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Spain: iPad with your mortgage?

By Anna Stewart and Al Goodman, CNN
June 15, 2012 -- Updated 1240 GMT (2040 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Spanish banks are turning to quirky sales tactics to sell properties
  • Many banks now offer discounts, freebies and 100% financed mortgages
  • Spanish estate agents complain that banks are doing this to offload their own property assets

(CNN) -- Flogging property in an economic downturn is no easy task. But while property prices in Spain have plummeted over the last decade, it seems buyers still need a little more encouragement.

Spanish banks are now turning to quirky sales tactics to shift their property. Some have even set up their own real estate websites -- with a plethora of discounts, freebies and the return of 100% financed mortgages.

The Spanish government has agreed to accept a rescue deal of up to €100 billion for its struggling banks, but getting the country out of its financial hole is going to be a long haul. If the banks are to recover they must clear their books of their bad property investments.

Read more: Spain in eurozone crisis crosshairs

Bank of Spain figures show the banks have been saddled with around €184 billion in bad property investments since the housing bubble burst in 2008.

Spain's housing boom and bust

So they are offering carrots to bring in the buyers. The BBVA bank, one of the 18 banks downgraded by credit agency Fitch on Monday, is now offering a mortgage with 100% financing on its real estate website.

Santander, Spain's largest bank, is offering "retro prices" on its real estate website, Altamira. It promises homes for under €50,000 and "very favorable financing conditions." Bankia also has sweeteners, with a website offering a €2,000 discount on any properties sold for over €50,000.

Another incentive can be found on La Caixa's Servihabitat website -- a free iPad for anyone who recommends a friend who successfully purchases a home from them. The website also recommends that customers put forward any offer, no matter how low, on their properties, with the line: "You set the price... we'll give you an answer in 24 hours."

Read more: Spanish borrowing costs soar

Estate agents are feeling the heat, complaining that banks are giving preferential financing to offload their own property assets.

Some realtors have started setting up housing fairs in the parking lots of shopping centers, in the hope shoppers might be drawn in. One fair in Madrid was offering a free car with home purchases, just one of many incentives to boost Spain's housing market.

The banks are competing with us. They are taking advantage of our clients that are willing to buy
Carlos Arenas, AEGI Association of Realtors

"The banks are competing with us. They are taking advantage of our clients that are willing to buy," said Carlos Arenas, from the AEGI Association of Realtors, "They get them to change their mind and buy a different home, but with their financing."

"Before, selling a home was simple because clients found you," said real estate agent Eduardo Bustamante. "They didn't worry too much about the prices and almost everything got sold."

Yet the discounts and deals being offered have not stopped prices falling further -- last year they dropped 11.2%, according to the Instituto Nacional de Estadistica -- and economists believe they still have further to fall.

Raj Badiani, an economist at IHS Global Insight, recently revised his forecast for a stabilization of Spanish house prices due to the threat of a Greek exit from the eurozone.

"We expect a Greek exit in the summer of 2013, and even with strong policy from the ECB and the EU, there will be a significant contagion effect for Spain," he said.

"The property indicators are still heading south," he said, "and there are still between 750 000 and 1 million new homes on the market." Badiani estimates that house prices may recover in 2014, but not before.

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