Courtyard and studio and Shadow

Kirazli stone village house – one summer’s night

I just noticed that the website went over 250,000 hits this week. It’s a small number in popular website terms but in terms of a site about a tiny village in Turkey where only 600 people live and nothing much happens it’s a pretty amazing number.

To celebrate going over the quarter million here are some picture taken by one of our lovely guests, someone who got on a plane and flew thousands of miles to see this village based on the stuff on this site – have you any idea how much that means, not just to me but to the village?!

I love these picture because they are a million times better than I can do and I love the depth in them and the way the light glows. They looks like here feels.

So thank you to all of you who read this site and thank you to the ones who come and see.

Courtyard and studio and Shadow
Courtyard and pool one summer's night
The studio at night

If you are interested in owning this income generating property in a village in Turkey please see our house for sale at Kirazli Village House for sale

This rare stone villa is an established and lovingly maintained home having been lived in year round for seven years. Whilst suited to a multitude of uses including home with art gallery, day spa or yoga studio attached the house currently generates exceptional income over a 10 month season purely by renting out the studio wing to independent travellers exploring the region.

afternoon sun July 2013

How to be Koy – Buying in the villages in Turkey – Updated 2013

Six years after the renovations - my house in Kirazli
If you are interested in owning an income generating property in a village in Turkey please see our house for sale at Kirazli Village House for sale

This rare stone villa is an established and lovingly maintained home having been lived in year round for seven years. Whilst suited to a multitude of uses including home with art gallery, day spa or yoga studio attached the house currently generates exceptional income over a 10 month season purely by renting out the studio wing to independent travellers exploring the region.

Back at the tail end of 2010 I wrote an article on buying property in the koy lands, since then some things have changed, legal wise, and some things haven’t because people don’t really change! Anyway I thought it was time for an update on the article and here it is, edited to account for the new rules.

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I tend not to write about buying real estate in Turkey on this site, it’s a massive and complex subject and when I write about it I do tend to have the feeling that I am, for want of a better phrase, pissing in the wind! Fifteen years experience of property in weird places tells me most people would far rather spend 15 minutes dreaming about a place in the sun than five minutes learning how to acquire one legally.

But the other day I read a (good) article in Zaman (English language newspaper in Turkey) by an American ex-pat who dreamt of buying an old Ottoman house in a village and turning it into a little guest house. The dream rapidly crumbled under the weight of the problems of buying in the villages. And the article, quite rightly, ended with a clear warning to those who consider the idea – be careful, be very careful!

One of the old Tas Ev - stone houses - in Kirazli
I think it is essential to warn people about the issues peculiar to buying in the villages, but equally I think you need to go on to tell people how they can overcome the hurdles because it isn’t impossible and I have done it three times now and I still prefer it to buying bog standard houses in complexes and sites, mainly because buying in the familiar stamping grounds most foreigners stick to comes with it’s own problems that are often ignored due to a false sense of security.

Now I have as much space as I like here because I own the website – ha, no sub editors – And I can rattle on a lot longer than the lady writing in Zaman, so here’s some information about buying property in the koy lands, it isn’t exhaustive, but it is relevant to non Turkish citizens and it is current as of today, July 2013, it may of course all change tomorrow!

What is a koy?

Koy is Turkish for village, and in most cases the koy rules covers the village itself and the surrounding farmland and gardens. Most villages are nuclei, tightly built around a crossroads or a mosque or a meeting place and the streets are narrow (the rule was, wide enough for two camels to pass abreast), the houses themselves have small kitchen gardens or courtyards and the villagers planted their main crops and grazed their animals in the fields around the koy and went back to the safety of the community at night.

The koy have a special place in Turkish law, they are run by an elected head man, the Muhtar, with his council of elders. Even now the Muhtar wields quite extraordinary power over planning, development and living in the village. He sets the water rates, decides who gets water and power, gives permission for extensions to homes and troubleshoots any disputes.

