The Cyprus property industry must be brought up to scratch

Tourism may be falling, but its decline is being offset by the health of the property and building sector, which has shown steady increases over recent years, to become one of the pillars of growth in our economy.

Figures released this week show that 2007 looked set to become a record year in property transactions, with the first three months alone registering £560 million in property sales, compared to £1.7 billion for the whole of 2006. In May 2006, the average house price in Cyprus was just over £97,000, up 4% on the same time last year.

Rising figures for mortgages issued by the banks show that this is not a phenomenon purely driven by the booming expatriate market as does the fact that Nicosia tops the property demand list, ahead of coastal areas like Limassol and Paphos.

This is good news, making the market less susceptible to the whims of foreign buyers who can abandon Cyprus as easily as they came. It also means that local buyers – including first-time buyers – are finding a way to lock into the property ladder, securing a stake in a sector of the economy that is expected to see continued steady growth.

But it is not by all means good news. Cyprus is developing a reputation among overseas buyers as something of a cowboy market. Horror stories of shoddy builds and rogue developers can spread like wildfire in the expatriate community, while television property shows are spreading the reputation abroad.

While there is no doubt that most buyers are very happy with their dream homes in the sun, it is equally certain that some people have good reason to regret the day they decided to buy in Cyprus.

If the woes of a minority are not to tarnish the reputation of Cyprus as a whole, a number of issues needs to be addressed. First among them is the shocking delay in issuing Title Deeds. Something needs to be done about those developers mortgaging properties to finance their next build, leaving buyers without Title Deeds until the developers have paid off debts to the bank.

Also, buyers must have hope of redress, perhaps in the form of an independent regulatory body in cases of mis-selling, of properties not matching specifications, of sub-standard work occasioning huge repair bills within months of properties being handed over.

Expatriates may be the ones who complain the loudest. They are also the ones who are the most vulnerable to exploitation and have the least recourse through their inability to navigate the system. But these issues affect everyone in Cyprus, and improvements would be to the benefit of all, safeguarding the future of what has become one of the planks of our economy.

Copyright © Cyprus Mail, 2007