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Malaga's property paradox leaves more than 150,000 houses standing empty and unused, while new properties are still being built
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Malaga's property paradox leaves more than 150,000 houses standing empty and unused, while new properties are still being built

The province is sixth in Spain for the highest number of properties standing vacant and, in some towns and villages in Malaga, that amounts to 40% of the total housing stock available

Cristina Vallejo

Monday, 17 June 2024, 16:39

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Malaga province has 152,774 empty homes according to the latest census (2021) data from Spain's INE national statistics institute. The census is carried out every ten years and takes electricity consumption as an indication of occupancy or vacancy: a property is considered vacant if it has no supply contract or if electricity consumption is less than the equivalent of fifteen days per year. This makes the province the sixth highest in the list of unused houses in Spain. Ahead of Malaga are Barcelona and Alicante, with more than 200,000 empty homes, then Madrid with almost 188,000, and finally Valencia (172,575) and A Coruña (163,164).

In the country as a whole, there are nearly four million empty homes in Spain (3.83m, to be precise). This state of affairs contrasts sharply with the Bank of Spain's claims that 600,000 homes are needed to meet demand in the national property market: construction has not kept pace in recent years with housing demand, especially when adding in the continued arrival of non-residents looking for secondary properties. The Bank of Spain also points out that Malaga is one of the areas needing the largest number of homes to meet that growing demand. Malaga, together with Alicante, Valencia, Barcelona and Madrid, is where 50% of all new homes are being built in Spain.

However, in the three years that have elapsed since the INE completed the census, things may have changed. In fact, Carlos Smerdou as CEO of Foro Consultores (real estate specialists in Spain) remarks that, in the specific case of Malaga, the number of vacant properties must have reduced since 2021. In his opinion the most recent years since the pandemic has seen demand for housing in the province soar: "When a house comes onto the market, whether for rent or for sale, if it is at a reasonable price, it just flies; in these circumstances, it is rare that someone would decide to keep a house locked up."

Still, Julio Rodríguez, spokesperson for the INE, explains that it is not possible to make such an automatic correlation between an increase in demand for properties and the number of homes with a reduction in the number of empty homes. He points out that there are many empty properties that cannot be moved into as-is. Many are very rundown, not to mention that some of them are located in places where people do not want to live or areas with a shrinking population, a phenomenon that is also happening in certain parts of Malaga province. Therefore, he asserts that both facts can co-exist: the Bank of Spain's observation that the supply is not yet meeting housing demand while there are still nearly four million empty homes.

Patricio Palomar, a consultant at AIRE Partners, gives a clue to this conundrum: he believes that the rundown housing stock, especially that which is located in city centres or surrounding districts, can be the seed of new supply if it is demolished or refurbished. In fact, he believes that old buildings with few homes in them can be converted into modern blocks providing more housing, although he concedes that this is a solution that would take time.

In any case, although in absolute numbers Malaga is among the provinces with the most empty homes, relatively speaking as a percentage of the total housing stock this is not the case. The 152,774 vacant homes in the province represent only 15.33% of the total that stands at over 996,500. This is a similar proportion to that of the whole country: the 3.83 million empty homes in Spain represent 14.41% of a housing stock that exceeds 26.6 million.

It should not be forgotten that the proportion of empty homes is much higher in the smaller, inland provinces, in the so-called 'empty Spain', which is losing population. For example, in Ourense and Lugo, empty houses account for around 40% of the total number of properties. Likewise in Ciudad Real, Segovia, Zamora, Teruel, León, Soria and Cuenca, where unused houses account for between 25% and 30% of the total property stock. Julio Rodríguez sums it up as follows: "Empty homes in Spain are especially concentrated in cities with less than 50,000 inhabitants."

On the other hand, in the Basque provinces, Madrid, Barcelona, Valladolid and Navarre, empty homes do not even represent 10% of the total. For example, although Madrid and Barcelona are the areas with the highest number of unoccupied homes (186,000 and 166,000 respectively), those figures barely register as a significant proportion of a market with a total of more than 2.5 million properties. Those empty homes constitute between 6% and 10%, well below the Spanish average, lower still in the capital itself.

In the whole region of Andalucía the province with the highest percentage of empty homes is Almería, with almost 17% of the total (just over 73,000 out of a total of 433,763). The province with the lowest percentage of unoccupied homes is Seville, with 10.65% (97,189 out of a total of just over 900,000).

Figures by municipality

So, where are the empty homes in Malaga province then? Marbella accounts for 13% of the province's total, with 20,011 unoccupied homes, which in turn is equivalent to around 20% of the local housing stock, currently at 100,000 properties. This is followed by Malaga city as capital of the province, with around 11% of the total number of empty homes in the province, i.e. just over 16,000. Mijas, for its part, has 8.7% of the unused homes, around 13,200 and Estepona, with 6.75% (10,300).

But more relevant than these figures are those that show the proportion of empty homes in each municipality to the total. For example, while in Malaga city the 16,831 empty homes make up only 6.35% of the total of almost 262,000 homes, in Marbella, Mijas and Estepona one out of every five homes, around 20%, are not in use. According to Rodríguez this may be due to two factors: either to the over-building that still occurs in these areas, or to the fact that the older buildings are unsuited to current demand.

Still, the numbers of empty houses are more striking in other areas: Benahavís, where 60% of the houses are uninhabited; Algarrobo, where they are at 54%; then in Casares, Ojén, Cómpeta, Gaucín, Cañete la Real and Colmenar, the number of uninhabited houses is around 40%.

9% of dwellings in the province are of "sporadic use"

How many dwellings in the province are used sporadically? According to the INE figures, there are about 90,000 dwellings, i.e. about 9% of the entire housing stock in Malaga, with an electricity consumption that would correspond to an occupancy of between one and three months a year.

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