Three years ago, Tamuna secured a two-room apartment in one of Tbilisi's prime districts, situated close to the Vazha-Pshavela metro station, for a reasonable 500 GEL. Fast forward to the present day, and Tamuna's options have diminished for the same price. After a thorough search, Tamuna has come across a measly 22 sq.m. underground one-room apartment, with no natural light, listed on a real estate website. Navigating to the apartment requires descending into the basement and walking through a shabby, gloomy corridor. The apartment's photos on the website strategically showcase the living space, concealing the unfavorable basement and corridor.
For an additional 200-300 GEL to this amount, Tamuna will be able to find an apartment, however, in this case, above ground - in a garage. The bad news is that the sun doesn't get into this "apartment" either, because the window has been blocked.
Tamuna has also come across Russian-language text on various real estate websites. Although she has stumbled upon some listings that explicitly state that the apartment is not available for rent to Russian citizens, these cases appear to be infrequent. Tamuna has also observed that even those who publish their listings in Georgian, immediately greet individuals in Russian in a call.
Tamuna has been renting an apartment in Saburtalo for two years now, initially paying a monthly fee of 650 GEL. However, following the influx of Russian citizens, the landlord raised the rent to 800 GEL, and even requested payment in US dollars, which exceeded Tamuna's budget. As a result, Tamuna began her search for a new apartment. Unfortunately, within her acceptable budget, finding an apartment that meets the necessary standards has proven to be an impossible task, as the minimum requirements are simply unaffordable for her.
“The current situation is undoubtedly connected to the recent influx of Russian citizens. Not only have rent prices increased, but many Russians are also paying in dollars, which is not permitted in Georgia. Due to their significantly higher incomes compared to the Georgian middle class, the high amounts they are willing to pay automatically drive up the market prices”, - says Tamuna.
Tamuna's story is not a unique one, as many people are currently struggling to find suitable apartments. For instance, if you were to search for apartments priced at 800 GEL or less in Saburtalo on one of the popular websites, you would find that there are only six available options.
"Isolated 100 sq/m two-room bright apartment on the first floor for rent, all rooms with their own windows, kitchens, bathrooms, and corridors, in a cozy and quiet yard, in the best location, 200 meters from Kandelaki Street, 400 meters from Republic Square. Two months' advance payment", - you will find the following apartment with this description.
In February 2022, the world witnessed a significant shift in geopolitics as Russia launched a military invasion of Ukraine. In the aftermath of this event, thousands of Russian citizens sought refuge in different parts of the world, including Georgia. Recent statistics suggest that Georgia has become an attractive option for Russian refugees seeking a new home.
The influx of Russian migrants to Georgia has coincided with the announcement of military mobilization in Russia in October 2022. Fleeing their own country, refugees are hoping to settle in neighboring countries, find employment, start businesses, and possibly obtain citizenship.
According to the official data, 3 297 Russian nationals have acquired Georgian citizenship throughout this one year.
The growing number of Russians seeking refuge in Georgia has had a significant impact on the country's population. As a result, we have examined the issues related to real estate to gain a better understanding of how this influx of migrants has affected the economic and emotional well-being of Georgian citizens.
Platform DataforCrisis and Attitudes of Georgian Population Regarding Russian Migration
Data for Crisis, a collaborative effort by Deutsche Welle Academy and SocialLab, supported by DW Akademie's partners in Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Lebanon, is a freely accessible platform that compiles primary data from major social networks around crisis issues like Covid-19 and migration.
Regularly updated, the platform features a comprehensive search engine and keywords, providing media representatives and researchers with access to the most up-to-date public information.
Using this platform, we delved into the effects of Russian migration on real estate and discovered that emotions play a critical role in the aftermath of the surge of Russian citizens and the subsequent rise in property prices in Georgia. Notably, the most popular topics among migrants during the migration process were the economy and politics in the host community. Additionally, interesting moods emerged during two crucial periods – the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the initial phase of military mobilization in Russia.
In analyzing the dynamics of sentiments during this time, it becomes clear that self-defense was directed toward the fear and anger felt by the host community toward the influx of migrants. Conversely, the migrant community was dominated by self-confidence and joyful emotions. As the period of mobilization continued, the host society appeared to become more accustomed to the process and displayed confident attitudes during the first stage. However, as time progressed, feelings of fear, anticipation, and anger once again took hold. The emotions felt within the migrant community remained almost unchanged throughout the period.
Emotions of the host and migrant communities in response to the large influx waves of Russian citizens - after the invasion and declaring mobilization
Before the first mobilization after February 24, both the host community and migrant community had specific concerns that were reflected in their keyword searches. For the host community, the keywords were as follows: "government," "border," "Russians," "politics," and "statement". In contrast, the migrant community had a stronger focus on more practical concerns such as "apartments," "borders," and "prices."
Generally, according to DataForCrisis, the main keywords in posts published by the Russian migrants were as such: “Saburtalo”, “apartment”, “rent” and other terms related to real estate.
The observation of a rise in real estate-related terms on the portal from the fall of 2022, specifically during the months of September-October, holds significance. This increase aligns with the declaration of military mobilization in Russia, leading to a massive influx of Russian migrants into the country.
Lasha, who works in a sales agency, has noted a recent surge in interest from Russian citizens looking to buy or rent apartments in Tbilisi. He explains that this increase in demand has led to a relative adjustment in rental prices and an increase in sales prices.
Lasha believes that this rise in prices is a result of the market's inability to adequately meet the high demand.
“That shouldn’t have been the actual price. The demand was very high. Here the demand is often driven by emotional factors rather than the actual market value”, - he elaborates further.
