Iran's new millionaires

You too might already be a millionaire after all


Iran's new millionaires
by hossein.hosseini

Guess where was the hottest real estate market in the world back in 2008?  If you guessed Tehran, you are right. While we are facing a major downturn in the American housing market, there are places in the world which are enjoying their biggest boom in history.  One of those places is Tehran, Iran.  Yes Tehran is probably one the most expensive places when it comes to housing. Real estate prices surged by more than 100 percent in 2007, after rising by about 65 percent in 2006 and more than 50 percent in 2005. Meaning if you bought a house in Iran for $100,000 in 2005, it was worth at least $500,000 in May 2008. Assuming a drop of 30%, you are still looking at 350% growth. As a result there are now many new millionaires in Iran and I am talking Dollar Millionaires, not just Rial Millionaires!

According to a May, 2008 Reuter’s story which was picked up by the Washington Post and some other major U.S. Newspapers “you pay the equivalent of $6 million in rials in cash for a luxurious apartment in an affluent northern Tehran neighborhood.”  Again we are not talking about New York or London. This is Tehran where a 300-square-meter (3200 square-feet) apartment is $6 million, that is $1,875/square feet and you thought Beverly Hills or San Francisco was expensive!

So who are these new millionaires and how did they become so rich so fast? Well, some are your usual suspects; the well connected and children of authorities (agahzade), but many are just lucky or smart, depending on your definition, investors who invested in real estate thinking it will only go up. If you are trying to rationalize or analyze the Iranian economy using the usual models, don’t bother.  None of the rules as we know it in the west such as law of supply and demand, interest rate, currency, etc. apply to the Iranian economy. The Iranian economy is just that, Iranian economy.  It is not a capitalist, free enterprise or a socialist economy.  Thanks to oil being over $140/barrel in 2008,  inflation, the devalued dollar, a president who does not even listen to his own economic advisors and the head of the Central Bank, and of course high demand for housing, you have the formula for speculation in land and housing.  Nothing else comes even close.  Add to that UN and Western countries economic sanctions and things get even worse.  It is not limited to Tehran and surrounding areas either; it has impacted all major cities in Iran.

According to the same Reuter story, there are now businessmen, living in Europe and United States where getting a loan is easier and even cheaper than Iran, who use these loans and buy apartments in Tehran hoping to become rich fast.  Is this a bubble like the one we saw in the States recently?  Maybe. According to Reza Abdizadeh, an Iranian economist living in Iran, "The high prices might be a bubble; it might be fake and not logical. But it is a fact. Historically, housing prices have never dropped in Iran. The government might be able to stop prices from rising but will not succeed in lowering them."

The government has made several unsuccessful attempts to control prices. To top it off, it is estimated that Iran needs one million new homes each year to keep up with the growing population, but currently the country is capable of building only 600,000 new homes a year.  This has put tremendous pressure on people with low/fixed income. The Reuter story quotes Mahmoud Rahimi, a 35-year-old government employee, and his wife Simin. He said it was now impossible for them to buy a small apartment in Tehran. "If we do not eat, drink and basically do not spend a penny for 40 years, then maybe we can afford to buy a 20-square-metre house" said Rahimi. "If, of course, prices do not increase." 

So how do these new millionaires live? Well it is not unusual to see young men sporting a Rolex watch and Gucci sunglasses cruising down one of Tehran's main avenues in a sparkling new BMW or Mercedes Benz as if it was the most normal thing in the world. As a reporter from LA Times recently observed “such displays of wealth from the young and ultra-privileged are becoming an ever more frequent sight in the Iranian capital amid a growing gap between the rich and the poor.” He quotes a young civil engineer in affluent North Tehran as saying "You need to enjoy life.” His BMW costs a staggering 950 million rials (100,000 dollars) due to import duties. The average Iranian, earning no more than 500 dollars a month, would need the entire salaries of two decades of work to buy such a vehicle. Flash imported foreign cars, including BMW, Mercedes, Nissan and Toyota, are a surprisingly frequent sight in the country.  The sad part is that over 9 million people out of a population of over 70 million are living below the poverty line according to the government stats. Inflation has caused dramatic spikes in the prices of the most basic goods and services. Social inequalities are becoming wider and not everyone is impressed by the appearance of smart new cars on Tehran's streets.

