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International Real Estate, House Hunting in 2012
All 2012 stories for the New York Times website.

House Hunting in ... Japan

Published on, December 2012

This sleek crescent-shaped two-bedroom house on steel poles, dating to 2008, is built into the side of a slope in the Atami mountain range. Its flattened tubular contours and galvanized metal exterior give it a more-than-passing resemblance to a spaceship. It is built on a single level, principally of light Japanese cypress, and is entered from a central point below, via a glass-enclosed staircase. The ceiling is nearly 10 feet high in the middle, tapering down to eight feet at either end. Nearly every room abuts the elongated C-shaped rear wall; the glass wall across the front offers panoramic views of Mount Fuji. The architect, Shigeru Ban, is internationally known for his minimalist structures, and for his creatively designed temporary shelters built to house victims of war and natural disaster.

Designed with under-floor heating and central air-conditioning, the structure extends over almost 2,000 square feet. The entry staircase opens to a reception area in the spacious central living and dining room, whose floor-to-ceiling glass front wall looks out over treetops to mountains beyond. Its defining feature is a freestanding metal fireplace, which the architect designed to conceal a supporting beam. Sliding panels in the glass wall connect the living area to a terrace made of Japanese cypress and extending the width of the house.

The living and dining area adjoins the kitchen, which has a Gaggenau stovetop, a Miele oven and a peninsula topped in white Corian. The white-stained wood cabinets by the high-end Japanese company Kreis & Co. were custom-made to fit into the curved rear wall. Beyond the kitchen is a bedroom, currently functioning as a den and home office, with a 50-inch flat-screen television, which is being sold with the house. On the terrace just off the den, framed in a cypress box, is the onsen — or hot tub — designed by the Japanese company Hinokisouken to function on water from a natural hot spring.

On the opposite side of the living area, at the far end of the home, is the master bedroom, isolated from the communal space by a large rectangular wooden unit about the size of a travel trailer, its convex back fitting snugly into the concave rear wall. This freestanding structure, made of white-stained wood, houses the bath facilities: a tile-lined shower with a rain showerhead by the German company Hansgrohe, and a separate half bath with leatherlike black walls, a granite floor and an automatic flush toilet by the Japanese company INAX. The architect has hidden closets behind an exterior wall of the bath unit. Like its twin room on the other end, the space has two glass walls.

The terraced yard is landscaped with Japanese sago palms and jasmine, among other plantings. The property is part of a 570-acre private development called Dialand Resort Estate, comprising about 600 homes and a swimming pool, a clubhouse, tennis courts, golf courses and parks, all patrolled by security.

“All the houses are different,” said Norman Chong, the current owner, “that’s the beauty of it.”

The development lies between the towns of Hakone and Atami, which are known for their hot springs. Mr. Chong estimates that 60 percent of the homeowners are either weekend residents or retirees. Of the remainder, who are working residents, half commute to Tokyo. The express train to Tokyo takes about an hour — as does the drive, when traffic is light.

Japan is a buyers’ market, said Erik Oskamp, the owner of Akasaka Real Estate in Tokyo. “Owning property in Tokyo is probably half or a third of the monthly price than if you rent,” he said, “and still people are not buying; that’s how depressed the market is. You always have to explain to people, ‘We’re still here, Japan still exists.’ “

The housing stagnation dates to 1991, the year that diminished expectations about Japan’s economy sent property values into a nosedive.

“During the 1980s, Japan became the financial center of the Asian region,” said Jiro Yoshida, an assistant professor of business at Penn State. “People had a really rosy expectation about the future of the Japanese economy.” With lowered expectations came “a huge drop in property prices,” Mr. Yoshida added, recalling that property prices fell by about 50 percent over the next decade.

The free fall abated in the early 2000s, and a gradual ascent began by 2006 and 2007, Mr. Oskamp said. Still, according to Mr. Yoshida, residential values remain about half what they were in 1991, and even 70 percent less in some areas. In resort areas like Minikami and Chiba, Mr. Oskamp said, values are down by as much as 90 percent.

That said, however, the global economic downturn did not have a huge impact on Japan because its banks had not expanded globally, Mr. Yoshida said.

Almost no foreigners are buying primary residences in Japan, according to Mr. Oskamp. Some are buying as an investment or for use as a second home, but the number is minuscule. “Less than 1 percent of all real estate transactions in Japan involves a foreigner,” he said.

Compounded as it was by the 2011 earthquake and the resulting fear of radiation contamination, the financial crisis pushed many foreigners — especially the banking professionals who typically buy property — to choose Singapore or Hong Kong instead.

What few foreign buyers there are tend to be from China or Taiwan, said Yukiko Takano, the Japan Sotheby’s International Realty agent who has this listing.

Foreign buyers face no restrictions in Japan. Hiring a lawyer for residential real estate transactions is not standard practice; instead, real estate agents typically handle the legal work, with the seller’s agent drafting the contracts. A judicial scrivener, or notary public, investigates the property’s history of ownership and registers its change.

Employed foreigners are generally able to obtain mortgages from Japanese banks. If a borrower defaults on a mortgage, the bank has the right to go after personal assets.

Japan Tourism:
Tokyo Travel Guide:
Mount Fuji tourism:

Japanese; yen (1 yen = $0.01)

The buyer and seller each pay a 3 percent real estate agent commission. The buyer can also expect to pay 5 to 9 percent of the sale price to cover taxes and the scrivener’s fee. Property tax on this house will range from $1,000 to $5,000 a year. The maintenance fee is $1,600 a year; access to the natural hot spring costs $3,000 a year.

Yukiko Takano, Japan Sotheby’s International Realty, 011 81 3 3449 3355;


House Hunting in ... Brazil

Published on, November 2012

This two-story house with cerulean blue shutters and a Spanish tiled roof is set on a lush mountainside in Tres Rios, a picturesque farming area 55 miles from Rio. The coffee plantations that dominated the region in the 1800s inspired the design of this 1993 concrete and stucco house, which was fully renovated in 2008. It has seven bedrooms over more than 9,150 square feet, and its rolling grounds include horse breeding and boarding facilities, a eucalyptus plantation, a distillery, springs, groves and sugar cane fields. The house is surrounded by bright flowering bushes as well as palms and other fruit-bearing trees that attract exotic birds like Macaw maracanas and toucans.

Flooring throughout is Brazilian hardwood, except in the kitchen and baths, which are lined in Brazilian Brennand tile. The large, open living room on the first floor has a double-height ceiling of slatted Brazilian hardwood and a large stone fireplace. Opposite are three pairs of French doors opening onto a veranda with views of the tropical forest and the Serra do Rio de Janiero mountains. The kitchen, behind the living and dining rooms, has taupe marble countertops, a gas stove, and a refrigerator and dishwasher from the Brazilian company Brastemp. Also on the first floor: a game room, a small TV room, two baths, a laundry room, and a maid’s room.

On the second floor, directly above the fireplace, is an open corridor with a railing that overlooks the living room. Two of the six bedrooms off the hallway have en-suite baths; the other four bedrooms share two baths.

