Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Into June already! Where has almost half the year gone to? Where have eleven and a half years gone to? That’s the time since we bought the house in Crete and what a lot of changes we have seen since that first move, especially with the influx of Brits in the last few years after that dreadful television programme A PLACE IN THE SUN that sold them “the dream!” Unfortunately for a number of them the dream turned into a nightmare, mainly due to that old human failing – greed. Having sold their properties in the UK at stratospheric prices they bought cheap on Crete, believing the sales pitch and that what cash was left over would give them enough to live on for the rest of their lives. True to a point, especially as the cost of living in Greece at that time was a fraction of that in the UK and Greek banks held interest rates way above anybody else’s. But the EU soon put a stop to that and Greece isn’t so inexpensive anymore. Add to that the buy cheap philosophy and you gets what you pays for and some expats have been paying ever since with cold, damp, leaking, badly finished houses they would dearly love to sell and for which there is now no market. And it wasn’t just greedy Greeks who were at fault. At least two of the big developers were English and so much of the area has been literally spoilt by them. In the old days before the modern world hit Crete, if a man was cold or his bed was damp all he did was put on another sweater and wait for summer when everything would dry out anyway. But expats, buying their houses in the summer, sometimes didn’t take into account that Crete isn’t a place in the sun all year round but can get cold winters (short fortunately) and heavy rains; that houses get damp and even flooded and stupid expats have even been heard to cry in all seriousness “Nobody told us it rains in Crete!” Can you credit that? What they also were not aware of is that everyone in Greece is used to the little envelope that helps change the rules and eases things along. For example, you can’t build here because this is forestry land. No it’s not, another couple of hundred in the back pocket and it will cease to be forestry land, so go ahead and build. Or, on a plot of a certain size the builder is allowed to build one or two houses so he goes right ahead and builds four and he sells them to foreigners eager for the dream but now comes the nightmare when one decides to sell and finds he cannot because he doesn’t own the land on which his house is built. Oh, yes, he owns the house, as do his three neighbours own theirs but without their consent he cannot sell. None of them own the land on which their houses are built. There are many traps for the unwary and only recently we heard of an elderly couple who bought a house via the internet not even knowing where it is and it has been standing empty for five years. When they finally got around to looking at it all the woman could say was, “It’s dirty.” And burst into tears. After standing empty for five years would you be surprised?
The unprecedented level of prices for UK property has led to ramifications elsewhere that were never expected. Cretans had never experienced so much money floating around and, when asked why they were prepared to sell their land to developers, to give up their heritage in fact (how many ancient olives have been ripped up to make way for little boxes?) they invariably replied it was to give their children the chance to go to university and become doctors and dentists and lawyers and never have to reap olives or work hard on a farm again. It was inevitable one supposes but rather sad to suddenly see so many expensive BMWs, Porsches, Mercs proliferating at the rate of knots. I wonder how many junior members of the family actually made it to become doctors, dentists, or lawyers, but at least the German car manufacturers were happy.

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