Land sales in greater Istanbul area on rise after February quake

Turkey has seen a booming real estate market since the massive February 6 earthquakes, which was pushed by a souring demand for so-called earthquake-resistant new homes in major cities in western regions, including Istanbul.

Real estate agents said Istanbul's land sales increased by 200 per cent in March than the previous month, fuelling a price hike.

"A wave of fear has grabbed Istanbulites especially after the disaster," Erdinc Sahin, a real estate consultant, told Xinhua news agency, explaining the sentiment in the real estate market triggered by the earthquakes.

Sahin said the anxiety among residents grew after a rapid scanning program, launched by the Istanbul municipality on homes' foundation and their structural resistance in late February, revealed that many old buildings in the city were not resistant enough to strong earthquakes.

Following the scanning program, weak buildings in Istanbul were either being reinforced or demolished, but "evacuating unsafe buildings is not something easy" on a large scale, according to Sahin.

He noted that the demand is not limited to Istanbul but expands as far as the nearby Kocaeli province in the Marmara region and Kirklareli and Edirne in the Thrace region.

In Sahin's view, the total costs are much higher than expected, given a 40-per cent increase in land sales prices in March and the ever-increasing construction expenses.

"We describe these price hikes as irrational. This demand will not continue as it is now. It will stop at some point," he said.

Dilek Ozcan, a retired healthcare worker from Istanbul who cannot afford to buy land in the city, moved to her rural hometown in Kirklareli.

She told Xinhua that recently many close friends and former colleagues asked her about buying land in the nearby villages.

According to Ozcan, these friends wanted to install a tiny house as an extra place to shelter in case of a disaster in Istanbul.

Galip Olmez, CEO of Yako Groups, Turkey's biggest company producing tiny houses, told Xinhua that his sales exploded by at least 80 per cent after the February disaster.

Prices of tiny houses, whose sizes largely fall between 15-40 square metres, vary from $15,000 to $30,000, much more affordable than building conventional big houses, he said.

"Since almost 90 per cent of people (in Istanbul) do not know how resistant their houses are to earthquakes, they want to plan an independent lifestyle in nature, a safer, more isolated, and more rehabilitative lifestyle," he added, concluding "therefore, the demand for tiny houses has increased tremendously".

According to Olmez, zoning is not required for the installation of tiny houses, a fact that saves costs.