House Shopping in Ankara

No, we are not ready to buy a house in Ankara.  But, from time to time, we look. I have to apologize in advance for my tone in this post.  I am a bit annoyed with a recent real estate situation that occurred here.  So I am feeling a bit bitchy.

Buying a house in Turkey, or at least in Ankara, is quite different from buying a house in the States.  How one shops, what one’s preferences are, how the sale is done, and how the houses are built often seem quite foreign to me.

Even though we aren’t looking to buy at this time, I feel I have a good enough grasp on this subject to try and explain the differences.  I know several people who have bought and sold houses in Ankara since my arrival one and a half years ago.   They shared their stories with me.   I also bought and sold a condo and a house of my own in the States.

So here goes.

Shopping for a house – In the States, both the buyer and the seller generally use realtors.  Often we try not to do this, but house sales go very slowly and the amount of paperwork is tremendous.  So realtors are usually the way to go. Although I did manage to purchase my first condo without one!

In Philly, I happened upon a realtor  one day while walking to the corner store. There was an “open house” in the neighborhood – a two hour showing of a 3-story Victorian row home, open to anyone who wanted to see it.  So I did.  I always thought this block of homes was just the “cutest.”  They reminded me of the “Painted Ladies” in San Francisco.

The Painted Ladies - brightly colored Victorian homes

And  so the relationship with my realtor, and dear friend, began.  My husband and I proceeded to buy that house.  A few months later we sold my condo with the same realtor.  And three years later we sold the house (in what I like to call “the Hammerberg Trifecta”) and moved to Ankara.

Aspen St., Philadelphia

In Ankara, the options for house shopping are pretty similar.  There is a website, http://www.sahibinden.com, that is very similar to our Craigslist. Houses, both for sale and rent, are listed by owners and realtors.  Sahibinden also lists just about everything else you can think of to sell.  The nice thing about this website for me is that it is in English and Turkish.  Larger realty companies also have websites.  Smaller ones, which are a dime a dozen, usually do not.

As in the States, older people rarely like to shop online.  They prefer newspaper ads, signs in windows, and word of mouth.  There are plenty of realtors here in Ankara, but I personally don’t know of any Turks that use them – although I am sure there are many.  The foreigners here are a different story. They are always looking for a realtor.  One that won’t cheat them.  But trusting a realtor is a story for another day.  In fact, I will have to write one about trust in general, because that is also a very different concept here in Turkey.

What someone is looking for in a house also varies.  But in my experience here, it really doesn’t vary much.  This category sort of goes hand-in-hand with how houses are built.  In Turkey, construction is crappy.  There, I said it.  Houses are not expected to last long.  For example, my house in Philly was built in 1876, a typical age for a Philadelphia row home.  Frankly, it may have even been considered young for a downtown home.  It was full of character!

Philly living room and vestibule

In Ankara, my home is considered rather old.  It was build in the 1970′s. Although I know many Turks that live in Aşağı Ayrancı for the same reasons I do (location, location, location), more and more Turks search for homes that are new.  Not much else goes with it other than price.  New and price.  That’s it. Location is not the biggest issue, although surely it is considered.  View is not a huge issue, but is loved if they can get it.  Schools and jobs are surely considered. But kids often end up on a service bus anyway.  And yards, where did all the yards go????

Asagi Ayranci Home

Ankara is a little weird to me as far as urban construction goes.  This is how it goes in the States:  high rises are downtown.  Single houses are rare in the city. Row homes are more common.  New houses generally replace older houses when they are badly deteriorated.  Otherwise, they are simply renovated.  Tiny yards are found in the city.  Large yards are for the suburbs.

Not in Ankara.

Here, the downtown, and most of the city are filled with 5 or 6-story apartment buildings.  You can rent or buy an apartment.  The buildings usually have small yards which are only for the use of the ground level occupants.  They rarely use them.

The buildings are all built on top of each other.  There is no privacy whatsoever. (OK – so maybe there is no true privacy in Philly.  But there sure is a “feeling” of privacy.) As you hang your clothes on the line of your balcony, you are met by other neighbors out there hanging their clothes.  You feel like you can just reach out and touch someone.  Turks also put cabinets out on their balconies to store food items like potatoes and onions.  Apparently, I am told, this is also a usual place to hide their money. Other than that, I rarely see people making use of their balconies.

Hello Neighbor!

Turks basically have no sense of personal space – so in Ankara, this comes through in the way homes are built.  I touched on this in another post, Brotherly Love, and all that Jazz!  So when they build a new home, it’s more about how much the builder and the owner of the land can earn, rather than creating a beautiful space.

Photo by Mark Slankard

When you get to the edge of the city, where there is plenty of open land, Turks don’t build nice single homes with nice big yards.  Instead, they build high rises. It makes no sense to me.  There are very few, if any, high rise apartment buildings in downtown Ankara.  But the edges of the city are scattered with them.

Ankara High Rise

Of course, there are exceptions.  There are a few areas at the edge of the city where one can find single homes.  More often, these homes are being built in gated communities and occupied by diplomats and foreigners.  Yep, you have to have money to buy a house with a yard.  And not even close to the size of the house I owned in Philly!

