Clare Nuttall in Almaty -
Property developers in Uzbekistan have typically concentrated on the elite end of the market due to high demand from Tashkent's nouveau riche. This trend is now starting to spread to other cities and market segments.
For a long time, Uzbekistan has lagged behind its richer neighbours to the north. When Kazakhstan's property boom started to take off in 2004, prices in Uzbekistan were less than a quarter of those in Kazakhstan, and barely one-tenth of the Russian average.
It came as something of a surprise when Tashkent residential property prices doubled in 2006. The following year they shot up again, by 125%, from $439 per square metre (sqm) in January 2007 to $718 in December.
This year, growth is set to be slower and more sustainable. According to Lebed Kapital Invest, the first half of this year has seen a monthly increase of between 2% and 5%, with the steepest growth in prices for one-bedroom apartments. The firm expects it to continue at the same pace for the rest of the year. Avesta Investment Group has a similar forecast, anticipating annual growth of 20-25%.
The causes of this growth are similar to those in other CIS countries - high GDP growth (in Uzbekistan it has been increasing by an average of 9.5% a year for the past few years and is expected to grow by a respectable 8% in 2008), and the wish by many to move from inadequate Soviet-era housing. The rise in house prices and investments in new developments in Tashkent are mainly being driven by the urban elite.
The city's most desirable area remains that in a small radius around the Tidoyilar gardens, Ellina Lebed of Lebed Capital Invest says. This includes the Yakkasaray (where the city's most expensive addresses are located), Oybek and Darkhan areas. However, other locations are coming onto the map as demand increases. According to Avesta, the Sabir-Rakhim district is where prices are rising fastest.
A total of 163,000 sqm of new residential property is due to come onto the market this year. The vast majority - around 87% - will be upscale and elite housing, Karen Sarpiova, a senior analyst at Avesta says. "GABUS is the leader on residential real estate building market, which holds about 90% of market share," she says. "But many companies that worked in commercial estate segment have started projects in building up-scale apartments in Tashkent - Torsvik, Karat Stroy, Trest 12."
Growth in the Tashkent market seems to have settled at a sustainable level without the boom and bust that the Kazakh real estate market experienced. Indeed, Uzbekistan is sufficiently isolated from international markets for the credit crisis not to have been an issue here. The only way it has been felt is in a slight decrease in investment from Kazakhstan and Russia.
Meanwhile, other cities are starting to develop too. Given that Uzbekistan has the largest population in Central Asia, there is plenty of scope for further growth of the residential market. Construction work is increasing in urban centres including Bukhara, Samarkand and Navoi.
Commercial real estate prices are also rising, though somewhat slower than residential prices - by around 15% according to Avesta. To fulfil growing demand for commercial space, many residential properties - especially ground floor apartments -are being converted into offices. All category A business centres in Tashkent, such as the International Business Center, the NBU Business Center and BankLand, have occupancy of 90-95%, says Sairpova. Demand is now rising most rapidly for category B offices.
Given the unfulfilled demand for both commercial and residential property, consumption of all types of construction materials is set to rise in the coming years. Anticipating this, in June 2008 the Uzbek government amended the state programme for modernization of the country's construction sector.
A key element of the new plan, drawn up by Uzstroimaterialy, is an increase in investment in the cement industry from the original $340m to more than $1.4bn. This would enable the industry to increase capacity from the current 6.5m tonnes a year to 16m tonnes by 2013. Several foreign investors are participating in this programme - Korean Natural Cement is to invest $300m in a new plant in the Surkhandarinsky region, France's Satarem will modernize the Kyzylkumcement plant, and EuroCement Group has acquired a majority stake in Akhangarancement and started modernization of the plant.
Even so, analysts from Renaissance Capital warn that despite the planned increase in capacity, as construction picks up pace in Uzbekistan a supply deficit may appear. At just 200-220 kilograms per capita, cement construction is around half that in Russia and Kazakhstan. In Uzbekista, the construction and real estate boom that has already spread across the former Soviet countries has barely begun.
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