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Islamabad the inflated

October 09, 2012


-File Photo

Given the prevailing conditions of Islamabad’s real estate market, it isn’t too far fetched to assume that property prices in the small-town capital may one day be comparable with much larger metropoleis. The day may come when Margalla Hills in Islamabad, could be at par with Beverly Hills in West Los Angeles in terms of rocketing real estate prices.

Where the city’s real estate lacks in sleek urbanity and cosmopolitan offerings, it makes up for in offering ‘dual-purpose’ residential properties to businesses and international agencies: namely, regular houses illogically serving as offices, restaurants, retail outlets and schools.

Foreign missions, in particular, appear to eschew designated commercial sectors like the Blue Area and diplomatic/embassy enclaves for properties in specific residential zones. They pay exorbitant rental fees that also end up inflating real estate prices in adjoining areas.

Rows of discreet bungalows with corporate interiors in tree-lined streets are all too common in Islamabad. To a passerby, it’s hard to tell whether a house is somebody’s home or an office containing dozens of cubicles.

In retrospect, one can purchase a stylish home in the DHA areas of Lahore and Karachi somewhere in the region of 2 crores per kanal. In Islamabad, however, figures for just the land at the hub of Margalla Road start at 4 to 5 crores per kanal. A 4-kanal home would set you back a whopping $2 million and this doesn’t even include the construction cost.

The question arises, is it really worth it?

Property owners certainly seem to think so. Outdated townhouses are commonly rented in the region of $4,000 to $6,000/month in the F6 and F7 area, going up to $12,000/month for larger houses. The reason these figures are being mentioned here in dollars is because Islamabad landlords don’t feel inclined to conduct business in the national currency.

There are even cases where homes go unoccupied for a year or more while the landlord is determined to sign a gora face to the lease, refusing everyone else. Although properties in Pakistan always face the looming threat of qabza style squatters, this form of ‘real estate racism’ nevertheless seems extreme.

Local residents of multimillion-dollar properties in prime locations, who have managed to retain their homes over the last few decades, are now a minority. Many locals have moved to other sectors or to the city’s expanding outskirts to make room for commercial ventures taking over prime residential areas that they can no longer afford to call home. In the meantime, all too many commercial and development ventures continue to operate out of houses in residential areas.

Change is coming soon to Islamabad’s real estate market, however.  The US Embassy is reportedly building a massive structure within its premises to accommodate the housing needs of its entire staff, who would potentially move in from other residential areas in the city. According to the grapevine , once completed, it’d be the biggest embassy in the world.

But for people earning in PKR looking to get maximum bang for their buck, the federal capital isn’t the ideal choice. The same budget can ironically buy a more comfortable, even opulent, lifestyle in the country’s financial capital — Karachi, or in its cultural capital — Lahore. Even hiring household staff, a necessity for comparatively privileged Pakistanis, seems pricier in Islamabad.

The city’s domestic workers reportedly command significantly higher salaries than their contemporaries in Karachi and Lahore, and express a strong preference for foreign employers. The retail sector, too, has its confines; higher priced consumer goods from the fashion high street to kitchen appliances render shopping a trial for price-conscious consumers. After all, premium and imported commodities don’t come cheap.

When it comes down to it, it depends on how much people are willing to invest for a view of the skyline, made all the more dramatic by the iconic Faisal Mosque, the tri-towered Centaurus and the soon-to-be gargantuan Embassy of the United States

In the meantime, ‘Islamabad the Inflated’ seems more apt than ‘Islamabad the Beautiful.’


The author is the editorial director of the Rockville Media Company in Islamabad. She corresponds for HELLO! India, Feedback is welcome at


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.