Bonaventura Durall, 52, is the CEO of Durlet Apartments, a company that owns and manages 31 tourist apartments in the Poble Nou neighborhood of Barcelona. The pandemic, he explains, left the company almost in dry dock last summer, which has nine of its 14 workers affected by a temporary employment regulation file (ERTE). Without tourists to receive, the last year has been used to make improvements to the buildings or to rent some for short stays, for months. Now some of those houses are preparing to make their way back and return to the tourist market, a movement that some real estate portals have already captured.
“We are in a time of significant uncertainty and what we have to do is find the balance between seasonal and tourist rentals, because you cannot put all your eggs in the same basket,” says Durall, who emphasizes that the situation remains very far from the pre-pandemic times. “As of July 1, 2019 we could have around 70% or 80% of August sold and now I am at 15%”, laments the also member of the board of directors of Apartur, the association of tourist apartments in Barcelona. With cheaper prices and reservations that arrive at the last minute, Durall will maintain some properties in the market for short-term rentals, focused on students or professionals who temporarily move to the city. “They help you bear the fixed costs,” he justifies.
How many floors will be offered again for travelers? The answer will depend on how demand evolves and putting figures on it is not easy. The INE began in August 2020, already affected by the pandemic, an experimental statistic that estimated 321,000 homes for tourist use (VUT) in Spain. Six months later, last February, the number had dropped to 294,000. While waiting for the next official figures, some real estate portals have carried out their own studies. According to data from Fotocasa, 38% of the vacation homes that existed before the pandemic are still in residential rental (which includes both temporary rentals and regular home rentals). The percentage, obtained from 5,500 surveys, represents a substantial reduction compared to the previous study, in October, when it was 64%.
In addition, of the 38% of houses that remain in the residential segment, the majority do not have a vocation of permanence: “Only 18% said they had moved indefinitely”, explains María Matos, Director of Studies at Fotocasa, “the other 20% they are waiting for the situation to improve ”. Another report, recently published by Pisos.com, reached similar conclusions and showed that 2% of the residential rental offer has been transferred to tourism so far this year, the opposite of what happened in 2020. “I don’t know he has recovered everything he passed, but he is quite close. There is a very clear trend towards recovery ”, assesses Ferran Font, spokesperson for that portal.
A slow return
Tolo Gomila, president of the Spanish Federation of Tourist Housing Associations (Fevitur, which groups some 178,000 vacation homes) indicates that his organization still does not have data because “it is too early”, although he admits that “yes, this transfer is beginning to be seen ”. But Gomila cites the recent restrictions for the entry of travelers from the United Kingdom, once the main source of tourists to Spain, as an example that the pandemic forces us to be cautious: “The goal is to end this 2021 with an annual occupancy of 40 % ”, He assures. And he adds that the recovery of the sector will be slow, especially in large cities, which are the ones that have the most possibilities of moving real estate from the tourist market to the short-stay residential market because they have a greater demand for floating population.
Of the same opinion is Adolfo Merás, president of Madrid Aloja, which groups some 4,000 tourist apartments in the capital and its province. “In the association there are quite a few people who, seeing that August is the low season, prefer to close,” he says, “perhaps for Madrid the real time to decide is going to be in September.” “Prices are very contained, tremendously contained, and you come back in conditions in which we lose money,” he says. Who now seeks tourist rental, he adds, “does not think about profitability”, but “about the security in the collection and the availability of housing”, two advantages that in his opinion does not have the rental of habitual residence, on which he asks a legal reform.
Shield the residential market
Re-exploiting the property for tourist purposes will not be an option for those owners who have switched to renting their habitual residence. This, according to the Urban Leasing Law (LAU), entitles the tenant to stay five years in the house (seven years if the owner is a company). The transfer is only possible in seasonal rentals, in which it must be justified that the tenant only needs the property for a time. This possibility of the rule has generated, according to Jaime Palomera, spokesperson for the Barcelona Tenants Union, “a fraudulent use” to which he asks to be vigilant.
However, for the tenant unions the fundamental thing now is that the Administrations protect the residential park. “We come from a decade in which there has been a very large diversion towards the tourist market for housing that had been built to be housing and not for other uses,” explains Palomera, who adds that this “has negative effects” on the prices of the houses. houses and on neighborhood coexistence. “During the pandemic, an opportunity has been lost to ensure that these homes permanently return to the residential market, but we still have time,” he concludes.