Morocco ‒ and Marrakesh in particular ‒ has long been a popular destination for European travellers. Just a short distance from southern Spain, the country is often seen as a gateway to North Africa for Europeans and has traditionally offered a taste of exotica mixed with familiar bohemian chic. Such a view may be considered outdated and patronising by contemporary standards, but the times when Marrakesh attracted glamorous European visitors from Yves St Laurent to the Rolling Stones still loom large in the public imagination.
These days native Moroccans and European expats mingle with migrants from other European nations and many Middle Easterners who arrived in the wake of the Arab Spring. Estate agents say that many of their recent sales have been to parties from the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait, who see Morocco as a safe haven compared to other African and Middle Eastern countries.
Although the wider region has indeed been engulfed in ongoing political turmoil in recent years, Morocco has remained stable throughout and is still a favoured destination for tourists. The number of visitors is steadily increasing, with 10.3 million visitors in 2014, a 2% increase from the previous year.
Incidents in neighbouring countries, such as the recent terrorist attack on a Tunisian beach resort, have nevertheless had a knock-on effect on confidence. Potential visitors and investors alike have had some second thoughts about Morocco, despite the fact that the country is relatively free of terrorist threats.
‘People get worried and put all of North Africa in the same boat,’ commented Alex Peto of UK estate agent Aylesford International, which manages several Moroccan properties. ‘Morocco is safe,’ he added. ‘The hotels are full.’
Although prices are still 30-40% below their 2008 peak, sales are beginning to increase as buyers and investors believe that the Moroccan property market has bottomed out. Low prices are attracting those seeking to make a long-term profit and many looking to buy a second home for their own use. The traditional large Moroccan homes known as riads, with their ample courtyards, remain popular, while European-style resort developments on the outskirts of Marrakesh are also attracting considerable interest.
Real estate transactions in Morocco generally follow a European model, and there are no problems with direct foreign ownership. Transactions are registered by notaries, who operate accounts in Morocco’s state-controlled bank to receive funds ‒ including a 5-10% deposit ‒ for a 6% fee. Transactions generally take up to two weeks and the seller only receives their payment once the buyer’s name is on the title deed of the property. Potential buyers are warned not to give money to any local agent or self-styled advisor who guarantees them a better deal, and that there are often restrictions on non-titled property and farmland.
With many international flights arriving and departing from Marrakesh airport, stunning surroundings and a Mediterranean climate not dissimilar to Southern California, it looks likely that Morocco will remain a popular destination for overseas visitors and investors, with property prices sure to increase as a result.