Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Deep Joy or Budget Blues?

With unseasonal sunny weather throughout the last few weeks we could be forgiven in thinking spring is in the air. After spending on gas heaters and blankets in December in anticipation of the big chill its nice to be able to bask on the terrace to top up my paleface. My feeling is we should make the most of it as probably in February we will be suitably drenched by the winter rains.

In town for a flying visit at the moment is good friend Doug the photographer and journalist who is here on assignment for a well known magazine and journal. I cant really go into detail about the story as it would let the proverbial cat out of the bag and spoil the element of surprise. Suffice to say its a very interesting and positive take on tourism in the general region. So thats frustrating as I would love to spill the beans, as those that know me know I hate to keep a secret for too long.

The general topic of conversation around my neck of the Medina is less about renovation updates now as most of the immediate circle are coming to the end of that aspect of the project, but generally what is happening with the flights from London. Several friends are having difficulty getting to Fes without a hop, skip and a jump around Europe. For the guest house owners also they are trying to think back on this time last year to compare notes on tourism and bookings. Undoubtably over the past year or so the budget airlines have had a dramatic effect on the influx of visitors to Fes. This has resulted in shoals of prospective riad renegades and dar desperados anxious to get their mitts and money into an historic medina house.

Now of course lest we forget there have been many foresighted individuals who as long ago as 10 years were realising the future potential here and investing. I can think of several nearby owners who have literally put their heart and soul as well as probably millions of dirhams into their personal idyllic retreat. My point is they did not need the requirement of a Wizzair Budget Bucket Seat to decide to relocate or return to Fes. It was a call, a duty, a love or blind faith call it what you will, they just did it. I actually do not know in what category I would put myself but I know I seemed to have no choice in the matter, the house chose me and it was I feel a duty of sorts to renovate it to the required standard.

For some people it was a case of lets buy a few and sit on them and see how the market progresses, and thats all well and good and they are probably a lot shrewder and canny businessmen than I. For some bravehearts though it has been or still is a labour of love that can at various points shred your nerves, make you weep in frustration and continuously check the bank balance to see if all the noughts are in the right place. Ahhhh but when you have finished, Deep Joy and a true sense of achievement makes up for all those horrid hurdles, trust me.

And then what? Well for every individual here it is a different story whether you are Cafe Clock Mike or Classy Kleo, along the way your dream and your focus changes as Fes and the project changes shape. We all have to adapt and I for one have no idea where the rocky road leads. So if the flights for instance make it trickier to get here well we are only back in the spot we were a year ago when said investors were well into their projects. What we WILL see is the return of the discerning buyer who is captivated and charmed as we all were with Fes and is prepared to take up the challenge of buying and renovating on top of getting that pesky connecting flight.

The upsurge in European flight connections could ensure that other nationalities now take up this unique challenge ensuring a multicultural mash-up instead of one heavily weighted, or so it seemed at one point, towards the Budget Brits. We Shall See, Wont We.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Back and Forth

Hello blogmates, its all quiet on the Moroccan front after the Xmas rush which is to be expected. Have been away for a few days to the rather photogenic Spanish haven of Vejer de la Frontera and if i thought it was quiet here its tumbleweed central over there, with lots of the cafes and restaurants closed for winter and friends scrabbling for work.

What was very noticeable were the notices in estate agents windows announcing price reductions on lots of the properties as through the past few years the Brit influx married to favourable tabloid reports led to escalating demand for the rinky dink old town properties. Of course throughout Spain now this era of silly year on year building concrete Disneylands and asking monopoly money for a ruined shed (lets call it a Cortijo to make it sound grander) in an illegal suburb, has come to a grinding halt. There is of course here a comparison with Morocco, which although in many ways is a mirror of how Spain was a few decades ago, gorgeous, virgin countryside, unspoilt beaches and cheap property could fall victim to inflated prices bouyed by the international not the local market.

We have seen here in Fes over the last few years the rocketing prices for the medina houses which though still good value for money when compared to dealing with European property, specifically London, could be a case of too much too soon. For instance the dream of local Medina house owners is to sell their almost habitable wreck to a an enthusiastic Brit renovator and move into a modern flat in the Ville Nouvelle. However the knock on effect has pushed up prices of these flats so the local has to put up the price of their old house to make the move financially viable for the family involved.

Its a tricky situation and one I feel that will find a more sensible pricing structure as we enter 2008 after the goldrush effect of recent years. For a lot of buyers however it is not just an investment in financial terms but a lifestyle choice as they fall in love with the perceived easygoing stressfree nature of life here plus the bonus of owning a slice of history. What is important is they prepare themselves financially, emotionally and also allow adequate time to realise their dream and the commitment needed. When you hear six months for a renovation best practice would be to double it. In fact if you double everything you perceive its going to take as a rule of thumb then you wont go far wrong and have a built in cushion.

The mood in Spain is one of uncertainty and its a palpable feeling and coupled with the US woes spreading its tentacles eastward this could have effect on all markets. Here in Morocco with the amount of investment not just from individual investors but the big players such as Emaar and Fadesa I think as it stands its in a very healthy position as long as greed and inflated expectations dont get in the way.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Into the new.

All around the Medina there are huge sighs as the frenetic Xmas and New Year rush for beds eases off, to be replaced by slight consternation regarding the soon to be axed direct flights to Fes. How will this affect tourism, well time will tell, but in the meantime I guess its time for everyone to get their own house in order. By this I mean continuing those snags and running repairs that inevitably crop up in the old medina houses after heavy guest use and also after the last bout of heavy showers(its not all sun and fun folks) where do those pesky leaks come from.

Its also a time to get out and about to see what else is going on in the immediate environs, so a trip to see my good friend Lionel and famille seemed to be in order in the imperial Meknes.

His newly renovated place overlooking Bab Monsour is coming on a treat with the guest dar now having a fully tiled courtyard and budding garden since my last visit, well done mate! We spent my couple of days there walking about 100 miles so it seemed up, down, through the medina and the palace sights picking up stray simsaars who showed us an incredible variety of houses. As with Fes the prices are shooting up but Meknes has a lot to offer although unfortunately not the same variety of restaurants, but a budding nightlife so I am told and a calmer less frenetic pace than good old Fes.

Lionel was snapping away at the various houses and you can see the results on his new blogspot mekneshouses which has a link under my notable bloggers section. Several maison dhotes are springing up to cater for the individual trekkers as opposed to the coach parties of before of slightly older clientele shall we say. Bab Monsour itself is being renovated and all around this area there is massive repaving and restructuring ongoing due to the Kings insistence I believe, after all it is an Imperial city and does not want to lag behind its illustrious neighbour Fes, 50k away.

I saw a couple of houses that piqued my interest in the 40,000 euro bracket although out on a limb regarding access to the main tourist trail but in areas due for regeneration and having a realness not always apparent as such in the tourist areas. Although not near to an airport apart from Fes, Meknes is in the loop of the picturesque micro climate grape growing region that encompasses the ever wonderful Volubilis and my fave town Moulay Idriss.