Turkey's citizenship property scheme hit by new government regulation

Home sales to foreign buyers fall after the new rule was introduced to tackle inflated prices, property experts say

Kocatepe, the biggest mosque in Ankara, Turkey. Foreigners need to invest at least $250,000 in property for Turkey to grant them a passport. Reuters
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Record sales of homes to foreigners in Turkey, driven by a sharply falling currency and the promise of citizenship, are starting to slow after a new government rule aimed at tackling inflated prices, property experts say.

Before the rule change, some cheaper homes were being marked up and sold to foreigners for at least $250,000 — the minimum price for Turkey to grant foreigners a passport, property sellers and real estate professionals said.

Some sellers were working with selected appraisal companies to inflate prices and secure citizenship for buyers with the difference between the market value and the price paid in some cases later returned to buyers, they said.

But under a regulation adopted last month, the land registry authority now automatically assigns appraisers to properties, thwarting collaboration that could lead to abuse.

GIGDER, an industry body that promotes Turkish home builders abroad, said that since September 20, when the regulation was adopted, prices of some homes sold to foreigners have dropped by 30 per cent to 45 per cent, prompting some prospective buyers to walk away.

“This difference between construction companies' sales prices and new valuations has led to distrust among foreigners,” Omer Faruk Akbal, the head of GIGDER, said.

This difference between construction companies' sales prices and new valuations has led to distrust among foreigners
Omer Faruk Akbal, the head of GIGDER

“We have since seen sales offices emptying out and presale contracts getting cancelled.”

A construction boom has helped drive economic growth through much of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's nearly two decades in power and, under the citizenship scheme, cash from abroad helped offset Turkey's usually heavy trade imbalance.

About 7,000 foreigners received Turkish citizenship via home purchases between 2017 and 2020, the government said last year.

The General Directorate overseeing land registries said it adopted the regulation in September to address “certain observed irregularities in the appraisal reports".

Foreign home sales — mainly to Iranians, Iraqis, Russians and Afghans — reached an all-time high of 6,630 last month, official data shows, as a sharp fall in the lira made Turkish property more attractive to foreign buyers.

Last year, net foreign investment in real estate was $5.7 billion, central bank data shows.

Mr Akbal expects construction companies to sell a record 50,000 homes to foreigners by the end of the year, although the new regulation might reduce that.

The sales have contributed to a broader rise in living costs for Turks that has weighed on Mr Erdogan's opinion polls. Housing-related inflation was more than 20 per cent last month, reflecting soaring rents, valuations and mortgage rates.

The government adopted the citizenship-for-homes scheme in 2017. A year later, it cut the minimum price to $250,000, from $1 million, to attract foreign buyers and help alleviate the currency crisis.

One property industry representative, who requested anonymity, said that before the regulation, properties worth only $150,000 could be reported to the land registry authority with a $250,000 price tag to secure citizenship for the buyer.

After the sale, the construction company would transfer $100,000 back to the buyer, the person said. Ibrahim Babacan, chairman of Babacan Holding, which works mostly with foreign buyers, said the new regulation was likely to lead to the cancellation of six of his 10 recent sales to foreigners.

“The customer buys the property with the aim of citizenship but when the appraiser reports a lower valuation, he cancels the contract,” he said. He added that appraisers and builders often use different measurements in valuations.

Mr Babacan said the new rules will cool sales in October but the lira depreciation will keep foreigners interested. “You can buy a property in Turkey at a fifth the price in Dubai,” he said.

Updated: October 21, 2021, 11:59 AM