As Iraq’s economy rattles awake after years of war, the country is experiencing a real-estate boom, with choice properties in Baghdad or in towns such as Karbala or Irbil selling for $500,000 to more than $1 million.
Years of violence, sectarian tensions and international sanctions have left the country with an acute housing shortage that is driving up prices, experts say. The growing country of 30 million needs about 2 million housing units, according to a United Nations estimate, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has made addressing the country’s housing shortage a top priority.
But change is coming slowly. Iraq is still largely a cash-based society and mortgage programs launched around the country are in their infancy. Its real-estate record-keeping system dates to the Ottoman Empire. And foreign investors leery about the country’s security situation have been reluctant to invest in large development projects — even though the demand is there.
Ordinary homebuyers have been priced out of the current market, bunking with extended family or riding out the boom in cramped rental apartments, feeling trapped and stuck.
“I can buy a house in Paris, but I can’t buy a house here!” lamented Saif al-Khayat, a journalist who works for the state-owned television network.
Mahir al-Sultani, a real estate broker in the Karrada district of Baghdad, said he rarely sees properties stay on the market for longer than 45 days, and the one with the $1.4 million price tag would probably be snapped up before renovations on it are complete.
“Two weeks later from now it will be sold,” he promised one recent afternoon.
‘You need dreams’
Mohameed al-Rubaye, a provincial council member and the head of the city’s Strategic Planning Committee, regularly talks up Iraq’s economic future to a stream of visiting foreign investors and journalists. Rubaye said addressing the housing crisis in Iraq is key to the country’s future .
“People are suffering!” Rubaye said. “Houses are so expensive! That’s why we need to expand!”
He was somewhat cheekily dressed for his interview in his family’s stationery store, accessorized with a blue newsboy cap, an enormous silver tank watch and a gray African parrot screeching at his side. His young nephew sat nearby, playing games on an iPad.
Rubaye recently helped the city strike a $1.5 billion deal with a French company to build a monorail through Baghdad — which, in a place where residents still must rely on generators to help power their homes, strikes many as wildly optimistic.
Indeed, some high-dollar development projects announced by the government in recent months have stalled or fizzled, and even in Iraq’s booming oil industry critics have said the government has overreached. Despite his dream for public transport for the capital, Rubaye concedes that the country’s land transfer laws need to be updated, rampant corruption halted and roads and other infrastructure built before progress can be made.