Liberalised Lebanon a hot spot for foreign investors

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 November, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 November, 2003, 12:00am

Lebanon's liberalised property market has encouraged an influx of overseas buyers and developers into the country.

Singapore developer Low Keng Huat has set up a joint venture with Lebanese developer Construction and Trading Group to build Marina Towers, a US$200 million residential development located next to the new Beirut Western Marina in Beirut's Central district.

Apartments at the complex, which comprises one 26-storey tower and two nine-storey blocks, will be completed in 2005.

Lebanese property professionals report an influx of westerners and Gulf Arabs investing in the country.

'The housing market was strong this summer because most Gulf people wanted to come to the Middle East and not the United States,' said developer Rashid Kalash.

'They like Lebanon, because it is nice country and very secure. 'Lebanon is also a free market country. There are no restrictions on foreign buying. It is also a good place to keep your money because it has secret bank accounts like Switzerland.'

A relaxation of rules in the letting market has also attracted investors. According to Joe Kanaan, general manager of property management company Sodeco Gestion SAL, 'the market evolution in the last years shows an increasing demand for the investment sector boosted by real-estate laws liberating the relationship between the tenant and the landlord'.

Large numbers of investors had been buying up apartments and offices to let, he said. Returns ranged from 7 per cent to 10 per cent.

According to the business website 1st Lebanon, rebuilding Beirut after the civil war became the world's largest construction project in the early 1990s.

But the city's residential market took a dive as too many luxury properties and not enough low-cost homes were built, pulling the country into a recession.

The city's housing market is starting to recover, boosted by construction increasingly undertaken by professional developers rather than family firms, and foreign companies such as Virgin setting up in the Middle East's historically strategic commercial centre.

'Prices have remained flat over the past year, but could rise 20 to 40 per cent over the next year, because of strong demand,' said Mr Kalash.

'The market has been very busy since the summer.'

Beirut residential property prices are cheap by Hong Kong standards.

Homes often include a large number of reception rooms as the Lebanese love to entertain.

In the Clemenceau district, a renovated, 5,800 sqft four-bedroom apartment with five reception rooms, a maid's room, parking for two cars, sea views and access to a swimming pool is advertised on for US$625,000.

It has heating, air-conditioning and a generator.

Twenty-five kilometres outside Beirut, Mr Kalash is building Hammnas Village, an estate of 14 villas and four condominium apartments set among pine and olive trees in the mountains.

Prices range from US$150,000 for three-bedroom apartments to $198,000 for four-bedroom, three-storey villas. All properties include servant's accommodation.

Mr Kalash said buyers included Lebanese expatriates and Gulf Arabs who wanted the properties as holiday homes that they could let out to tourists when they were not using them.