afford to pay the asking price upfront. That means the rate decisions made by central banker in Brussels make little difference, Forbes commented.