(If you want to know more about The Koy Laws there is an article I wrote in 2012 here – The Old Koy Laws – village guards, stinky fruit and be careful where you put that graveyard.)

Part of my house before the renovation started
I need to add a caveat here about planning permission, just for clarity – whilst the Muhtar has a lot of say in planning permission and can veto an application if he feels it isn’t for the good of the village he isn’t the only authority involved. A simple extension upwards he can just rubber stamp but if you are extending outwards or building a new property you still need to have any design passed by the planning gods in Aydin, you will need a geo survey and you still need to build it according to building regs – of course we have them! – and you need to use legitimate workers and prove national insurance was paid. If you are extending a property and it is outside of the original footprint on the tapu you will also need to go through the whole process of getting the final building passed and mapped onto your tapu

If you move to a village or want to move to a village you should introduce yourself to the Muhtar. If you are thinking of buying bare land and building anywhere near a village you really should introduce yourself to the Muhtar – he’s the one who is probably going to tell you to bugger off!

You often pay to join a village community. The amount you pay, and it varies a great deal, goes towards community projects like paving the streets, renovating water troughs and renewing dustbins. I paid 500tl when I first joined this village back in 2005; I still have the receipt somewhere, because everything is carefully receipted by the Muhtar who spends his life ensuring he is as pure as Caesar’s wife in the eyes of his village.

So the koy is a real democratic community, it houses the villagers, looks after the land around the village and its continuing existence is very important to Turkish culture.

Foreign individuals can now own legally registered houses in the villages. The “legally registered house” is the key bit if you want to own as an individual, it means exactly what it says, the building on the title deed must be a registered house, not stable, not shed, not storage, not ruin, it must be a residential property.

How can I own property in the koy lands?

Essentially you need to do your homework on the properties available to you because not all properties can be owned by individual foreign nationals.

When I first came here it was permissible for foreigners to buy any sort of property in the villages, and many did. And then the laws changed and you had to have a company to own property in the villages, so people formed shell companies under Turkey’s Foreign Direct Investment laws (I’m not going into detail on the FDI laws, I’d be here all day!) and did nothing but live in their properties and didn’t contribute to the economy. And then, the law altered slightly and you had to have a legitimate company where ownership of the property was part of the business you conducted. And then, last year, a new ammendment came into force that allowed foreign ownership of registered houses in the villages but placed restrictions on building plots and agricultural land.

None of the changes to the law ever affected me because all that time the rules were changing I was quietly going about my business. I set up a company to build a boutique hotel in the village and that was a working company. When I set up a company to buy my current house the work of the company was building restoration and tourism (amongst 300 other things!) so the company did what it said it would do, it restored this house and now I rent out part of it allowing people to experience the village and my company also owns further restoration projects. Both of my companies, including this current one, have employed people, paid SSK, paid taxes and operated.

However the properties I bought were always legitimate, registered, legal village houses (because I like having a Plan B) and so even though I always own property through a company I do so as a personal choice and I can still sell my properties to foreign individuals because they qualify under the new ammendment to the law.

So what about the properties themselves?

Now that foreigners can own houses in the villages without forming a company things are a little easier than they were but the properties themselves will still present a variety of common issues.

I’m going to mainly ignore the whole issue of buying bare land and building because the rules are complex and whilst it is possible to buy tarla (agricultural land) and building plots the permissions are very area specific and there are complicated rules attached. Suffice to say in my valley at least you are going to struggle to build anything outside of the village boundary unless you are very lucky or very sensitive to local society and what it wants. This is a farming community, the resources it has are reserved for crops and whilst new building isn’t banned per se it would be nearly impossible to get and having seen off mineral prospectors in the recent past the village understands the heritage here and the self sufficient families are what will keep it safe from rampant exploitation.

Already built houses for renovation or habitation in the villages tend to come with two issues – deed (tapu) issues and ownership issues.

