Turkey's Tasty Real Estate Market

Move over Italy and Spainthe Mediterranean's latest housing boom is on in a similarly pleasing atmosphere, and at a significantly lower price

When it comes to buying a holiday home or investment property in the Mediterranean, most people tend to think of Spain or Italy. But Turkey, with its stunning scenery and wealth of antiquities, is fast emerging as a new property hot spot. Straddling Europe and Asia, Turkey is blessed with some of the best coastline in Europe, especially in the country's southwestern corner where the Mediterranean and Aegean seas meet.

With Turkey expected to join the European Union within the next decade, property experts say those who get in early stand to see a substantial return on their investment.

The combination of rapidly rising house prices and Turkish property market reforms has made the country an increasingly popular destination for international investors. Five years ago the government passed legislation making it possible for non-Turkish citizens to buy property. Since then, foreigners have spent more than $7.2 billion on an estimated 30,000 homes, according to the Turkish government. Over the last year alone property sales to foreigners soared by 59% to $2.9 billion.

Moreover, recent changes in legislation have also created the country's first ever mortgage market. As a result, it is now possible to get a mortgage at interest rates that are roughly 50% less than the traditional home loans buyers used in the past. "Now that the government has made it easier for foreigners to buy, demand is soaring," says Ahmet Rauf Saatci, chief executive of real estate agency Century 21 in Istanbul.

Bright Spots

The sunny Mediterranean climate is only a small part of Turkey's attraction. For starters, property prices are on average 30% to 50% less than those found in more well-trodden hotspots such as the Spanish, French, and Italian coasts. Property experts compare the country to the Spanish property market in the 1970s. And London-based international real estate agency Knight Frank predicts property prices will increase by 12.5% in 2007.

Not only is it cheaper to buy, it is also much cheaper to live. Economists reckon that the cost of living is between 40% and 60% less than in continental Europe. And according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Turkey is the fourth least expensive place to live in a recent survey of 30 member countries.

The vast majority of international buyers are focusing mainly on coastal resort towns. Towns such as Bodrum, Marmaris, and Fethiye, all long-popular with vacationing Turks and Europeans alike, have experienced a development boom. Over the last five years, numerous modern apartment complexes and gated private communities have sprung up to cater to demand.

Good Returns

Turkish property developer Tuna Homes and Buildings almost exclusively markets its portfolio of modern villas and apartments to Europeans. Since ownership laws for foreigners have been liberalized, interest in investment properties in the Bodrum Peninsula has accelerated, according to Tuna sales manager Necati Azazi. Last year, 90% of Tuna's 500-apartment development in Bodrum, called Peninsula, was sold to Europeans.

Those who have bought properties in Turkey are already seeing good returns.

Over the last year, prices in coastal areas have appreciated between 30% and 50%. New, modern, gated developments with pools and other amenities such as tennis courts are in high demand. Take the seaside resort town of Antalya. Fifteen months ago, Umit Sutoglu, a real estate agent with Turyap Lara in Antalya, recalls how one of his clients bought two three-bedroom homes in Antalya for $112,000 each. Within one year, he sold one of the homes for $272,000, pocketing well over 100% profit on the deal, Sutoglu says.

Returns in Turkey's big cities, such as Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir, are more conservative but still attractive, averaging 10% to 15% a year. Turkey's biggest and most expensive city, Istanbul, offers yields of around 9%, says Century 21's Saatci. "But in Istanbul's new suburbs such as Beylikduzu, Cekmekoy, and Umraniye, returns can climb to 20% or more." He says foreign buyers are increasingly heading to these newly developed suburbs to buy land and build themselves.

Straightforward Sale

The buying process is straightforward. There are no restrictions for Americans or European Union citizens on buying property in Turkey. Most experts recommend consulting a local solicitor to handle the conveyancing and contracts. Typically buyers can expect to pay 25% of the purchase price as down payment. Additionally, purchasers need to factor in taxes—which run 0.3% for houses 150 square meters and less—plus real estate agent commissions of around 5% to 10%, and legal fees of approximately 10% of the purchase price, says real estate agent Sutoglu from Turyap Lara.

If you are buying the property to rent, expect to pay 20% tax on the rental income to the Turkish government. If you hold the property for more than four years, you will be exempt from capital gains. But if you decide to sell before then, you will pay 20% capital gains tax locally. Sounds like it's time to board a big bird to Turkey.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.