March 24, 2019

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House Hunting in … Morocco

House Hunting in … Morocco
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This eight-bedroom, nine-bathroom home is in Marrakesh, Morocco’s fourth-largest city, inside the ancient, walled section known as the medina.

The property, which covers about 11,500 square feet, consists of two interconnected riads — traditional Moroccan houses built around central courtyards or gardens — and a smaller house acquired by the owners so they could convert its courtyard into a swimming pool, said Alex Peto, a partner at Kensington Luxury Properties, the Morocco affiliate of Christie’s International, which has the listing.

The riads, which date back about 200 years, have been refurbished and updated, a project that included adding a retractable glass roof to one of the courtyards, Mr. Peto said.

That courtyard has a fountain at its center surrounded by four fruit trees, as well as a balcony, arched doorways supported by ornately carved columns at either end, and several seating areas. The floors and walls are decorated with zellige, a traditional Moroccan mosaic tilework.

The other riad courtyard has a flowering jacaranda tree reaching over the roof, and is lined with Moorish-style archways. An alcove adorned with decoratively carved wood was converted from a plunge pool to a lounge area.

Together, the two riads have three living rooms and two dining rooms, as well as a hammam, or Turkish bath. “That’s the beauty of riads — there are so many little corners you can go and hide,” Mr. Peto said.

The largest of the living rooms has high ceilings, intricately patterned stone above the windows, three fireplaces and an elevated library. The traditional furniture and artworks throughout the house are available to buy.

Most of the bedrooms are on the upper levels overlooking the courtyards. (In riads, all of the rooms have windows facing the interior courtyard, rather than outward toward the street.) One of the master bedrooms has a brick vaulted ceiling and an arched brick alcove for the bed. The other has a domed ceiling decorated with painted designs. Each of the two master bathrooms has brightly colored walls done in tadelakt, a polished, waterproof plaster finish common in Morocco.

The third house has the swimming pool — a rarity in the medina — and the potential for four additional bedrooms, although the spaces have yet to be brought up to the same standard as the rest of the property, Mr. Peto said.

There is a single large kitchen, designed for service, with a food lift that goes up to the open-air, furnished roof terrace. The terrace spans all three structures, offering panoramic views of the red sandstone buildings that give Marrakesh its nickname, the Red City.

An economic and cultural hub in central Morocco, Marrakesh is about 100 miles east of the Atlantic Ocean. This property is near the southeastern edge of the city’s labyrinthine medina, a Unesco World Heritage site whose tightly packed outdoor markets and stalls have made it a tourist destination for centuries. Jemaa el-Fnaa, the central square marketplace, is about a 10-minute walk. The area is also filled with gardens, museums and mosques, some of which date back nearly 1,000 years. Marrakesh Menara Airport is about a 20-minute drive.

Increased confidence in Morocco’s safety and stability, as well as a concerted push by the government to improve infrastructure and promote tourism, have contributed to a stronger housing market in the past year, agents said. The number of foreign tourists visiting Marrakesh rose about 15 percent from 2017 to 2018, according to the Moroccan Ministry of Tourism.

The city enjoyed a boost in visibility when Madonna tweeted photos of her 60th birthday celebration from the medina last summer. Another draw is a new museum dedicated to Yves Saint Laurent, the French fashion designer, who maintained a home in Marrakesh for many years. More recently, Dior, the French fashion house, announced it will stage its resort fashion show in the city next month.

“The more visitors we have coming in, the better it goes for the real estate market,” said Colin Bosworth, the owner of Bosworth Property Marrakech.

With plenty of inventory, Marrakesh is still a buyer’s market, but activity has ticked upward over the past 18 months, Mr. Bosworth said. “People who have been waiting to put their property on the market are now doing so, and at a slightly higher price than they could have done a year ago,” he said.

In the fourth quarter of 2018, single-family home prices in the city were up 1.3 percent over the previous quarter, according to data from Bank Al-Maghrib, Morocco’s central bank. Apartment prices were up 0.7 percent, while prices for villas fell 0.7 percent.

Buyers can select from a variety of property types, from “very modest pieds-à-terre,” to new, high-end apartments downtown, “all the way up to palaces,” said Grant Rawlings, the owner of Chic Marrakech, a brokerage specializing in riad renovations. The medina is among the most popular locations for buyers, having maintained its allure even after the global financial crisis of 2008, he said, adding, “It casts a spell over people.”

Mr. Bosworth said many buyers are currently seeking vacation properties they can rent when they’re not in residence. Renovated riads in the medina can be had for between 3 million and 6 million Moroccan dirhams (about $300,000 to $600,000), he said. Villas in the countryside range from about 4 million to 10 million dirhams ($400,000 to $1 million) or more, depending on size and location.

Increasingly, many of those villas are built on golf resorts. “There are now 15 18-hole golf courses around Marrakesh,” Mr. Peto said. “Almost all of them have villas up and down the fairways. Marrakesh is beginning to rival the Costa del Sol as a golfing destination.”

The French have long dominated among foreign buyers — France’s protectorate over much of Morocco lasted from 1912 to 1956 — commonly investing in vacation homes that get passed down through generations, Mr. Bosworth said.

That is changing, though, as budget airlines add flights to Marrakesh from Europe, attracting British, German, Dutch and Spanish buyers, Mr. Rawlings said.

In addition, the number of Chinese buyers has increased since the Moroccan government lifted visa requirements for Chinese nationals in 2016, he said.

There are no restrictions on foreigners buying property in Morocco, with the exception of land classified for farming, which can only be sold to Moroccans, Mr. Bosworth said.

A notary handles the transaction and is responsible for performing all due diligence. Foreign buyers are advised to use a real estate agent, as “everybody here has a brother and a cousin selling a property,” Mr. Bosworth said. “And there are very opaque ownership situations for some properties.”

Foreign buyers paying in cash must register their money with the Foreign Exchange Office, which can be done through the notary, Mr. Peto said. Transactions are conducted in Moroccan dirhams.

Arabic and French; Moroccan dirham (1 dirham = $0.10)

Closing costs typically add up to about 10 percent of the sale price, Mr. Bosworth said. That includes fees for the land registry, stamp duty, notary and the agent’s commission.

Alex Peto, Kensington Luxury Properties, 011-212-524-422229; kensingtonmorocco.com

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