Interview with Dimitris Manoussakis, Head of Office, Savills Greece

Interview with Dimitris Manoussakis, Head of Office, Savills Greece

Real estate in Greece is expanding rapidly and in 2022 commercial real estate saw record investments of €1.65 billion, a rise of 40% from the previous year. Many US investors are now expected to enter the real estate market to take advantage of the country’s growing tourism sector among other things. To start, how would you assess the performance of the sector. How have recent events such as the return to tourism propelled the Greek real estate market in 2022 and 2023? What new trends are you seeing in the market?

The Greek market showed resilience and performed well in 2023 following a very successful 2022. I think that was the result of the overall good performance of our economy. The real estate sector, which is a traditional and dynamic sector, had an exceptional performance despite the headwinds in the other European markets because of the high inflation pressures and the rise in interest rates. I believe that 2024 will be another record year for the Greek real estate sector.

The frontrunners in this performance are expected to be the hospitality and logistics sectors followed by the office sector. Hospitality being a frontrunner is only natural because tourism is the core part of the Greek economy, so real estate investors are interested in getting a position in the Greek market and acquiring hospitality assets in good locations. We have noticed their big interest in Athens, Crete, Rhodes, Corfu, plus increasing interest in some alternative destinations, but right now they prefer to channel their investments into the traditional tourist markets.

In this respect, we noticed quite a lot of investments take place during 2023, primarily foreign investors who prefer to buy older units and apply repositioning strategies. This is also very important because progressively it may lead to a change in the traditional model of Greek tourism from family-oriented businesses to more international businesses.

Logistics is also a very important sector since Greece has a strategic positioning in the Southeastern Mediterranean. The port of Piraeus is a hub port. It is privatized and operated by the Chinese conglomerate, COSCO, and it is now among the top three ports in Europe, ranked first in the Mediterranean. This has significantly boosted the logistics sector because of the volume of products that come to Europe via Piraeus.

The second parameter which has assisted the logistics sector is e-commerce. The pandemic has, as in other countries, amended retail habits in Greece and the way retail is performing with consumers having turned their interest towards acquiring products through e-commerce platforms. Logistics is moving quickly towards this direction and a lot of square meters are placed in the market to cover the increased demand.

The office sector remains the safe place for all investors especially the so-called core investors who have a risk averse profile. Although logistics is on the rise, offices still attract the largest portion of the annual investment volume. It is worth noting that we currently have interest from investors – domestic and international – in residential projects, which is quite astonishing since historically the residential market was overwhelmed by local, small-scale developers. Athens is the core market and Thessaloniki the second largest market; both have attracted interest from large institutional investors who are now in the process of acquiring landmark buildings or older buildings to convert them to modern residential units for either frequent sales or what we call Built-to-Rent (BTR) developments.

BTR has progressively become an institutional product with attractive returns that is typically offered to young professionals or new families without kids that are not interested in buying an apartment or residence. Such developments are usually professionally managed and operated by specialized management teams.

By and large, that is how the market has moved in 2023. We are expecting 2024 to move in positive grounds too, at least in the first half of the year. Then we will see how the global markets and the global economy will perform.


What sort of challenges and opportunities do you see in the market in 2024?

The main challenge comes from the high interest rates. At this stage, the cost of capital remains rather expensive, and investors are taking a second look when they analyze investments. The main challenge is to bridge the gap between sellers and buyers because sellers are interested to capitalize on the very good performance of the Greek real estate while buyers are interested to acquire assets at competitive prices given the current financial environment.

Current buyers have made some serious capital expenditure (CapEx) to convert or to refurbish older buildings; however potential buyers are unable to meet expectations and offer the same aggressive prices to acquire such assets. There is a gap right now between supply and demand and potential investors should work in a way that can lead to the successful underwriting of the projects.


Aside from the Ellinikon project, what other major real estate projects are in development in Greece that are worth highlighting?

Ellinikon is the largest and most iconic project of the country. We are lucky that we have worked with Lamda Development since 2014 so know the project very well and continue to work with them in a fruitful way. There is increasing market activity which is expected to offer interesting developments. Some of the projects in Athens that have been recently finished and are now operational include the “One and Only” in Glyfada which is one of the most important hospitality and residential investments in the capital.

