Selling homes in Iraq

I ran into this story in a newspaper from the Middle East where in some places property prices are the highest in the world and in other places, such as Iraq it is dangerous even to go on a showing.

Sometimes buying and selling your house can be a pretty murky experience.

But, as bad as the real estate world can be in Dubai, imagine trying to exchange your home in Baghdad. Selling or upgrading a home can, literally, cost you your life in Iraq.

Often, home owners will not put up “For Sale” signs on the property and real estate agents are afraid to show properties to prospective buyers because of kidnappers in the Iraqi capital. “This must be the only capital city in the world where my profession is frightened to say what properties we have for sale,” said Ali Ramzi, a real estate agent in Baghdad for the past thirty years.

That’s because even advertising a property can now make you a target for kidnappers or religious death squads there. Moreover, the Shia militia groups disapprove of real estate agents that are profiting from land sales and dealing with foreigners.

“If you are buying, then kidnappers know you have cash to spend. If you are selling, the kidnappers wait until the deal is done and then grab you. They think real estate agents are rich, so if we go near a property we get abducted as well and ransomed,” Ramzi told UK newspaper, The Times, yesterday.

The gruesome tales of the auctioneers and real estate agents do not stop there. “In the al-Jahid district, in east Baghdad, gunmen burst into the office of another colleague and decapitated him and left his head on the desk as a warning to the three other estate agents in the same street. All of them shut up shop and have never gone back,” said Ramzi.

Added to that is the fact that, in some areas the prices of properties have plunged by up to 75 per cent. The whole market has been shaken up since the occupation by allied forces began.

Just after the invasion, prices were at a high as locals returned home and speculators bought villas for expatriate use. But now market values reside at a fraction of the 2003 prices in Baghdad.

The cost of house rental in some parts has quartered, meaning work for estate agents has also dropped considerably. Ali Ramzi, however, is more worried about his safety. “Nobody knows how many in my profession have been murdered,” says Ramzi. “We are so hated by the religious militias, more of us have been killed recently than drug-dealers and prostitutes,” he adds.

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