How to Purchase Property in Iceland | A Homeowner's Guide

How to Purchase Property in Iceland | A Homeowner's Guide

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How does one purchase real estate in Iceland? Is it possible for foreigners to buy a house in Iceland? What are the average house prices across the country, and are there any regulations that can jeopardise the house-buying process?

How does one purchase real estate in Iceland? Is it possible for foreigners to buy a house in Iceland? What are the average house prices across the country, and are there any regulations that can jeopardize the house-buying process? Read on to find out everything there is to know about purchasing a property in Iceland. 

Introduction to Iceland's Real Estate Market        

Looking over the pond at the downtown lights of Reykjavík, Iceland's stunning capital city.

As Iceland continues to enchant foreign visitors’ imaginations, many begin to fantasize about staying in the country far longer than the mere duration of their holiday.

Some will even go a step further, seriously contemplating whether they could live on the island permanently. This dream should come as little surprise, given the endearing effect that Icelandic society often has on people. 

Consider the lack of crime, the strong educational and healthcare systems, the incredible natural landscapes, the friendly local population. These things and more draw people toward a longstanding relationship with the country, a relationship that many would like to take to the next level. 

Icelandic homes come in all shapes and sizes, from quirky and tradition to new, contemporary abodes.

Purchasing property in Iceland is arguably the greatest commitment that one can make towards this small island. Whether one is looking to purchase property here to establish a permanent residence or hoping to rent out a property to foreign guests or local Icelanders, the Icelandic housing market is one of ever-changing opportunities.

Purchasing Property as a Foreigner in Iceland           

When we look at where the visitors traveling to Iceland are coming from, the majority hail from the United States of America (27%), with guests from the UK (16%), Germany (7%), Canada (5%), France (4.6%) and China (4%) following.

These figures reflect property buyers in Iceland, with Americans taking the crown for their purchasing interest. Of particular note is the sheer number of Icelanders living abroad who choose to purchase a second home in their mother country. Second-property purchases have undoubtedly increased since Iceland's economic recovery following the 2008-2011 financial crisis.

One of the overarching rules which apply to foreign and prospective property owners is the need to gain approval from the Ministry of Justice in Iceland. The ministry deals with a wide range of civic action, including human rights, immigration, policing and personal rights, elections, etc. 

Housing Financing Fund claims that EEA citizens legally domiciled in Iceland can purchase real estate like any natural-born citizen. To secure a residence permit, one must apply to the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration. 

For those with no intention of residing in Iceland, it is still possible to purchase a property if they seek special permission from the Ministry of Justice.

However, it is highly recommended that a prospective buyer spends some time in Iceland to become acquainted with the Icelandic real estate market. This time will allow them plenty of opportunities to understand the ebbs and flows of the trade. 

Real Estate Prices in Iceland         

Turf houses were once common in Iceland.

Average house prices and their rate of inflation vary wildly between Iceland’s different regions. For one, this is following the population trends in each respective area. And yet, given the market's flexibility, any prospective buyer should understand that these rates continue to evolve in different directions, mainly due to four primary motives.

The four major driving factors of the real estate market are the current economy, interest rates,  demographics, and government subsidies. Prospective buyers should consider all of these before going forward on a proposed investment. 

As explored in our previous articles, How To Move To Iceland | The Ultimate Guide and How To Find a Job in Iceland, relocating to another part of the world takes much consideration to surpass seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

A house in Iceland consumed by snow.

One of these is the current trend of soaring prices, a pattern fuelled by Iceland's ever-increasing influx of visitors. In 2017 alone, the entire country’s residential property price index nearly tripled from 8.06% in the previous year to a whopping 23.15%. 

As should be expected, properties in the capital, Reykjavík, are more expensive than those situated in Iceland’s smaller towns.  In 2019, the prices of a single-flat home in Iceland increased by 2.37%, while a multi-flat came in at just under 3.47%. Currently, the average residential property in the capital is between 40 million ISK (US$ 382,500) to 50 million ISK (US$ 478,130).

The cheapest parts of the city to purchase property are Hafnarfjördur and Mosfellsbær, both of which sit on the city’s outskirts. These locations follow the expected trend due to the limited amount of property closer to downtown. Over recent years, it has become clear that construction in the city cannot keep up with the pace of the demand.

Djupivogur is an east Icelandic village.

The most expensive town to purchase property in East Iceland is Egilsstaðir due to it being the largest populace in the region (approx. 2,350 people) and having nearby amenities, including a hospital, college, and airport. 

The cheapest area in the country to purchase property is the sparsely populated Westfjords. In fact, in the past, it has been known for the local municipality to give out real estate lots for free in the hope of bolstering the Westfjords population. 

Why Buy Property in Iceland?         

If the intention is to reside in Iceland, then the reasons are clear and compelling. This county is renowned for its incredible scenery, forward-thinking, English-speaking population, and richly creative culture, which has secured it as one of the safest and most aesthetically pleasing locations on earth. 

Granted, for what Iceland makes up in captivating natural environments, it lacks in urban development, reflecting the country’s minute population of approximately 350,000 people.  Thus, one of the biggest reasons to purchase property here is an investment in Iceland's future.

The old days that saw Iceland isolated from international visitors and any influence on the world stage have long gone; the country commands too much interest from the outside. With that interest, naturally, comes cold, hard cash. Despite the current issues with the construction pace in Iceland, this new funding means this nation's urban development is still very much in its early stages.

Building Property in Iceland       

Much of Reykjavik was simply built up by locals over centuries.
Speaking to local Icelanders, it is not uncommon to hear that their family homes were constructed by an ancestor back in the day. Such construction has contributed to this island's unique architecture, with many examples demonstrating the Icelandic knack for balancing their homes beautifully with the surrounding environment.  

This DIY approach to house-building has, naturally, become far more regulated over time. However, opportunities are still widely available for those looking to begin their journey with nothing but an empty lot, some blueprints, and a head full of ideas. 

The tiny village of Reykjahlid on the shores of Lake Myvatn.

To build, rebuild, or alter a property with extensions, one must obtain a building permit from the local municipality’s inspector. The building inspector will converse with varying committees to ensure the renovator meets all construction regulations before providing a permit. 

Building property with any of the national parks in Iceland, including Þingvellir, Vatnajökull, and Snæfellsnes, is prohibited due to the need to preserve each area's respective natural environment. 

Real Estate Agents in Iceland           

For those looking to purchase property in Iceland, a local and English-speaking real estate agent will likely be necessary, if only for the insider knowledge and purchasing opportunities they can bring to the table. However, this does entail extra costs.

The real estate agent's fee can be between 1.5% and 2.4% of the property’s overall cost. On top of that, the stamp duty rate for property transfer comes out at 2000 ISK, added to 0.8% of the official property value. Finally, the cost of registering the property will be 0.1% of the property value. 

Below are a few examples of English-speaking real estate agents in the capital.

AS Fasteignasala
Fjaroargotu 17, Reykjavík, IS-220, Iceland, IS
Tel: +354 05 20 2600

Laugavegi 97, Reykjavík, IS-101, Iceland, IS
Tel: +354 04 40 6000

101 Reykjavík
Laugavegur 66, Reykjavík, IS-101, Iceland, IS
Tel: +354 03 11 3101

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