Stable or House? Actually neither, it no longer exists, it got knocked down! I tried to buy it years ago but the owners couldn't agree on a price, it is now a pile of rubble!
Deed issues normally revolve around confusion over what the building on a given piece of land actually is. Just because its stone and looks like it has been there forever and some one is living in it doesn’t mean it’s a house. And just because it has a garden with a wall around it doesn’t mean that land belongs to the house or indeed that the house you are looking at is a standalone property on a single deed and not a part of a larger deed including other houses and more land. Essentially, for the foreign buyer wanting clarity it has to say house on the title deeds. Not stable, or store, or even just garden (bahce), it has to say house and you need to get it officially mapped to be sure that the house the deed refers to is the house you are looking at!

If you want to be particularly picky – as I was with my house – you can trace how long it has been an inhabited house in the old ledgers at the Cadastral. For example, my title deeds have been traced back to 1958 when Ataturk’s mapping engineers arrived in the village as part of their herculean mission to map the whole of Turkey onto new title deeds from the old Ottoman deeds. At that moment in 1958 this property I live in was an inhabited house on 208m2 of land. That’s about as rock solid as it gets.

Once you establish that the house you want to buy is actually a house you then need to see how many owners it has and here we come across the second problem. The multiple owner syndrome.

Due to Turkey’s complex inheritance laws it is tough to find an old property with a single owner to negotiate with. Properties are often owned by multiple family members in all corners of Turkey and even the world, and you need the agreement of all of them before a purchase can be agreed.

With all of my village purchases I was dealing with one owner but even that can be fraught as when we were buying the property that became a boutique hotel the owner’s brothers came along to the tapu office at completion of the sale to be sure she was getting the best price and at the last minute it looked like it could all go wrong.

That is the fundamental problem with multiple owners, or indeed the families of individual owners, someone will always think they can get a better price for the property, especially if the buyer is a foreigner (all of whom are very very rich!). And so negotiations can flounder because Brother A went to the tea shop to celebrate selling a crappy old house and his mates told him he was a fool to accept the offer, he could get more, whilst Brother B who really wants to get married will take any offer given. Brothers A and B will normally end up fighting in the street about it and the whole thing falls apart.

I have been lucky all three times, but then whenever I was buying I was taking my time, I wouldn’t spend any money on anything until everything was signed, I would go from agreement to signing in a day (which you can’t do now) and I had spent weeks and weeks finding the right people to buy from in the location I wanted. If you want legal you have to put the legwork in, a week long buying trip in the koy lands is a waste of time and likely to result in ulcers as all your potential purchases fall through once you go home or you discover some little problem like the house you are in the process of buying is part of a larger tapu showing two houses neither of which are the one you think you are buying (that’s a real example!).

So why buy if it’s so hard?

I could just say read the rest of this site, but that would be only half the picture. I bought and renovated property in the koy lands for so many reasons it would take forever to explain and a lot of it is to do with me and how I see the world.

I believe that doing difficult and complex things makes life worth living, I believe old houses should be saved not knocked down and rebuilt in the horrible hollow tugla brick, I believe the lifestyle here taught me things I needed to learn, I believe if it was easy everyone would do it and it wouldn’t be so special.

And as to living in the village, I got to meet amazing people and really learn about a way of life that in many other countries is passing into history. I found a peaceful place, where you can hear yourself think, and I found the real Turkey away from the resorts and I got to bring other people to see it and experience it and that’s important to me.

This all sounds very complicated, is there an easier way?

Other than buying my house – not really!

If you want to do it, do it properly. It is possible, it just requires you learn a few things, have a sound reason for doing it and are patient. You also need to take advice from the right people – not me, I don’t do free advice anymore, I find people rarely listen and the whole thing puts my blood pressure up. At this juncture also please see – Weird Advice for living in Turkey – you’re probably too old to be adopted

If you do make it over the hurdles to owning in the koy lands you will own something special, something you really worked to acquire, something very few foreigners have managed successfully and hopefully something that will still be here long after you have gone. Because when the complexes on the beaches have crumbled to dust and the summer houses have sunk into the marsh ground they were built on and the tower blocks have fallen in the quakes to come the stone houses in the koy lands will still be here…..six hundred years and counting so far.

