Scouting Istanbul in a Snow Storm

My real estate scout Paul O’Sullivan is on the road again.

Just a couple of days after landing in the Turkish city of Istanbul, he met with a contact of mine and took an unexpected trip to the controversial state of Northern Cyprus, complete with its demilitarized zone, tempting casinos, and some of the lowest priced luxury beachside real estate in Europe. (You can read about that adventure here.)

After that short trip, Paul returned to Istanbul, where he scouted some promising neighborhoods despite a very unusual setback…

Ronan McMahon


Snowed in…in Istanbul
By Paul O’Sullivan

Istanbul is more than 2,500 years old but they still haven’t figured out how to deal with snow.
I’m just a few days into my scouting trip of Turkey and I’m snowed in…

The city of over 15 million people has ground to a halt. Major highways are closed. Cars are left stranded and abandoned. And all flights have been cancelled.

However, here in the ancient district of Beyoğlu my neighbors are making the most of it. They’re building snowmen, throwing snowballs, and sledding down the blanketed cobbled streets.

Adding to the atmosphere, I discover the Christmas lights along the famed Istiklal Avenue—the main pedestrian artery through the city—are still glowing. Bars serve hot mulled wine and you can buy grilled chestnuts (kestane kebab) from street vendors.

Scouting Istanbul in a snow storm.

Turkey isn’t a place you’d expect to see snow, but Istanbul has a long history of it.
Three times in its history, the city got so cold that the Bosphorus (the sea strait that separates the European from the Asian side of the city) froze over entirely, allowing people to walk the two mile distance across.

In 717 AD, under the rule of the Roman Byzantine Empire, an unusually harsh winter saved the city from an Arab siege. The Arab army, unused to such a climate, were crippled by famine and disease, while their navy was set ablaze by “Greek Fire,” a legendary flame-throwing weapon attached to the Byzantine ships.

Located between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, Istanbul traverses two continents, and is so large that it’s said to have several different sub-climates within the city. Along the Bosphorus Strait you’ll get a Mediterranean climate, to the north a rainy Black Sea climate, a cold and snowy Balkan climate in the west, and to the east an Anatolian Continental climate with hot summers and cold winters.

Known as the Crossroad of the World, Istanbul sits between Europe to the north and Asia to the south.

Like the climate, each district of the city also offers something different. And before I got snowed in, I set out to explore as much of it as I could.

Sultanahmet is the neighborhood you’re most likely to encounter when you first get to Istanbul. This was the social and political center of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, and it’s where you’ll find most of the city’s main attractions, such as the sixth-century Hagia Sophia with its iconic domes and minarets.

Within easy walking distance is the Topkapi Palace, the residence of 15th-century Ottoman Sultans and their harems…as well the Grand Bazaar, where vendors peddle all manners of wares from tiny kiosks under a maze of vaulted ceilings.

Built in 537, Hagia Sophia was the largest Christian church of the Byzantine Empire. Following the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire it was converted into a mosque.

Sultanahmet isn’t an ideal residential neighborhood (unless you’re a Sultan of course). The few listings available are used commercially and are quite expensive. However, if you head north, deeper into the Fatih district, you’ll find good deals on large detached homes.
In the Balat neighborhood, for instance, there are a number of prospects I have my eye on. This is the old Jewish quarter, known for its narrow cobbled streets and colorful houses—and within walking distance of Sultanahmet.

You’ll find large, renovated four-bedroom detached houses here for about $250,000, or two-bedroom apartments for under $100,000.

You can find good deals on historic Ottoman-era buildings here too. For instance, I came across a huge 5,382-square-foot home listed for 4,750,000 lira ($351,476). It has incredible views over the Golden Horn, a large inlet on the Bosphorus. However, as it’s a second grade historic building, the buyer will need to restore it according to a government sanctioned project plan.

My primary focus is on the central district of Beyoğlu, particularly the neighborhoods south of Istiklal Avenue.

My Airbnb is in the neighborhood of Galata, close to the iconic Galata Tower. It has a noticeable young expat population and the cobblestone streets are full of vintage clothes shops, hip cafes, and galleries. It’s a neighborhood known for its arts scene, but I figure the local artists are already being priced out of the place.

If I was buying in Beyoğlu I’d look further east towards the neighborhood of Cihangir. It feels more like a community, with fewer tourists, better prices, and still close to everything. Plus, you have strong Airbnb potential here.

You could pick up a one-bedroom here for 890,000 ($65,855) and rent it for $45 or $60 a night.
Once the city taws, I hope to get a few viewings. Then, my plan is to take a ferry across the Bosphorus to the Asian side of Istanbul and scout some of the neighborhoods there.

Meanwhile, as the snow piles, I’ll continue to ingratiate myself with the street vendors here in Galata, where I can pick up a doner kebab from a friendly man named Ahmet for 25 lira ($1.85).

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