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A great interest has been shown in the Lebanese real estate market, despite the political stand-off.

 

Following the summer 2006 war, the Lebanese real estate market has been moving at accelerating speed. The residential market has been buoyed by Lebanese customers, both locals and expatriates. However, the great demand for residential has jacked up prices. Lebanon has seen an increase in property value by more than 30 percent in each of the past four years. It is constructive to note that the rise in the cost of building materials and land has also contributed to the rise of property prices. Still some experts are worried as residential real estate has risen to such an extent it has become unaffordable to most Lebanese.

 

Despite the political squabbling in 2007-2008, demand for residential continued upwards. According to the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (IDAL), the bulk of 2007's Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) that Lebanon attracted, amounted to $3.4 billion; most of this was in the real estate sector which witnessed a substantial hike in prime location prices. At the time, real estate experts believed that the market trend would continue upwards.

 

While Gulf and Arab nationals largely abandoned the Lebanese market in 2007, locals and expatriates remained almost the only source of demand, driving the market for residential properties. According to real estate experts, expatriates invested in the country because they were eager to come back once the situation would improve. Demand was strong for high-end residential mainly in Beirut.

 

In 2009, the yearly performance of the real estate market demonstrated a rise in the value of sales transactions up by 8.3 percent year-on-year. Demand for real estate was likely to increase in the post-parliamentary election environment. An increased activity in residential building projects has also been reported. The year 2010 saw a 10 percent increase in real estate transactions from previous year.

 

Unlike residential, the office segment has been moving at slow pace as a result of the summer 2006 war and political standoff. While the residential market has been strong and has driven demand despite the political squabbling, in contrast, office space has remained stuck in a lull. However, the major reasons that stood behind the low demand for offices were the reluctance of international companies to invest in the country and the under-supply of intelligent office buildings (IOS). Real estate experts admitted that demand for offices was shy. “But this would be temporary,” they said.

 

In 2009, the picture changed and looked more upbeat. Demand for offices was on the rise. Multinational companies opened offices in Beirut, as a result of the political and security stability that reigned in the country. Canada’s Redknee, a business critical and software solutions provider for communications and ADPi, a leading architecture and engineering company, are just a few of the growing examples. However, according to some real estate experts, demand for offices remains lower than residential. In Beirut, office selling prices start from $3,000/m2. It is worth mentioning that the trend is currently going towards the destruction of old buildings to make way for towers.

 

Real estate insiders believe that there is always interest in the office market in Lebanon, regardless of the situation. “Some multinational companies are searching for offices because they need to have a pied-a-terre in Lebanon,” they said. Others see in the Lebanese market better opportunities as the global financial crisis has hit Dubai. Demand for prime office space comes mostly from large local, regional and international companies looking at international standard offices. However, for some experts, “the office market is very small in Lebanon because of the under-supply of (IOS) buildings. 

 

How can we can talk about an office market in Lebanon if most of the existing office buildings do not feature amenities such as road, electrical infrastructures, the international investors are really looking for,” they asked. Others believe that the office market is related to the security situation in the country. The snag, however, remains in the lack of high standard services offered by most office buildings such as telecommunications.

 

Retail: room for growth The Lebanese retail market has witnessed a major transformation with the entrance of new foreign players such as Spinneys, BHV Monoprix, which led to a gradual building of the retail sector. According to Retail International, 350,000 sq of Gross Leasable Area (GLA) retail was available in Lebanon by 2005. “Beirut is set to become a key regional retail destination outside the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries with total offering of retail space expected to reach 600,000 square meters by 2010,” it said.

 

The retail market in Lebanon is mainly concentrated in Beirut and the Northern outskirts, which developed during the war years. In 2009, the opening of Beirut Souks in the BCD is also attracting international franchisees and local retail outlets. However, the retail sector remains undervalued. The 2009 survey of the most expensive retail rental locations in 60 cities around the world by property consultants Cushman and Wakefield ranked Beirut as the 33rd most expensive city worldwide, the second most expensive among 12 cities in the Middle East and Africa region and the most expensive among 10 Arab cities included in the rankings. The 2008 survey report of Cushman and Wakefield said the retail estate market had started to pick up as the political situation bounced back.

 

The 2008 survey report showed that the country’s most expensive retail location ABC Achrafieh only ranks 43rd `out of 48 countries surveyed by Cushman and Wakefield with rental costs of $1,165/m2 per annum below the MENA region $1,233/m2 per annum, the emerging markets $1,805/m2 and the global average $3,993/m2 per annum.

 

Cushman and Wakefield stated that Lebanon posted one of the best performances in the Middle East and Africa with retail rents rising by 26 percent annually, second only to Bahrain that posted a 50 percent rise. The Beirut Central District posted the strongest growth in the region with an 80 percent rise in rent in the 12 months ending June 2009, followed by Kaslik, Hamra street and Verdun street.

 

Beirut

Migration to cities is increasing so much that, by 2050, the UN predicts that approximately two thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities.

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