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COST OF LIVING

EXPLAINED: Why is finding housing in Salzburg so difficult?

Rent prices in Salzburg are increasing more than anywhere else in Austria. Here's what you need to know.

The Austrian city of Salzburg. Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash
The Austrian city of Salzburg. Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash

The city of Salzburg is experiencing a housing crisis, fuelled by property investors, limited building space and increasingly tourism-focused infrastructure.

“In the last five years, prices have risen enormously. Much more than income levels,” says Inge Strassl, project leader for housing research at the Salzburg Institute for Housing and Regional Planning (SIR).

In the city of Salzburg, locals and newcomers alike are running up against sky-high prices and limited options when it comes to finding an apartment or home. The city’s housing crisis is the result of a slew of factors driving up demand, even when it seems there is no shortage of living space in the city and surrounding region.

“It’s not a question of whether we have enough apartments—but they aren’t always in the right place,” Strassl told The Local. “The main problem is that it’s becoming too expensive for the average person.”

Since at least 2005, the state of Salzburg has topped the charts for rent prices compared to other Austrian states, according to SIR’s latest report. In that time, Austria has seen an average rent increase of 57 percent, bringing a typical Salzburger’s rent from 6.50 euros per square meter up to 9.90 euros by 2020.

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For those looking to buy, the leap in property value was even more stark. From 2009 to 2019, the sales price for new homes inside the city jumped by 70 percent, while the price tag on existing homes nearly doubled.

Today, a 150 square meter apartment or house on the city outskirts can sell for one million euros or more.

New tenants face elevated costs

Compared to the rest of the world, Austria’s rent-to-income ratio is fairly middling—about 20 percent of the average Austrian’s income went to rent in 2019, according to a recent OECD study.

That’s higher than Germany and the EU as a whole, but lower than France, Italy, Switzerland and the United States.

What the numbers don’t show though, is which groups have access to more affordable housing, and how much more money new tenants are paying compared to the old. On this issue, Salzburg is the perfect case study.

Bernhard Gugg, a housing researcher with SIR, told The Local that new tenants can expect shorter rent contracts and more frequent price hikes than in previous years.

READ MORE: Is it better to buy or to rent property in Austria?

“Around two-thirds of new rent contracts are set for three years,” Gugg says. “After it expires, landlords can actually raise the price again.”

According to Gugg, the current rent price on the market is around 17 euros per square meter, including upkeep. In Austria, it’s typical for a landlord to charge three month’s rent as a security fee, while real estate brokers often charge another two month’s rent for their services. 

That means the upfront fee to move into a two-room apartment in Salzburg could total up to 5,400 euros for the first month.

Inaccessible subsidised housing

Gugg also says that newcomers, especially non-Austrians, have trouble accessing Salzburg’s more affordable subsidised housing, which makes up approximately one quarter of the city’s housing stock.

“That’s not available for internationals, or for people who move here for studies or work,” Gugg says. Only five-year residents of the city are eligible to apply.

But even locals face a long waiting list. According to Strassl, low turnover in the city’s subsidised housing stock is further exacerbating Salzburg’s housing crisis.

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“The problem is that people don’t move out of these apartments again,” Strassl says. “They stay, and want to live there forever. So there is no exchange.”

As a result, groups that normally rely on lower-priced housing for their first apartment or home have to look elsewhere—and that often means settling for cramped or lower-quality housing on the private market.

“It’s the younger population and the young families,” Strassl says, that are feeling the brunt of the impact—especially immigrants. She has come across many immigrant families with several children, often having to live in small, two-room apartments.

“The private rent is so high that it’s not possible to save a lot of money,” she says. “It’s creating a split—the gap is widening,” she says, between renters and owners.

A focus on tourism is a major reason why the cost of living is so high in the Austrian city of Salzburg. Photo by zhang xiaoyu on Unsplash

A focus on tourism is a major reason why the cost of living is so high in the Austrian city of Salzburg. Photo by zhang xiaoyu on Unsplash

Empty buildings and restricted space drive up demand

Salzburg’s housing availability is also being diminished by a recent boom in the purchase of property for investment—houses and apartment buildings that investors often leave empty because they generate income all by themselves, without the need for tenants.

The city’s real estate sites are full of advertisements geared toward investors, complete with annual profit estimates. One listing on the housing board run by Salzburger Nachrichten is titled: “Apartment package: 4 top-rented investment apartments with a yield of 2.9%.”

In order to capitalise on the profits, Gugg says, private building companies are snapping up land in a city with restricted space.

“What’s quite difficult in Salzburg is that you really don’t get a lot of new land for any kind of development—not just housing,” he says. That steep competition makes it hard for affordable-housing associations to recoup their costs and keep prices low for residents.

According to Strassl, many properties in the city, old and new, are bought up by small investors looking for a place to park their money instead of the bank.

