Inaugural flight from New York to Palma last summer. | Ultima hora


Foreign home buying - when “no” doesn’t mean “no”

For estate agents, those dedicated to selling to foreigners (aka non-residents), there has been good news. Spain’s secretary of state for parliamentary relations has made clear that any restrictions on property buying by non-residents in the Balearics would not be permitted under EU rules regarding free movement of capital. Which everyone already knew to be the case, as they also knew that limited exceptions to these rules had been written into member state accession treaties.

These explanations were in a response to questions raised by the two Unidas Podemos deputies in Congress from the Balearics - Antonia Jover and Lucia Muñoz who, respectively, would quite like to be the next president of the Balearics and the next mayor of Palma.

Buying property in Palma.

Perhaps more significant was that the secretary of state didn’t say if the Spanish government was intending to “promote” a regulatory framework that might amend EU law and permit restrictions. In their different ways, the Senate and President Armengol have raised the possibility of Spain using its presidency of the EU (the second half of this year) to promote precisely this amendment.

Reaction to the secretary of state’s response in the Balearics came in parliament on Tuesday. The minister for the presidency, Mercedes Garrido, was sent into bat on behalf of the government and refused to interpret the “no” from Madrid as being a no. The Spanish government was merely playing for time, Mercedes claimed, as negotiations are ongoing about how best to introduce restrictions. So, perhaps it hadn’t been such good news for the estate agents after all.

PALMA - OKUPAS - Los okupas se apoderan de todo un edificio recién acabado de Palma.La Policía Nacional tomó las entradas y salidas del inmueble de la calle Aragón.Tras una tensa negociación que se prolongó cuatro horas, los intrusos aceptaron sal
Police outside the building where the squatters had taken over.

Squatters in, squatters out

People with particular needs include gypsy families. Five of them, fifteen people in all, took over an apartment building in Palma that had just been finished and was on the point of being occupied by its rightful owners. The gypsy families broke into the building, which was very swiftly surrounded by National Police officers.

The head of the Gypsy Federation, Carlos Cortés, was called in to negotiate with the squatters. After four hours of talks they left, one factor in their decision - other than all the police - having been that the electricity supply to the apartments hadn’t been switched on and wasn’t going to be. Cortés observed that “the housing situation for gypsy families without resources is desperate”. Indeed, as it is for any families or individuals.

PALMA - VIVIENDA - El Ayuntamiento opta por contenedores marítimos para suplir la carencia de viviendas.El Ajuntament copia el ejemplo de Barcelona para conseguir pisos de entre 30 y 60 metros.La regidora Neus Truyol conseguirá fondos vendiendo solare
Housing crisis in Palma.

Containing the housing councillor’s containers

With this all forming part of the wider debate about housing, another wannabe mayor of Palma, Neus Truyol of Més, said that the town hall was looking at converting shipping containers into homes. Primarily intended as temporary accommodation for people with particular needs, Neus (who is Palma’s housing councillor) described schemes of this type in Barcelona as “very interesting”. She went so far as to suggest that the town hall had identified plots of land which could be used for container developments.

Oh no the town hall had not, responded the current mayor and contender for another term, José Hila of PSOE. There had been no discussion of containers by the government team in Palma, stated the mayor, thus putting Neus firmly in her place and going on to emphasise all his achievements in respect of housing.

An American property invasion

A lack of necessary resources doesn’t apply to Americans who, according to the Wall Street Journal, are taking advantage of “seasonal direct flights” in causing “a spike in American buyers” of some of Spain’s most expensive real estate - that of Palma and its historic centre “Old World charm”. This wasn’t just good news for the estate agents with their foreign-buyer profiles, it was excellent news. They just have to hope that no is indeed no.

As to the seasonal direct flights, United Airlines has announced its New York (Newark) to Palma schedule for 2023. It will start in the final week of May, a week earlier than the 2022 inaugural year, and run until the end of September, two weeks later than last year.

A hope of the Balearic government, the Council of Mallorca and the Palma 365 Tourism Foundation is that the United service can be extended to low-season months and that other US airlines might fancy flying direct to Palma. An American market to be explored, it is being suggested, is that of MICE - meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions - which is in any event currently being greatly enhanced by the latest exhibition at the Palacio de Congresos.

It’s been Mercedes week in Palma, not because of the minister for the presidency but thanks to the four-wheeled versions that are on show. The German car manufacturer is exhibiting its electric models and will be until the start of April. It has been estimated that this will have an economic benefit of 20 million euros and result in 35,000 hotel stays by people from various parts of the globe. Excellent promotion for Mallorca as well, as videos have been shot in various settings.

oficina de extranjeria
Palma's immigration office.

Administering the population

All these American buyers will merely add to what we have learned has been a foreign population explosion. More of a consistent eruption than explosion, over the 25 years up to 2022 the foreign population of the Balearics increased from 32,102 to 222,017. The Americans would have some way to go in catching the largest foreign community, Moroccan, but whatever the nationality, this growth has its implications - housing is one. And then there’s the administration.

The main unions in the Balearics - the CCOO and the UGT - are pointing to a chronic staff shortage in state administration offices, such as immigration offices. The unions have highlighted an eleven per cent population increase over ten years (130,000 more people) but staff numbers at these offices have remained the same. The attention offered has therefore been suffering as the time available has been reduced. The unions reckon that around 1,000 more staff are needed just to be able to provide “a fairly normal service”. But one reason for the shortage is that the Balearics are not an attractive option for workers. This is because of the cost of living, and housing is a key aspect of this.

Virgin park-and-ride

This is a familiar lament in other areas of the public sector and also in the private sector. We heard much last year about difficulties that Mallorca’s hotels and restaurants were experiencing in attracting staff for the season. One solution to this may be for a hotel boss to appeal directly via video while dressed in a casual manner. One particular hotel boss is doing just this. Yes, none other than Richard Branson, who’s looking for staff at the Son Bunyola Hotel in Banyalbufar - waiters/waitresses, chefs, receptionists and so on.

He’ll probably not be short of takers, though it was all a bit confusing as to how many employees were being sought - 131 said reports, but when the jobs were listed, the number came to only 71. It was further stated that applicants needed to have their own cars. This is despite there being a free bus shuttle service for staff from Palma to the hotel and back. Mind you, employees might need their own cars to get to the bus pick-up point - a sort of Virgin park-and-ride scheme. There was also an issue about the opening date. First of April was stated in certain quarters, when it is commonly accepted it will be mid-June.

Gary Barlow. Instagram

Gary Barlow - it only takes a minute

Celebrity bosses naturally bring us to this week’s Celebrity Squares. Who was in the frame and who was no longer in the frame? Well, Nicole Kidman had abandoned the island shores to go wherever beckoned her next. But to the rescue and emerging on a distant horizon was Gary Barlow.

Ah yes, Gary, I remember him well, although not as well as I might have. It was a club in Bradford before Take That had become famous. Can’t say that I paid him or them a huge amount of attention but enough to recall thinking that they were ok. So, could it be magic? Is Gary back for good? Well, no, only briefly, as there are exclusive Gary performances for P&O Cruises, one of which will be heading for Palma at the end of April. But as we know, because Gary has said so, it only takes a minute. Cameras at the ready ... .