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Entrepreneur • Real Estate

Turkish businessman: “Our business grew 300% last year. A disaster, really.”

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Dateline: Istanbul, Turkey Istanbul

It has to be one of my favorite cities in the world. Situated at the confluence of Europe and Asia, Turkey has a long and fascinating history.

And today, it is playing a fascinating role in world business. I must admit, my suite at the Ritz-Carlton isn’t what I expected after fantastic suites in Kuala Lumpur and elsewhere, but the fantastic view of the Bosphorus out my bedroom window has me thinking.

The Bosphorus is the straight that separates the European side of Turkey from its Asian counterpart. It is the world’s narrowest strait used in international shipping, and thousands of ships pass through it on their way to the waters of Europe and the Middle East every year.

Watching these ships go by always reminds me just how much commerce is going on in this part of the world. I shared earlier this week how well business is going just for us in the Middle East. Just as Mainland Chinese are pouring into the wealth haven of Hong Kong for stability, Middle Easterners are pouring into other more open Muslim countries. To a lesser extent, that includes place like Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

But seeing the proximity to Turkey, Istanbul is a much more common option. And business and real estate in Istanbul has done very well the last few years. Some run of the mill properties have doubled their real estate value.

Now, I’m not one to trust real estate agents so easily.

In fact, having worked with a lot of self-styled property moguls in a previous business, the entire marketing arm of the industry often has a tendency to turn me off. I mean, how many times can these guys build some high polished building in an “up and coming” area, slap a photo of guy in a tuxedo and a woman in an evening gown gazing out over the city, and tell you the price of their new apartments will “never go down”?

However, Istanbul has taken a little different approach. There are a few of the nonsensical buildings placed in bad areas to be sold to foreigners. Areas like Esenyurt, where “low-profile immigrants” live, have been targeted by developers as some “next big thing” when the reality is the area has a few serious problems.

But there are other rising suburban areas on the European side of Istanbul that offer an interesting value proposition: a nice mix of yield and the potential for capital appreciation.

While I’m not as gung ho about the capital appreciation part as the locals, you must admit that, just like the Chinese impact on Asian property markets, wealthy Qataris, Jordanians, and even Pakistanis are leaving their mark on the Istanbul property market. I’ve been meeting with a few colleagues during my time in Istanbul and the message everywhere is the same: the new for a “safe haven” for Middle Easterners is huge.

As I frequently say, wealthy people from the emerging world have a much better sense of the need for internationalization than so-called wealthy people from the developed world. The Qatari with a few million bucks may love living in Doha, but he also realizes that the place could fall apart one day.

Or that oil will eventually run out.

Or that governments are always capable of going crazy.

Having a safe haven that is a few hours’ flight away is a sensible strategy for him, the same way Americans having a safe haven in Panama, for instance, is a sound strategy to get paid while you prepare for madness at home.

In fact, while for years the rest of the world catered to the US tourist, business owners here in Istanbul are frothing over their chance to lap up more of the Middle Eastern market.

One guy I rode around with on Thursday told me “our business is up 300% this year.” That would seem to be an excellent growth rate for a company with 150 employees, until he winced and said that such growth was “a disaster, really”, noting his more aggressive goal was 1,000% top line revenue growth.

I don’t know many established western companies complaining that they missed their year-over-year goal to grow ten-fold.

To be honest, while Istanbul isn’t exactly a livable city, it has always been a favorite of mine to visit. In addition to being one of the world’s best food cities (try Köşebaşı near the park), I find Istanbul business owners to be uniquely savvy.

Since even Turkish locals have to put down about 40% when buying a property, there is not the same easy money culture driving up real estate prices here.

The city is simply an in demand place.

So rather than find new ways to create paper projects that sell off-plan and create an artificial market, real estate agents here have gotten into other services that help their Middle Eastern clientele.

One guy is helping hundreds of Arabs apply for Portugal’s Golden Visa program every year, paving the way to a future second citizenship for them and their family.

Other agents offer concierge services for wealth management.

I’m actually taking a long look at several different types of properties here, and I’ll be reporting on that in the near future. I’ve also been busy working on some professional projects that follow my own advice of distancing myself from zero-growth western markets, and I’ll be sharing more on that in the near future, too.

For years, I advocated having a business that sold things to either very poor people (ie: 35% interest car loans) and being miserable, or selling premium products to wealthy people at a premium and being happier.

Istanbul is just the latest place where I’m convinced that applying that advice to sell to wealthy people who are globally conscious is the smartest business move you could make.

Having customers who actually have a clue what is happening in the world is always better than trying to convince sheep to do something new before you can even sell them.


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