Those of you who have been following me for a while know that I was very involved in Ukraine. I have residency there, a business, personal ties, and had committed to making a large investment with John in February in a Flour Mill in downtown Kyiv we were meant to purchase, renovate, and flip.
A week after making the commitment, the conflict started.
Needless to say, I hadn’t read the situation well. However, unlike my Russian stocks which blew up in my face, we were lucky enough to not have the fund paperwork ready at that point, so nobody lost any money.
Now 7 months into the conflict, I had a quick chat with John, who is in Kyiv, about the impact of the war on the local real estate market.
🇺🇦 Sign up to John’s free Kyiv real estate newsletter here.
🇺🇦 Contact John: email@example.com
This situation has been a true learning in terms of geopolitical risk
I always had geopolitical risk in mind when making investments, but read this situation completely wrong, and it cost me money.
This is one of the reasons I recently reduced my Hong Kong brokerage account by 98%. I was using it for diversification purposes and for access to some markets. But the reality is that in today’s environment, keeping assets in Hong Kong that can be held elsewhere does not make much sense as a Western passport holder.
We know the game-plan; if the West is not happy with what another country does, then the West will freeze all financial assets linked to that country.
Who gets caught in the middle? People like us, whether we agree with the approach or not.
Luckily, there are many places welcoming of our money with inherently less geopolitical risk.
To a World of Opportunities,
The Wandering Investor
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Full transcript of “Kyiv Real Estate Market update September 2022”
LADISLAS MAURICE: Hello, everyone. Ladislas Maurice from thewanderinginvestor.com. So today, we’re going to have a very interesting discussion, which is real estate in Kyiv, in Ukraine, with John, who advises a real estate fund there and who helps individual investors make real estate investments in central Kyiv. John, how are you?
JOHN SUGGITT: I’m doing great, Ladislas. I mean, it’s a difficult environment right now, but I’m doing pretty well. It’s good to see you again. It’s been a little while.
LADISLAS MAURICE: It has, it has.
JOHN SUGGITT: It has, yeah. I’m here in Kyiv. It feels pretty normal, I would say. I know other things are happening in other parts of the country, but right now in Kyiv, it’s pretty normal.
LADISLAS MAURICE: Cool.
JOHN SUGGITT: Too much traffic.
LADISLAS MAURICE: Really? Too much traffic?
JOHN SUGGITT: Yeah. Yeah. I once had an investor tell me that traffic is an interesting sign for, you know, economic situation. And there’s traffic jams here. Not like it was, but yeah, there’s traffic jams.
LADISLAS MAURICE: Okay.
JOHN SUGGITT: It’s interesting.
LADISLAS MAURICE: Interesting.
JOHN SUGGITT: Yeah.
LADISLAS MAURICE: Cool. Because I’m having people contact me on a regular basis, asking me about the Kyiv real estate market and wondering if there are any opportunities. So people are really out there, there are some vultures that are looking for, you know, blood in the streets. But that’s not the situation in the market. And people just have a hard time understanding that the market is actually doing relatively well in the context of the situation. So can you tell us what you see on the ground in Kyiv with regards to real estate?
JOHN SUGGITT: Well, it has a lot to do with what we were talking about before, in that there’s no lending here, there are no mortgages. And so, as a result, one, the market has a lot of potential to appreciate in value if there was lending. But also, no one has holding costs, no one has mortgage payments to make every month. And as a result, there’s not a strong desire for people to sell their properties, especially individual residential properties, at a significant loss or substantially lower than the market was priced before the current situation. So we’re not seeing a ton of great individual residential deals.
I wanted to mention to you the one object that we talked about previously, the flour mill that we were looking at turning into an office. At the time, we thought it was a great– it’s a specific situation. And that’s what exactly what we do and what we have to find. The seller of that actually owned the entire block of the buildings, and required money to renovate some of the other properties, so was selling that one property. This is the kind of owner that needs liquidity, as opposed to an individual with an apartment. So we were looking at buying that for $2.8 million before the conflict. And we approached him a week ago with an offer of $1.8 million, which would be, I would think, a substantial– a very good purchase price. He refused.
