MARBELLA, SPAIN -- Sales in specific upmarket areas of the Costa del Sol are rising again, thanks primarily to bargain hunters from around the world.
"The big difference is that people across all segments are looking at the best they can get for their money, in the most consolidated areas near a good airport," said Mark Stucklin of Spanish Property Insight, an online property consulting firm. "Homes in undesirable locations have no hope of selling in this market."
Throughout Spain, the vacation home market has been devastated in recent years, with the country's continuing economic problems resulting in unsold homes and apartments and scores of unfinished developments. The Government House Price Index recently reported that prices across the country declined by a minimum average of 23.6 percent in the past five years, although industry analysts say the actual drop is much larger.
Marbella, which is on the coast between the Sierra Blanca and the Mediterranean, has had its own problems. The arrest of some corrupt officials in 2006 dampened a building boom, thus preventing the kind of new housing glut that has contributed to driving down prices in other spots along the Costa del Sol.
Now, "Marbella is like an island in the Spanish market, because it is not dependent on the Spanish," said Roberto Massey of Diana Morales Properties, a local real estate agency.
The latest report from Spain's property registry says the number of Europeans who bought vacation homes in Spain in 2011 jumped 12.3 percent from the previous year, although it does not list the number of sales or list sales by province.
In Marbella, Northern Europeans -- particularly Scandinavians, Germans, Belgians and Swiss -- are the main buyers, with some Russians and a few Middle Easterners contributing to the sales, Mr. Massey said.
And the greatest demand is for properties listed for at least €3 million, or $3.9 million, said Christopher Clover, who runs Panorama Estate Agency, one of the longest-established agencies in the city.
"We have not had such a busy year since 2007," Mr. Clover said. "There has been a lot of market movement."
He said most of the activity was related to the area's price declines and pent-up demand.
"Prices in the higher end have dropped anywhere between 15 percent and 30 percent, in normal cases," he added, defining the category as properties listed at €3.5 million or more.
Mr. Stucklin, of Spanish Property Insight, said that "trophy properties are cheaper than they were, even if asking prices are not."
High-quality, spacious apartments in the salubrious western end of Marbella now are listed at €1.8 million to €2 million, while a family villa within walking distance of the beach starts at €1.5 million to €2 million.
Some of the city's most prestigious addresses are the Marbella Sierra Blanca development, the La Zagaleta residential development and country club and the Golden Mile area, which stretches from the western end of the city to Puerto Banús. There, beachfront homes are listed from €5 million and €30 million.
In the cat-and-mouse game of selling in a buyer's market, facts are difficult to come by in Spain. But a quick scan of the Golden Mile properties on the British Web site PrimeLocation shows that asking prices have been reduced on four of the first six villas listed for sale.
For example, Villa Long Shadow, a hillside colonial-style home with nine bedrooms and eight bathrooms, overlooking the Golden Mile, was listed with Panorama Properties for €19.5 million in September 2011. Its asking price now is €18.5 million.
And Villa Romana, a magnificent Palladian-style eight-bedroom house in the hills above the Golden Mile, is listed by Panorama at €14.8 million, reduced from €16 million.
In general, agents say, such modest reductions are merely an opening gambit to attract interest; actual selling prices would be subject to negotiation.
Sales of high-end properties are rarely speedy and, in today's market, they generally take even more time.
A listing for a €15.5 million villa in the private residential estate of El Madroñal, for example, has been on the market since 2008.
Diana Morales Properties is marketing the property, which stands in a pine and cork forest about a 15-minute drive from Marbella and the village of Benahavís. Built in 1975, it was designed by César de Leyva, a Spanish architect known for his opulent homes along the Costa, for a member of the Flick family, the German industrialists.
The villa has 2,000 square meters, or about 21,500 square feet, of living space. The current owner added a five-bedroom guest and staff accommodation as well as a tennis court and tiered gardens that include a swimming pool.
The villa stands on 35,000 square meters, or about 8.6 acres, of hilltop land, an unusually large parcel as average plots with El Madroñal are 4,000 square meters. While planning permission has not been sought, there is the potential to build five houses of about 600 square meters each on lots of about 2,600 square meters -- although, given the market, it is hard to know whether they would sell.homes
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.