Behind the house is a triangular grassy expanse with a spring-fed swimming pool; beyond is a building with a Spanish tiled roof that houses a fully equipped gym, steam sauna and bathroom. Its tiled outdoor eating area has a pizza oven and a barbecue. The scent of eucalyptus permeates the air because the property includes a 15-acre plantation, though the trees are not currently harvested. “Not only can we smell it,” said Christophe Bénichou, the owner, “insects smell it, so we don’t have flies.”

Bugio monkeys make frequent visits. Mr. Bénichou recently snapped a photograph of a monkey sitting on a windowsill. “They are the size of our Labrador,” Mr. Bénichou said. “Pretty big monkeys, but completely friendly, and they don’t come close.”

The previous owner harvested the sugar cane on the property to make cachaça, the key ingredient for caipirinhas, the Brazilian cocktail. The 25 barrels of cachaça inside the distillery have been aging for 15 years, and they come with the house. “Each year it becomes better, like cognac or whiskey,” Mr. Bénichou said. The property has three additional secluded houses that could be used for staff or guests. Each has 860 square feet of space, with two bedrooms, a living and dining room, a kitchen, a bathroom and a terrace.
Tres Rios is a farming and ranching area, as well as a vacation retreat for Rio residents. The historic city of Petrópolis, known for its 19th-century architecture, is less than an hour’s drive and attracts a steady flow of tourists. Rio beaches are an hour and a half away.

The housing market is extraordinarily robust. “Prices not only remained stable, but increased, even dramatically,” said Dr. Andreas Hahn, who with his wife, Elaine Claudia de Almeida, owns Hahn Imoveis Brasil, the real estate company listing the property. Dr. Hahn, an economist, noted that because of Brazil’s restrictive lending policies, buyers in the late 2000s were prevented from borrowing beyond their means, unlike those in the United States and elsewhere.
Alessandro Jacob, a lawyer in Copacabana who specializes in real estate, said Brazil remains a buyers’ market, although the best time to buy was about two years ago, as current prices are 30 percent higher. Dr. Hahn concurred, though he points out that it’s still an excellent time to buy, as prices will only continue to rise. The next World Cup and Olympics, to be hosted by Brazil, are also generating investments, infrastructure improvements and enhanced crime-fighting measures.

Brazil attracts buyers from many countries. Dr. Hahn says they tend to come from France, Britain, Germany, Switzerland and Italy, with a recent demand from Russia and China.

There are some restrictions on foreign buyers, though they generally apply only on properties larger than 123 acres. There are none on this Tres Rios property. Foreign buyers are required to have a tax number, which is easily obtained. Hiring a lawyer is not mandatory, but Mr. Jacob strongly recommends it; the cost is roughly 2 percent of the sale price.
As for financing, Mr. Hahn recommends that foreigners obtain it in their home country. “Brazilian banks hardly give loans to Brazilians,” he said. “It’s even more difficult for foreigners.”

City of Rio de Janeiro tourism:
Rio de Janeiro state portal (Portuguese only):

Portuguese; Brazilian Real (1 Brazilian Real = $0.48)

Transfer tax is 2 percent of the sale price; property tax is $10 a year; notary fee is approximately $500.

Dr. Andreas Hahn, Hahn Imoveis Brasil, 011 49 371 2397867;


House Hunting in ... England

Published on, October 2012

This 6,000-square-foot stone house in the countryside of southwest England, near Bath, was built in 1815 in the Regency style. Known as Hapsford House, it has eight acres of lawns and gardens, with an orchard, a wooded area and a slow-moving, tree-lined river. The property combines architectural elements like fanciful ceiling moldings and bay windows with modern updates in the kitchen and bathrooms.

The first floor has five common rooms designed as sitting, reception or dining spaces. They have ornate ceiling moldings, marble fireplaces and wide pine floorboards. "One of the reasons I like the house so much is that it hasn't been mucked about with," said Rajan Russell, Hapsford House's owner, describing the amount of detail as "staggering."

One space, called the Gothic Room, has a high canopied ceiling with gilded capitals, an original candle chandelier, a marble fireplace, large windows, and French doors opening to manicured lawns. Another, the Chinese Room, is the most intimate space in the house, said Mr. Russell, detailing its handpainted Chinese motifs on burgundy-hued walls and ceiling.

The kitchen, tiled in black and white marble, was designed by the high-end company Plain English in a modern country style, with an Aga stove, slate countertops, a Bosch refrigerator and fixtures by the London-based Czech & Speake. It opens to a conservatory, also tiled in black and white, with a double-height glass pyramid roof. Both rooms have under-floor heating.

The conservatory was an 1875 addition, as was an adjacent room used as an office, which opens onto a wisteria-arbored pathway. The first floor also has au pair quarters with a bedroom, a living space, a kitchenette and a separate entrance.

A staircase with a curved ebony banister leads to five bedrooms, several with working fireplaces and three with en-suite baths outfitted by the French company Volevatch. Rooms on the south side of the house have views of the gardens, and mature trees including chestnuts, beeches and oaks. The house and gardens are protected under historic preservation laws; any changes, either internal or external, would be subject to official approval.

Near the main house is a three-bedroom stone carriage house with arched windows, two baths, a kitchen and a large living area. It may be too close by to be suitable as a rental, said Charles Chute, an agent from Savills, the company that has the listing, "but it would be great for staff or guests.

The property has a croquet lawn, a tennis court and, on the riverbank, a small boathouse with a contemplation room. There is also an "outdoor dining room" - a covered clearing in the woods - with a table, chairs and a pizza oven, bordered by sculptures and fenced with thatched willow branches.

For an additional $1.6 million, a hydropower facility on adjacent land can be included in the deal. It provides power to the national grid, and earns the homeowner anywhere from $48,000 to $ 96,000 a year, depending on rainfall. Hapsford House, surrounded by farmland and lush green hills in Somerset County, is just outside Frome, which has small shops, cafes and a farmers' market. "Frome was originally a weaving town, a wool town," Mr. Russell said, adding that many artists now live in the area. Babsford House, a hotel and country club, is 10 minutes away, and Bath, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is 13 miles away. The commute to London takes about an hour and a half, and the Bristol International Airport is 30 miles away.

The housing market in England varies widely depending on location. Central London's market is extremely robust. The north of England has been quiet, while the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire and Hampshire have sold well, said Mr. Chute of Savills.

The market in Somerset County has heated up substantially within the last year. "If I knew why," Mr. Chute added, "I'd be a billionaire." But he theorizes that buyers realize they can get more for their money in the country.

Prices in London and Bath have recovered from the dip induced by the global economic crisis, said Philip Ryder, a partner at the law firm Stone King who works in both its London and Bath offices. Mr. Russell says Hapsford House is probably priced at half what it would have been before the crash, unlike his properties in the greater London area, which have more than regained their value.

England, principally London, attracts home buyers from all over the globe. "London is popular with South Africans, South Americans, Europeans, people from the Middle East, Russians, Kazaks, Indians; recently the Chinese," Mr. Ryder said. "I know the Japanese are very keen on the Cotswolds; they are more famous in Japan than they are here."

