The Neighbourhood Watch – Galata

Galata is one of the magical neighborhoods of Istanbul that conjures up a mystical past. The Galata Tower, in fact, is arguably the most iconic of symbols in this city that is resplendent with them. Its stocky, tough yet elegant stature gives testament to the city’s durable character. Built by the Genoese in 1348, it has withstood numerous earthquakes, fires and so forth. Although little of what remains from the Constantinople area still stands today, Galata has managed to retain an oddly gothic feel, with narrow winding streets and plenty of lung-busting hills.

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Those medieval streets

Those medieval streets

It has also become a center for fashion, architecture and design with many smart and sleek offices peppered throughout.   It pushes the boundaries with some of the highest real estate prices with inimitable names such as Dogan apartment, the I-Pera projects, Kamondo Han, and Galata A.S. to mention only a few. An area that 10 years ago was plagued by wandering groups of glue sniffers (tinerci) and plenty of trash, has now almost completely transformed into a very frequented tourist area and an address of the fashionista and legions of Istanbul hipsters, artists, and musicians. Galata is home to many famous actors, designers and alternative artists. Increasingly, it has become a place where the Istanbulu elite have weekend pads.

Perched at the corner of the Golden Horn and the Bosphorous, it is not hard to see why the Genovese booked this spot for their famous lookout tower. In many ways, it is the gateway both geographically and culturally to the city, both then and now. It also retains its commercial feel, as a place where lots of to and fro on prices is exchanged in the music shops on Galipdede St.

Just a few years ago, it was a struggle to find a decent restaurant, whereas nowadays there is a chic café on every corner and many good restaurants, including the Kiva and Enginar restaurants, which specialize in Turkish food.  Try the Nardis Jazz  Club for a chilled out night.

Galata is now superbly connected with the rest of the city in terms of transport. Utilizing the new Sishane line, you can go all the way out to Sariyer at the north of the Bosphorous and in future it will be extended South with a connecting link to the airport. The Tunel line connects you to the Galata Bridge, where you can carry on with the tram until the airport. It also has easy walking access to the old town and evening walks over the Golden Horn mingling with the fishermen on the Galata Bridge are a very cool past time.

The Location

The Location

The Galataport project, which is still a few years away, promises to add further shine and star power to the area, with its plan to offer the multitude of services and attractions necessary to keep the mega-liner crews and passengers entertained.

Although many of the buildings of Galata still require refurbishment, when one considers that this neighborhood was practically untouched by this trend all but 10 years ago, the pace of change is frankly staggering and shows little signs of abating. It leaves little doubt that this will become one of the most well-known tourist areas within the next 10 years and will become an almost household name such as Montmartre, Soho, or Las Ramblas.

Kiva Restaurant

Kiva Restaurant

Given this trajectory it is quite predictable that real estate prices have risen dramatically in the past years and seem set to move upwards, albeit at probably a more subdued speed. As there’s not much scope to create more building stock in these areas we expect to see a similar capital growth progression as Cihangir with possibly a 5-7% per annum property price inflation. Rental returns are good but not eyepopping coming in at approx 6-8%, though short term holiday lets can be much better if done well.

One of Lilimonts slick offerings!

One of Lilimonts offers!

Currently, for the in-demand properties, one could expect to pay a minimum of 2000 Euro/ sqm and go well upwards of that for anything with a view. The highest square meter price I have on record is about 8000 Euro/ sqm for a property with a lift, stunning views and an inspired architect’s interior finish.

The rents follow suit, with nicely finished properties of between 60-80 sqm costing a minimum of 1000 Euros monthly with peak prices for a very high end Bosphorous View Penthouse reaching 5000 Euros. Expect a good average sized 2/3 bed apartment to cost 1500 – 1800 euros per month.

If you fancy a Galata pad, get in touch with me – www.lilimont-istanbul-realestate.com

Negotiating and purchasing property in Istanbul

I just want to make a few notes here on subjects that frequently come up in discussions with clients. It may seem like basic information to people experienced with the Istanbul property market.

In essence, the process of buying a property for a foreigner in Istanbul is relatively straight-forward, though there area few areas that we should give special attention to.
So, after scouring the streets and having done all your homework, you have found a property that suits you. Normally, at this stage you would enter into negotiating the price of the property. As you know the market by now, you will have some idea of the value of the property. Turkey, like all countries, has norms for negotiating.