Kirazli Village, passing through the centuries, nestled in the shadow of Gul Dar

If you are interested in owning an income generating property in a village in Turkey please see our house for sale at Kirazli Village House for sale

Kirazli rental property - studio living room

Making money from your rental property in Turkey

The studio of our rental property
The big developers that build the cookie cutter resorts that crawl across the Turkish hillsides, eating up olive groves and blasting terraces out of the ochre cliffs, are fond of bigging up the rental potential of their complexes. At the end of the day, when the glossy brochure promises have faded in the sunlight and the tapu is grudgingly handed over they tend to produce a lot less money in pocket for owners who were initially reeled in by the wildly optimistic rental projections and no mention of overheads. Why they tend to produce such poor returns is a whole different article and a negative one at that and I don’t like writing negative stuff so I’ll stick to the positive and write about actually making money from a rental property in Turkey.

We make money from our rental (shock, horror, gasp!) and we have fun doing it and because we have low overheads we have a high profit margin. More than that we think about it, we work at it and (I think) we understand the market we are working in and that last bit is really key.

If you need/want/wish your home in Turkey to generate an income you need to do your homework before you ever look at a property. It is really hard to reverse engineer rental income from a wildly unsuitable home no matter how bloody brilliant you are at conjuring up images of idyllic, carefree days in the sun or how much money you throw at your marketing. You have to do the boring number crunching and the tedious research into tourism statistics before you buy. When you have done that here are a few more suggestions to help you choose and then run a profitable rental home.

There is more than one market – Turkey is more than a bucket and spade destination, way, way, way, more. Long before Turkey became a cheap holiday in the sun for the package holiday maker it was part of the Grand Tour and it remains a firm favourite of independent travellers on the 21st century version and these are the people who make up the most vibrant, diverse and sustainable sector of the tourism market.

Turkey has the ancient sites of Ephesus and Heiropolis, Priene and Didyma. It has geological wonders in Pamukkale and Cappadocia. It has Istanbul, crossroads of the Byzantine world; it has Izmir, with its 3500 years of recorded history. I could go on but you get the picture…this is a huge, fascinating, soaked in history, peppered with artefacts, sculpted by Mother Nature, country and if you choose your rental property primarily to appeal to the family with 2.4 children and a desire to go red in the sun you are missing out massively.

The independent travellers ask more but give more in return; they are prepared to pay higher prices for individual properties and they come all year round, not just for the short summer season. By working with the independent travellers we extend our rental season to ten months of the year. So study what Turkey really offers travellers and choose a property that is close to one of Turkey’s prime attractions, has great and varied transport links and you will maximise your season and your bookings.

Rental studio and pool
Standing out in a crowded market – you need a unique selling point, every business (and renting is a business) does, and if you are one of hundreds of identical properties accessing the same facilities in the same location you are going to struggle to stand out. When travellers run their eyes down the thumbnail photos on the left hand side of a list of rental properties and read that headline to your advert it helps if something about you stands out from the crowd. If you are in a crowded market place then only price or picture will make a difference. Personally I prefer picture because being cheapest is not a good thing.

You need to keep your marketing fresh, new pictures, new written content, being individual without being bonkers, being responsive to what the competition is saying and showing without slavishly copying them (how lazy is that!), and assessing your enquiries, finding out what worked and what didn’t and building on that.

Obviously it is easier to stand out from the crowd if your rental property is indeed something out of the ordinary and whilst we can’t all buy converted windmills or build luxury tree houses in our gardens to make ourselves unique we can choose properties that have a certain quirkiness and visual appeal to them and then we can maximise that with our interior style.