In addition, there is the Piraeus Tower project, a high-rise building in the middle of the port of Piraeus that remained undeveloped and derelict for more 35 years and is now almost finished and fully refurbished. It will be offered as a mixed-use development with retail on the ground floor and the first 2-3 levels and the rest as offices. This is an almost 25,000 square meters development which is expected to fully revitalize the port since it is an iconic building and one of the very few high-rise buildings in Greater Athens.

Another project worth highlighting is the former Athens Hilton which is now converted to a six-star hotel. It will be branded as Conrad Hotel under the Hilton management, and it will also offer high quality luxury residential units. This is the first of its kind in the center of Athens and is already a success because all the residential units have already been sold before the project was finished. These were all off plan sales.

In other parts of the country, there are resort projects like Elounda Hills which is now in the final stage of design and planning before development is launched. The project is in Crete. Another interesting project, also in Crete, is the recently announced Rosewood Hotel and Villas in the Blue Palace Hotel. The Blue Palace Hotel will be rebranded as Rosewood after some extensive refurbishment. It will also add several branded villas situated opposite Spinalonga in Plaka Elounda. Spinalonga is an island which is one of the top tourists sightseeing in Crete.

The whole area has been developed as a top hotel destination, carrying the Elounda brand which is synonymous with luxury holidays. Meanwhile, the Costa Navarino development continues its expansion, adding the Mandarin Oriental that opened last summer. It will offer a super luxury hotel along with the branded villa component. Additional high-quality villas will be added to the development. The whole Costa Navarino ecosystem is developed by one of the leading hospitality developers, Temes Group, who is the developer of the former Hilton Athens.

The data center market has also become a booming one in Greece. There is increasing interest from both investors and the hyperscalers such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon for new data centers. The government has assisted a lot by changing the legislative framework, especially the planning in out of plan areas to support the development of data centers according to their standards of specification.

Right now, Microsoft is developing a large data center in Athens, near the Athens International Airport, and we understand that Google is also interested in developing a data center with other hyperscalers discussing similar projects. In the same sector, we could refer to the acquisition of Lamda Helix by the specialized American firm, Digital Reality. They acquired all their data centers in Athens which are located in the same area in the eastern parts of Attica, close to the airport.

Finally, the listing of several Greek real estate investment companies on the Athens Stock Exchange, proves the dynamism of the real estate market. These include Premia Properties, Trade Estates, and Orilina Properties which are all either listed or in the process of being listed, with one or two more companies waiting for their listing.


Savills is a legacy company that has been in business for more than 160 years and has now spread its operations to more than 70 markets around the world. The group posted revenues of just over €1 billion in the second half of 2023. Can you give us overview of Savills’ portfolio in Greece? What services does the company provide to its clients in the local market?

Savills has had a presence in the local market for 26 years now. We started back in 1998 and have grown significantly. We have faced all the difficulties that the Greek market has experienced, especially in the last decade, but this has never stopped our development. Right now, we are a company with 33 staff members and several associates.

We offer a large spectrum of services from valuation, and agency, to building project management and property management. We also provide a lot of advice for new developments as we have large and longstanding expertise due to our involvement in Ellinikon and resort developments like Costa Navarino and Elounda Hills.

Our company is involved in almost every large project that has taken place in Greece, either by offering advice or acting as an agent in identifying suitable investors or core occupiers. We have also assisted the Ellinikon development and Lamda Development in identifying a joint venture partner, Brooklane Capital, for the mixed-use tower, which is the second high rise under development in Ellinikon. We have also assisted the government in several projects, especially in privatization initiatives by advising the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund, the Hellenic Railway Organization and Hellenic Public Real Estate Company and many other companies.


Recently, Savills ranked Athens as a top contender in the executive nomad category. After the pandemic, markets throughout Europe are competing to get a slice of digital nomads seeking to move to new and more interesting markets. What are the reasons Athens is such a popular destination for executive nomads?

Apart from tourism, which Athens experiences in large volumes, the other hit is digital nomads. Athens has become a place that they have started selecting. The main reasons for this trend are the climate, lifestyle, quality of life, internet speed, and all the infrastructure related to telecoms which is now advancing very well. Athens benefits from high-speed internet technology that is offered by all telecoms providers.