Buying a property is quite different from buying a rug in Sultanahmet, where prices can be  wildly overvalued and negotiations can start at 50% or less than the asking price . Professional real estate agents will usually not keep things on their books that are very overvalued, as it would only lead to a loss of their time and energy running around with clients. In my experience, you may be able to get 5-10% off the asking price and your estate agent will usually have a pretty good idea beforehand where the price could end up. Any property that is 20% higher priced than the market price should definitely be considered over-priced and should be avoided, and it is probably not even worth entering into negotiations as it is a sign that the seller is not realistic.

haggle till you drop in the bazaar

haggle till you drop in the bazaar

There are also properties which are very clearly priced to sell, and we should not expect wholesale discounts on those properties. Again, generally speaking, I find it useful to make the initial offer 10% under the asking price and see where that leads. The important thing as in any serious purchase is to negotiate in earnest. If you reach the magic number that is in your head, you in a sense should ‘feel’ committed, even if you are not yet legally or financially (InTurkey, you do not put down any money to enter into negotiations, though that, too, may change in the future).

Usually, I will ask the potential buyer what number they have in their head, and If I feel it is not realistic, I will dissuade them from making an offer that is too low as this will probably end in a waste of time.

Not as interested in your low offer as you may think..

Not as interested in your low offer as you may think..

Now, if your offer is accepted, it is quite normal for a small deposit to be paid quite quickly after that. For this deposit agreement (usually around 5% of total purchase price) you must outline the time frame and general conditions for the sale. In the case for foreigners, permissions must be obtained from the military, so we always put in a clause that the deposit is refundable if for whatever reason permissions are not granted (though I have never heard of such a case).

Get the wonga out

Get the wonga out

At this point, we suggest that the buyer contacts a lawyer and has the lawyer review the deed to check if it is ‘clean’ or free of any encumberances.
Once the permissions are received (anywhere from 4-8 weeks), both parties can proceed to the land registry to transfer the title deed, which only takes an hour.

Of course, there are many variations on the above information (such as purchasing off-plan, etc), but most clients fit into the above scenario.

If anybody would like to share their purchase experiences with me, feel free to drop me a line.

www.lilimont-istanbul-realestate.com 

The currency factor and Istanbul real estate… A carry trade?

The importance of currency levels will be a well-known point to many international real estate investors. And that attests to its importance.

The world goes round

The world goes round

When we use dollars, euros or the GBP to purchase a property in Istanbul, for example, what we are most likely implicitly hoping for is that the Turkish Lira strengthens against the currency used for purchase. Of course, at the time of purchase we would be hoping for a weak TL.

This is, in fact, what has occurred over the past year and a half. İn 2011 the TL was the worst performing emerging market currency, to firm slightly in 2012.  As it is still off 25% on historical averages against the USD, this represents a significant buying opportunity. As İ have said before, there is a giant For Sale sign on the garden of Turkish real estate, and Turkish assets more generally. This kind of opportunistic purchase could be viewed as a carry trade of sorts. İn the local press, there is an ongoing story about Mrs. Kobayashi, a stereotyped  Japanese housewife investor who has a fondness for buying Turkish Lira, which offers a high interest rate. Not too surprising, considering that Mrs. Kobayashi would receive pretty much zero percent if she left it in a Yen savings account. She converts that yen to Tl and gets a relatively handsome interest rate and prays also that the TL performs well against the Yen. İf that occurs, dear Mrs. Kobayashi will have done very nicely. Not without risks, but a popular currency move, nonetheless.

Mrs Kobayashi when she's not do the school run

Mrs Kobayashi when she’s not doing the school run

So, in the ideal Turkish property investment scenario, you buy when the Tl is weak, rent out your property for 5 years, after which period capital gains are exempt, the Tl strengthens and you get good capital growth through purchasing wisely. İn this scenario, it will be an excellent investment. Though, it should be noted that timing is crucial. Most analysts would agree that if you are fully committed to buying property in Turkey, now would be as good a time as any to convert your currency into TL to take advantage of a weak TL ( a strategic devaluation by the Turkish Central Bank to remain competitive for exports).