Most buyers in Somerset County are British, though there are a few from France and Germany and a larger group from the United States who tend to buy in Bath.

There are no restrictions on foreign buyers in England. Buyers and sellers typically hire lawyers called solicitors, whose fees can run anywhere from $800 to $8,000. They are responsible for drafting the contract, assessing the need for property surveys, and searching the local Land Registry for history of ownership.

Mr. Ryder cautioned that some potential pitfalls to ownership may not appear in the Land Registry. "There are things called overriding interests, third-party interests, which might affect the property," he explained. For example, a special "chancel search" determines whether a nearby church owns any of the property. If so, it might be able to collect money from the property owner for church repairs.

No purchase is guaranteed until the buyer and seller exchange contracts. Foreigners can obtain mortgages through British banks, as long as they meet the financial criteria.

Frome portal:
Somerset portal:
Somerset tourism:
Somerset news:
Bath tourism:

English; British pound (1 British pound = $ 1.62)

The transfer tax, known at stamp duty, is 7 percent of the selling price. Council tax, as the property tax is known, is $5,121 a year.

Luke Brady, Savills Bath, 011 441225 474 500;


House Hunting in ... Belgium
$2.2 MILLION (1,750,000 EUROS)

Published on, September 2012

This three-story brick house built in 1850 is set amid rolling green hills, 25 miles from Brussels in the French-speaking province of Walloon Brabant. It has four bedrooms and three baths; a recent renovation retained architectural elements like exposed oak ceiling beams and rafters, and even remnants of machinery, like the pulley above the living room framed by ceiling beams. The baths and kitchen have been redone, as have the electrical, water and heating systems.

The house has about 7,600 square feet of space; the central living room has a 26-foot ceiling, opened up as part of the renovation, in which the owners removed two higher floors to reveal beams, braces and rafters, said Véronique Schatten, office manager for Engel & Voelkers Wavre, the listing agency. The room has three elongated south-facing windows, as well as three smaller windows on the opposite wall. A large stone fireplace set in a brick wall came from a chateau in France.

Other rooms on the main floor include a small television lounge with an open mezzanine above that functions as a home office; an open kitchen; and an adjoining dining area with a terra-cotta-tiled floor. Kitchen cabinets are wooden; the stovetop is ceramic and appliances are by the German company Miele.

Of three bedrooms on the second floor, two have en-suite baths with Grohe ceramic fixtures and white tile walls. On the third floor is the master suite, which has a dressing room in addition to the bath, and a pitched ceiling with exposed wood. The teak-paneled bath has a ceramic tub, a large tiled shower, and two porcelain sinks by the Italian company Antonio Lupi.

In the basement is a brick-walled wine cellar with a lounge, which still has a round chunk of granite in the floor, a remnant of the mill's machinery. Also included in the asking price are two 19th-century buildings with terra cotta roofs, one most likely a horse stable, the other a renovated one-story building that was intended to be a pool house. The pool was never built, so the building, equipped with a bar, a fireplace, French doors, and a terrace, is used for entertaining.

Red beeches line the driveway leading to the main house. The lawns are dotted with chestnut and oak trees, trellised walkways and sculptured shrubs. The center of Brussels is 40 minutes away, an hour during rush hour.

Walloon Brabant is in the "Green Belt," a ring of suburbs and semirural areas around Brussels. Castles and monuments punctuate the countryside, among them the site of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

The market has been steady and strong, nearly unaffected by the crisis that crippled housing markets in countries like Ireland and Spain. According to Olivier Thiel, a residential investment specialist in the Brussels office of Knight Frank, a London real estate and consulting firm, "Almost everyone who is 30 years old has bought real estate, and they see it as a type of savings." About 70 percent of Belgians own property, said Mr. Thiel, adding that property prices in Walloon Brabant had gone up an average of 50 percent over the past decade, and that higher-end properties had risen 16 percent over the last five years. Even so, Ms. Schatten says that properties priced above a million euros are not moving.

In Walloon Brabant, a province of Wallonia, the transfer tax is around 14.5 percent of property value. Owners tend to keep properties a minimum of 10 years before selling, in order not to lose money on the purchase. "It's kept it stable, slow," Ms. Schatten said of the market.

Nearly all buyers in Walloon Brabant are Belgian, typically young Brussels families seeking more space. The small number of foreigners who do buy in Walloon Brabant are generally residents of France, Britain, Holland and Scandinavian countries, and have children attending international schools in the area.

There are no restrictions on foreign buyers. As in many European countries, buyers do not usually hire a lawyer, relying instead on the public notary to handle the transaction.

But while there is no imperative to hire a lawyer, especially if the buyer is using a real estate agent, some factors may dictate retaining one, said Siegfried Busscher, a lawyer with the Brussels-based Schoups law firm. If there are international tax issues, he said, a lawyer should be consulted.

Foreigners are eligible for mortgages from Belgian banks; they must meet the same requirements asked of any Belgian buyer.

Brussels and Wallonia tourism:
Belgium portal:
Belgium tourism:

French, Dutch and German; euro (1 euro = $1.28)

The transfer tax and notary fee cost approximately 15 percent of the property's value. The property tax is $1,679 a year.

Marie Ledeganck, Engel & Voelkers Wavre,


House Hunting in ... Turkey
$2.6 MILLION (4,653,810 TURKISH LIRA)

Published on, August 2012

This two-story house is nestled in a hill on the Bodrum Peninsula on Turkey's southwest coast, and has expansive views of the surrounding craggy hills, an international yacht marina, beaches and the Aegean. Greek islands are visible on clear days. The rear windows, sliding glass doors and terraces overlook the sea, as do the back garden and pool. The owner built the almost 5,000-square-foot house in 2010 using stones from demolished houses in nearby villages, and from the property itself. "She catches the soul of the area and mixes it with a sense of modernism as well," said Heike Tanbay of Engel & Völkers, the listing agent, referring to the owner.

All the interior walls in the house are either plaster or stone - whitewashed or natural. Many ceilings have oak beams, and most floors are of cedar. The entrance is on the upper level. Just off the foyer through an arched stone doorway is an airy living room with a fireplace of polished travertine. Sliding glass doors with cedar frames open onto a stone terrace with a seating area and panoramic sea views. The terrace also serves as an outdoor counterpart of the dining room, adjacent to the living room.

The kitchen, sharing the upper level, is equipped with a gas stove and vent hood made by the German company Gaggenau. The kitchen island and countertops are marble, and the sleek dark-gray cupboards are custom-made. The floor is tiled with travertine, also found in the hallways and bathrooms.

Each of the two levels has two bedrooms with en-suite baths, their fixtures designed by the Turkish company VitrA. The pair of suites on the upper floor have walk-in closets and stone terraces. Every room in the house has been positioned to take advantage of the surrounding views, and the master bathroom is no exception, with a freestanding contemporary bathtub next to a window.