And I think the main theme right now is that, you know, I think, given the current risk environment, I think that we have time and that we continue to look at different opportunities. The situation on the ground is relatively stable in regards to pricing on the purchase of sales of most assets, however.
LADISLAS MAURICE: So prices aren’t down? I mean, prices are down a bit, though.
JOHN SUGGITT: Okay, I would say the major impact would be that prices are down 10%, 15%, 20%, 20%. The biggest problem, though, is National Bank of Ukraine foreign currency controls, in that all purchases of property must be conducted via bank transfer and must be conducted in hryvnia. Well, it’s currently against the law or however you want to put it to transfer hryvnias into hard currency dollars or euros. And it’s also impossible to transfer dollars and euros out of the country. And the currency is depreciating and will likely depreciate further. As a result, sellers don’t want to accept bank transfer in hryvnias. And there’s restrictions on how many hryvnias you can take out in cash every day.
So this is resulting in also somewhat freezing the market in that the only property transactions that can occur are occurring in US dollar cash. And those are substantial amounts of US dollar cash. So that’s also I would say more like the Ukrainian market, something we’ve always talked about in good times and especially in bad times, is what I call the liquidity of the market, the ability to purchase or sell something quickly. And to me, that’s always been the biggest risk in this market in that when there’s a problem, the market doesn’t go down in price, it just stops. And we’re more seeing that than great decreases in price.
LADISLAS MAURICE: Interesting. So if you go there with a bunch of physical cash and you’re trying to cut a deal, you won’t necessarily find anything extraordinary.
JOHN SUGGITT: Well, as an advisor and as a director of a couple of funds, just my experience, I’m not able to make those transactions because technically they are illegal, but also normal. If you had a substantial amount of US dollar or euro cash, although your euro cash is worth a lot less today, you almost– you definitely could negotiate. And you know, it would be a matter of that type of negotiation, coming into the meeting literally with cash in a bag and saying, take it or leave it and giving them a lowball price. And I would think there might be something to be done in that situation.
Impact of Conflict on rental market in Kyiv
LADISLAS MAURICE: Okay. And what about rentals?
JOHN SUGGITT: Yes. Well, the rental market, of course, in the funds that I’m advising, we had substantial turnover. The residential market is picking up substantially in the last couple of weeks, as especially embassy staff is returning. Embassy staff with four children and a spouse are not returning, of course. Individual embassy staff are returning. So properties renting for 2,000 or less a month are definitely being rented. We have 15 properties, 9 of them are now rented. Most of the properties to embassies are renting at pretty much full price, maybe 10% off the rent that we were receiving before.
Other properties or larger properties, we do something like we do a two-tiered structure for rental payments, where there’s a 50% rental payment during Kyiv martial law and the price automatically doubles at the end of Kyiv martial law. So that we don’t lock the rental price into too low a figure too far into the future. That’s one way that we’re both generating cash flow. And property owners can generate cash flow, but also, you know, mitigate any downside risk in the future if things improve dramatically, and you could increase your prices.
Offices, of course, it’s a little more of a difficult situation. We are certainly, they’re offering a 50% martial law discount, we’re calling it, and several of our offices are not renting as both, I would say it’s more there’s a lot of turnover, businesses are coming and going and thinking things are getting better and coming back and then leaving again. There’s a lot of turnover and a lot of uncertainty for the businesses. And a lot of them can relocate, and they have the experience of COVID of working remotely. So that’s also made a difference.
