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Syria Refugees Boost Yerevan's Housing Market

Syrian-Armenian refugees arrive in Yerevan on August 17.
Syrian-Armenian refugees arrive in Yerevan on August 17.
YEREVAN – As refugees pour out of Syria, they are putting a heavy burden on the economies of many nearby countries.

Except Armenia.

In Yerevan, the arrival of thousands of mostly well-off Syrian-Armenians seeking refuge has created an uptick in the housing market.

Rent prices are rising and there is a sudden surge in the number of apartments being put on the market.

"Many [refugees] came and rented apartments for a month and now they extend their rents for another month after hearing the news about the worsening situation [in Syria]," says Garik Danielian, who runs a real estate agency in Yerevan. "People are scared. There are [also] people who buy homes. There is some movement [in that market as well], even a slight increase in prices for newly built homes. The tendency of falling prices on the housing market that we have seen since late 2008 has temporarily stopped.”

Mostly, the refugees prefer to rent apartments, not buy houses. Danielian says there are 10 times as many rental flats as houses currently on offer in the city.

He says that an apartment that could be rented out last year for $1,500 a month this year is hard to find even for $1,800 – about 20 percent higher.

Wait-And-See Attitude

The preference for renting seems to underscore the uncertainty of the refugees over what to do next.

Newly constructed residential buildings in the center of Yerevan
Newly constructed residential buildings in the center of Yerevan
Natalie Gasparian, who fled from Aleppo to Armenia a month and a half ago, lives in a rented downtown apartment together with her husband, children, and in-laws.

She is eager to go back to Syria, but she says if the situation there does not improve, her family will start thinking about buying a home in Yerevan.

“We now live here by renting an apartment to see what kind of city this is," she says. "Eventually, we’ll decide whether we want to buy a home here or not.”

There are good reasons for hesitation about the future. Armenia offers those fleeing Syria a safe refuge but not immediate economic alternatives. The Caucasian country remains hard hit by the global economic slowdown and jobs are hard to come by.

Getting Their Money Out

Equally difficult for the refugees is the problem of how to bring their money out of Syria should they decide to relocate permanently. Selling property and businesses at anything more than fire-sale prices is difficult in Syria today, and without capital it is hard to start any new business in Yerevan.

As the refugees weigh their next move, many try to re-create the life they left behind as best they can in their new home.

Real estate agents say the refugees have very clear preferences when it comes to choosing apartments.

They want their houses or apartments to be downtown, situated close to major streets and roads, and to get a lot of sun during the day. That duplicates the busy, labyrinthine feel of older Syrian cities like Aleppo, from which many of the refugees have come.