The Neighbourhood Watch – Cihangir

One of the must-see sights in Cihangir is the mosque that gives its name to the area. Sultan Suleiman commissioned the building of this mosque with the great architect Mimar Sinan. Legend has it that he built it for his son, Cihangir, who was often bed-ridden, so he could watch the ships pass by on the Bosphorous. The view is nothing short of stunning, if you have 30 minutes on a quiet day just go and sit there, you don’t have to do anything else. In fact, one of the very reasons for Cihangir’s rise to real estate prominence is the fact that the views are amongst the best in the city.

The location

The location

Cihangir is now one of the prime neighborhoods that have undergone dramatic change over the past 15 years. Once a rough and ready home to alternative artists and long-dwelling locals, it has been propelled into a well-known domicile for famous Turks and expats of all kinds, yet has managed to retain its essentially artistic core. Turkish soap opera stars and film directors are in evidence on every street corner cafe. The Firuzaga Tea Garden in the centre is all bustle but on the coldest of days. New cafes, yoga centers, pilates studios, and bakeries are now a familiar part of the urban landscape.

In the same vein as London’s Notting Hill and New York’s Greenwich Village, its property regeneration progressed slowly over a number of years. The government did not have money for extensive regeneration projects 15 years ago as they do now, and Cihangir has been alone in finding its feet. This organic process has been a positive as it has not attempted to direct it on any pre-determined route which can often leave a neighbourhood without its sense of community and history. In contrast, Cihangir is all about these values.

The Mosque with it's view

The Mosque with it’s view

The buildings, many of which are being restored or have already been so, offer flavours of Greek, Italian and French architecture, with high ceilings, bay windows, hand-made Turkish tiling, with the odd marble staircase. They tend to be reasonably sized and look quite elegant. As with a lot of Beyoglu and central Istanbul, Cihangir was mainly populated by well-to-do Europeans and Turks in the early 20th century who were often owners of the many trading businesses or worked in shipping, thus having the resources to create and decorate these handsome properties. The area fell into a 60-70 year decline through a myriad of political and economic problems, and only in the past 15 years has it rediscovered an admiring wealthy audience once again.

Wouldn't you want to live here?

Wouldn’t you want to live here?

Fancy

Fancy living

The café, bar and restaurant scene is possibly the best in Istanbul. An evening can start with cocktails in one of the hip bars or cafes such as Zenka with its cool ambiance, moving on to the White Mill Lodge and its great hidden garden and finally ending by getting down and dirty with the underground night crawlers at the infamous Mini-Music Hall!

So what of Cihangirs future? My view is that we will see a steady progression in property value combined with a slickness that normally wouldn’t be associated with Central Istanbul outside of Nisantasi. It is evident on view of local municipality works such as pavements and curbs as these tend to be of a better level and finish than neighbouring wards. Now that the community is moving back once again to its wealthy European roots and additionally with the influx of the Turkish media crowd the pressure is on to raise the local living standards. I have found properties for senior International execs both for purchase and rental in Cihangir, when at one time these guys would have been safely ensconced in Bebek or Etiler never to be seen downtown. The amount of large scale regeneration and infrastructure projects, such as Taksim Square redevelopment in the immediate vicinity raises the International bar considerably. My view is that prices will rise but without the aggressive energy witnessed over the past 10 years. Maybe we’ll see 5-10% year on year capital growth of property with a possible rental return range of 5-7%… not bad in a developed low-risk neighbourhood,  especially now that money can be well levered with a mortgage . Cihangir is here and is not going anywhere South for the foreseeable future!

If you like the sound of the above and you want to own property in Istanbul within a five-minute walk from the very centre, then you are probably not too startled to hear that prices start out at around 2000 euro/ square meter. Majestic Bosphorous view properties in prime location and well-restored buildings have been known to eclipse 6000 Euro/ square meter. The average price would be about 3000 Euro/ square meter at time of writing.

The rents start out at around 1000 Euro/ month for something smart, but not too large, whilst properties commanding the coveted view, of large size (140 sqm and above), and in fine condition can be upwards of 4000 Euro/ month.

www.lilimont-istanbul-realestate.com

The advantages of working with one real estate agent

Istanbul is a massive and sprawling mega-city that can be very hard to grasp for first time visitors. It can also be quite challenging to get from one end to another, if there ever really is one end or another.
If you are considering purchasing property here, the logical first step is to research and find an agent that shares a common language with you. As you probably have a finite time, be it a week or two, to find the property you want, it is best to start out with one agent that you have created a long distance relationship with and see where that gets you.

