December 27, 2016

Lebanon: Post-election, a subdued mood reigns at property festival

Real estate companies expressed a mix of optimism and resignation at the state of Lebanese markets during a festival sponsored by Solidere and the Real Estate Developers Association of Lebanon Friday at the Beirut Souks. “How have the past years been?” responded Philippe Tabet, a representative of Har Properties, a luxury development firm. “Very tough,” he said with a resigned chuckle. “It’s the most difficult period I have ever seen in my life in this industry.”

Though the official line at the festival was one of optimism – especially after the recent presidential election – nearly every major firm at the festival echoed Tabet’s attitude.

Maryam Ghareeb, a sales representative at Masharii Project Management, explained that economic difficulties have been most noticeable in the company’s sales. “We’ve sold fewer properties, definitely less in the past year,” she said. “It’s much worse this year, whether it’s luxury properties or not.”

According to an employee at Premium Projects, another property development firm, problems outside the country were primarily to blame for the long-standing slump in Lebanese markets.

“The economy has definitely affected us,” she said. “It’s mostly circumstances beyond our control, but for the moment, it’s very bad.”

Roy Saker, a manager at the real estate firm Ray White International confirmed this, noting that “things have been slow, especially because of the war and everything that is happening around Lebanon.”

Tabet explained that much of this slump could also be attributed to risk-averse attitudes within the Lebanese diaspora community. “The problem is, the diaspora hasn’t started coming back yet,” he said. “They create a synergy for the real estate market when they come. But they aren’t present at the moment.”

This is particularly evident at the higher end of the market, both Tabet and Saker said, where expatriates were once the primary customers. “People aren’t really interested in larger units anymore,” Saker said.

Nevertheless, several firms expressed confidence that the situation was in the process of improving – especially following the recent presidential election.

“We’ve noticed that after the president came in, the market has shown a little bit of lift,” Saker said. “The GCC and Arab market has increased as well – now that they’re allowed to travel to Lebanon again.”

“We saw a good 10 percent increase in sales inquiries after the election,” he told The Daily Star.

“We’ve now hit about 1,000 inquiries a month, up from roughly 500 in October.”

Joe Madi, a representative of Rise Properties, agreed that the election of a president was a plus, but with less enthusiasm. “Since the election, things have moved a bit, but not as much as we expected,” he said.

But he did express hope that the expected Cabinet formation would give the economy a boost. “Now that there might be a government, we’re hoping that things will change.”