The real estate sector mistrusts the INE data on empty houses and is suspicious of the tax |  National and international economy

The real estate sector mistrusts the INE data on empty houses and is suspicious of the tax | National and international economy

How many empty houses are there really in Spain? The latest population and housing census of the National Statistics Institute (INE), published recently, seemed to shed light on this: more than 3.8 million. However, various industry analysts believe that this figure is disproportionate and does not reflect real estate reality. Instead, they consider that it is possible that many of these homes have an abnormal use, such as tourist rental and rooms, or that they are in a process of rehabilitation or legal dispute. In any case, in order to have a reliable assessment, they assure that it would be necessary to cross-reference the information from different services and providers beyond electricity consumption, which is the census base of the statistical center.

Both Jaime Palomera, co-director of the Urban Research Institute (IDRA), focused on housing studies, and José García Montalvo, professor of Applied Economics at the Pompeu Fabra University of Barcelona, ​​recall the case of the Catalan capital as being paradigmatic . In 2019, the Metropolitan Housing Observatory carried out a field study to find out exactly how many empty houses there were in the city and they concluded that of the almost 104,000 properties that could be uninhabited, only 10,000 really were. This is 1.22%. Both experts are convinced that this case can be extrapolated, at least to other large Spanish cities such as Madrid, which does not rule out that in some municipalities of emptied Spain there is a high percentage of unoccupied houses.

In a general vision, there are those who think that if there were so many unoccupied homes, the market would handle lower values. However, prices have not stopped rising so far this year – various reports point to a year-on-year rise above 6% – despite the contraction in both real estate transactions and mortgage signing. According to Félix Lores, an economist at BBVA Research and a specialist in the sector, this points to a shortage of supply and makes him think that a good number of houses classified by the INE as empty are actually for sale or on the way to rent, or It is simply a temporary matter, since the census is based on the electricity consumption data that was recorded throughout 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, which could condition mobility to second homes. This would be the case of Galicia, where, according to the statistics center, several of the municipalities with the highest rate of empty housing are specified.

There are even those who doubt the conditions of the registered properties, because according to Idealista, the state of conservation can be so bad that the spaces are not habitable. Or as Benito Arruñada, professor at Pompeu Fabra University and member of the Foundation for Applied Economics Studies (Fedea), maintains, who appeals to the times of sale, rental and works to explain part of those almost four million properties contemplated by the INE.

a dubious tax

Doubts about the accuracy of these figures lead to other questions regarding the viability of a surcharge of up to 150% on the Real Estate Tax (IBI) for owners of empty houses. Even Carlos Martín, director of the economic cabinet of Comisiones Obreras, who, unlike the rest of the experts, supports the methodology and precision of the census, classifies the implementation of this measure as “difficult” as it is an autonomous competition. In fact, in order to promote its implementation, he believes that access to European funds should be made more difficult for communities that do not implement the new housing law.

In the middle is Arruñada, who, although she does not doubt directly about the INE numbers, explains that her criteria “may be enough for a statistical estimate, but not to set differential taxes. In any case, ultimately, if applied, it would lead owners to consume electricity in empty homes. Palomera, for his part, refers to the experience in Catalonia, where an attempt has been made to boost the housing stock by means of surcharges or forced expropriation, to condemn the ineffectiveness of the measure. As she recalls, “Barcelona thus incorporated a Pyrrhic number of houses. Instead, the policy of trial and error in favor of the administration has been more effective. This is that the Generalitat can acquire the homes that are going to be transferred in preference to any other interested person.

The other experts believe that the declaration of a city as an area of ​​this type, in order to increase the municipal land patrimony, could make sense if there were really millions of uninhabited houses. However, if the percentage fluctuates between 1% and 4%, which is what some of them calculate, then it would be called frictional housing. In other words, it is unoccupied during the time that a tenant leaves it and another enters, which is considered inherent to the market. This is how Montalvo explains it, who warns that to this must be added the percentage of the population that would prefer to pay the IBI surcharge for fear of having their home squatted or because they believe that the benefits they obtain are greater. For these people, it would be important to increase legal certainty, especially on a rental basis. On this point Arruñada agrees, who believes that “contractual restrictions and the growing risks of non-payment and rent freezing discourage owners. Therefore, it is logical that many of them keep the empty spaces and wait to leave them as an inheritance to their children.

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