“In the city of Salzburg, you can be sure that [a property] will not lose it’s worth,” Strassl says. “Of the people who buy them, not all rent them again, so there are a lot of apartments now that are sold and not used.”

A 2015 SIR study found that about 3,500 viable living spaces in the city remain vacant year-round, inaccessible to the public. While that’s only about 4 percent of the available supply, it’s indicative of a growing market, that—combined with Salzburg’s restricted building space—is pushing some residents out.

Renting in Austria: When can my landlord increase the rent, and by how much?

A blessing and a curse

There’s one final factor putting pressure on Salzburg’s housing market, wrapped up with all the rest: Salzburg’s allure for tourists, vacationers and second-home buyers.

The city’s “attractiveness is not only a blessing for Salzburg, but also a curse,” reports a 2019 study out of the Salzburg University Geography Department.

Salzburg’s charming surroundings, comfortable amenities and cultural tourism draw millions of visitors over the course of a normal year. In 2019, Salzburg hosted three million overnight stays—approximately 8,200 additional residents each day of the year in a city of 155,000. 

According to the study, tourism in Salzburg has captured a large swath of housing, including vacation homes and short-term rentals posted through portals like Airbnb, which often remain partially empty during the year. At least 17 percent of living spaces in the city are secondary residences, while the number of short-term rentals is hard to quantify.

What’s clear is that Salzburg’s city centre is remarkably vacant of local residents. The resident population there fell 15 percent in the ten years leading up to 2019, says the study, as the city’s changing infrastructure increasingly accommodates tourists.

Strassl says the price jumps and high demand haven’t stopped there. “It’s extreme in the city, but it’s also coming around in the surrounding area. In the whole region of Salzburg, you will not find a really cheap place.”

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PROPERTY

EXPLAINED: The rules for buying property in Graz as a foreigner

Buying property as an international resident in Austria is not a standard process across the country, and there is a key difference in the Styrian city of Graz.

EXPLAINED: The rules for buying property in Graz as a foreigner

Graz is Austria’s second largest city (after the capital, Vienna) and attracts people from all over the world to live and work.

But what about buying property as a foreigner in Graz? What are the rules?

Here’s what you need to know before jumping into the property market in the Styrian capital city. 

FOR MEMBERS: EXPLAINED: Property buying rules for international residents in Austria

Who is classed as a foreigner in Austria?

Foreign nationals are defined by the Austrian Federal Government as those that do not have Austrian citizenship.

However, when it comes to buying property, there are varying rules for different foreigners, mostly depending on whether someone is from an EU country or not (rather than whether they have an Austrian passport). 

Property buying rules for EU and EEA citizens in Austria

In Austria, it’s relatively easy for citizens from EU and EEA countries and Switzerland to buy property as a foreigner.

This is because these citizens are granted the same rights as Austrian nationals under EU law.

So this means whether you are an EU citizen already living in Graz as a resident, or you simply want to purchase an investment property in the city, it is possible.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How Austria’s new property buying rules could impact you

Austrian rules for third country nationals

In Austria, the term ‘third country nationals’ refers to anyone who is not from an EU member state, an EEA (European Economic Area) country (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) or Switzerland. 

For this group it usually becomes more difficult to buy a home in Austria – even for permanent residents – due to strict property buying rules.

In principle, any permanent residents from a third country in Austria have to go through an authorisation process to gain a special permit that will allow them to buy property. 

The reason for the special permit is to ensure there is sufficient housing available for Austrian citizens and to avoid surging property and land prices from interest by non-EU buyers.

But in Graz, the rules are more relaxed than the national laws, making the process much easier for foreigners wanting to invest in property in the city.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why Austria’s rising property prices are causing alarm

What is different in Graz?

The biggest difference in the rules for foreigners in Graz is that there is no requirement to gain the special permit to buy property, unlike in other provinces and cities across Austria.

This means, as long as someone is a permanent resident in Graz (and they have the funds), they can buy property – no matter where they are from.

Brits with an Article 50 card

Since Brexit became a reality in January 2021, there has been some confusion in Austria about the rights of British people to buy property in the Alpine Republic, so here’s a brief explainer.

For those in possession of an Article 50 Card – a post-Brexit residency permit that grants British people living in Austria before December 31st 2020 pre-Brexit rights – they are still treated the same as those from EU member states.

FOR MEMBERS: How can British second home owners spend more than 90 days in Austria?

This should apply across Austria and was confirmed to The Local by the British Embassy in Vienna. It was also highlighted by the UK government in its official Living in Austria guide.

As a result, there is no need for British people with an Article 50 card to apply for the special permit to purchase property in Graz, or anywhere else in Austria. 

But for any British people that have moved to Austria in post-Brexit times, they will be considered as third country nationals and subject to the rules detailed above (although not in Graz where the permit is not required).

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