How I bought a flat in Istanbul

outside house

The only time I have bought real estate was in istanbul, where I bought one flat, sold it, and a couple of years later bought another one. It is a bit of a process, but I had a good realtor. I wrote about the first place I bought and the process was pretty much the same for the second one. I think the tapu office has moved from Istiklal to Sisli since then, which must have been quite a feat. In general the paperless office in Turkey is a dream, since it is literally still a Byzantine bureaucracy. If you are reading this because you want to buy a place, check the current situation there. If you are reading out of curiosity, read on!

I didn’t live in either place, but rented them out. It was a real hassle, which I forgot when I bought the second one. These are for sure the only times I will ever own real estate. The pictures show the work that was done on them and the final shape. Another thing I don’t want to do again.

February 2005

I have been a renter for almost all of my life. The only time I ever owned a house was when I was married (and that was a long time ago). Here I have been watching prices go from dirt cheap to way up there. That also means that rents are going up. My real estate friend, who is full of “keshke”, if only, said it was a pity I couldn’t buy a house. One day it dawned on me that I had some retirement money but I didn’t know how much or whether I could or should get it. I got on the internet and actually ended up writing real letters and found out that my PERS account with the State of Oregon had enough money to get me into a house. I would get 150% of the money in a cash payout, but 20% immediately went to the IRS. I am hoping to get that back. I made the arrangements and waited for the check. After about a month it arrived at my office address. I was amazed to be holding a check for $61,000 in my hot little hands. The next day I took it to my bank, where I was told it would take a week or 10 days to clear and I had to pay about $125 to cash it. OK, and then another wait. I was told it would have to be converted into TL, but that turned out to be wrong. Finally the money arrived and again I was jubilant. I could start shopping for houses in earnest.

I am great friends with one emlakci, but he told me to visit all of them. I did, even the sleazy ones in Galata, Cihat the thug and Levent the slimeball. Cihat showed me one place that was in my friend John’s building. It was well lit and spacious, but needed a lot of work. It was $75,000. However, later that afternoon, while I was looking at places with another realtor, he called and said that the price was $65,000 now. I told him I wold think about it. However, Sait told me that the place had been for sale for a long time and it was ‘problemli’. I looked at another apartment in that building, actually, right beside John. It also was well-lit and spacious with a view of a tiny bit of the sea. But he wanted 150 milyar, which was over $100,000, too much money for me.

Actually most of the places I looked at started at 100 milyar; I had about 87 milyar. I looked into credit, but I could not get it on my own, another friend did not have enough on his side, and I was loath to ask my old boss to be a co-signer. I asked at the Garanti Bank, where the people were very friendly and figured out right away how much payments would be on $20,000—at a rate of about .85%. It would be higher on TL payments. At Koc Bank, my bank, I had to ask about three times before the girl got the information for me, and then it was much more complex and she could not tell me anything about interest rates or payments.

At any rate, I did not have to use either one, as I was shown a place on Kumbaraciyokusu (Koombaraju yokooshoo) St. (It means the steep treasure chest maker street). I had a heck of a time getting my mouth around the name, but I can do it now, since MY new house is there. The house is smaller than the one I live in. It is on the second floor, though it is actually a high entrance floor. It is in a family building, which means it would be kind of noisy at times (I started to wrote nosy, but I actually think it would be that too). I looked at the house once with the realtor, and once with my friend Cevdet. Then I had to decide. At the time I was thinking of buying a place for 100 milyar that was small but had a view. Again, Sait told me that the place had been for sale for quite some time and that it was a bad neighbourhood, dark at night. So, at almost the last minute, I decided to go for the place on the unpronounceable street.

Once I had decided, and it had to be quick, as other realtors were showing it, the process started. I made a down payment of $3500, which was about 5 milyar. Hasan is the realtor at Dost Emlak, which means friend. He really was a friend, because he actually bought the place. The seller was his enishte, his uncle, who needed the money right away (though this may have been a convenient lie). In order for me to buy the place, I had to get an askeri raporu, a military report, which would take up to six weeks. So, Hasan and Sait, who are true dost, put in their money and bought the place with the agreement that as soon as the askeri raporu arrived, I would fork over all the money and we would do the deed. Several Turkish friends and a few foreign friends warned me that I might get ripped off, especially considering the mahkeme mess from the terrace house (another story). Realtors and lawyers are held in about the same low regard here. In fact, the same day we did the expertiz on the terrace house, I took my lawyer to Dost Emlak and of course he painted all kinds of dire scenarios. Turgay, one of their customers and one of my acquaintances through them, was there at the same time. He speaks English, so it was helpful for me, though I manage to deal with most of this stuff in Turkish anyway. While Taner, the lawyer, was coming up with his dark pictures, Turgay leaned over and said, “You know, at one point you have to trust.” That was completely true. My problem is that often that point comes too early and I get burned, but it doesn’t prevent me from getting there. I had already given the first 5 milyar by then and we had a kapora, which is an agreement that he would buy the place and I would buy it from him. There was actually no piece of paper saying that, that I ever saw. However, I knew I could trust them. Sait speaks straight, I have known them for a year, and, since I am part of the colour of the square, if they had stiffed me, everyone would know about it and it would be shameful.

I decided for sure to buy this place on Dec. 17, the day that the EU said that Turkey could proceed towards membership, a big day for Turkey. People had been telling me that I should buy a place before the EU decision, before the new year, and before the money changed to the yeni (new) Turkish Lira, as the conventional wisdom was that the cutting off of the zeroes would make prices rise.

