BEIRUT: Lebanon’s once soaring property market is on the brink of collapse amid plunging prices and a construction standstill.
A boom that began in 2008 fueled by sales to Gulf state citizens and Lebanese expatriates was halted by war in Syria in 2011 and the oil-price slump in 2014, and has since gone into reverse.
Property prices outside Beirut have fallen by nearly 20 percent. In the capital, buyers are few and high-profile construction projects have ground to a halt.
“Some 3,600 unsold apartments exist today in Beirut alone,” says Guillaume Boudisseau of the property consultants Ramco.
Bank and property companies launched a $250 million scheme in October to buy more than 200 flats and sell them to Lebanese expatriates. But Jihad Hokayem, a property investment expert at the Lebanese American University, said such initiatives were temporary fixes.
“These measures only cover up existing or potential bankruptcies. It’s the beginning of a total collapse,” he said.
Economic expert Louis Hobeika told Arab News apartments in Beirut still commanded prices above $700,000, and what was happening was a correction.
“There is no demand,” he said. “Those who want to buy are going after real estate outside Lebanon, with incentives such as residency. The Lebanese are starting to buy in Cyprus, Portugal and Malta.”
Another economist, Essam Al-Jardi, said: “Developers invested billions of dollars in luxury buildings during the boom, but the economy has declined and growth is only 1 percent.
“I am afraid of any mistake that may push the country into the unknown.”