Buy Property in Istanbul
The State of the Market: Pre-Season Report
Something very strange is happening in Turkey these days, though I have probably been the last to point it out (Well, in fairness, I have also been saying it for a while!).
Everywhere you turn in Istanbul, viewers are transfixed to TV screens that are at bulging and blaring with economists, pundits of one variety or another, politicians new and old, as well as stock market graphs and USD vs TL quotes that seem to fluctuate faster than the moving eye.
Wild stuff. And a far cry from the heady days of circa 2005, when barely a storm cloud on the grand Turkish Empire was visible, from Istanbul to Aleppo, and from Ankara to Tehran.
New finance ministers and the old, new Eu ministers and others left out to pasture, vie for air time to get their shot to expound, often ex cathedra, on the profound sense of crisis that charges through the concern-laden summer air that canopies the Bosphorus, a channel very much inured to talk of crisis; diplomatic, political, economic or whatever you care to mention.
But this one has gripped the imagination of one and all; the Turkish population itself, the government, the opposition, the so-called ‘West’ and the EU – all left just a little more than dumbfounded. How could this country – just a few short years ago – the darling of the Middle East and a favourite of those inside Washington and Brussel’s power corridors, and a country achieving blisteringly high growth rates into the bargain, arrive at such a state where the TCMB (Central Bank) had to make an emergency 6.25 % increase in the interest rates? Strange beyond strange.
There have been many scapegoats put forward and many attempts to make sense of the situation. To some, it is all about a US pastor held on terrorism charges, that Turkey refuses to release, to others, Turkey’s leaning towards Iran and Russia, and its planned purchase of military hardware from Russia, supposedly non-Nato compliant. Or finally, a result of the many gaping and open wounds festering in the Syrian catastrophe. The Turkish diplomatic assault has variously attributed the shaky economy to economic warfare – posed by – we are not sure, exactly – Interest rate lobby groups, foreign powers and so forth. Luckily, many of these are mostly political in nature and could expect to be resolved through diplomacy. Perhaps, also, the eroding effects of time will wash away some of these issues and a new normal will emerge. Ample fodder for upcoming PhD students to labour over, for sure.
Begin Your Istanbul Property Purchase Today
Bankable stuff. Bricks and mortar and all that, a kind of Turkish gold. Above the din of panicked markets and currencies, and no-name analysts from this or that Capital Group, the shiny towers of Istanbul’s skyline boast an impressive array of both new and old architecture, with minarets hearkening back to a glorious Ottoman past while the silhouette of some of the finer examples of modern buildings nod to a Dubai-like future, if not even greater. Well, at least that is the narrative preferred.
But on this balmy late summer day on the Bosphorous, I am getting more calls daily from developers’ sales forces trying to enlist me to sell their property than ever before. Actually, multiply the average by 10. I have actually gotten into the habit of telling them our office has closed when I realise it is another sales pit-bull on the other end of the line.
They used to say with proud contumely, ‘Our project has a sales office. Potential clients can come directly to us and early find us by themselves.’
I have not heard any of the same bravado for several years at least. Most are inexperienced junior sales staff put in a tough spot, cold calling on agencies they know do not have many real buyers. But the lure of hitting jackpot is there : you are a foreign real estate agency and may hold the magical – though somewhat fictitious key – to vast sovereign wealth funds of Arabian extract, private equity dying for a final resting place, and perhaps even more improbable wonders. Of course, some are just hard-working sales staff going through their rolodexes and doing good detective work.
Levity aside, Istanbul is still a great real estate market and one of the world’s truly great and dynamic cities. Therefore, a well-researched property acquisition rarely will go astray. The key is to look a little deeper than the initial glossy brochures you will inevitably be met with and to unlock the hidden value through your research and persistence.
So, in the face of all this turmoil and uncertainty, indeed even crisis, what can be done?
Well, successful businesses look inward and try to plug up holes and cost-cut in times of difficulty. The Turkish real estate market is no different. Some bad habits formed during peak years and now is a great opportunity to address those ‘inefficiencies’ or ‘drags’ on the market.
This list, by no means exhaustive, points out many areas in the Istanbul real estate market where improvement could be made by various parties from; the developers to estate agents to the foreign buyers, and even to the government level by introducing policies that promote and facilitate the sale of property to foreigners. There are of course many things that could be done for domestic purposes as well, yet for our purposes here, narrowing the focus to the segment that relates to foreign purchases, is sufficient.
