How to avoid a property scam in Turkey

Google ‘Turkish property scams’ and you’ll find a frightening number of stories involving people who have been ripped off on Turkey’s Mediterranean and Aegean coasts. But if you delve a little deeper, you’ll see that the scams could have been avoided if a few simple steps had been adhered to. If it looks too good to be true, it generally is.

Over the past few years there have been a number of high profile scams highlighted in international media, including the following two involving British property buyers:

  • British woman Hayley Brown scammed British pensioners out of £1.2 million by selling investment and rental properties in Bodrum. She took clients to Turkey, where they were wined and dined, but not allowed to see the inside of the properties, as Brown claimed they were occupied by renters. When rental income failed to materialise, it was discovered the properties were not Brown’s to sell. The Lincolnshire woman served four years in jail but it’s unlikely any of the investors will see their money again.
  • Irishman Kevin O’Kane falsely marketed 41 villas in Altinkum, swindling as many as 80 families in a £4m property scam. O’Kane was not entitled to sell the villas, and claimed that he had been swindled by his business partner. He served four years in jail.

Unfortunately, scams do happen in Turkey. However, they are rare and as long as you follow these simple steps while buying a property in Turkey you have absolutely no reason to fear.

1. Avoid shortcuts

You’d be shocked at the number of otherwise sensible people who neglect to fully check out their property before they hand their money over - Haley Brown’s clients are a case in point. Greed and the chance to snap up a perceived ‘bargain’ property are often enough to make common sense fly out the window. Do your homework. Make notes. And read on to discover exactly how you can make the most savvy property purchase possible.

2. Avoid illegally constructed properties

There are two types of illegal construction in Turkey. If you follow the rest of the measures suggested in this article you will safely avoid both:

 i. Village houses

These rural constructions are found outside the main centres. Originally built on agricultural land for the villagers who worked the plots, these properties were given retrospective habitation licenses by the local authorities. However, they are not recognised under Turkish law. If you buy one of these properties not only will you be unable to raise finance on it as it’s an illegal dwelling, but you’ll most likely be stuck with it forever as no one will want to take it off your hands.

This is by far the most prevalent type of illegal construction, and it’s most likely that when you’re approached by a friendly waiter or hotel clerk with information about their ‘friend’s’ amazing villa that’s going for a song, it’ll be one of these village houses. The seller will always target foreign buyers as it’s unlikely that they’ll know much about Turkish law. If in doubt, ask a solicitor to investigate this deal of a lifetime on your behalf.

ii. Deliberate violations

This type of construction is more serious - and a more calculated scam - as in these cases a developer has deliberately flouted the law in order to build property to sell to unsuspecting buyers. The developer will build outside legal zones, or build properties that don’t adhere to building regulations - such as being three stories instead of the allowed two in places like Bodrum where this is the law. You might buy the property and live in it with no problems, but when your next buyer comes along, chances are they'll do their homework more thoroughly than you did, and you'll have trouble selling.

3. Make sure your property has all the correct paperwork

A legal property will be eligible for a Tapu (title deeds), which is the freehold title to land for a property, or a share of land if you’re buying an apartment. It will also have an ISKAN certificate, the habitation licence awarded after a property is constructed that demonstrates a property has been built in line with all local regulations. If you’re buying from an independent seller, don’t take them at their word: ask to see the documents and have them checked over by a lawyer.


4. Use a solicitor

This is so obvious but it’s shocking how many people choose not to employ the services of a legal professional when buying property in Turkey. When we ask people why they have chosen to forgo hiring a lawyer they often say it’s “too expensive”. 

We disagree. Spending the £400 or £500 on a lawyer and ensuring your property is legitimate is absolutely crucial. Your solicitor will check that all the paperwork is in order, that there’s no money owing on the property and that it’s not built in a restricted area, among other necessities. Ask us for a list of trusted professionals, or see your local embassy site for suggestions.


5. Find a good agent

By ‘good agent’ we don’t mean ‘bloke you met at the pub’ or ‘that nice taxi driver’. We mean a reputable agent, with years of experience and knowledge. Of course this seems like common sense at its most basic - but around once a month we get a call asking for help with a property purchase that’s turned sour. And 90% of the time what will have happened is our unsuspecting buyer has been sold a lemon - in most cases an illegal dwelling - by a non agent who just happened to hear of a great deal. Like everything else in life, if it looks too good to be true: it usually is.

6. Buy off-plan with care

A number of Turkey property horror stories are centred around buying off plan, and some people believe it’s better to avoid doing so altogether. The truth is that buying off plan is perfectly safe - just so long as you take certain measures. Always use a respected and experienced developer with years of established construction behind them. Look at examples of their previous properties. And, if still in doubt, take a bank guarantee out on the property, ensuring that if everything goes wrong the developer will be forced to reimburse you.

7. Take care when buying direct from developers

In property boom times just about everybody’s trying to get a piece of the action. In the Turkish housing market this has meant the rise of new development companies trying their hand at making some money from foreign investors. Don’t be fooled by a shiny office and a slick salesperson: always go with the established company with years of experience and capital in their pocket, so they won’t be desperate for your hard-earned cash. Ask to see examples of previous projects, so you can get some idea of the quality and durability of the properties.

As you can see, buying property in Turkey is easy and safe so long as you follow guidelines and do your homework. Most importantly, deal only with established professionals and beware of anyone trying to push a bargain property. Because if it looks too good to be true, it often is.


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