So, more paperwork. I went to the translator one day so he could translate my passport. The Canadian Consulate does not do that, which surprised me. At any rate, I picked up the notarized photocopies later that day and took them to Dost. Hasan then sent them in with the request for the askeri raporu. Every foreigner who wants to buy property has to have this report. Anyone who comes from any of the countries abutting Turkey’s borders cannot buy property within 5 km of the sea or the borders. Once the foreigner has this she does not have to get it again. The papers were sent off to Ankara right after Seker Bayram. In the meantime, we had New Year’s and Kurban Bayram. The closer it got to being a month, the more anxiously we were waiting.

By then I learned from Turgay and Sait how unusual it was for Hasan to do this, to tie up his own money in this house. Turgay said Hasan had bought something for him but the turnaround was a few days. He was curious how it came to pass and I told him that Hasan had offered—I had not asked. He thought it was a bargain I had come to with them. I didn’t realize for a few weeks that Sait too had put money in, though I never learned how much. I would have had great difficulty buying this house without their help, so although people may trash emlakci here, I will always stick up for Dost Emlak.

Meanwhile, the dollar was at a historic low in Turkey and in the world. The one time in my life I had a sizeable chunk, and it was devaluing daily. I took about half of it, changed it into lira, and put it in a one-month fixed account, so it earned a little bit of money. I still had dollars and one day I went to the bank with Sait and took out $20,000 in cash. Sait put it in his jacket and took it to Hasan’s bank. I figured it was a gesture of good will and if the dollars were sitting in my account, they would be doing the same thing. One day Hasan asked for another 5 milyar, and when I asked why, he said because he needed it. OK. He had it the next day. I didn’t tell these things to some of my friends because they would have scolded me for being too trusting.

Finally the askeri raporu came. Sait called about 5 and asked if I could be there by 6. I managed to get there just after 6. We arranged that I would go to the bank and order 30,000 YTL and that it would probably be in by Friday. In fact, I went to the bank in the morning and was told I could pick it up at 3 or 3:30 that afternoon. Of course I was there by 3:00. However, there was some mix-up, so they had to count out wads and wads of old 20 million TL. By the time the teller finished, we had one wad of crisp new never-used 100s, so that was 10,000 YTL. Hasan commented that if they had given me only new 100s, he could have put all the money in his pocket. As it was, the teller dragged a shopping bag out from under her till and we filled up half of it with the bills. Hasan carried it on the street and I admit to being nervous, as there was nothing covering the money. However, we walked up just a little way to his bank, where he left it.

We then went to the tapu dairesi, which is the office where the deeds are done. The room was drab, like most most government offices here. Many desks in the open room had big piles of large ledgers on them. My house was written in one of the big black ones. We waited for a bit, as we were waiting for someone, and as we waited, Hasan was arranged bills on the low shelf in front of him, discreetly, but able to be seen. The person he was waiting for arrived, and we started the process. He took my passport and two photos and the clerk went off to photocopy them. The man asked if I read and wrote Turkish and of course I said yes, though I did not say it is a little weak, to say the least. I expressed interest in the big black books and he said they were from Ottoman times, though since the Roman alphabet was not introduced until the 1920s, they had probably been converted at some point. I saw the page for my new flat, with a list of about 15 former owners on it, crossed out in red. My name was written in as I watched. We then went in to the manager’s office (in most government offices everyone ends up in the manager’s office at some point.) They gave me a piece of paper with Hasan’s and my photos on it and had me read it. I actually did not understand most of it, as it was official language, but one thing I did note was that the price was listed as 10,000 YTL. Later when I asked Sait about it, he said the price is always listed as low in order to avoid paying higher taxes on it. Surely the city knows about it, but the practice continues. Whatever. I signed something else saying I hadn’t used a translator, and then I was handed my new tapu, the deed to my very own flat.

Here are some photos of the renovations from the first flat.

kumaraciyokusu street.  flat is on the left down a bit

kumbaraciyokusu street. flat is on the left down a bit


original kitchen–pretty basic and groaty

bare kitchen

getting down to basics

new house kitchen

et voila!

bathroom 2

nasty bathroom


cool floor, but everything in the bathroom was cracked, from tub to sink to toilet to wall tiles

new shower

underway, trying to save as many floor tiles as possible


mostly finished


these guys were drilling channels in the wall for installing the heating system



salon before

salon and arms

and after. i seem to be flying…


more channeling, in the bedroom this time

bedroom 2

i never quite understood why this niche was there. don’t think it was ever a window


bedroom after

IMG_1807  DSC03559

view smaller

view from the window– the crimean church

This is the second flat i bought.  it was in an old Armenian neighbourhood.

SL371562 SL371563


another disgusting bathroom. when you took a shower, everything got wet.


shower no stall


the tiler’s son learning his trade at 16


we took out the wall between the old bathroom and kitchen. this is the old bathroom side


and this is the old kitchen side. that is a water heater above the washer


old kitchen. i wanted to keep the cupboards but they turned out to be rather crappy


this is the original hood. there would have been a stove top underneath and a chimney above


the old front door


the new stronger front door– especially important on the ground floor


dining space


new kitchen. turks call this open kitchen an ‘amerikan’ kitchen, for some reason


beautiful parquet floors. luckily we did not have to do much in the salon, aside from paint


exit to the ‘garden’ from the bedroom


the garden was nasty but this was a fig tree growing out of the immense wall that kept the street above from falling onto our street


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