Istanbul Real Eastate Inefficiencies or Drags
- The irregularities in the declaration of property dimensions in square meters by private sellers, as well as by developers (my pet peeve). For a full discussion on this subject, please read this article
- Developers’ boasting of high rental income on projects. You must research the rental incomes of comparable properties in the area and also consult with an independent real estate professional who would be able to tell you in seconds how much a prospective property will generate in income. You may also use that agent later on in the process of searching for new tenants, so starting off a relationship early is not a bad idea.
- The access to mortgages for foreign buyers is limited and many find the high rates in Turkey unattractive. This is a tricky one in the sense that if you borrow in TL and the TL slides, your debt can actually be much lower in currency (a kind of reverse carry trade). Still, it seems the best way to purchase property in Turkey for foreigners is to pay cash (possibly even reverse mortgaging an already-owned property). Why property owners in London are not arriving on the shores of Istanbul to snap up property is beyond me. Of course, many do, but I would expect some areas of Istanbul to be Notting Hill. Paying cash also increases your bargaining power, no doubt about it.If viable mortgage products are made available to foreign buyers and some loosening of paper work requirements are made – especially for buyers putting in 50% cash on purchases – there could be a veritable explosion of new waves of interest from just about every corner of the globe. Turkish property affordability and ease of purchase would become legendary, as the door would be well and truly open. Why banks will not give 50% LTV has always been an impenetrable mystery.
- Unrealistic expectations. Can anyone really believe that they can generate 10% annual income on a luxury property? Yields in Monaco are about 1%, London 2.5% at best, Paris about the same, and Pyongyang, well, er, a published 18% (according to Dennis Rodman, perhaps!). Yields in Istanbul run from about 4% for luxury properties to 7-8% for standard investment properties. If you get 10%, pat yourself on the back for a job very well done.
- Lack of research/understanding of market by buyers. Many foreign buyers come spectacularly unprepared for purchasing property in Turkey. Telling an agent the size of the property desired as well as a specific location are a minimum. Just saying I want something in ‘central Istanbul’ is not really helpful. Think of Istanbul as a country in itself. You would not walk into a realtor in Toronto saying you are looking for a property in Central Canada, though it might be a useful ice-breaker and create some mirth.
- Lack of communication on all sides; agents, buyers, sellers. This seems like a non-starter, but it is vital. Many times deals break down from things as simple as one side not receiving key information in their native tongue. If you do not speak Turkish, at minimum, you should have a Turkish speaker who is also fluent in your native tongue, whatever that may be. Buying a property is a big deal and there are many small, but essential details that can get lost in translation, so to speak. If you are using a lawyer, use one whose language skills are impeccable. The lawyer acts as an impartial player in these transactions and it is his/her job to relay information impartially and also to defend your interests exclusively. They will be able to advise you on all technical aspects of a transaction, but may not offer insight on the value of a property, etc, as that is really not their expertise.
- If the agent or developer point of contact only speaks Turkish, you may be in for a rough road. In a city with millions of highly educated, young and entrepreneurial people, finding proper assistance is not very hard and you should insist on it.
Buying A Property For Sale in Istanbul – Positives
- There is now an attractive real estate to citizenship program on offer by the Turkish government. It is quite enlightened and could benefit many in the region looking for a bolthole from unrest in their home countries. For more information click here.
NOTE: This will also be the subject of next blog, with some key analysis by a foremost figure in the field for such programs. and founder of NomadCapitalist.
- Your currency goes a far way in today’s market, but this trend may not last forever. This graph represents the TL vs. USD over the past 5 years. It looks like now is truly the right time to buy, as many analysts are now saying the Turkish Lira is actually undervalued, largely due to what is hoped are temporary political reasons (discord with U.S.). The much-vaunted Big Mac index, for what it is worth, also confirms this.
- Government. There is stability at least for the next few years. One has to believe that this will eventually have a soothing effect on markets.
- Increase of property sales to foreigners. For more information Click Here
Finally, Turkish property will do away with USD and Euro pricing, as decreed by the president. This should have a net positive effect for foreign buyers looking to seriously buy property in Istanbul as reported by the BBC here.
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