The Covid-19 pandemic that began in March 2020 has caused significant disruption in the Turkish economy and building construction. The exchange rate crisis in H2 2018 resulted in big rises of construction costs and sharp drops in building construction in 2019. In H1 2020 the economy and the construction sector were recovering from that crisis when the pandemic struck.
Written by Prof. Ali TUREL, EECFA Turkey
Building starts in the first six months of 2020 were about 41% up from the same six months of 2019. The government’s subsidy policy to provide mortgage loans under market exchange rates by the three state-owned banks was in effect from the beginning of June to the end of August 2020, greatly stimulating demand for housing and housing transactions. House building starts appear to have gained momentum from the subsidy policy, and building construction permits, dominated by residential buildings, grew by 45,3% in H1 2021. Nonetheless, there is a large backlog of buildings under construction in almost every use.
The hike in the starts of residential buildings is also reflected in their growing share in total building construction permits: 63% in 2019, 76,7% in 2020 and 79,3% in 2021. The share in total starts of commercial and industrial buildings (hotels, restaurants, wholesale and retail buildings, warehousing and industrial buildings) has had a downtrend: 15,1% in 2019, 14,8% in 2020 and 12,5% in 2021, although their starts rose by 42,6% in 2020 and by 23,5% in 2021. The shrinking share of their starts is due to the bigger growth rates in residential buildings starts. Public buildings (transport buildings, schools, research buildings and hospitals) had a 21,9% share in 2019 but dropped to 8,5% in 2020 and to 8% in 2021. Their high share in 2019 might be explained by the huge decline in private sector investments in that year.
Construction forecast for Turkey is available in the latest EECFA Forecast Report Turkey up to 2023 which can be purchased on eecfa.com. EECFA (Eastern European Construction Forecasting Association) conducts research on the construction markets of 8 Eastern-European countries.
Building occupancy permits, on the other hand, had a different trend from that of construction permits. Total floor areas of completed buildings expanded by 2,8% in 2019, while construction permits dwindled by 60,1%. 2020 saw a 32,2% shrinkage in occupancy permits, followed by a 3,3% growth in 2021. And it is a known fact that builders cannot react to market signals during economic crises in a short period of time because of the heavy sunk cost of buildings under construction, particularly of those close to completion.
Builders of residential, commercial and publicly used buildings had almost the same reaction to the crisis caused by the pandemic: the share of these buildings did not alter much between 2019 and 2021. The only notable difference was a slight drop in the share of residential buildings from 79,5% in 2020 to 77,4% in 2021, and a 2% rise in the share of commercial and industrial buildings from 12,6% in 2020 to 14,6% in 2021.
The total floor area of residential buildings and the number of dwelling units completed in H1 2020 and H1 2021 were almost the same, while a 19% growth occurred in the total floor areas of completed commercial and industrial buildings. Housebuilders appear to be cautious in completing construction because of the shrinking demand under the conditions of high mortgage interest rates. Decreased real incomes due to big falls in the value of Turkish Lira against foreign currencies under the effects of the pandemic also contributes to the fall in demand. Mortgaged sales in housing transactions was 18,9% of total sales until the end of July, 2021. First sales have been decreasing during the pandemic from their consistently stable level of 46% to 30% in the same 7 months of 2021.
Housebuilders are also squeezed between the upsurge in building construction cost (42,48% yearly until the end June 2021) and the relatively less rise in housing prices (33% for new housing and 29,2% for all housing) within the same period. The great backlog of residential buildings under construction causes builders an additional cost of delaying completions. Thus, expectations for another subsidised mortgage scheme from the government are frequently raised in the media.