On Mozart Street, there are security cameras everywhere. A thousand eyes watch a road that has no parking spaces. The exceptionally clean sidewalks shine, even though there are no garbage cans in sight. Finding someone walking here is rare – there’s also no traffic. The few vehicles that exist here are divided between high-end cars and vans owned by private security companies, which make the rounds every few minutes.
The handful of villas that make up this corner of the city of Marbella – a city of 150,000 inhabitants located in the southern Spanish province of Málaga – are among the most expensive properties in all of Spain, with an average price of almost eight million euros ($8.6 million). The most expensive neighborhood of all, however, is the development of La Zagaleta, located about 13 miles away. There, the mansions are priced at an average of 10.7 million euros ($11.5 million), with some properties valued at as much as 36 million euros ($38.6 million). Together, Mozart Street, La Zagaleta and Estepona are the epitome of Spanish luxury real estate. The Balearic Islands are a distant fourth.
Of the 10 most expensive streets in Spain, five are in Marbella and its surroundings, according to Idealista. House prices are 38 times higher than the most exclusive streets in other resort towns. The area is also home to six of the 10 homes with the highest sales prices in the country, surpassing 30 million euros ($32 million). Experts in the real estate sector don’t believe that they’ll be on the market for long: demand currently outpaces supply in the luxury market, which is experiencing its best moment in history.
“The high prices aren’t a coincidence. These are large, modern houses with views of the Mediterranean,” explains Javier Nieto, head of Pure Living Properties. Other specialists are in agreement, pointing out the factors that make this a unique place to live. In addition to easy access to the Málaga airport, the area has good weather, international schools, beaches, quality restaurants – including Michelin-starred establishments – and a cosmopolitan city that is vibrant throughout the year. The pull of the provincial capital – called Málaga, like the province – has even attracted technology companies, which is the icing on the cake. Marbella, meanwhile, is preferred over iconic places such as Mallorca, Ibiza, Barcelona, or Madrid.
A walk through some of the most expensive streets of the small city makes it clear why the prices are so high. On Mozart Street – and throughout the entire Sierra Blanca development, where tennis star Novak Djokovic lives – there are private security guards, who prevent pictures from being taken. Some posters warn of “armed security.” There are also clearly-marked instructions for visitors: “To enter, present yourself at the security checkpoint. The guards will guide you.” Access may technically be public… but any unknown pedestrian or car is suspect here.
Dozens of palm trees protrude from the high walls that surround each villa. Behind them, there are pools, wooded areas, statues, fountains and tennis courts. Everything is silent outside, except on summer nights, when you can hear the music from the nearby Starlite Festival. Along the sidewalks, you can only see vehicles sent by firms that specialize in construction, gardening, water treatment, architecture, painting, electricity, internet, or other services. About thirty of these companies are part of the Association of Entrepreneurs for High-Quality Housing, which, in 2022, had a turnover of one billion euros. The association created 2,000 direct jobs and 4,500 indirect ones.
Three workers are busy renovating an $8 million house. One of them notes that, in the neighborhood, “there are mansions that have everything. But when you enter, you realize that the owners only use a couple of rooms, even if they have 10.” When any of the residents come out, they shy away from talking. “Nobody here answers any questions… they mind their own business.”
A few feet away, movers from La Fábrica de Hielo – a Marbella shop that specializes in antiques and exclusive decorations – are carrying a huge mirror with gold trim. Behind them, several vans with tinted windows pull into a spacious garage. And, beyond that, the architecture of a Greek-inspired house – with a huge entrance with four Corinthian columns – is striking. In this area, no house costs less than $10 million.
These developments also have drawbacks. The security and anonymity they offer make them perfect hiding places for drug lords, according to police sources. Environmentalists also point out that there are hardly any natural spaces left facing the sea – certain houses have invaded the foothills or destroyed the tops of some hills, generating a negative ecological impact (as do the more than 10,000 swimming pools in the municipality). Other experts affirm that these neighborhood have little impact on the economy of the area and that the gated communities aggravate the conflicts between the area’s residents. Some prohibit passage to non-residents, despite the fact that basic services – such as sanitation or asphalt – are paid for out of municipal coffers.
The buyers are usually foreigners. With the disappearance of the Russian market following the invasion of Ukraine, residents of other countries – such as Poland, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands or the United States – have replaced it. But the reality is that Marbella already counts 155 nationalities among its population. “The most interesting change compared to previous years is that the average age of [heads of] families that move [to Marbella] permanently is between 35 and 50-years-old,” says Jimmy Widen, the head of 3SA Estate, a local real estate agency. He points out that, before the pandemic, the average age was over 55.
“40% of sales are meant for long-term residence, but in the past, 95% were meant as vacation homes,” the expert adds, who believes that wealth taxes prevent even more foreigners from moving to Marbella. “I have hundreds of clients who would move permanently to Marbella if Spain eliminated the wealth tax,” he affirms. Other sources indicate that these owners reside on the coast of Málaga for less than six months of the year to avoid paying taxes to the Spanish government.
Between the most expensive streets of Marbella, Benahavís and Estepona – the triangle of luxury on the Costa del Sol – the landscape is similar. In the subdevelopment of Osa Menor – located in what is known as the “Golf Valley” – there are palm trees, swimming pools, security cameras and multi-million-dollar buildings everywhere. To reach the subdevelopment, you have to wander through six golf courses. On Calderón de la Barca avenue, some benches invite you to admire the panorama, which mixes the green of the well-manicured lawn with white buildings, all framed by La Concha mountain range.
There are new villas for sale. Others are undergoing massive renovations, while others have been totally demolished to make way for newer structures. “When a house is 20 or 25-years-old and can be improved, we prefer to tear it down and redo it, so as to maintain exclusivity,” explain sources from the community of La Zagaleta, where they have bolstered the internet connection and the helicopter service, to encourage the arrival of clients who telework. This exclusive complex – which has plans to develop a hotel and a beach club – continues to grow, with nine villas currently under construction. Just over half will be completed by 2025.
“Marbella’s potential is incredible. And it can only go further,” says Artur Loginov, the executive director of Drumelia, a real estate agency with 20 years of history in the area. Last month, Drumelia brokered the sale of two villas for 11.9 and 13.9 million euros respectively ($12.8 and $14.8 million).
The traditional exclusive areas of Marbella are now joined by other developments, which have gained prominence thanks to brands that have partnered with investors to build. For instance, Lamborghini envisions 53 large villas in Benahavís. The Karl Lagerfeld brand is stamped on another five houses being built for $15 million apiece in the Golden Mile, while Dolce & Gabbana is planning 60 apartments there.
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