In addition to driving nice cars and wearing high end fashion cloths and jewelry, the new rich most likely owns a villa at Caspian sea shores, an apartment in Dubai and lately some of that money is even being transferred to the western hemisphere specially Canada.  It is not surprising that we are beginning to see U.S. based satellites advertising real estate in California as well as immigration attorneys flying to Dubai to lure the rich and famous to come to America. Spending a million dollar to buy a nice house in California is not much of money for these new millionaires. Used to be if you lived in U.S., earned dollars, your money was worth a lot when you visited Iran.  Now the opposite is true.

If you own or inherited a piece of land or any form of real estate in Iran, you better check it out.  You might already be a millionaire after all.  For those rich Iranians in America, I can say: move away EBay’s Pier Omidyar, here comes Ali Akbar! 


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I made a mistake.

by Hassanagha (not verified) on

I don't want to start crying and blaming others but I, like most Iranians bought some real estates properties in Iran. After using most of my investment in here to buy real states there, I can't find any buyer or tenant to recover my losses. I learned a lesson though; NEVER invest money in any Middle Eastern countries. Look what happened to Dubai.


Just another bobble

by BM (not verified) on

Everybody was thinking the Japanese real estate would only, and ONLY, go up, until 1989, when it started to go down and it hasn't stopped since (going down). I think the Iranian real estate bubble has already burst...


Poor Millionaires?

by Google People (not verified) on

Poor millionaires in Iran? Wow, hard to believe!


as someone already

by azadi55 (not verified) on

as someone already mentioned, sure the price of real estate has gone up in recent years, but who is buying? no one has actually the purchasing power to pay 500 million toman (other than a few do). They are all poor millionaires living in tehran :)


Zahedan Bombing: Shield, shielded, shields, shielding

by The Professor Danesh, The Ph.D. from UCR (not verified) on

...well it seems with the recent mosqus bombing in Zahedan-- the safety shield that I put in iran to keep the millionaires stay away from the fire in iraq-- has raptured.

Soon the fire will spread deep into these principless millionaire pocket from afghan and iraq and rest assure this time I will not do the patching for the safe guard. why? because greed no matter where it strikes does not belong to the domain in the heavenly paradise...

Do think Greed still is good!?


You have forgotten to

by Anony-mous (not verified) on

You have forgotten to mention a large group of Iranians who have become millionares by pushing drugs on the streets of Japanese cities.


Rather be a middle class in heaven

by Anonymouss (not verified) on

I'd rather be a middle class in heaven than a millionair in hell. Freedom is heaven.


Prices may be up but No buyers

by t (not verified) on

Iran has a funny economy. The prices on realestate properties go up everyday despite there being no buyers. know so many people who have been trying to sell the past 2 years but have been unable to find buyers. Interestingly, sellers in Iran don't drop their price. Maybe because they don't have loans on the properties and want to maximize. So, the properties just sit on the market. Unfortantely, like in the States there are no Association of Realtors which could provide you with stats re number of listings, prices, days on the market, etc...


Prices are now down 50%

by shirazie (not verified) on

the balloon burst big time 9 months ago in Tehran and no buyers.. Rental properties are still hot. New construction has come to halt also.

have a few Architects in the family

Rumor has it - an Iranian from Dubai is about to buy Newcastle United football team. Also the Swiss are very worried about money leaving their banks going to Dubai in record amount..

Is the earth center of Gravity is shifting? I think I can feel it (no .. just another LA earth quake)


Vote for Mousavi

by Voter (not verified) on

He will come and distribute equitably oil revenues to all then eveybody in Iran can have a BMW. Don't worry, just go and vote.