The telephone of some real estate agents rings in these tough days with a request: to put kilometres in the way to gain square metres and quality of life. The idea of an intermittent confinement and, above all, the implementation of teleworking in Spain, have given a boost to residential relocation. The coronavirus crisis was the last push that these owners needed to think about leaving their flat in the big city and moving to a smaller municipality, or even to a village, where they could acquire a better home.
“For a long time the geographical limits were set by the distance from the workplace. The development of teleworking makes it possible to break this spatial logic. Today, it has been demonstrated that many (but not all) occupations can carry out their tasks from any place with an Internet connection,” argues Mariano Urraco, doctor of sociology and professor at the Universidad a Distancia de Madrid (UDIMA).
However, the sociologist makes it clear that the momentum of urban sprawl in Spain will depend on the stability of employment. “There’s little point in buying a house in the mountains because at one point you’re teleworking if you have to go back to work in the city centre the following year, more than an hour’s drive from your brand new, relocated residence,” says Urraco, whose home is 200 kilometres from his workplace. And about the type of employment: “It’s associated with sectors of high added value,” points out Joaquín Recaño, a lecturer in the Department of Geography at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.
For the time being, searches for rural property from January to April have increased by 46% in the Fotocasa portal; chalets by 36% and townhouses by 24%. The real estate agency Servihabitat reports an increase in searches in the provinces bordering Madrid: 100% in the case of Guadalajara and 240% in Segovia.
“About 80% of the requests we are receiving are from clients who want to leave the cities where we operate, Madrid, Barcelona and Malaga, and move to the suburbs, where prices are between 15% and 20% lower,” says Enric Jimenez, founder and CEO of Property Buyers by SomRIE. The further away, the cheaper the cost per square metre. This is the case at the moment, because it is more than likely that the price of these suburban houses will soon rise. “They are more desirable than ever after the trauma of the coronovirus,” reasons Urraco.
Some owners won’t even settle for the suburbs. During the confinement, the demand for houses in towns and villages with Internet access has increased. “Until now the important thing was to have good communications and today the most important thing is to have good telecommunications. It is going to be an important push for the hollowed out Spain”, says Jesús Duque, vice-president of Alfa Inmobiliaria.
And, as they are moving away, what does it matter 20 kilometers more than 200. Guillermo Meléndez, a 40-year-old employee of the Madrid Stock Exchange (BME) has decided to take a triple somersault with his family. He lives in a flat in the city of Guadalajara and, until the alarm went off, he went to work in his car every day in the centre of the capital of Madrid. The idea was already around him, but now he is sure to put more kilometres in between. Carmelo Antón, from the agency Rústicas Singulares, is looking for a house for him in a village in the Castilian-Machega province with a large garden. “For a flat of 200,000 euros in Guadalajara you can have a house with 4,000 metres of garden 30 or 50 kilometres away”, says Guillermo who, like so many other workers, believes that his company will provide facilities for teleworking in the face of the “new normality”.
In addition to space and garden, what matters most to this customer profile is Internet access. “Most municipalities have it and for isolated houses in the countryside there are companies that provide satellite connection,” says Anton. His main client is a liberal professional between 40 and 45 years of age (lawyers, advertisers, pilots…). However, there are also people in a precarious situation who are looking for licensed and functioning rural houses to operate and start a new life.
No less than ten houses in Spanish villages and towns have been reserved by Elvira Fafian, from the real estate company Aldeas Abandonadas, during the state of alarm. “These are people who are in a great hurry, who want to make an immediate change, who know it is now or never. Since they cannot visit the houses because they cannot move to another province, they have reserved them,” she says. They have all opted for rural locations far from inhabited areas. “We have an agricultural expert from Valencia who has booked a house in a village in Asturias”. The demanded houses are large and move around 160,000 euros.
A very different profile is the one that resorts to the Cavalier agency. “Every day we receive queries from clients who live in the centre of Madrid and are interested in independent homes no more than 40 minutes away, in the mountains. It’s a trend that has multiplied exponentially since the beginning of the crisis,” says José María Raya of Cavalier Real Estate. These are middle and high income professionals and entrepreneurs who are teleworking and looking to live with their families in towns such as Los Molinos, Cercedilla and Guadarrama.
For this reason, the foreseeable increase in residential relocation will not come for free. Sociologists believe that this crisis will widen social differences. “There will be a division between the elite who can relocate residentially and telework, with stability and confidence that their jobs will be maintained over time, and those others who, even sharing that dream, cannot make the leap to a residence that may be too far away from future jobs,” says Mariano Urraco. The latter “should redirect their preferences towards more affordable offers that should be well connected to the centers of activity, probably degraded blocks of the urban and periurban center,” says Luis Camarero, professor of Sociology at the UNED.