Try to find an agent that has a grasp of your needs, but be under no illusions as it’s up to you to outline your wants pretty clearly, agents are not clairvoyant . For non-resident clients, as an agent I like to have a pretty firm budget in my hands and at least a general idea of location (city center, outskirts, European side, etc). Also, any information on physical characteristics of the property is useful; is a view a necessity? Historical building or new? Also, before putting in a lot of research, an agent dealing with offshore clients would usually like to know how the property purchase will be funded. These are not meant to be invasive questions, but rather serve to limit everyone’s loss of time.

So, you have fulfilled your part, now what should you expect from the agent? If you have arranged a travel date, they should state clearly that they will indeed take you to view some of the properties that you have selected from their website and give you some idea of how long it will take to complete the viewings. A good agent will help you wade through the bureaucracy of the actual sale and contract and then help with after sale issues, it then becomes apparent that you are getting good value with the commission. It’s worth noting that a good Istanbul based agent will most probably run rings around a generic agent from London.

Maybe steer clear of this guy

Maybe steer clear of this guy

It is also important to be clear and discuss up front the associated fees of a completed transaction (be aware of anyone who is not transparent in this regard).
The agent should also disclose all potential problems there may be in a particular property…is it in a zone where foreigners can buy? Is it residential or commercial? What are the issues, if any, with tenants? Property problems come in all shapes and sizes but do not dispare as these are not likely to be dissimilar to issues seen in the Western world.

If you feel the agent is showing you properties that are close to fitting the bill, but you haven’t found exactly what you are looking for, don’t be shy about asking the agent to contact another agency for alternatives. If you try to do all this by yourself, it can lead to a great loss of time and can be very unproductive, as someone who you have not been working closely with will likely just try to sell you what they have on the books and not necessarily what you want. They may drag you half way across the city to show you a 2 bedroom, when you specifically asked for a three bedroom.

If your agent feels you are a serious client, they will likely go the extra mile for you, and you will have seen more properties that are to your liking in a more efficient manner. Ultimately, it helps to do a fair bit of research prior to arriving in the city and to have at least one person you feel that you can begin to work with.

My kind of agent!

My kind of agent!

Even though I mainly work in Beyoglu, if I feel good about the client, I’ll gladly extend my search to other areas.

www.lilimont-istanbul-realestate.com

2013 What lies ahead for Istanbul Real Estate

After a steady but unspectacular 2012 for Istanbul real estate, many investors are wondering what is likely to happen in 2013. Although I do not claim any great prescience, I think that if we analyze the trends it looks very positive for the Istanbul property market to accelerate its upward trajectory.

One of the the main reasons for this is the reduced cost of borrowing now being offered by Turkish banks, which is mainly the result of positive developments and signals from the big ratings agencies.  As loan rates plunge, the length of mortgages can be extended, thus increasing purchasing power. Of course, rates are still hovering around 10%, which seems quite high to people from the western world. However, it is much lower than it has ever been in Turkey and it seems that these will go lower yet. This opens the door for a lot of new possibilities; people will be able to buy to let as the monthly mortgage payments may more easily be covered by expected rental revenues. In addition, those who have been on the sidelines as renters, may also get fed up with rising rents and calculate that maybe it is time (for those that can raise the down payment) to take the plunge and become a homeowner.

All good fun but don't do the Western 125% of value thing!

All good fun but don’t do the Western 125% loan to value thing!

Another positive headwind would appear to be a potential avalanche of demand coming from the Arab world, as buyers from there seek a liberal Muslim haven from the instability in their own countries. All of the above are new developments and cannot be guessed exactly as of now, though they do seem to be trends that are not going to recede any time soon and which may in fact gather steam. In short, if mortgage rates further decrease and there is brisk demand from the Arab world, it should signify a dynamic few years for Istanbul.

I've heard this guy wouldn't mind a pad..

I’ve heard this guy wouldn’t mind a pad..

The overall state of the Turkish economy will also play a key role in the direction of prices. The estimates seem to range from a low of 3%, with the OECD leaning to a more optimistic 4.5% (keep in mind that the US is spluttering along at around 2%, Europe just above zero and the UK is now possibly falling into recession yet again) If the Turkish consumer feels confident that the economy is humming along, there will be an increased demand for housing, which will probably be felt most acutely in the city center, due to traffic congestion and high energy prices for the outlying suburbs.