3-Story Sahibinden listing - 1 MILLION lira ($572k)

The way homes are built here is quite interesting.  Someone buys or inherits a piece of land.  In order to optimize how much money they can make off of the piece of land, they hire a builder, quickly throw up a building, sell or rent the units, and split the proceeds with the builder.

Ankara folks seem to love this style

Many call this smart financial planning.  I call it pure greed.  Keeping the land for personal use is rarely if ever considered.  Personal happiness is not how much I can enjoy my oasis in the city.  Rather, happiness is almost always about “how much money I can make.” In high rises, it is never about providing high quality housing.  Or even bigger housing.  It’s about providing a larger living room, the one used only to entertain, in order for buyers to show off their big house.  It is never about creating larger practical areas, like the family room, bedrooms, bathrooms, or kitchens.  They remain small.

Our Philadelphia Kitchen

Why the hell would anyone want to live in a high rise apartment, on a street that is not yet paved, without a market, without a bakkal (small convenience store), without a bus, and with limited access to a dolmuş?

Imagine you are aging and you want to buy a home where you will retire?  What is important to you?  If it’s convenience, then these homes are not for you!  You can’t get to anything!

Are you worried about your health and your ability to get in and out of your home?  Then these are not for you!  Electricity goes out pretty often here. Imagine taking the stairs up to your 5th floor or higher home because the elevator is out.  And if you are way the hell out there, you will be driving more! Is that what you want as you age?

Is peace and quiet what you are seeking?  Then these homes are not for you!   Open space means more buildings are coming!  What seems peaceful now will change rapidly in the next few years.

A room with a view?  Again, the view is going to change as soon as the next high-rise is finished. Your sunny view of the hills will quickly become a dark and dreary view of someone’s balcony.  In addition, the view of the grounds around your building is diminished by the parking lot.  Who wants to look out at a parking lot?  At any U.S hotel, those are the cheaper rooms.  Seriously.

About to lose their view?

I grew up in a twin house where I whittled away hours by sitting on the front porch, watching people walk by and counting the cars.  So I understand how some of us are “people watchers.”  But staring at a parking lot is just not my cup of tea.

West Chester Twin

The only thing attractive that I can see is that the units are new.  There’s a certain feeling that comes along with being the first owner.  It’s pretty cool.  But even the “luxury home” designs here are rather basic.  Square.  White.  Smallish rooms.  Still no closets.  Modern fixtures surrounded by cheaply made cabinets. Bathrooms covered in purple tiles.  Ick!

Tiling?  Don’t get me started!  Turkey is known for its marble tiles.  Yet no one has figured out how to properly lay tiles.  I see shabby work done everywhere! Broken tiles.  No concept of matching grout to the color of the tiles.  Terrible grout work with holes everywhere!  And I have yet to see any sealing of the grout.  My assumption?  Sealant is expensive and requires more work.  What people aren’t used to, they won’t miss.

In the process of a DIY tiling project, Philly-style

Our 3rd floor bathroom tiling project

So as you can see, I am very unhappy with the housing options here.  Until I see something I just have to have, I won’t be buying.  So don’t push me.  Don’t ask questions.  If you don’t ask how much I like your home, than you won’t be subjected to hurt feelings by my answer.  We all have different tastes.  And so far, I just haven’t seen anything aligning with my tastes here in Ankara.

Like I said, I’m feeling rather bitchy today.  Things are just different here.  Some day I will write a more useful post on real estate.  I will describe how the process is actually done.  (Less time, more leg work).  But for now, suffice it to say, I am happy with my old rental here in Aşağı Ayrancı.

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9 responses to “House Shopping in Ankara

  1. It is a different culture and a different environment, thus the space is used differently. If you expect to find houses like the ones of your pictures outside of the U.S./Canada (Australia maybe?), good luck in your endeavor :P.

    This city had to go from being a really small peripheral town to the capital of a country, thus they had to build a lot of cheap and fast housing, especially during the 60′s and 70′s. Historically, the use of space in Ankara has been an issue with which the authorities have struggled more and it was supposed to have been planned.

    Btw, no word of the nice old-fashioned typical Anatolian homes in Ankara kalesi!

  2. . . have to agree with several of Reyhan’s comments. When J and I had our home designed and built we were led along some fairly rigid paths because (we were assured) of building regs. Knowing what we do now, we would do things very differently – single story; interconnecting units in the style of village/farming houses. Thick stone walls, plenty of well-seasoned (expensive) wood and all mod-cons;. It can be done, but as with most big cities, land prices become the governing factor. Out here, in the boonies, builders come much cheaper and although often less skilled in the fancy stuff, as long as they are closely supervised, can, and do achieve some wonderful results.
    How about a few cross-legged ‘Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmm’s and less coffee? ;-D

  3. I’m with you on this one! I know it’s cultural and I respect that, however, I wish that more houses would be built with longevity in mind. My fiancé and I were playing real estate agent for some foreign friends of ours and I realized that I just needed to keep my mouth shut because I couldn’t even say anything nice about these poorly constructed homes. No care to make sure lines are straight, that grout was done properly, that anything g but the cheapest materials were used, etc. Not to mention that everything is beton, beton, beton and cheap, cheap, cheap. Even in the “luks” villas. I don’t think I will ever want to buy unless we build from scratch, and trust me, I will be a giant pain in the ass. I just value quality! Quality in construction, clothes, furniture, etc. It’s a challenge :). Maybe I’m feeling bitchy today too. Haha.

