Essaouira has experienced a property boom in the last 10-15 years. Foreign buyers have contributed to a renaissance of the UNESCO-registered medina (walled old town) which has encouraged the development of many new businesses, cultural events, restaurants and cafés. This means that prices are no longer the steal they once were, but recent developments in the Eurozone have affected confidence in Morocco and if you are an optimist or are buying for love rather than investment, there could be a deal for you. Many who bought and renovated old townhouses (often called ‘riads’, although technically this refers only to larger properties that contain gardens, of which there are very few in Essaouira’s compact medina) and converted them to guesthouses are now selling. These were often retirement projects 10 years ago and a new generation of internet-savvy, PR-ready hoteliers is moving in. Those who bought properties as an investment, now concerned about falling values, are trying to sell quickly before prices hit the bottom. Most people who buy second or retirement properties in Essaouira (be they medina townhouses, purpose-built countryside villas or service sea view apartments with pool), though, do it because they love the place, the atmosphere and the architecture. I have lost count of the number of people who told me they came for a holiday and bought a property!
If you think you might come here and like it so much you want to buy, there are some key points to consider. The conveyancing system here is based on the French one. Although unfamiliar to most Brits, it is relatively straightforward and a decent notary will guide you through. To buy in Morocco, you’ll need a convertible bank account. You don’t need to be resident to open one, but you can only deposit into it in a convertible currency such as pounds, euros or dollars. Ensure all your transactions are transparent through this account so that if you sell, you can export your money again. The Moroccan dirham is not convertible and the government is reluctant to let hard currency leave the territory.
All number of people will be happy to show you all kinds of properties. Only some of them will be ‘official’ estate agents, many will be ‘smsaars’ (go-betweens) but they will all want their commission on the deal. Make sure you know what the final cost to you before you commit. Shop around – for property, for architects and for builders – get to know locals and seek recommendations. And most importantly, *never* accept the first price! Haggling isn’t just expected, it’s essential! You will need a lot of patience and, unless you have money to waste, make sure you are working with people you trust. The property boom has made a few people very rich locally and a lot of people want in on the action. Keep your eyes and ears open and do like the Moroccans: the best information you can learn is what you pick up on the street, from friends and in cafés.
If you fancy a visit – a holiday or a buying expedition – Essaouira is easy enough to reach for the willing, but not sufficiently easy for the hoardes. Essaouira has its own airport, currently served only by a couple of budget airlines. For more options, fly to Marrakech and take a bus, taxi or private transfer to Essaouira. Relatively few foreigners live here all year round, but many visit frequently and spend an increasing number of weeks and months here per year. Come on over and find out why!