One bedroom properties, an less crowded market
Sometimes it is about maths – One bedroom rentals in Turkey make up around 10% of the available properties listed on the big mainstream rental portals. That’s a surprisingly low number. You have to ask yourself, do couples make up only 10% of the people interested in renting a vacation home? I don’t think so, because worldwide small romantic cottages and pretty private rentals for just the two of us are a firm favourite of the holiday maker. I’ve rented out holiday homes in the UK, Mexico and Turkey and it is always the smaller properties that produce the best return.

Couples don’t want to be rattling around in three or four bedroom villas, they perceive that they are paying for rooms they won’t use and they want something that fits them and their needs and just by looking at the numbers you can see that there is room in the market here. Think about what people want, find which bit of the market is underserved and ask yourself why and if you firmly believe, on reflection, that you can fill a need here then choose a property that fills it. Sometimes the majority aren’t right!

More flexibility, more rentals – if you think that it isn’t worth changing the bed linen for a one, two or three night rental you are wrong. You honestly can’t afford to restrict yourself to week long rentals where changeover day is Saturday, those days are gone and in the independent traveller market they were never there to begin with because people touring a huge country like Turkey are invariably fitting in several locations. Making money from rentals is about meeting traveller’s needs and you massively restrict your market if you insist on minimum rental periods.

People are fair (yes I still believe that) and they understand that shorter term rentals will cost more and these days many owners charge a cleaning fee on top of the rental so the duration of rental becomes irrelevant. I don’t charge a cleaning fee but that is a personal choice of mine and I understand that for many owners it allows them to be flexible in their minimum rental period and it is now as accepted as damage deposits.

Rental bedroom
You aren’t doing people a favour; they are doing you one – You need the right attitude and approach to run a successful rental. I am always enormously chuffed when people choose us because I know how much choice is out there. For my part I furnish my rental with the best I can afford because I want to give people a nice environment to stay it, they deserve it and they have paid for it. I don’t choose furniture and fittings because they are cheap and easily replaced, that strikes me as treating guests like second class citizens when it is actually the other way around and apart from that it is a false economy as cheap stuff doesn’t last, shows the wear and makes your rental look shabby.

You absolutely need to respond to every enquiry you receive with the same enthusiasm as you did the first one (years ago) and the only way to do that is to truly be pleased that people are considering you, that sort of attitude shows and it can’t be faked and if you don’t feel that way then you won’t make the most of your rental home.

Note: I have noticed that we seem to have much less wear and tear on our property than those who work to the beach holiday market. We don’t suffer from the sand invasions and sun tan oil stains that are the bane of the beach rental owner’s life and with the majority of rentals lasting only three or four days we are cleaning and checking the property more often than weekly rentals. Our guests are incredibly considerate of the studio, they tend to be mature, sensible, considerate people who are experienced travellers and I often find the studio as clean and tidy on departure as it was on the arrival day.

For us there is an added bonus in being a successful rental property because it’s not just about the money, it’s about the lifestyle and hosting people makes our lives here better. We get to meet interesting people with new perspectives on Turkey and they share their experiences and give us new ideas and their enthusiasm for this country keeps us motivated and reminds us we are lucky. We’ve had members of the Royal Shakespeare company come and stay, we’ve had musicians, designers, pilots (hugs to Graham, see you soon we hope!), we’ve had joyfully squabbling girls from India who cooked for us, we’ve had brilliant photographers who showed us familiar places in a new light, we’ve made friends with a lovely woman who runs a hotel in the foothills of the Himalayas and we’ve talked Discworld and Doctor Who with an Australian couple who are so bitten by the travel bug they are infectious. They make this fun and that is as much a part of success as the rental income flowing in.

If you want to own a property in Turkey that actually generates real rental income please check out our property for sale advert – Stone Village House With Proven Income For Sale in Kirazli, Kusadasi, Aydin Turkey