One thing I think we need to consider for the market going forward is something we were talking about previously, and that’s internal emigration within Ukraine. And we’re seeing a lot of emigration from eastern Ukraine, Kharkiv, Kherson, Donetsk to Kyiv. I’m seeing a lot of Left Bank, that’s sort of the non-business district area of Kyiv, a lot of construction going on there, active construction going on. There’s high demand for housing, especially in western Ukraine and also in Kyiv. I would expect when things end, and eventually they will, that the office situation here in Kyiv will also be substantially benefit as well due to businesses relocating from eastern Ukraine.
Real estate occupancy rates in Kyiv during Conflict
LADISLAS MAURICE: So specifically, John, in the funds that you’ve been advising, can you give us your occupancy rates for the residential fund and for the office fund?
JOHN SUGGITT: Yes, for the residential fund, we have seven of the nine properties rented. So that’s about 80% occupancy rate. And for the offices, we’re about 60% occupied. Most of those are though, like I said, about half the rent that we were accepting before. We’re cash flow positive. I think on the residential side, currently, there are certainly more opportunities. Some opportunities that I do provide for advisory clients that I don’t invest in through the funds that I advise, especially what they call smart apartments, there are a lot of individuals here, and so there’s a demand for buying relatively small apartments, something like 60 meters or 90 meters and turning that into two apartments or three apartments, sort of studios with zero bedroom, bachelor pad or studios, as you would call them. And those have the opportunity, we’re looking at opportunities still in the 16½%, 17% yield range in current situation.
I think that an important factor to consider in regards to prices being sticky at this point in time is on June 25th, Ukraine became an official candidate country to the EU, that create a lot of positive sentiment here in Ukraine among individuals, especially property owners. That has definitely increased their morale and, you know, stabilized the market and created some expectations for the future as well. And I think that’s an issue that we need to somewhat address, in that before this conflict, I put the probability of Ukraine becoming a member of the EU at approaching zero. I don’t think the probability of Ukraine being part of the EU any longer is zero, I think there is some chance that it will become– I have no illusions that it will be quick or and it will be very long and difficult process if it even occurs.
However, should it occur, and should the conflict end and the West and the EU and the US substantially invest in Ukraine in the rebuilding, as they’ve committed to in words, and should the politics at least put Ukraine on a path to more Western and EU integration, which might happen, that will massively impact the market here.
Impact of conflict on Kyiv demographics
LADISLAS MAURICE: One of the thesis that we had before the conflict was that if a conflict were to occur, in many ways it could, and it’s sad to say this, be positive for Kyiv residential real estate, because we’d see a lot of demographic pressure of people escaping the east of Ukraine. So is this something that you’re seeing?
JOHN SUGGITT: Definitely seeing this very strongly. There has been literally millions of people have left Eastern Ukraine and are resettling in Kyiv and in Lviv. I’m seeing a major, like I mentioned, amount of construction here. I think this– one of the most important considerations is not just that it’s immigration but these, in 2014, one of the main economic centers of Ukraine in Donetsk was lost to Ukraine, and two more substantial economic centers in Kharkiv and Kherson are now massively affected and will be affected going into the future by the current situation. As a result, these businesses and these people and this economic activity and money essentially will move to the West and will substantially impact the Kyiv market as they move to Kyiv.
LADISLAS MAURICE: John, thank you very much. So if there’s any like vulture out there, or anyone who wants to discuss the future and potentially making plans for when the situation improves, there is John’s email below in the description (firstname.lastname@example.org).
JOHN SUGGITT: Thank you very much, Ladislas. Always very good to talk with you.
LADISLAS MAURICE: All right. And take care, John.
JOHN SUGGITT: Take care, buddy. Talk to you soon.
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my concern is the language and legal barriers; how do I know what things mean. if I play with money in Ukraine. I need to be confident that I will get me money back with a commensurate return
With a good lawyer this is not an issue. The return part is the question mark for as long as as we see escalation rather than peace negotiations.
I’m interested in buying some properties there is the price is right. However, how do you even get to Ukraine nowadays? There are no flights. How to you even travel to Kiev?
You simply show up at a land border. Train, bus…the normal tourist visa regime applies. You can easily enter Ukraine.