The plunge in the value of the Turkish lira has fueled a foreign investor buying spree for Istanbul apartments, with the most interest coming from Gulf countries, according to market observers interviewed by Arab News.
Investors from the region are seeking to exploit the near 40 percent depreciation of the local currency against the dollar since January as a political spat with the US and market concern about the fragile Turkish economy has stoked a massive sell-off of the lira.
In an interview with Arab News, Cameron Deggin, founder of PropertyTurkey.com said: “In the last few weeks, unique visitor traffic to our site has more than doubled to over 5,000 a day. We can see from the data that most of the interest is from GCC countries, with Saudi Arabia — as the most populous GCC state — in the lead by a significant margin.”
Some of the Saudi interest, but not all, was from people who originally came from other Middle East states such as Jordan, Iraq and Tunisia, but who have had residency rights in KSA for many years, and in some cases are the children of families who arrived one two generations ago.
Over the past five years, Deggin said that Gulf investors had flocked to Istanbul, buying up apartments as second homes. This was more because they felt an affinity with Turkey as a Muslim country with a cultural vibe that they found appealing, rather than because they saw real estate as a canny investment, although the weakening lira has helped. That trend has accelerated this year as the currency crisis has intensified.
“You ask why GCC nationals are buying apartments that may fall further in value, and have already dropped about 35 percent? Well, my answer is that it’s because GCC investors are buying from the heart,” Deggin said. “At each training session, I tell my guys that GCC buyers might be saying they want an investment, but for 90 percent of them, the real motive is lifestyle. They just want a place in Istanbul. Investment is a secondary motive.
“Turkey is a stable country socially, culturally and demographically.”
Deggin predicted that when the lira stabilizes, the buying surge from outside the country will double as some investors with deep pockets were waiting on the sidelines as they were more risk averse.
Up to 2017, he said “if you had dollars in your pocket your investment was going up in value because the price increase was on average higher than the depreciation of lira.”
The big question now is what happens if the crisis worsens with a further cranking up of tensions between the US and Ankara.
Kate Everett-Allen, of global property consultancy Knight Frank, told Arab News: “Turkey has faced a number of political, economic and financial crises in recent years and yet, despite this, foreign interest has proved largely stable.”
Between January and March 2017, there were 4,316 sales to foreign buyers, in the same three-month period in 2018 this figure increased to 5,367 according to data from the Turkish Statistics Office, Turkstat.
For foreign investors, a 10 million-lira villa that would have cost roughly $1.9 million a few weeks ago, would now set them back only $1.57 million, a hypothetical saving of more than $300,000, according to Julian Walker, director of Spot Blue International Property, a London-based Turkish real estate portal, cited in a report by Mansion Global.
Walker said that tourism fuels the property market and this year had already been exceptional in spite of the state’s woes. Turkey logged a record 11.5 million foreign tourists in the first five months of 2018, a 30 percent jump over the same period last year, according to the Culture and Tourism Ministry.
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Turkey saw a 22 percent spike in home sales to foreign buyers in 2017, according to a year-end report from the Turkish Statistical Institute.
However, not everyone is relaxed about the Turkish property market. The Guardian warned in a report on Aug. 23 that Turkey’s construction boom was built on cheap foreign loans and that with many construction materials sold in dollars, a crash could be round the corner with developers going bust.
Citing Kajin Bulut, who has worked in senior positions in forecasting and sales for a number of Turkish construction firms, told the Guardian: “The construction sector is like the head of a train — if it goes, the whole country goes.”
By Richard Wachman
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