The lower level is reached by an oak staircase in the foyer. In addition to the two bedroom suites, the space has a snug study with built-in bookshelves, a TV room, and several doors to the backyard, where the 45-foot swimming pool has the Aegean as its backdrop. The 1.85-acre property has a separate 753-square-foot two-bedroom house for household staff as well as parking.

The house is a five-minute drive from the town of Yalikavak, one of many small communities on the Bodrum Peninsula, an upscale vacation area with many year-round residents. The largest town on the peninsula, also called Bodrum, is 15 minutes away, and the international Milas-Bodrum Airport can be reached in an hour. One of the peninsula's three marinas, in Yalikavak, was recently expanded to accommodate super-sized yachts.

Turkey is experiencing a construction boom, strong economic growth, increased consumption, and rapid urban population growth. At the same time there is increased consumer borrowing and buying on credit.

Turkey could be in the midst of a real estate bubble, said the Turkish economist Daron Acemoglu, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "I wouldn't say a drop in prices is imminent," Mr. Acemoglu wrote in an e-mail. "Nevertheless, it does raise the possibility that real estate is overpriced and is a more risky investment than many people might appreciate, and there might be a drop in prices sometime in the next several years."

Mortgage interest rates are high - 9 to 12 percent, said Ms. Tanbay, the broker. According to Mr. Acemoglu, many buyers have their housing financed by mortgages, but the high rates are preventing further widespread borrowing, which occurred in the United States before the financial crash.

Lower-end properties on the Bodrum Peninsula are selling for a half to a third of their prices before the global economic downturn, while the high-end market is robust, Ms. Tanbay said. Luxury properties in prime locations near the seaside are selling 10 to 15 percent higher than before 2008. She noted that the exclusive Mandarin Oriental Hotel was scheduled to open villas and apartment residences in the Bodrum area in 2013, and that 60 percent of the properties were already sold.

Residents from more than 110 countries can buy property in Turkey, said Ms. Tanbay, adding that many new prospective buyers live in Middle Eastern countries.

That said, most buyers in the Bodrum area are Turkish. But at Altuntabak Real Estate Agency in the town of Bodrum, there are also buyers from France, Belgium, Holland and, more recently, Russia and countries like Azerbaijan, said the agency owner, Umit Altuntabak.

Ms. Tanbay, the listing agent, says the Bodrum area remains a relatively undiscovered spot for foreigners, though she also sees buyers from countries like Germany, Britain, Sweden and Denmark.

A foreigner cannot own property on land considered strategic, or outside municipalities on land classified as agricultural. Every foreign buyer must obtain written permission from the military; the process, considered a formality, usually takes two to three months.

The purchase agreement is drafted by the real estate agent or a lawyer if the buyer chooses to hire one. Although most Turkish buyers don't, for a straightforward residential real estate purchase, foreigners are strongly advised to, said Nazli Aydogan Kaplan, founding partner of Kaplan Law Office in the town of Bodrum. After the purchase agreement is written, the buyer typically gives the seller an initial payment of approximately 10 percent of the selling price. The deed cannot actually be signed until after military permission is obtained, two to three months later.

But "when you give money to the real estate agent or to the seller," said Ms. Kaplan, "you should have some legal guarantee in the agreement."

Bodrum Peninsula information:
Bodrum guide:
Bodrum information:

Turkish; Turkish lira (1 lira = $0.55)

The transfer tax is 3.3 percent of the selling price, split between buyer and seller, as is the broker fee of approximately 7 percent. The annual property tax is approximately 1 percent of the house's value.

Heike Tanbay, Engel & Volkers Bodrum,


House Hunting in ... Colombia
$1.8 MILLION (3,140,000,000 COLOMBIAN PESOS)

Published on, August 2012

This two-story corner house in Bogotá's oldest historic neighborhood, La Candelaria, is nestled among stucco buildings with Spanish tile roofs. A rustic open-air courtyard with terra cotta floor tiles is the central feature of the 8,445-square-foot-home; it has a fountain, jasmine, bougainvillea, potted plants and a large avocado tree.

The house was built in 1870, in the Republican architectural style. Its large windows and doors, along with open spaces and skylights, are characteristics adapted from French architecture to lighten up the Spanish Colonial style. The courtyard provides much of the natural light, as numerous large windows, doors and glass-enclosed passageways on both levels open up to it. At the time the house went up, it was typical for an owning family to live upstairs, while shops and servants' quarters were housed downstairs. Many original interior details are intact, among them the French doors made of Romerón pine and glass; carved transoms; decorative window frames; and ornate ceiling moldings. Floors throughout are either tiled or made of hardwoods, including guayacán, teak, cedar and nazareno, an exotic wood known in English as purpleheart amaranth, which according to the owner, Bertha Herrera, is "the color of red wine."

The house, divided into seven residential units, also has about 540 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor, currently occupied by a pizza parlor with a street entrance. This configuration was the result of a 1990 renovation that also overhauled the plumbing and electrical systems.

Overlooking the courtyard on the second floor is an enclosed interior passageway with expansive windows made of small glass panes and thin metal latticing. The owner lives on this floor, in a one-bedroom unit with a large living room; a fireplace; an open kitchen connected to a skylighted dining area; a home office with a view of the street; and a tiled terrace with a barbecue area and views of the mountains outside Bogotá.

On the first floor, the owner has rented out the six studio apartments of various sizes. Each has a living area, a kitchenette, a bathroom and a lofted sleeping area. One unit also has a small terra-cotta-tiled patio and a one-car garage.

The property is being sold as a single-family home. The commercial unit, soon to be vacated, will remain empty until the sale, according to Francy Saldaña, the listing agent, of Century 21 Colombia. Three of the six rental units are occupied; the leases are day-to-day, up to a maximum of three months. If the new owner decides to keep all the rental units intact and rented, the total received per month is about $8,870. Historic preservation rules prohibit altering the facade, but interior spaces can be renovated.

La Candelaria is home to many of Bogotá's theaters, museums and cultural centers, among them the Luis Ángel Arango Library, which houses the Botero Museum, as well as government buildings including the presidential palace. Historic churches, parks and plazas punctuate the area, and several universities are close by. La Candelaria, once considered dangerous, has gentrified considerably over the last decade.

The Bogotá housing market is robust. "At this moment the prices are very high," said Ms. Saldaña, adding that 2011 was a particularly strong year.

According to Sam Miller, the owner of New Horizons Real Estate, prices nationwide fell about 20 percent around 2008 but have nearly recovered. "It seems to be a steady growth of 5 to 7 percent a year," Mr. Miller said. He added that although the global financial crisis had been a factor in the 2008 decline, a more important one had been the construction boom that swept Colombia starting in the early 2000s - after the country reduced crime and improved security.

Ms. Saldaña says that most foreigners who buy in Colombia, including Bogotá, are from Venezuela, the United States, Mexico and Chile. Mr. Miller says he often gets inquiries from Americans interested in buying property for their retirement years, especially in Cartagena because it is on the Caribbean coast. "They might have a Colombian spouse, or some connection to Colombia," he said. "There are also the investment buyers, mostly from the States, some from Europe and England."