According to Lasha, roughly 7 out of 10 people looking to rent an apartment in Tbilisi are Russians, while 3 out of 10 are interested in purchasing a property. Russians tend to search for apartments throughout the city but have a particular interest in central areas such as Saburtalo.
It appears that the interest in real estate among Russian citizens is widespread. In fact, after reviewing posts, comments, and dialogues on a portal frequented by Russian migrants, it became apparent that real estate is often mentioned in the context of crossing borders or obtaining residence permits. Here are some of them:
проблематично. допрашивать могут, но пропустят, можете говорить прямо, что хотите приобрести недвижимость здесь — that’s problematic. You could be asked to explain (at the border), but they will let you in. You can even directly tell them that you want to purchase real estate here.
Вид на жительство дают, если недвижимость на сумму от 100 тысяч долларов. В апартаментах есть управляющий, рецепшн, в квартире нет. Регистрацию везде можно сделать — They give residence permits if the real estate price is at least 100,000 USD. In apartment complexes, you can find managers and receptionists, but in regular apartments - you can’t. You can apply for registration from anywhere.
The real estate market in Georgia is experiencing a surge in demand, which is causing prices to skyrocket. As a result, many Georgian citizens are finding it increasingly difficult to purchase their own homes.
Giorgi and Tamo had been searching for a suitable apartment for several months. They had hoped to find a 50-square-meter renovated, furnished apartment for $50,000, but found that the market had changed dramatically. As Tamo has observed, it was possible to find a 50, 55, or even 57-square-meter apartment within their budget, but since December, only unfinished apartments were affordable for that price.
“The prices have increased by at least 5 thousand dollars. If you could find a renovated, partially furnished apartment with 1,000 dollars per square meter, it was impossible to do so in January already.”, - Tamo says.
While Tamo could not say for certain that the influx of Russian buyers was responsible for the increase in prices, she had noticed many posts on buying and selling groups from dissatisfied users who believed that the presence of Russians in the market was driving up prices. For instance, he had heard of one house that sold for $26,000 before the war but was sold by its new owner for $44,000 after the war.
Trends in the Real Estate Market
Real estate rents in Georgia have surged in recent times, especially due to the influx of Russian migrants. According to TBC Capital, the total rent price increase in 2022 alone was 66%, making it the strongest year for Tbilisi's residential real estate market (RRE) in recent times.
After experiencing a fall in prices during the pandemic years, the commercial real estate sector in Tbilisi witnessed a remarkable recovery in 2022. This was largely attributed to the easing of Covid-related restrictions, the opening of international borders, and the significant increase in migration to the country. As a result, there was a considerable boost in economic growth and business activity.
The residential real estate market in Tbilisi also saw a notable increase in sales in 2022, with an average rise of 17%. The cost of rental housing experienced an even steeper increase, rising by 77% during the same period.
Rent prices for commercial spaces in Tbilisi's shopping centers have exceeded pre-pandemic levels by 5%, with a year-on-year increase of 22% during the first 11 months of 2022. This significant surge in rent prices is most likely due to Russians being the main buyers of real estate since the pre-pandemic period, strengthening the market.
However, the rental market for both residential and commercial spaces tells a different story, with the increased rent income creating a disproportionate impact on the local population. As a result, locals have been facing challenges in affording rented spaces due to the increased demand for property from Russian migrants.
There were speculations that the inflow of funds for real estate in Georgia would decrease due to the anticipated slowdown of migration caused by the mobilization and departure of Russian migrants. It was expected that this would lead to a decrease in demand for real estate and a subsequent reduction in prices.
However, since there is no recent data available on the number of Russian migrants and their exit from the country, we once again took to the portal to assess the current level of interest of Russian migrants in the Georgian economy in 2023, following the mobilization. By analyzing the number of posts on social media related to Georgia, we were able to draw a picture of the current situation.
Recent data suggest that the interest of Russian migrants in the Georgian economy has not decreased, but rather increased. Telegram posts collected from February-March 2023 indicate that Russian migrants are not only interested in buying flats and apartments but also commercial premises, indicating a desire for long-term investment in the country.
One such migrant is Svetlana Ch., a Russian citizen who arrived in Georgia with her family in 2022. After adapting well to the climate and enjoying their new surroundings, Svetlana and her husband decided to continue their business in Georgia. They previously ran a hostel in Russia, but due to the war situation and sanctions, their business became unprofitable. In Georgia, they have rented over three premises in Sololaki and Vera, indicating a strong commitment to staying in the country.
“Our contract with the landlord is valid until 2024. The current business conditions for hotels are very good in Georgia, plus we already have experience in this field so we want it to become our source of income. This is also beneficial for Georgian landlords because we rent apartments long-term so they also have a guaranteed monthly income.
By the way, when we were searching for real estate, a lot of landlords expressed a wish to sell their apartments. Now is a convenient time for them to sell real estate at a good price, but as for now, we don’t have that much money. But we’re also considering buying a suitable hotel building”, - added Svetlana, who is not willing to reveal her identity.
The influx of migrants from Russia has had a significant impact on the local community, both in terms of the economy and emotions. The surge of real estate purchases by Russian migrants has brought about a noticeable economic boost, particularly in the real estate sector, with prices exceeding pre-pandemic levels. However, this economic benefit has come at a cost to the local community, with some experiencing direct and indirect harm.
The multimedia material utilized data from the portal dataforcrisis.com, which assists journalists in covering migration from Russia. This material was created as a part of ForSet's Data for Crisis Fellowship, with the support of DW Akademie.
Authors: Eleonora Tchania, Tatia Shurghaia, Maiko Chitaia
The original story was published at https://go.on.ge/379k