All quiet in Budapest


ALONG WITH the Israelis, the Irish were big players in Hungarian commercial property – and have suffered in the downturn. Country clubs, new business parks and up-market residential developments were all within the investment range of Paddy the Investor during the boom.

In the previously moribund restaurant areas of Budapest, the Irish brought many evenings of good fellowship – and generous tips – to the newly opened diners, especially on the conclusion of investment deals.

Alas, all’s changed. Liszt Ferenz square, off the capital’s Utca, once a vibrant area of evening entertainment, is notably quiet, with only a handful of restaurants open, where two years ago there were dozens. Much of its clientele came from Ireland, as Hungary boomed with foreign investment after years of stagnation.

In spite of efforts by the government to stimulate commercial property transactions, that segment of the market remains stubbornly stagnant. From January, tax on sales, similar to our much-maligned stamp duty, was reduced from 10 to 4 per cent – but its effect has still to be registered in uplift.

Along the commercial areas, the signs above the streets are wearily familiar. Elado (for sale) and eligado (for rent) with very few eladva (sold!) However, the Irish who bought smaller units in residential blocks are faring better. Budapest is a capital city with a (reduced) constant demand for one and two-bedroom quality apartments. Several developments are entirely Irish-owned and surviving the downturn, because of the letting locations.

As for the legions of taxi-drivers who bought into Bulgaria, the news is grim. In one development in Varma, a seaside resort where nothing was built before the Irish came a-buying, the devaluation from two years ago is a staggering 80 per cent. In the Europe-wide recessions, Bulgaria has probably the highest proportion of recently-built ghost-towns on beautiful beaches, mostly funded by Irish investors.