So, what does all this figure to suggest for the investor. I think we could expect double digit capital growth, with some very nice upside potential.

Happy hunting in the New Year!!!

www.lilimont-istanbul-realestate.com 

A few more mortgages

A few weeks back, I made the comparison between the factors driving real estate price growth in Budapest and Istanbul. Following up with this over the next couple of blogs, I would like to offer a few thoughts on why prices in Istanbul may be set to move considerably higher in the future. Firstly let’s try and predict property purchase credit.

Currently, mortgages are a growing part of the housing situation in Istanbul, yet home buyers are left with few options. The banks generally offer mortgage rates that are hovering around ten percent yearly and in a lot of cases more. Obviously, this affects purchasing power greatly and means that if somebody buys a property, they would be well-advised to put in quite a bit of cash and also to keep the loan period as short as possible. The average loan term, I would guess is 7-8 years and often 50 percent or more is put down in cash. This makes the monthly payments bearable but also restricts the property market to the relatively well off. Most people now are very aware of the Western property crisis causes; the availability of cheap financing options, very low deposits and slack mortgage customer due diligence. When consumers were able to get loans at two, three and four percent with little down-payment, their purchasing power went through the roof, and hence property prices did, too…. for a while!

With this kind of (lack of) credit back story in Istanbul you’d be forgiven for predicting a property market stagnation or drop. But Western World economic calculations don’t work in Turkey, as we’ve seen good growth with respectable property inflation over the past 5 years. At the same time the Western world skidded off the rails bloated with a sack load of credit that pinned up the economy.

Credit Western stylee

Turkey, on the other hand has powered on without the need of artificial life support. There’s a lot more to the Turkish economy than a few cheap loans!

Now that Turkey’s Fitch rating has come in at investable grade (Financial Times vid), there is expectation that this will make borrowing cheaper and more widespread. Maybe this won’t happen universally in Turkey as cash down-payments aren’t set to drop radically but that may not be a bad thing as the Western world property implosion has taught us.
However, even if it removes two percent of the costs, bringing it down into the 8 percent vicinity, one would expect that this will have a knock on effect for housing prices. It’s unlikely that we will see low single digits that prevailed in the western world, yet it could be enough so that the Turkish buyer can lengthen the terms of the loans, buy a property and make monthly payments that are more or less similar to current rental prices. In this case, of course, many people who have the ability, will opt to buy over rent as a good chunk of the money will stay with them in the form of equity.
This might not affect all areas equally, especially in the short-term. Some high-end properties like a Bosphorous view in Cihangir, might not be as affected as a budget new build on the Istanbul outskirts as the Cihangir property is probably less reliant on loans for the purchase. However and needless to say, the youthful population and the growing economy will be additional tailwinds for home prices and this will eventually have a positive knock on effect throughout the whole market.

My view, and for a good few years yet, is that it would be a seriously risky move to short Istanbul property prices.

www.lilimont-istanbul-realestate.com

A tale of two cities: real estate prices in central Istanbul and Budapest

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to explore the real estate scene in Budapest. To be frank, I was quite surprised at how cheap it was (now don’t drop reading and rush off to Budapest just yet…or at least not without calling me first!!!). It really got me thinking. I was looking at quality, un-renovated historical properties in reasonably good locations that were going for under 1000 euro per sqm. I have been in a lot of European capitals over the years, yet I have not found prices like that anywhere, even in raunchy Bucharest or relative backwater places such as Sofia.
The prices are less than half that of equivalent properties in Istanbul, which is not even part of Europe, a.k.a ‘the bubble belt’.
I reflected on this at length and I came up with a few pseudo-theories that I think stack up.
Apart from the obvious economic facts which any economist could rap off in their sleep… such as Istanbul’s being one of the fastest growing dynamic mega-cities  or its geopolitical importance in the 21st century, bridging Europe and Asia, etc…are the other, less tangible reasons why I feel real estate prices are higher in Istanbul and will likely surge higher. Much like Moscow, New York, and the undisputed king, London.

