Asia's hottest property market is also its most unlikely: North Korea

Tue Mar 25, 2014 5:27pm EDT
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By Ju-min Park

SEOUL (Reuters) - One of the world's fastest developing property markets is also in one of its least likely places - North Korea.

Even though the buying and selling of houses and apartments is illegal, it is becoming more widespread and sophisticated, said defectors as well as experts who study the ruined economy.

On paper, the socialist state owns all property. But the percentage of North Koreans who are buying their own home - as opposed to waiting for the government to assign one - is growing rapidly, surveys of defectors show.

Brokers can be found with lists of property for sale in private markets selling food and cheap consumer goods that are tolerated by the government in cities and towns around North Korea, the defectors and experts said.

"You can find a house you want by asking brokers," said Kim Young-il, a defector and activist in Seoul.

Deals are done in U.S. dollars in the capital Pyongyang and in Chinese yuan along the border with China, where most of the North's trade with the outside world takes place. The buyers and sellers then bribe housing officials to effectively approve the transaction by issuing or modifying residency documents, the defectors and experts said.

It's another example of how the regime of leader Kim Jong Un is turning a blind eye to a black market that is offering North Koreans a chance to upgrade their living conditions, move from one location to another or to simply make some money, especially given that house prices have been rising steadily.

It is common for defectors to send money to the North so their families can buy better homes. Activist Kim and two other defectors say they have also heard of some people buying property as an investment ahead of what they hope will be the eventual reunification of their impoverished homeland and the wealthy South. Reuters could not confirm those accounts.   Continued...

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspects the construction site of the apartment houses for scientists close to completion in this undated file photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang in this August 7, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/KCNA/Files