  4. Thanks for the comments folks. Obviously, there was a story behind the story which was causing some anger and so, I sat on my response for a few days before writing.

    That being said, this is not a post about how foreigners who have a little more money can afford houses built of stone. It’s about the everyday Turk who are being swindled into thinking highrises are better. The open space is Ankara is quickly being destroyed. What little building codes exist in Ankara are quickly ignored with the slight of the hand containing a few lira.

    Turks are being told not to buy baths because showers are so much better – they are modern. Those plastic doors are a big pain in the butt to clean. And if you have kids, a shower is not practical.

    Laminate flooring is everywhere in the new homes. Since when is a plastic floor better than hard wood? And is anyone teaching the new-to-laminate-flooring Turks how to clean them? No. They continue to throw buckets of cold water on them and then wonder why the floors buckle.

    The biggest problem in this city is that the skilled laborers are not in the least bit skilled. No one has the proper tools. Grant it, tools are expensive. But let me give you some examples. Men come to hang cabinets in our kitchen. The have to put the big exhaust pipe from he oven into a cabinet. They don’t know what to do. Surely, they have encounterd this thousands of times before. My husband pulls out an adapter for the drill to start a hole. They stand in amazement.

    The plumber comes to fix a neighbor’s drain that shoots through our place. He can’t see down the chimney through the window in our bathroom. It’s too dark. Duh. I pull out a flashlight. He spends the next 5 minutes admiring how he can tilt the head of the flashlight to different angles.

    No one has the proper tools to snip the edges of thin tiles. They cut the tiles leaving large gaps around corners. Then they sloppily fill the gaps with so-called. grout.

    I know Turks aren’t do-it-yourselfers. This is probably the reason that they aren’t capable of standing over the workers to give directions. My husband has only been doing house projects for a few years, yet he follows behind these “professionals” to clean up their work. Plumbing, electrical, you name it.

    Ankara is definitely growing quickly. But there is no reason for such sloppy work. There is no need to get rid of all of the green space for apartment buildings. There is no need for dozens of high rises to be built in the middle of no where, with no access to anything. It’s all a big show. The almighty lira at war — with no one.

  5. We’ve steered well clear of buying property in Turkey There are too many horror stories for my liking – bogus builders, bogus agents, bogus sellers. The process can be a nightmare, particularly for foreigners who don’t know their way around the Byzantine system. We rent. It’s so much easier. As for Turkish workmen. Where do I start?

  6. So interesting to read this post and all the comments. We already have a place – but intend to renovate it into a year-round place…but I dread the process. There is a wonderful book “A House in Fez” about an Aussie couple’s process of renovating an old house in the Fez medina – and I imagine our experience will be somewhat like this – M. agrees with me – even though he is a Turk, can speak the language, etc. While we have not bought or rented property together, we have sold property in Turkey – and let me tell you – that was a wild ride. M. had to bribe up the wazoo to get the sale through – to the tune of $600 in one day! Will look forward to more stories as you two move forward on plans!

  7. Showers are a lot more practical, especially if you live with elders or your home is not big enough, it saves a lot of space. Also for people with disabilities it tends to be easier to adapt them than baths. I would rather have an accessible shower than my current hybrid bath (not quite a bath but not a shower either), in all honestly.

    Definitely a lot to discuss here!

    • Hi Reyhan,

      I’ve actually had both showers and tubs. I agree showers are practical for the elderly. Stepping into a high tub, especially since most tubs I have seen here in Ankara are higher than those in the States, is very dangerous. However, trying to bath a baby in a shower is almost impossible. And it’s quite dangerous for young children. I find that here, people don’t like, or don’t know the joys of puring a hot bath, with sea salt or lavendar oils, and just relaxing. I really miss my tub. Of course, showers are added in most tubs. As for space, that’s exactly my point – why not just make the bathroom larger instead of having a huge fancy salon that is rarely used! I like to appreciate the space in which I actually live, not the one that I seldom use.

      And don’t get me started about shower doors! They were popular in the States back in the 70′s. They are a big pain to keep clean. I love shower curtains. But if you try to hang a proper brass shower rod here, the walls crumbe.

  8. I actually find that Turkish people use their living-rooms a lot, just like us, but in a very different way at the same time. It’s very interesting observing how the space allotted to different rooms has a lot to do with the usage of those rooms within a particular culture.

    I find the size of flats in Ankara to be very reasonable, at least in my country they can be A LOT smaller. This also has to do with the fact that Spaniards spend most of their time socializing outdoors rather than inviting each other to their homes.

    About the high tubs… that was exactly the thing I was talking about, I 100% hate it. Btw, now that I am back in town we could meet up in RL, if you have time send me an email, from the pictures you post I guess we are actually living very close to each other.

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