On a cautionary note predicting the falls and rises of the currency markets is fraught with difficulties that defy basic economic understanding. The property bought should have its own investment fundamentals as relying on positive currency movements as the sole reason for investment would be a game plan that even the best analysts have difficulty predicting. To highlight – It is worth noting that a little over 4 years ago eminent economists were scratching their heads trying to understand why the dollar was strengthening when the world was falling apart… it is now taken as granted that the greenback jumps when the markets drop as it’s seen as safety of the last resort. Not many of the great and the good predicted that!

However, Turkey may just possess one of the few property markets where you can achieve a 100 % percent investment return over a 5 year period.
İ believe all pretenders in Europe have long since abandoned such optimism. To put it in to risk context, buying real estate in Istanbul is a good strategic safe investment without the currency upturn as the economy is bouldering along well, however, add in a bit of positive currency tailwind and you could have yourself a eye-popping return without the need of leverage!

www.lilimont-istanbul-realestate.com

Bond, James Bond…returns to Istanbul

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Entertainment/Hollywood/James-Bond-returns-to-Istanbul-on-50th-anniversary/Article1-849054.aspx

There was certainly quite a bit of fan fare during Daniel Craig’s visit to do filming on the new Bond movie in Istanbul. Yet, it was not the first time that Bond as an enterprise has graced Istanbul’s shores. Not only is it the favorite city of the director of the current Bond film, but it was also apparently the favorite of the film series’ prolific writer, Ian Flemming.

Of course, anyone familiar with Istanbul will not be surprised that it has featured in 3 Bond movies…with its winding streets, stunning waterscapes, bridges, steep slopes and grand monuments with every specimen of humanity trampling about…it can hardly be a surprise that film makers of all stripes lust after shoots in Istanbul.

007 looking good in Istanbul in the 60’s

One can just imagine the difference between 1963 and To Russia with Love and today’s skyscraper-filled skies. The new skyscraper center, Atasehir, more closely resembles what some high-tech vision of some emerging giant Chinese city would reveal.
In any event, it seems to the history that adds the magical, surreal element to the city. After all, if it were just stunning modern architecture, there would be countless rivals: Dubai, Singapore, Mumbai, and so on. Istanbul remains unique in its combination of older than old history and blazing modernity.

Not as confident in the 90’s

Unfortunately, the undercover property agent did not get a chance to meet the real undercover agent Bond on this occasion, but I did follow around his stunt crew who seemed to be looking for a little after hours action up in Taksim. Despite their sticking out rather obviously, they seemed to get lost and were asking passers by for directions. I had a chuckle to myself…even the Bond boys were out of their depth in Istanbul.

Back to his best now

If you fancy catching a bit of the Bond spirit, take a stool at the Orient Bar in The Pera Palace Hotel and try one of their divine Martini’s.. http://www.jumeirah.com/en/Hotels-and-Resorts/Destinations/Istanbul/Pera-Palace-Hotel-Jumeirah-Istanbul/Restaurants–Nightlife/Orient-Bar/

The Renovation Trap

I often walk into a property that a client or friend has recently renovated with a slight degree of trepidation. I have many things to consider, is it worth telling the truth and alienating a friend…or a client? Have they done what is logical in relation to the market and should I tone down any subjective reaction I may have to what they have done with the property? I rarely enter into detail about what they have spent. That is of less concern. I worry about the final product.

At times, I have had good reason for this fear, as I have seen many a fine property degraded by a poor or personalized renovation. But, happily to say, in Beyoglu particularly in the past few years, I have mostly been happily surprised with property renovations rather than disappointed. There are a lot of creative and bright people around and they invariably come up with something great, at times even jaw dropping and inspirational.

Here’s an example – 

This property is simple with easy clean design, without getting to engrossed in high design. Please see the full listing and photos on http://www.lilimont-istanbul-realestate.com/for-sell/residential-apartment-cihangir-3/

The problem with a poor renovation is that in addition to the expense, it often actually decreases the value or salability of a property. Quite often, it would have been better to leave the property un-renovated and to sell it as is. The paradox, too, is that the same people who implement a poor renovation are the ones who also expect a high premium for their dubious efforts. Of course, there exists a fine line between having a renovation budget and cutting corners. It is also a combination of the quality of materials and the workmanship involved. As finishing and design standards can be a bit low, it is imperative to ensure that the these are in line with the value and location of the property and that the materials used are neither too far above the market norm, nor too far below. Unless the owner has zero need for a future resale it is imperative to assess the salability of a property before embarking on a costly renovation.

