Walking down the high street of Kalkan, southern Turkey, one is assailed by the practised tones of tourist-soliciting locals: “Hello, lady, nice fish for you. Delicious chips. You like beer?” Every shop, restaurant and bar bears the unmistakeable stamp of a community catering almost solely for its summer influx of Brits On Tour. Tesko’s supermarket displays imported copies of Hello, OK!, and the Daily Mail. Ali Baba’s All Day English Breakfast has a large plasma TV showing Match of the Day. At night, the marina comes alive with the sweet strains of Rihanna and other UK chart-toppers, and Mojito’s Bar is doing a roaring trade in Jägermeister shots and Red Bull cocktails. Sterling is welcome, and the local economy is thriving. A few miles away in the Taurus mountains are villages with names like Islamlar (“The Muslims”), where no one speaks English and Ramadan is strictly observed.
Kalkan vies with places like Bodrum, Oludeniz and Marmaris as a package tour destination of choice. Today, these Turkish equivalents to Malaga and Marbella are cheaper, offering many more lira to your pound than the euro. The sun shines just as brightly, and, moreover, kebabs are on offer. Turkey’s popularity is rocketing with budget holidaymakers and also for foreigners looking to buy a second home in the sun. Real estate, unlike in Spain, is booming. Unfortunately, the eastern utopia is not all it seems.
At Bodrum airport, a steady stream of Thomas Cook, easyJet and Pegasus planes disgorge their contents into the balmy Aegean air, and hordes of Geordies and Mancunians trot off happily with their package tour guides on to a bus that takes them on the “scenic” route into town. It passes brand-new glittering holiday villas which the guide will plug as the best buys in town. The guide happens to be a friend of the building contractor, and yes, perhaps there are some more deals on the market. And so it begins: gullible Brits caught by seasoned scammers. Barry Kartal, a Turkish investment fund manager who deals with property scams in the area, says: “These tourists leave their intelligence on the plane.”
Spurred on by low prices for units in purpose-built apartment blocks or “holiday villages”, Brits are all greedy ears, especially when they appear to be getting a good deal from a friend of the developer (who is often a crooked sub-contractor or a commission-hungry estate agent). Any doubts are quelled by an apparently independent lawyer, who lets them sign a contract which leaves them with no rights, no title deeds and ultimately no property. They put a deposit usually worth €20,000-€40,000 in a bank account later cleared by the estate agent or sub-contractor, who then disappears. The Turkish court system is too intimidating and expensive to tackle. Most foreigners never recover their stolen money.
For a lucky few, Kartal saves the day by issuing injunctions, redrafting the contracts with his lawyer wife Acelya, and carrying the project to completion. The hapless Brit at least ends up with a property, albeit at a higher price than anticipated.
So far this year in the Bodrum and Milas areas alone, more than €400 million of real estate has been sold, predominantly to non-locals. Of these sales Kartal estimates about 5-10 per cent have been scammed. The scammers “disappear” only to come back richer and more brazen than ever. While local authorities are wise to them, tourists are not.
Locals are pragmatic. “These aren’t scams. They are business,” says Hasan Bey, a pharmacist. If you are foolish enough to put a large amount of money in a private bank account without due investigation, you are considered fair game.
There are plenty of opportunities to buy a property legitimately, and much of the coast is beautiful and unspoiled. Kalkan is an eyesore without parallel, with a fan base to match, and one admittedly churlish way of looking at the scamming phenomenon is that it’s divine retribution.