In Istanbul, you can buy anything and at ANY TIME. It defines the insomniac modern city. And everybody is selling something. It is deeply immersed in the culture, so much so that I am appalled at how concerned I have become about the price of trivial items, of one kind or another, I have been indoctrinated. When my friend buys a new pair of socks, I cant resist…’how much?’ In Istanbul, dinner parties often deteriorate into a game of monopoly, where people call out street names and prices of property. In Budapest, I suspect doing so at a dinner party would be met with, ‘go directly to jail. Do not pass go.’ a major social faux pas.
By contrast, In Budapest, nothing is open on Sundays and it felt perpetually as if it were a Sunday afternoon, even on Friday night. It lacked bustle, not to mention hustle. Lovely for relaxing, not so great if you want to make real estate skyrocket (not that I do).

Estate agents looked at me with suspicion, whereas in Istanbul they salivate; often sleeping, drinking and chatting in their offices until all hours. In Europe, the baseline for all commercial activity seems to peak at about 35 hours a week. That would be a good weekend for our unshaven, slightly dishevelled Istanbul hack property agent.
On a more technical note, the big difference in city center prices between the two capitals is the transportation reality.
In Budapest, an area that takes 15 minutes to get to by public transportation is considered a bit out of the way, and by no means central.
15 minutes in Istanbul can be chewed up just walking to the nearest metro stop, or getting through a set or two of lights while on the bus.
Obviously, if you work downtown in Istanbul, you lose an enormous amount of time if you live outside the city center. Throw in high gas prices and it becomes  a bit more apparent the factors that drive up prices in central areas. It can be a false economy to rent or buy on the outskirts of the city.

Budapest street scene

Population is a big factor, though so obvious as hardly worth mentioning. Istanbul belongs with Asian giants at an estimated 20 million.

Istanbul street scene

On a psychological level, our Magyar (Hungarian) brothers, seem to have a bit of a grudge, as if history had been unkind to them, which it often, indeed, was.
Contrast that with the Turks, who are walking with more of a swagger these days and harking back to their Imperial past and Ottoman glory. How does this reflect real estate prices, you ask?  Perhaps the sense of belonging at the top of the heap gives a bit of confidence, dare I say arrogance, to its possessors.

One of the final points I would like to make concerns the demand and supply side.
Istanbul, though a large and sprawling city, has an undersupply of well-established and beautiful neighborhoods, so the ones that fit this bill, command very high prices. Most of the neighborhoods and building stock are pretty drab and unattractive. Therefore, areas like Bebek, Nisantisi, and parts of Beyoglu are in demand due to their attracive old buildings or sea views.

In Budapest, lovely old historical buildings are a dime a dozen. The architecture is cohesive and the neighborhoods often blend imperceptibly into one another.  People will pay more to live in the popular second district than they will to live in the grittier eighth district, but the divide is not as great as that between Nisantisi (4000 euro per sqm)and some barrio on the Asian Side of Istanbul (400 euro).

And comparing the Bosphorous with the Danube? Like comparing Pele and Ronaldhino, my friend…

Bosphorous

Danube

In my entry next week, I would like to continue with some future predictions on real estate prices for both cities. I hope you will be interested in what I have to say on this. By the way, it hit 30 degrees today, the middle of October. Add that to your reasons to come to Istanbul!!!

What’s going on in Istanbul this fall?

Wondering what you can do in Istanbul during the last warm days of an Indian summer? Well, if the hundreds of trendy new cafes and restaurants that have sprouted up throughout the city don’t keep you busy enough, why not take in one of the many festivals that enrich the city’s cultural life so much?

In October there is a jazz festival, it’s not huge with little commercialism, but very low key and delivering great jazz. Archie Shepp and Cecil Taylor have turned out in the past so dont miss it as they’ll be some laid back legends jamming around. For more info: 0212 334 010. http://www.pozitif.info/tr/festival/2012/akbank-22-caz-festivali/228/

Social Inclusion Band

If you are one of the growing legions who enjoy documentary films check out this festival which runs in November. Most of the venues are located around Beyoglu, so you can just give me a ring when the film is finished! http://www.1001belgesel.net/en/Default.aspx  Admission is free.

Also in November is the popular Istanbul International Short Film Festival (Uluslararası Istanbul Kısa Film Festivali), which has showings in Beyoglu and at the wonderful Istanbul Modern (which is a venue worth whiling away a half day or so in its own right). Admission is free. Who said you need to have millions to enjoy Istanbul?
0212 252 5700  http://www.istanbulfilmfestival.com/

Istanbul Modern

Drop me a line if you know of any other great events coming up and I will be sure to add it to our space. Enjoy, folks!

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!

Renting in this big beautiful City

People who are familiar with the Istanbul real estate scene know that the rents in the city center are pretty high and the market is reasonably dynamic, producing a good yield if the property is purchased at the right price.

