By Ibrahim al-Jibouri.
Karbala Real Estate Boom: Sacred City Boasts Most Expensive Property in All Iraq
The prosperous southern city of Karbala has not only got some of Shiite Muslims’ most important holy sites, now it also has Iraq’s highest property prices. And much of the inflation in real estate prices is apparently due to religious buyers.
Real estate prices in Iraq’s southern city of Karbala are rocketing. Recently the price per square meter for a hotel located between two of the holy shrines that draw so many visitors to Karbala was recorded as US$3,900.
Organizers of a project involving an expansion of the shrine of Imam al-Hussein, the Prophet Mohammed's grandson, had offered the hotel owner this much for his property. In other spaces that were also wanted for the same project, the property owners, who included retailers and hoteliers, were offered between US$850 and US$2,600 per square meter, depending on where the land was.
The expansion of the shrines is going to raise property prices throughout the city, says local economist Khalid al-Taei. Given the huge numbers of visitors coming to Karbala every year and the development of various international business complexes here, al-Taei predicts that prices per square meter could even go as high as US$4,500.
By comparison prices per square meter in central Baghdad sit between US$2,000 and US$2,500. Karbala’s prices are equal to other cities in the world. Buyers pay around the same in central Tokyo, Japan, Caracas in Venezuela or Istanbul, Turkey. But they still have some catching up to do to be as expensive as property prices are in London (US$8,000 per square meter) or New York (around US$9,000 per square meter).
The agents overseeing the funds dedicated to the shrines of Imam Hussein and the shrine dedicated to his loyal brother, Abbas, have already purchased a lot of agricultural land around Karbala and those sites are supposedly earmarked for the construction of things like tourist villages, more mosques and other commercial buildings. So far, three tourist villages are being built and they’re located on the Karbala-Najaf and the Baghdad – Erbil roads. This kind of activity is what is driving property prices up here.