When Stephen Lahiri, who runs the Marbella office of local estate agent Lucas Fox, started selling homes in the area 25 years ago, his buyers fitted the classic stereotype of the holiday mecca that was Costa del Sol. Seventy per cent were British, he says, most were retirees buying second homes and “a good number were golfers”.

Today’s market has changed beyond recognition. Retiring British accountants have made way for Scandinavian tech entrepreneurs. Lahiri says Brits accounted for less than a quarter of buyers last year and “in the last three years, I haven’t sold a single home to anyone over 50”. Buyers are no longer coming for the golf, either. The nearby airport, reliable broadband and the good stock of international schools have become as important as the area’s year-round sunshine, says Lahiri. “Most of my buyers are working in finance or are entrepreneurs of some kind; an increasing number work remotely. The international schools are all full up.”

With the changing buyer, what is on offer has changed, too. Architecturally, the area is getting the Ibiza treatment, courtesy of a slew of new top-end developments that shun classic Andalucían home designs for the homogeneous, white boxes favoured by the global beachcombing elite.

Helped by a recent corruption scandal, meanwhile, the centre of gravity for the area’s top-end home market is moving from Marbella to Benahavís and Estepona, the adjacent coastal spots that form the remaining points of Costa del Sol’s “Golden Triangle”.

Four-bedroom villa in Marbella East, €2.15m

Marbella’s local government — some of whose officials were found to have exchanged building permits for envelopes of cash in a 2013 corruption scandal — is now toiling on a new plan to make good the area’s urban development. This is tying up a huge share of local government time and money, slowing building approvals to a snail’s pace, says Jesús Encinar, founder of Idealista, the Spanish property website. “Designing the new plan has been a huge burden on the planning department.”

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Developers in Benahavís and Estepona — which are close enough to enjoy the facilities and brand of Marbella but fall outside its municipal boundary and therefore escape the political hold-ups — are making full use of the opportunity.

A new high-end beachfront apartment complex in Estepona municipality is a case in point. Roughly equidistant from Marbella’s Puerto Banús and Estepona town, the development of 28 top-end homes — with prices up to €4.9m — has already sold 23 since it launched at the start of the year (homes won’t be ready to occupy until the end of next year). Lucas Fox is selling a three-bedroom apartment there for €2.95m.

Marbella
Marbella

Local price gains, meanwhile, testify to the shift from Marbella. According to Idealista, the average price per square metre of a Marbella home in June (€2,766) is still more than the average in Benahavis (€2,325) or Estepona (€2,026). However average sale prices for apartments in Benahavís and Estepona grew by 13 per cent and 12 per cent respectively over the past year, while the gain in Marbella was 8 per cent.

The recent boom in Estepona and Benahavís has been facilitated by the fact that the richest buyers in the Golden Triangle are not particularly fussy about location, says Encinar. “At the top end, it needs to have views and plenty of sun, but it is not generally about being in a particular neighbourhood.”

The exception to this rule is La Zagaleta, the hillside private resort a quarter-hour drive west of Marbella. The paparazzi-proof gated community is built around two golf courses and a country club: a 1,000 sqm super-home there might come with an asking price of more than €20m, says Lahiri. Closer to the coast — and closer to the ground price-wise — Savills is selling a four-bedroom villa in east Marbella for €2.15m.

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Buying guide

  • Buying costs typically come to 10 per cent of the purchase price
  • Flights connect London to Málaga airport, a 40-minute drive from Marbella, in around three hours

What you can buy for . . .

€400,000 A two-bedroom apartment in the hills near a golf course in Estepona

€2m A five-bedroom detached house in Marbella town

€10m A seven-bedroom house with two pools in a gated community in La Zagaleta

More homes at propertylistings.ft.com

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