There are no purchase restrictions on foreigners. Colombians, especially in Bogotá, do not customarily hire lawyers for real estate transactions. And if a seller doesn't use a real estate agent, a family member who has sold a property in the past acts as the agent. Once the buyer and seller agree on the terms of the purchase, the transaction must be conducted at a notary's office.

But Francy Adriana González Torres, a lawyer with the firm González & González, strongly recommends that foreign buyers hire a lawyer. "I wouldn't recommend, not in a million years, a person from the States buying a property on their own." Ms. Gonzáles explained that properties can have hidden complications, such as old debts or a questionable history of ownership. "If you get a house with some type of inconvenience," she said, "it's a long process in our courts to fix that. It's better to check everything from the very beginning."

Mr. Miller, the agency owner, has no such qualms. In his view a straightforward purchase, with a recent certificate stating the property has no debts, does not warrant the hiring of a lawyer. "As long as the agent they acquire is professional and adept in the nuances of finalizing the sale," Mr. Miller wrote in an e-mail.

Most Colombian banks don't offer mortgages to foreigners. One exception is Citibank, which lends to foreigners if they can prove employment in Colombia, Ms. Gonzáles said.

Bogotá tourism:
Bogotá portal:
Candelaria information:
Bilingual Bogotá guide:
Colombia tourism:

Spanish; Colombian peso ($1 = 1,800 Colombian pesos)

The transfer tax, notary fee and closing costs are 2 to 2.5 percent of the selling price, split by the buyer and seller. The annual property tax is $390.

Francy Saldaña, 011 57 310 786 2247;


House Hunting in ... Ukraine
$880,000 (7,115,944 UKRAINE HRYVNIA)

Published on, July 2012

This 2,260-square-foot unit is on the top two floors of a seven-story walk-up building. Built in 1914, it has high ceilings and several open areas, and is awash in natural light from oversized windows, two small balconies with French doors and a wall of glass sliding doors.

The apartment is entered on the lower level, into an airy space shared by the kitchen and the living room. The ceiling is 13 feet high, and one wall has four large windows and a set of French doors that lead to one of two small balconies. The gleaming black appliances in the open kitchen are made by Miele and Bosch. A rectangular island, also black, divides the kitchen from the living room. With a sink and an electric stovetop built in, it also functions as an eating counter, on the side facing the living room. The floor in this part of the apartment is light wood painted with a black abstract pattern resembling exaggerated knotty wood, according to Luda Kosobutskaya, an English-speaking colleague of the listing agent, Ludmila Leonidova, at Park Lane.

The master bedroom, beyond the living room, has three large windows and a small balcony with French doors. On the opposite end of the floor, by the front entrance, is one of two bathrooms. Each has fixtures by Devon & Devon, an Italian company, as well as a mounted flat-screen TV; this one has a vintage feel with its clawed tub, striped wallpaper, a decorative fireplace, and a black-and-white-checkered floor.

On one wall of the light-filled family room upstairs is a contemporary columnar fireplace; another wall is outfitted with a large-screen home theater. The room is dominated by a wall of sliding glass doors, which open to a large terrace with panoramic views of Kiev.

Also on the upper level is the second, smaller bedroom, which has a 10-foot-high ceiling and a blond wood floor. The bathroom is lined with beige marble and has a whirlpool bathtub. A small adjacent room, now in use as a walk-in closet, could be converted into a third bedroom or an office.

The apartment is centrally located in the Shevchenkivsky district of Kiev, a bustling neighborhood filled with stores, restaurants and cafes that cater to a business crowd. The nearest metro stop is a five-minute walk, and there is a movie theater across the street. Also within walking distance are the National Opera House, historic theaters and cathedrals, Taras Shevchenko National University and Shevchenko Park.

The housing market has been in a downward spiral since the global financial crisis, making Kiev a buyers’ market. “Since 2008, prices have fallen twice,” said Igor Darmogray, a lawyer in the Kiev office of the Berlin firm Werner & Partners. “Two years ago, the prices were simply unimaginable, they were extremely high. The apartments which cost $1 million, now it’s difficult to sell them at $500,000.”

Luxury property prices have dropped 20 to 25 percent since 2008, said Yaroslava Chapko, the manager of Knight Frank Ukraine, the international property and research company. “There are empty business-class buildings,” Ms. Chapko said.

According to Mr. Darmogray, “Ukraine was hit harder by this crisis than other, neighboring countries.” Ukraine’s gross national product fell about 15 percent in 2008, he said.

“If you want to get a good deal on real estate,” said Alex Frishberg of Frishberg & Partners, a Kiev law firm, “now, within the next year or so, would be a good time. The entire market is dead.”

The market has been crippled further by the unpopularity of President Viktor F. Yanukovich, whose presence has scared off foreign investors, Mr. Frishberg said. In addition, Ukrainian banks are barely lending money, making it virtually impossible for middle class Ukrainians to purchase property and stimulate the market.

Kiev’s prestigious Shevchenkivsky district attracts foreign companies and embassies. They buy buildings to house their staffs while on assignment, said Mr. Frishberg who counts many such expatriates as his clients. “Kiev is not a luxury or tourist destination,” added Mr. Frishberg. “It’s business, purely.”

Mr. Darmogray says he has seen some individual foreign buyers in the Shevchenkivsky district, and they tend to be Russians, Americans, Britons and Poles. Most foreign buyers are Europeans, said Mr. Frishberg, citing the one exception, in the resort areas of Crimea, which draws Russians. According to Mr. Darmogray, the number of foreign buyers fell by 10 percent from 2010 to 2011.

Notaries are required; lawyers are not typically involved, although foreigners are encouraged to hire one.

“Foreigners get cheated in different ways,” Mr. Frishberg said. “You have to do your due diligence. It’s a high-risk country where a lot of things don’t go right.” Most business in Kiev is conducted in Russian and Ukrainian. Although the official currency is the hryvnia, large transactions are typically conducted in euros or dollars. Ms. Chapko says it is possible for foreigners to get financing from Ukrainian and foreign banks, though she doubts it is practical. “The interest rate is crazy,” she said. “In national currency, it’s 22, 23 percent.”

Kiev daily in English:
Ukraine expat community:
Ukraine travel:
Kiev portal:
Ukrainian portal:

Ukrainian; hryvnia (1 hryvnia = $0.12)

Maintenance is about $100 a month; utilities are about $120 a month, said Ms. Kosobutskaya. The notary fee is 1 percent of the purchase price, customarily paid by the buyer, although occasionally split by buyer and seller. Another 1 percent is paid to the State Pension Fund, and 6 percent to the agent.

