By Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: Nearly a quarter of a million expatriates have left the country for good after losing their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic. In three months alone till July, 167,000 expats left the country, and according to estimates, the number could rise to more than 1 million, reported Al-Rai Arabic daily. Many real estate companies were directly hit by the exodus and are suffering from low occupancy rates.

“Many of our flats are empty; earlier we used to have almost full occupancy, but now that many expats have left the country, many of our flats are without tenants,” a real estate company told Kuwait Times. To cope with the sudden decline in occupants, several apartment owners resorted to cut the monthly rent by KD 20 to KD 40 per month for new renters, although there are no discounts for existing tenants.

“I am shifting to another flat as the rent is only KD 270 compared to KD 310 we are currently paying. The flat owner did not want to give even a KD 10 discount, so when I found an empty flat nearby, I told my roommates that we are moving. They all agreed, so we are going to shift next month,” said Marz, a tenant. In order to save money, many expat ‘bachelors’ and families share apartments. “We are three families in one flat. We all agreed to move because it means huge savings for us,” he added.

Two-bedroom apartments usually priced at KD 350 are now available for KD 270. Most of these types of apartments can be found in Salmiya, Hawally, Maidan Hawally, Farwaniya and as far afield as Mahboula and Fahaheel. Saeed, an Egyptian haris (building janitor), confirmed that flats in Hawally that usually went for KD 320 are now being rented for KD 280. A studio apartment in Salmiya which earlier cost KD 210 is now at KD 180.

He said there are no new takers these days except for those already in the country prior to the pandemic. No new people are coming in, so there are many empty flats, and in order for the flats to be fully occupied, they need to lower the price. “The building owner said they want our building to be fully occupied. We have a few empty flats and I hope I can give more discounts,” Saeed said.

“The rent value of flats is reasonable now – it’s a good discount compared to the price before COVID-19,” he said. “Expats are shifting from one flat to another for cheaper rent, but people are also paying more if they find a location favorable to them,” he said.

When moving to a new building in Kuwait, the haris usually demanded a ‘gift’ or ‘ikramiya’ of KD 60 to KD 100 and even more, but this practice has been completely eliminated now. “Before COVID, when I moved to our flat, I was told to pay KD 100 to the haris apart from the rent. I paid because they said it was a tradition. But now I am not obliged to pay anything,” Marz said.