Connectivity is also an important aspect when selecting Athens. Athens International Airport is close to a saturation point with over 28 million passengers transiting in 2022. Athens is not only very well connected to Europe, but also to other parts of the world. The geographic position assists in that you can get to many destinations in under four hours and fly long distance. For example, the flight time from London to Dubai is twice the flight time Athens to Dubai.

Although the cost of living is not very different from its other European competitors and rents have gone up by at least 15% in the last year they remain at affordable levels, many digital nomads select Athens as their home.  As a result, a lot of apartments are now refurbished and modern and offer good accommodations for digital nomads. It is worth noting that there is a trend for those who are going on vacation in Greece to use their vacation home as a professional spot and they work from an island, or Athens, or this sort of destination.


You recently led a discussion at the ProdExpo’s 23rd conference in Athens about making offices more sustainable. Please tell us a little bit about the rise in sustainable investments in the local real estate market.

This is the most important trend, not only in offices, but also in logistics. Almost all developers have introduced ESG in their way of designing new workspace. The best way of doing this is by certifying the buildings under the LEED or BREEAM certification. This is an almost inevitable step for them because most institutional investors, both domestic and international, are interested in acquiring these kinds of assets so they need to tick the box in this field as well.

Investors are not very interested in spending their money on assets which are not certified or developed without considering their criteria. This will become the norm for the years to come, I believe.


How is the real estate sector playing its part in curbing Greece’s carbon emissions?

Modern developers have started designing and offering new stock under the ESG criteria. To support the first parameter, the environmental, they offer solutions that are closer to net-zero emissions. All the mechanical installations and the operation of the building in terms of waste management, energy consumption, and daily operations are channeled towards this direction.

In Greece, we very much follow what we call “adaptive reuse” of buildings, which entails modernizing existing older buildings. It does not burden the environment with new stock, while existing stock is fully modernized by complying with ESG criteria. You save time, effort, and reduce the environmental footprint of each development.


The Mitsotakis government has pursued an aggressive economic reform agenda designed to make Greece a more attractive destination for investment, highlighted by rating agencies raising the country’s investment grade in 2023. How significant of a market is the US in terms of real estate investment in Greece?

Americans are the most important investors in the Greek market. They started with a more opportunistic approach because they were the first to have the financial capacity and experience to acquire and manage NPL (non-performing loan) portfolios from Greek banks. Now they are turning themselves from opportunistic investors into more value-added investors. They are interested in proceeding with refurbishments, to offer modern products into the market.

They have not only the financial capacity but also the due diligence capacity to approach a market like the Greek one and implement their strategies. US capital has played a significant role in the turnaround of the Greek economy, but also specifically for the Greek real estate market.


Going forward, what potential investment opportunities would you like to highlight in Greece’s real estate market that US and other foreign investors?

The hospitality sector is very important for them to invest capital and it will continue to grow at a fast pace. Greece is one of the top destinations in the world. The sector needs modern product and modern hotel management. Athens is one of the most interesting places for them and the one with the lowest mobility.

Although it can be a rather difficult place due to vested interests that are powerful and not easy to negotiate with, Athens has a long way to go in terms of visitation and in terms of high-quality hotel product. Logistics is also a booming sector as well as residential.


You have lead Savills Greece for almost 30 years and in that time have seen the market massively transform throughout a financial crisis followed by a pandemic and many other episodes. How would you define your top priorities or vision, and where would you like to take Savills in the next few years?

My goal is to maintain our quality as we grow because we have grown a lot. One of the difficult tasks is to maintain quality as you bring people into the firm. We have selected what we call an organic diet of development which means that if we build our people, we develop their capabilities and skills. This is important and is recognized by almost all our employees who are quite happy to work for us.

We also see a lot of interest from young people in joining us. Our vision is to continue expanding by offering new services that do not exist in the Greek market and to offer them with quality. Sustainability is one of our main targets to be offered to corporate clients that are interested in better understanding the ESG criteria that are going to be applied under the new EU legislation in conjunction with their real estate assets. This is our strategic goal for the years to come.


What is your final message to the readers of USA Today?

Greece is a safe destination, part of the Eurozone which increases the security for investors, and it has a lot of potential in the years to come. The country and the real estate market need new, fresh stock since the crisis which lasted for more than a decade left the market with limited modern stock, so the Greek market lags other European markets. Investors should start to look at Greece because they can achieve good returns.