Luda Kosobutskaya for Ludmila Leonidova, Park Lane,
11 380 67 282 8475;


House Hunting in ... Italy
$803,838 (645,000 EUROS)

Published on, July 2012

This three-story villa with a cellar was built in 1890 on a lush hilltop overlooking the village of Fianello, less than an hour’s drive from Rome. The current owner fully renovated it in 2009. The facade has shuttered windows, an arched doorway, and a front terrace landscaped with potted plants. “It’s very classical outside, but modern and designed inside,” said Diletta Spinola, the listing agent, who is from Rome Sotheby’s International Realty. She describes the mix of old and new in the 2,600-square-foot interior as “very harmonious,” with “hints and touches of classical Italian taste.”
The foyer has a ceiling of exposed wood beams. The living room has a traditional stone fireplace; along three walls of the dining room is a wraparound cushioned bench that fits snugly around a long, narrow table.
An Italian-made contemporary glass fireplace, built into the wall between the kitchen and the dining room, is one of the villa’s most striking features. “You can see through it, from the dining room into the kitchen, from the kitchen into the dining room,” Ms. Spinola said. “You decide which side to open it.”
The kitchen has white Italian marble countertops and a freestanding island. A wooden rack hangs from the ceiling, ideal for pots, cured meats or garlic. The wooden cabinets are painted light gray-blue. The stove, refrigerator and dishwasher were manufactured by the Italian company Smeg. The sink with sleek metal faucet is by Philippe Starck, as are the bathroom fixtures.
Also on the first floor are a half bath and a guest bedroom with French doors opening onto a side garden. A spiral staircase descends from this bedroom into the large renovated basement, which has a full bathroom, as well as a wine cellar and a second kitchen that can be reached from the living room via a separate staircase.
On the second floor, a small central hall opens onto a Juliet balcony overlooking the front garden. There’s also a master bedroom, a large bath and a walk-in closet. The third floor, a renovated attic, has a sloped ceiling; the space has been divided into three rooms, one of which now functions as a sitting room.
The house has central heat and air-conditioning. Floors throughout are either original terra cotta tiles or new, large gray ones. Walls are a mix of original and new exposed stone, or smooth white plaster. Among the furnishings included in the asking price are chandeliers, beds, dressers, tables and armoires, most of them antiques; there is even a 1950s vintage ham cutter in the kitchen.
The front garden overlooking the hilly countryside covers more than 5,000 square feet, landscaped with lavender, assorted shrubs, and several palm trees around a central fountain. Fianello is in the northern part of the Lazio region, near the Umbria border in an area called the Sabina, a patchwork of vineyards, olive groves, and villages, with churches, monasteries, castles and ruins, some dating to the Middle Ages or the Roman Empire. Depending on traffic, it takes about 50 minutes to drive to central Rome from Fianello, and more than an hour to reach Fiumicino Airport.

The housing market is depressed. Prices have fallen steadily since 2010, continuing their decline this year. This has resulted in a buyers’ market, said Vittorio Barbera, a law partner at Barbera & Associati in Rome who specializes in real estate transactions. He said he had seen prices fall by as much as 50 percent in some cases, affecting everything from prime historical buildings in Rome to homes outside the city. “If someone is interested,” Mr. Barbera said, “he can find a lot of opportunities right now.”
Flaminia Cantamaglia, a notary, said declines in prime areas of Rome had not been so steep — more like 5 to 10 percent — though she did acknowledge precipitous dropoffs elsewhere.
Alessandro Antonelli, a Rome-based economist, predicted that property prices could fall 15 to 20 percent further in the next two years, or simply remain stagnant. In his view, this is an exceptionally good environment for buyers who do not need financing, as “cash is king.”
The slump is attributed to a number of factors, including the euro zone crisis and austerity measures like higher property taxes. Italian banks’ unwillingness to lend has stymied real estate activity. Even prospective buyers who do not need financing are holding back to see if prices drop further.

Most of the homeowners in the Sabina region are Italian, although there are a few Americans and Northern Europeans. Fianello has three year-round residents, according to Ms. Spinola; the rest of the properties in and around the village are either vacant or used as weekend homes.
In Rome itself, Americans and Northern Europeans make up the bulk of foreign homeownership. Russian and Chinese buyers are beginning to make their presence felt; many are expressing interest in rural properties, said Ms. Spinola.

There are no restrictions on buying property. As in many other European countries, transactions are conducted by notaries. Mr. Barbera recommends that foreign buyers also hire a lawer, even though that is not standard practice among Italians. “Attorneys know the law of real estate acquisitions, on tax, and can help with the preliminary agreement, which is a binding agreement between the parties stating the purchase price and conditions of the transaction,” he said.

Even if foreign buyers have an excellent financial history and are able to pay 20 to 30 percent of a property’s asking price, they may not be able to obtain a loan from an Italian bank in the current climate.

Sabina tourism:
Fianello tourism:
Fianello information:
Rome tourism:

Italian; euro (1 euro = $1.26)

The notary fee and transfer tax are paid by the buyer. The former is about $3,117; the latter is about $4,987 if this villa is a first home, or roughly $9,974 if it is a second home. The annual property tax is $1,186. If a buyer chooses to hire a lawyer, the fee could run anywhere from $2,500 to $6,000. The agent’s fee is 6 percent of the sale price, divided equally between buyer and seller.

Diletta Spinola, Rome Sotheby’s International Realty,
11 39 06 69 38 00 76;


House Hunting in ... Sweden
$1,040,856 (6,995,000 SWEDISH KRONOR)

Published on, May 2012

This two-bedroom penthouse on the seventh floor of an apartment building in the heart of Malmo, Sweden’s third-largest city, has almost 1,000 square feet of interior space. Most of the exterior of the 1938 elevator building is clad in tan tiles. The penthouse has a copper facade, and a spacious L-shaped terrace wrapped around two sides. The unit gets abundant natural light through numerous windows and glass doors. The current owners bought the apartment two and a half years ago and created an open floor plan.

The entry opens into the central living room, which has two windows of different sizes and a glass door to the terrace. One wall has stained wooden cabinets custom-built around a flat-screen TV and a stereo system, all of which are included in the asking price. A sleek square fireplace made by the Italian company Safretti is recessed into another wall. Flooring throughout the apartment is burnt oak parquet. “I chose oak because it’s hard and you can have parties here with stiletto heels, no problem,” said Marten Hedlund, the owner.

The bath, near the entry, is outfitted with Grohe fixtures. The wall tiles in the shower are from Italy; the smooth stones embedded in the floor are from the east coast of Sweden.

To the left of the living room, the master bedroom has built-in shelving and a walk-in closet, as well as expansive windows on one wall and a second glass door to the terrace. To the right of the living room is the dining area, followed by the second bedroom. The open kitchen, off the dining room, has dark metallic cabinets by the Swedish company Vedum. A bright orange glass backsplash stripe runs horizontally beneath the mounted wall cabinets, coordinating with orange cabinet handles. The thick countertop is made of oak. Most of the kitchen appliances are by the Swedish brand Husqvarna.

The Siberian larch terrace has more than 1,200 square feet of space. Mr. Hedlund describes it as “the biggest thing in the apartment” in both size and allure. It has a Viking Spa hot tub, which is included in the asking price.

The penthouse has panoramic views of a number of Malmo landmarks, like the ornate turret top of the Odd Fellow Palace on one side and a historic graveyard on the other.

