It has just been announced that housing prices in Istanbul notched a record rise this year.
Great news, but not without need of caveat.
In my decade plus here in Istanbul I have lived through the following:
- -Istanbul property prices were originally billions of Turkish Lira.
- -Or you could buy a piece if istanbul real estate for 100,000 Turkish Lira.
- -The Turkish Lira was almost on par with the dollar some years back and now it is worth virtually 3 Turkish Lira.
Of course, there is a bit of leger de main at play here, as I am comparing the old Turkish Lira and the new Turkish Lira.
However, the relationship between the mighty dollar and the Turkish Lira has been a case of decline of the lira over the past 5-7 years. This means that Istanbul house prices have had a harder time keeping pace with the blazing dollar, and has also meant that those holding USD now find the prices very attractive in Istanbul. The record price rises should be viewed within this context, as well as the opportunity that currently is taking shape in Istanbul. In the city center, as opposed to the far-flung suburbs, the Istanbul housing market is robustly marching along in terms of lira prices. The outer areas, however, are about to feel the pinch. As istanbul developers try to pass on their increased costs due to dollar strength, they will likely find that their TL earning consumers will have reached the max in terms of affordability.
In downtown Istanbul, the market is readily propped up by dollar-wealthy foreign investors who have an appetite for anything they deem reasonable value. In a sense, this is not so different from how London operates, though on a less grand scale. During the interminable crisis that has come to shape the perspective of many investors, London became what they term a ‘buy and leave’ destination for investors, who often parked cash in properties that they neither rented out nor lived in. This simply does not happen in the TL dominated World of suburban Istanbul and is why I strongly favour sensible investment in the center. Commentators wryly referred to the London phenomena as being akin to a safe deposit box. Many Middle Eastern (GCC, MENA and countries to the near east of Turkey) now view Istanbul in this light.
Central Istanbul property shares some similarity with this investment trend. Investors often see the bustling downtown, with a vibrant economy, despite the bumps along the way, as a good position to hold, often taking a long-term view. Be it the ’flight to quality’ or ’safe haven’ or the less prosaic, more humorous ‘buy to leave’, there is the common thread that sees the big money investors in istanbul are staying away from what are viewed as the riskier non-downtown areas of large metropolitan areas. Legendary Irish poet Yeats may have exclaimed that ‘the center cannot hold’ but he certainly was not referring to real estate in the new millenium, but, then again, he lived in a castle.
Another oft-neglected aspect of this flight back to the center is the inevitable rise in transportation, of which the cost of public transportation is the most sensitive. In Istanbul, sudden price rises of 30% or more for single-line transport have been known to happen. Once a bargain, the costs of daily commutes are starting to add up, with consumers constantly making calculations taking into account lost time travelling and the monthly AKBİL total (like an Oyster card). In addition, as metro lines expand, so do the number of people using them, often making it more crowded and less comfortable (I can attest to the fact that after the Levent line was expanded to Yenikapi, I now always have to stand, regardless of the time of day).
In spite of all the possible outcomes over the next half-year or so, it seems that the most likely is that central ıstanbul will retain its primacy and will be less adversely affected by the spasms of an EM currency.