Not all of our clients are purchasers of Istanbul property, however.  Many come to us seeking long term rental properties in Istanbul city center, normally because they have been relocated by their company or a new job beckons. Luckily, we have lots of expertise in this area and we do our best to help clients find the best value, whether it be for a budget studio or a glamorous penthouse apartment in a luxurious compound.

High end luxury in a signature development

with a view to die for

It is hard to nail down per sqm prices in the neighborhoods because they really vary greatly from street to street and can also be based on the quality of the building.

In general, however, a furnished 1 bedroom apartment in a decent neighborhood with quality construction, starts from around 1800 TL or approx. 1000 USD and 2 bedroom apartments are on average about 20% more. Naturally, the price jumps up significantly with a sea view.

Great value with a superb terrace

http://www.lilimont-istanbul-realestate.com/rent/ 

Contracts are typically one year. If you plan to stay longer than a year, make sure you are aware of any rental increases prior to signing a contract. If you are not familiar with the language, have somebody along to help you with the contract process who is familiar. Mostly, the contracts are standard, but they should be read and understood prior to signing.

A note on the landlords. Unfortunately, in Turkey, the landlords are quite hands off, except when it comes time to collect the rent! You are assumed to take care of small items that need repair by yourself. Larger issues should be brought to their attention and should be handled by them. In our experience, if you pay the rent on time and keep the place in reasonable condition, the tenant/landlord relationship should be amicable.

Have a look at a few of our stunning rental offers this season…. http://www.lilimont-istanbul-realestate.com/rent/ . If there’s nothing to your fancy on my site then give me your needs, we’ll put the feelers out and I’ll don my detective mac…. our team enjoy a task and a city search.

A day at the Tapu (Turkish for Land Registry).

I wont sugar coat it; a day at the Tapu usually means stress and a fair bit of it.

The Beyoglu Tapu office is a busy little place located right on Istiklal street. There are many reasons why it is a pressure cooker environment.

To start with, the office is very undersized for the volume of the property transactions and importance of the work being carried out, with the clerks and officials jammed into one 100 square meter room, where they seem reluctant to open the windows or turn on the air conditioning even in mid-summer. As if this were not bad enough, due to the nature of much of the property ownership in Istanbul, the deeds are often shared by many family members, and inevitably they all show up for the signing of the deed transfer.

But probably the largest factor contributing to the chaos (which I have luckily begun to view as ‘controlled chaos’) is the presence of large amounts of cash. Sometimes, the property sellers insist on cash and it often is counted out and divvied up with family members, who are often estranged from one another, right there in the halls of this antiquated Beyoglu building. It is not uncommon to witness some pretty fascinating and sometimes intense family drama being played out at these times.

There is also a very small waiting area and a toilet which seems to be a carefully guarded secret, and obtaining the key for it means having a connection. My preferred waiting place is out in front on Istiklal street where I can watch the daily mayhem pass by at a safe distance.

But this is not to say that the day cannot pass by unenjoyably. The fun side of it all is that the people working there are actually very helpful and have a real can do attitude even in the face of their daily stresses. They trouble shoot and just simply get things done. And when they know you, they extend all of the usual favours: giving preferred time slots, adjusting quickly minor paperwork errors, offering chai, working past closing hours, using their photocopy machine, and many things besides. In terms of the cooperativeness of the people working there, it ranks amongst the best government offices that I have been in…anywhere.

Finally, what makes it all worthwhile is that the chaos seems to bond sane minded people. You pretty much always make new friends when you go to the Tapu. After being crammed in this space for a good part of the day, you strike up conversations readily and sellers and buyers of property in Istanbul often go on to form a lasting relationship. Quite often the sellers end up doing things later to help with any issues the new owner may have with the property. Of course, for me, it is a great place for networking, seeing old friends and getting the inside knowledge on what realtors are selling next. It is also an invaluable way of collecting data on prices etc, in an area where sales prices are opaque and somewhat secretive. My day there usually ends with me heading off with one of my local agent pals to check out a new property they have. They are usually energetic, as a day at the Tapu means payday for them, and often they will go the extra mile for you on that day.

So, in the end, I would give it all a solid B plus grade. Yeah, sure, with AC and a large impersonal space, it might be more comfortable, but then I guess it would be Oh so European and much of the adventure would be lost!!!

Here’s a CGI for the new Tarlabasi regeneration development: