Spain tries to lure foreign real estate buyers

ALMERIA, SPAIN - APRIL 04: A finished apartment sits amid an abandoned apartment building skeleton on April 4, 2009 in Roquetas de Mar near Almeria, southeast Spain. Before the real estate bubble burst, the capital and province of Almeria were booming. During the recent downturn in Spain's economy, regions which are heavily dependent on residential construction and real estate have seen unemployment levels soar. The province of Almeria currently has one of Spain's highest unemployment rates at almost 25 per cent against a nationwide figure of around 13.9 percent. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images) Jasper Juinen

MADRID Spain is to offer foreigners residency permits if they buy houses worth more than 160,000 euro ($200,000) as part of an attempt to reduce the country's bloated stock of unsold homes.

Trade Ministry secretary Jaime Garcia-Legaz said the plan, expected to be approved in the coming weeks, would be aimed principally at the Chinese and Russian markets as the domestic demand was stagnant and showed no sign of improving. Spain has more than 700,000 unsold houses following the collapse of its real estate market in 2008.

The country's economy is struggling and is currently in recession with 25 percent unemployment. Thousands of houses have been repossessed by banks and their owners evicted because they cannot pay their mortgages. The government last week approved a decree under which evictions would be suspended for two years in specific cases of extreme need.

The country's offer beats others in bailed-out countries such as Ireland and Portugal, where residency papers are offered to foreigners buying houses worth more the 400,000 euro and 500,000 euro, respectively. It was not immediately clear if the residency would only refer to Spain, and not the European Union.

The stricken state of the country's real estate market was highlighted Monday by figures from the Bank of Spain which showed that the level of bad debt in the country's banks had risen to a record 10.7 percent of their loan total in September.

The bank said the amount totaled 182 billion euro, up from 179 billion euro in August -- the 15th monthly increase in a row.

The 16 other countries that use the euro have agreed to lend Spain up to 100 billion euro to help support the country's banks weighed down by these bad loans and investments. On top of the bank loan, Spain has been under pressure to apply for more outside financial aid to help it manage its debt and deficit. The European Central Bank has insisted on the move before it will make good on its pledge to buy the bonds of certain troubled countries to help lower their borrowing costs.

Spain says it is waiting to know all the conditions that might come attached to the rescue package before making a decision.

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