Here’s another good one – 

This apartment utilizes a lot of the Turk Ottoman influence invoking an Agatha Christie era without getting too fussy. http://www.lilimont-istanbul-realestate.com/for-sell/residential-apartment-aynali-cesme-3/

I work with a group of International developers who have developed properties throughout Europe and their view is that in an area experiencing redevelopment, such as central Istanbul, an influx of owners from different countries tend to raise the stakes regarding renovation and quality finish. For example, an owner from Berlin may insist on a very high finish level and a Roman owner will quite possibly want to utilize a higher degree of design. This has happened in central Istanbul over the past 10 years and it’s readily evident that local tradesmen and architects are upping their game to meet these requirements. An International influence will also help direct the design trend in-line with the current ‘zeitgeist’ as opposed to lagging behind, which in itself will attract buyers. It is a combination of current International design with a Turkish cultural foundation that provides the most salable properties.

To undertake a renovation project without paying heed to current trends is to invite potential disaster. It is a bit like a surgeon performing surgery without being updated on current research in his or her field.

As a team, my partners and I have now renovated countless properties over the past 15 years, we can confidently say we know how to refurbish an apartment economically and to a degree that allows an easy onward sale. http://www.lilimont-istanbul-realestate.com/

Turkish Vs Foreigners part 2

In last week’s blog we discussed client purchasing habits A La Turca and saw how cool our Turkish brethren can be while making important investments.

On the other hand, foreign buyers seem to come to the battle field with significantly more information and much higher expectations from their realtors. In this, they could be said to be the opposite from Turkish buyers, though variations exist from nation to nation, with Germans, as if by some genetic pre-disposition, are at the top when it comes to preparedness and fastidiousness,  and the İtalians, apart from their insistence on square meter pricing, closer to the Turkish end of the spectrum.

As a general rule, foreigners typically do not make an offer on a property until they have had a good survey of the market. They tend to ask the realtor many questions and are quite prepared to offer a free lunch to get them! At least that is my excuse for my chronic battle to keep trim.

The issues that they most focus on are: legal issues, local planning and renovation codes, prices of course, rental laws, and down the road projections for re-sale, just to mention a few. They are also very fond of local tales of the past that give them insight into the neighborhoods. So, I always try to have a few of these on hand while we wait for a sleepy relative of some property owner to fumble for misplaced keys.

İn general, I like working with foreign clients for the reason that they do come to appreciate any knowledge or expertise I may have in the area.

The main task is to try and demonstrate the parallel lines in what often seems a jumbled and bewildering real estate market. And they do exist, and there are some wonderful opportunities in Istanbul, but at times, if one focuses too much on the details, they can often miss the bigger picture. Istanbul is, at present, an Alpha economy and things are developing at break neck speed. Neighborhoods and streets are changing rapidly. What was considered expensive last year, is now the norm.  Bosphorous property has become a global commodity and people from every corner want their piece nearly as much as they want property in Knightsbridge. These are some of the issues that foreigners, who are often not here on a day to day basis, have a hard time adjusting to. Finding value is best achieved through doing homework and working with someone who knows the scene and is patient to explain it to you. I can put you in touch with one such fellow if you leave your mobile number!

Just a few humorous (er..) anecdotes, on the nationalities and their real estate quirks.

The French:  always the most dramatic, prone to using ooh la la in excess. But don’t be fooled. They are ferocious bargainers.

The English: most prone to scoffing at cheap prices. They can hardly reveal their delight at a good, low price. I pre-coach them not to do this in seller’s ear shot. Luckily for us they have been conditioned by sky high London prices.

Russians: most likely to crush bones in a handshake. Is this an ‘in’ joke of theirs? Meeting with Russian clients…note to self…remove all rings.

Italians: still most likely to be very late and almost make up for it by giving you a sly wink and a wide grin.

Americans: true to form, seem to have an almost primordial obsession with the availability of parking. I usually lightly jibe that instead of buying one flat, they should just buy the whole building and turn the entrance floor into a garage. İt becomes a kind of Eureka moment for them and I am sure they never look at another building in the same way again.

Asians: masters of the great disappearing act. Nowhere to be found on İstanbul real estate scene. I suspect they are en route, backtracking the Spice Route. Though I did hear some rumours lately about Singaporean giants lurking the waters. How exciting!