Literally and figuratively, there is fluidity between Malmo and Copenhagen, which is across a strait called the Oresund. The five-mile Oresund Bridge opened in 2000; many Malmo residents commute to Copenhagen for work, a 15 to 30-minute trip by train or car. The International Copenhagen Airport is 20 minutes from the apartment, as are miles of Swedish beaches.

The housing market is robust, as Sweden was largely unscathed by global financial troubles. “There was a little dip felt in 2008,” said Fredrick Hagberg, a Malmo broker with the company Bjurfors. “The prices fell 5 to 10 percent, but overall, the market was not that affected.”

Nearly all the foreign buyers in Malmo are from Denmark. Between 2006 and 2007, Mr. Hagberg said, Danes flocked to Malmo to buy residential property because prices were less expensive than in Denmark. “But not anymore,” said Mr. Hagberg, echoing the sentiment of other brokers. “The market in Denmark crashed a little, it became cheaper to buy in Denmark, so all the Danish people moved back. We do have Danish buyers, but it’s not so common anymore.”

In general, buyers do not use a lawyer or a notary; transactions responsibilities rest with the real estate broker. “We don’t have the same system as in other European countries,” said Emma Hakesjo, an associate lawyer in the Malmo branch of the law firm Vinge. She says Swedish brokers are required to be independent, representing neither the seller nor the buyer; it is they who draft purchase agreements.

A buyer might pay about $1,000 for the services of a building inspector before the purchase, although it is more commonly done for a house than an apartment. Property is bought “as is” in Sweden, and should a structural problem arise after purchase, it is typically sorted out through home insurance.

The process of buying and selling in Sweden is shifting from the traditional bidding system, in which properties are first listed below their actual value, to entice bidders. Increasingly, brokers are using the “accepted price” system typical of transactions in the United States, in which the asking price reflects actual value. Both approaches are used in Sweden; this penthouse is being sold in the “accepted price” system.

It is possible to obtain financing from a Swedish bank, said Mariella Fake, the listing broker, from Eklund Stockholm New York. “All Swedish banks have different rules, some of them are tough, some of them less,” she said in an e-mail. “This decision can be very different from bank to bank.”

Malmo portal:
Malmo tourism:
Oresund region tourism:
Copenhagen tourism:

Swedish; Swedish krona (1 Swedish krona = $0.15)

A monthly fee of $557 covers heat and water, as well as building repairs and cleaning of common areas.

Mariella Fake, Eklund Stockholm New York,
11 46 73 778 62 98;


House Hunting in ... Mexico City
$1,109,930 (14,000,000 MEXICAN PESOS)

Published on, March 2012

This two-story glass-walled modern house in the Bosques de las Lomas neighborhood of Mexico City has 4,844 square feet of space in an open-floor-plan design that pays homage to the stark and the industrial. It has exposed beams, exterior walls of tempered glass, and glossy concrete floors. The sleek structure is surrounded by a lawn, plants and robust ficus trees. “You really feel like you are sitting outside when you are in this house,” said Karen Boda of Re/Max Platino, who has the listing.

Dating to the mid-1980s, the house underwent a gut renovation two years ago. Both floors have high ceilings with recessed lighting. The sunken living room in one corner of the first floor has a suspended fireplace and unobstructed views onto the leafy side garden. The dining room is adjacent, and it opens onto a gleaming industrial-style kitchen with dark-glass cabinets and stainless steel appliances made in Mexico. A gas stovetop is at one end of a long counter; the other end functions as a small dining bar, surrounded by stools. The first floor also has an office, two maids’ rooms off the kitchen, and a half bath with a concrete sink.

A suspended staircase with a glass guardrail leads to the second floor; the master suite has a large walk-in closet and a teak terrace that overlooks a purple jacaranda and a kumquat tree. The bathroom has a whirlpool tub, a shower and an oversized sink, all in concrete. Nearby is a TV room with a skylight and a door to the teak terrace; the second floor also has two additional bedrooms, each with its own bath. Another room — potentially a fourth bedroom — is being used as an art studio.

A bronze-colored metal gate encircles the 8,073-square-foot corner property, which is lushly planted with elephant ear, bamboo, bromeliad, aloe vera, and yucca. The garden has a grill and a stone-covered fire pit with seating. The house has a two-car garage, but no heating system or air-conditioning because of Mexico City’s temperate climate.

The two styles dominating the upscale neighborhood of Bosques de las Lomas are Mexican colonial and contemporary. “This is one of the most modern houses,” said Ms. Boda, the listing agent. It is in the Miguel Hidalgo section of the neighborhood — which is considered safe and has a security patrol. Movie theaters, stores, restaurants, schools and offices are all less than 10 minutes away, Ms. Boda said. Depending on traffic, the airport is about 45 minutes away; downtown is half an hour.

The market in Mexico City was not deeply shaken by the global economic downturn. Mexicans tend to buy homes with minimal to no financing, so they were spared the subprime mortgage-driven banking crisis that soured the economy and housing market in the United States. “The Mexico City market was soft, due to the Mexican economy as a whole slowing down,” said Jonathan Pikoff, a law partner with Pikoff y Asociados who practices in both Mexico and Texas, “but desirable locations in Mexico City, like most big cities, are always desirable.” In fact, affluent Mexico City residents are eager to invest in real estate, Ms. Boda said.

As far as Mexican resort areas are concerned, Mr. Pikoff noted, properties geared toward the North American second-home market have lost value, because many Americans either can’t afford them or are wary of buying a second home. In Los Cabos, for instance, prices are down 30 to 40 percent.

Mexico’s well-publicized crime wave is also likely to have made some American buyers skittish, Mr. Pikoff said. But in Ms. Boda’s view, drug violence elsewhere in Mexico has ended up protecting values in Mexico City, which is generally considered safer than many other parts of the country.

A large percentage of foreign homeowners in Mexico City are from the United States, although there are buyers from South America, Europe and Asia. Ms. Boda estimated that 65 percent of the homes in Bosques de las Lomas are owned by Mexicans, 30 percent by Americans, and the remaining 5 percent typically South American or European. Foreigners attracted to Bosques de las Lomas want single-family homes, while apartment seekers buy in neighborhoods like Condesa or Polanco.

Most buyers in Mexico City use a notary public rather than a real estate lawyer. The notary is responsible for researching the title, certifying that the property is being transferred free of lien, and executing the purchase and sale agreement. “I would say 90 percent of buyers are comfortable with that,” said Boris Otto, a managing partner at the Mexico City office of Chadbourne & Parke, a law firm based in New York. Even so, Mr. Otto added a caveat: “If you are talking about foreign citizens who are not aware of the system, don’t feel comfortable with the language — notaries don’t have to speak English — for comfort’s sake, I would recommend it. But not for a specific legal concern.”

