A youthful romance is what first attracted Skerries man Conor Wilde to the Spanish city of Valencia in 1992. More than 30 years on, Wilde is now firmly rooted in the city, enjoying its relaxed vibe, low cost of living and outdoor lifestyle, and has no intention of returning home.
His mission these days is to encourage others to follow the same dream, having found success locally as an estate agent focused on international clients. His agency, Found Valencia, sells about €20 million worth of high-end residential property a year, mainly in the €500,000-plus bracket, to those who either wish to enjoy the attractions of a city famed for its culture and excellent quality of life, or to investors looking to make healthy returns.
With a population of about 800,000, the port city is Spain’s third largest and offers a pleasant climate, beaches and vibrant nightlife as well a nice urban environment.
Wilde, who comes from a fishing family, began spending more time in this part of Spain from the mid-1990s on, developing markets for seafood throughout Spain and France. He eventually tired of the long hours and constant travelling in that work and made the switch to property sales, settling permanently in Valencia in 2000.
Wilde married the Spanish girlfriend who first attracted him to the city (they later divorced) and they have two children. He immersed himself in local culture, becoming fluent in Spanish, including the Valencian dialect. “I was getting screwed over by some of the locals on building sites, so I had to pick up on that very quickly to survive,” he says.
Barriers to entry into real estate are low in Spain and he was able to educate himself in the property business as he went along. “When I came here first, all of my friends were Spanish and there was no internet, so if I saw someone with an Irish football jersey, that was my only way of meeting people from home, but my network soon started to grow.”
Wilde soon realised he had found his niche, not only in sourcing properties for international clients but also in helping them to access all the local services they needed post-purchase. The high level of after-sales service provided by the agency – free of charge in most cases – results in about 40 per cent of new business coming via customer referral, he says.
“Our money is made in selling or renovating real estate. What we have is an infrastructure where people can come from any country and get all the supports that they need, from accessing a gardener to an architect – in fact, anything they need to live here.”
Found Valencia has grown over the years and today he employs 15 staff. Irish, British and continental buyers piled into the Valencian property market in the noughties, enabling him to expand.
However, Wilde has also had to cope with a succession of challenges, starting with the economic crash in 2008, followed by Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic. Brexit led to a collapse in business from British clients for several years, not helped by initial ignorance of the regulations about residency post-Brexit, he says.
Spain’s golden visa system means that anyone from outside the European Union investing more than €500,000 in property is entitled to residency. This means British purchasers are now increasingly buying better-quality properties in places such as Valencia rather than lower-cost properties in the Costas.
Many are coming from further afield. As well as clients from the rest of Europe, there has been a recent influx of buyers from the United States, especially from the west coast, Florida and Texas, with some indicating they want to escape political and cultural division there, as well as the increasingly high cost of living, he says. Healthcare costs in Spain, for example, are a fraction of what they are in the US.
About 75 per cent of clients are looking to live full-time in and around Valencia, with the balance looking for a holiday bolthole. Customers are clear about what they want. Properties with pools and large terraces in the €500,000 to €1 million price range are in high demand, but good quality, less expensive properties are also available.
“Customers don’t want a holiday resort with high rise and karaoke bars. They want access to an authentic Spanish way of life, and they are buying into a lifestyle,” he says.
There are also good opportunities for investors looking for rental returns of 5 per cent to 10 per cent on three-bedroom properties with large terraces, priced around €750,000 to €800,000, as well as in the student accommodation area, he adds.
Wilde works long hours, often meeting clients and business associates for coffee or drinks in the evening, but feels he has a very good lifestyle. He lives alone in the small town of La Eliana, about a 25-minute drive inland from Valencia city. His hobbies include playing music in local bars and sea fishing.
“Life is bright here. I feel I can walk around even at night without having to look over my shoulder. You can go out to dinner here at 10 o’clock at night and walk home in total safety.”
He misses friends and family and some of the harbours of Ireland where he grew up working, but has no desire to return to Ireland to live. A 10-day family holiday back in Ireland for himself and his two children now costs him more than €7,000, with accommodation, food and car hire being especially expensive, he says.
“I can have a cup of coffee here in Valencia for €1.50 and can get a good three-course lunch for €11. It is much less expensive to live here.”