As an architect, I read a certain amount of statistics and obtain most of them from Eurostat.
Eurostat spends a fair amount of money on producing statistics about almost any activity within the EC and offers very valuable information about the construction industry. This time it has produced an array of figures about where the Europeans like to live.
I am not one for statistics I must confess, but as I have mentioned in many other articles we do obtain a lot of useful information from them, especially for those of us involved in the construction industry.
Spain tops the ranking
According to the latest data from the European Statistical Office (Eurostat), Spain tops the ranking of countries in the European Union (EU) where the highest percentage of the population lives in an apartment: 66.5% of Spaniards live in this type of building compared to 33.1% who live in houses. The figure is striking, especially when compared with other neighbouring countries. In France, for example, the ratio is almost reversed: seven out of 10 French people live in a house, whereas three out of 10 live in apartments.
The difference is even greater if we make a comparison with the UK, the country with the highest percentage of population living in houses: 84.7% versus 14.4% living in flats (0.9% of those interviewed answered with another category called "other"). The closest country to Spain with apartments as the most widespread living accommodation is Latvia (65.1%), followed by Lithuania (58.4%) and Greece (56.9%), in that order.
The overall average for EU countries also marks a clear dissimilarity with the Spanish context: six out of 10 Europeans live in a house, as opposed to an apartment; more than 2.5 points of difference compared with the Spanish proportions.
There are more home owners in Spain than in other European countries
Another interesting figure from the Eurostat study on the conditions and characteristics of housing in the EU is that concerning home ownership. All data shown here relates to 2014.
In this respect, nearly eight out of 10 Spaniards (78.8%) own the property in which they live, 8.7% more than the European average. In terms of renting, they are somewhat below the average: 21.2% versus 29.9% for the European Community.
Why is the apartment so quintessential to the Spanish people and why are they so prone to this property regime?
The reasons can be explained by three factors: historical, economic and sociological.
From inside the castle wall to the apartment block
Let’s start from the beginning. We have to roll back to the turbulent middle ages, when wars determined the pattern of urban settlements. The cities were walled, the ground was very limited and already at that time housing needed to be built upwards. It was also the same in other countries, but in those countries wars did not last centuries as they did in Spain.
More recently, we had the rural exodus: Farmers left the countryside and moved into the city. In Spain, this happened not long ago, as recently as the 60’s to the 80’s. People migrated to cities and property developers sorted the problem out with a quick construction method: the block of flats.
Today, vertical construction has been widely accepted because it is greener and more resource-efficient.
Spain is an increasingly empty country where it is increasingly easy to build horizontally. Still remember that, despite everything, the Spaniards hardly see the good side of an ecological construction and tend to seek out villas from a purely prestigious point of view.
Property developers take control
The role of the economy and the current recession arising from the bursting of the housing bubble, are some of the explanations that make almost seven out of 10 Spaniards live in apartments. There has been a very uneven economy and a select few control the sale of development land. The property developers get more economic benefit from building vertically because they can make more profit.
A conservative family-orientated society
Spanish idiosyncrasies explain both the widespread property ownership in the country and the penchant for building blocks of flats on the other.
The Spaniards are very conservative and both fear and loath financial investments. You only have to read recent news to see what happened to those who tried buying complicated financial products that they didn’t understand.
In general people have always seen bricks & mortar as a solid long term investment, unlike financial products.
They are also conservative in their family structure. There is less geographical mobility than other countries and historically people have bought a house because they did not anticipate moving for work reasons for a long time.
Having said that, due to the current crisis there is now a good percentage of the working population ready to move anywhere, even abroad for a stable job position.
This has had a direct impact on the sale of properties; now the tendency has moved more towards renting.
However, the rental figures for this country are still far below those for other European countries, where renting is the norm. As shown in the Eurostat study, Germany with 52.5%, Austria with 57.2% and Denmark with 63.3%, are the countries where most people opt for the lease to the detriment of an ownership regime.
Written by Pacheco & Asociados