An exotic long weekend destination, Morocco offers swish new developments to complement its quirky riads.
Only a few miles across the Straits of Gibraltar, but oh so much more exotic, Morocco offers something a little bit different, bohemian even, and has attracted such famous fans as Winston Churchill and John Lennon.
In 2011/12 the tourism and holiday homes market has suffered from uncertainty as the wave of democracy swept across North Africa, but when the political situation calms down it seems likely that the natural advantages - the teeming souks and street markets that are heaven for shopaholics, the unspoilt sandy beaches, all just three hours from the UK - will join the economic benefit of being outside the eurozone to bring buyers (and holidaymakers) back.
The country's modernising King has been at the forefront of encouraging tourism via the Plan Azur which aims to set up six resorts on the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts to encourage 10 million visitors per year. Whilst historically many have bought relatively inexpensive properties for lifestyle reasons; others have been making the most of rental opportunities as the country’s reputation has grown.
Now the arrival of Europe’s leading tourism management company, Pierre & Vacances, is set to help its image as a family-friendly place, bringing in self-contained resorts (starting with Marrakech) which also contain active retirement sectors.
Marrakech is the most popular location for British second homeowners and investors with its well-established reputation as a chic weekend destination.
Not for everyone – the streets of its ancient medina can be chaotic – the appeal of owning a traditional riad (courtyard townhouses which when restored cost from around £150,000) remains strong for some, whilst new villa projects combining traditional style with modern amenities has attracted a whole new demographic.
Many such projects have shifted to the more tranquil outskirts of the city, where there is room for golf courses and swimming pools. Expect to pay from around £80,000 for a two-bedroom apartment in the central city; or £100,000 for one-bedroom in the exclusive Palmeraie residential area.
Some people prefer to be even further away from the teeming city and the Ourika Valley, half an hour drive from the medina, has become a trendy place in which to buy (helped by celebrity owners such as Mick Jagger and the Bransons). Here, Berber villages dot the roads which wind slowly up into the Atlas mountains and it’s possible to experience genuine village life. Prices are around £250,000-plus for a three-bedroom villa as properties tend to be detached, with land and a pool.
Tangiers is more affordable than Marrakech yet also offers a waterfront – and accessible beaches along the coast opposite Gibraltar. This cosmopolitan port city has been cleaned up since its days as a louche hangout for bohemians and dropouts last century and its 12th-Century medina is pretty impressive, whilst the boulevards and squares of its French-built Ville Nouvelle are grandly elegant.
A three-hour flight from the UK, Tangiers also can be reached by hydrofoil from Spain, which provides the option of an easy excursion to Andalusia for homeowners.
Property prices are lower than in Marrakech with a renovated riad from about £100,000; a basic apartment in the city from £40,000 in a good area for nearer £120,000.
Another traditional option is Fez, which won UNESCO World Heritage Status in 1981; or the trendy beach resort of Essaouira where foreign buyers have been able to pick up traditional riads for a lower price tag than Marrakech.
Morocco uses a French system of property buying, so you will need to find a notaire as well as an independent solicitor.
When your initial verbal offer has been accepted you sign a legally binding preliminary offer and pay a 10 per cent deposit for a resale home, up to 40 per cent for off-plan.
Although new builds are fairly straightforward, as in some other north African countries, getting clear title can be an issue for older properties where many family members must be traced and must agree to the sale, taking as long as a year. A month before completion, you will be sent the final contract to sign before the notaire (or allow your lawyer to sign with power of attorney) and when the final contract is signed you also pay over the remaining purchase price, fees and taxes.
Purchase costs are around six per cent. Not widely available yet, mortgages are around 50 per cent LTV, with a 10 to 15 year term and rate of five to six per cent.
Buying new-build is at least ten times more straightforward than buying an ancient home with melkia (pre-Land Registry) title – these commonly have multiple owners (maybe 100) with all having to agree to a sale; often a protracted nightmare for the unwary!