The typical property purchase in Mexico City starts with the buyer and seller writing a “promise to purchase” agreement, Mr. Pikoff said. The agreement covers how much the initial payment will be, usually 10 to 30 percent; it specifies the date of payment to the seller, and stipulates that the balance is due when the deed is signed at the notary’s office. Closings involve a simultaneous signing of the deed and transfer of funds in the form of a bank check or wire transfer. Mr. Pikoff says most foreigners, especially North Americans, tend to obtain financing in the United States or Canada, where interest rates are generally less than half of those in Mexico. Foreigners are able to obtain peso loans through Mexican banks like Banamex and Bancomer, as well as most Mexico City branches of international banks, although there are stringent requirements. Ryland Apsey, president of Mexican Capital Mortgage, a company that obtains dollar loans for clients, says a mortgage recipient in Mexico must: be a legal resident; have a one-year employment history; and have income traceable to a Mexican account, among other requirements.

Mexico City tourism:
Mexico City experience:
Miguel Hidalgo guide:
Miguel Hidalgo tourism:

Spanish; peso (1 peso = $0.08)

Transaction fees are 8 percent of purchase price, which covers the notary fee, transfer tax and miscellaneous closing costs. Taxes are about $3,000 a year.

Karen Boda, RE/MAX Platino, 011 521 55 54 36 44 57;


House Hunting in ... Estonia
860,000 EUROS ($1,134,253)

Published on, February 2012

This apartment on a narrow cobblestone street inside the stone walls of Tallinn’s medieval Old Town has 2,100 square feet over three levels. It is in a walk-up building that, despite three renovations since 2002, has retained historic details like exposed oak rafters, stone walls, and remnants of an ancient mural.

The apartment itself has a contemporary, airy feel imparted by numerous windows, skylights and high, pitched ceilings. The entrance is on the second floor. Directly beyond is a modern kitchen with brushed steel appliances and cabinetry by German companies. The refrigerator and electric stove are made by Gaggenau. The cabinets are designed by Bulthaup. The kitchen ceiling has recessed lighting, and two floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto a courtyard and a church. Andrew Whyte, a property adviser with Goodson & Red, the real estate company in charge of selling the property, described the area as quiet.

Next to the kitchen is a combination living room and home office. On two walls, parts of a mural depicting Viking longboats were uncovered during renovations and are now behind protective glass. This floor also has a sauna, an attached shower room, and a separate bathroom, lined with black granite and white marble and outfitted with Philippe Starck fixtures.

The second floor, a roomy yet attic-like space with skylights, is reached by a compact staircase made of oak with glass guard rails. This level, its exposed-beam walls leaning inwards, has a second living room with a modern working fireplace, overlooking the main living room and office area from a little balcony. A staircase leads up to the bedroom suite on the third level. A white porcelain bathtub, designed by Philippe Starck, is inside the bedroom, behind frosted glass. A small loft above, reached via a short, steep staircase, could function as storage space or a walk-in closet. Several large antiques from France and China are included in the asking price.

Tallinn’s Old Town was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1997; it is full of 13th-century buildings and churches with steeples, spires and domes. Over a mile of the original medieval wall with attached lookout towers still stands. Despite the robust flow of tourists, the Old Town is still very much home to locals. Outside its walls, high rises and other new buildings define a more modern Tallinn. Soviet-style structures are visible throughout the city, vestiges of Tallinn’s past as a Socialist republic.

The market is still reeling from the global economic crisis. “The economy as a whole was the second-worst-affected by the crash in the E.U.,” Mr. Whyte said. “Prices were halved, sometimes more than that.” He described a grim scene of foreclosures and negative equity from 2008 to 2010, with a “patchy” recovery. “It’s only very slowly picking up,” he said. “The prices have hardly increased.”

However Liisa Linna, a lawyer at Hedman Partners who specializes in real estate, said that properties in the Old Town, the most expensive in Tallinn, fared better than the rest of the city, not falling as precipitously after the economic crisis. “The Old Town is a very good place to invest because the value never decreases that much,” Ms. Linna said.

Buyers in Tallinn are predominantly Estonian. Of the foreign buyers, most are from Finland and Russia. A few are from Western Europe — Britain, Ireland, Italy and Spain. Foreigners living in Tallinn tend to have independent businesses, often conducted online because it is cheaper to have their operations in Tallin. Even so, Skype, the voice-over-Internet-Protocol service created in Estonia and now owned by Microsoft, has attracted some foreign workers.

Hiring a notary for the transaction is compulsory and each party also has the option of hiring a lawyer. “Usually Estonians, the people who live here, don’t hire a lawyer,” said Kirsty Laidvee, a notary. Mr. Whyte agreed, saying that hiring a lawyer “would probably be extra money you wouldn’t need to spend.” Part of the notary’s duties is to prepare the transaction documents and explain the contracts of the sale to both parties.

Still, a lawyer can conduct a background check on the property, and if need be alter the standard contract prepared by the notary. “It’s not very often there are problems,” said Ms. Linna, the lawyer, “but we have had some cases where the seller kept some information secret, the buyer had not used the help of a lawyer, became aware of those problems, and it is much more difficult to help him. I would recommend using the lawyer.”

As contracts are written in Estonian, most foreigners hire notaries fluent in their language; many speak Russian, Finnish and English. The notary might translate the documents orally at the signing of the contracts, or a buyer can hire a translator to prepare a written translation.

According to Mr. Whyte, as long as foreign buyers can verify the source of their income, obtaining financing from an Estonian bank is a straightforward process.

Tallinn portal:
Estonia portal:
Tallinn Tourism:
Estonia Tourism:
Unesco World Heritage Centre:

Estonian; euro (1 euro = $1.32)

To register as the owner of this apartment, the buyer would pay a one-time state fee of $1,801, according to Ms. Laidvee. The notary fee of $3,984 is typically split between buyer and seller. A lawyer costs about $2,000 on average; property tax is about $500 a year. Heat, electricity and water cost about $2,600 a year.

Kati Lips, Goodson & Red,
011-372 666 1652,


House Hunting in ... Morocco
$653,652 (5,700,000 MOROCCAN DIRHAMS)

Published on, January 2012

This stately two-story house has a central courtyard, a blue-and-white-tiled space illuminated by an open ceiling covered in retractable plastic. Nearly all windows, doors and balconies face this interior courtyard, in the style of a traditional Moroccan house known as a “riad” or “dar.” The recently refurbished structure offers about 6,500 square feet of space, mixing modern comforts while retaining its original architecture and design details. Among these are the two rows of carved columns with tiling that flank the courtyard, the carved cedar wood transoms, and the stained-glass windows.

The house is on the edge of the Medina, Fez’s Old City, a medieval labyrinth of homes, workshops, mosques, bustling marketplaces and narrow alleyways, wide enough for pedestrians and a few donkeys.

“The Medina is really bewitching,” said Cédric Elsener, the owner of Maroc Immobilier Capital, the real estate company selling this property. “It has a weird effect on you. Either you love it or you hate it — nothing in between.” According to Frédéric Sola, owner of Fez Real Estate, a company that sells and renovates riads in the Medina, “Time stopped about five centuries ago. What you see in the Medina, you don’t see anywhere else in the world.”

Cars are prohibited in the 1.5-square-mile area of the Medina, but this house, being near its boundary, comes with a parking space 23 yards from the front door. As with most riads, its nondescript exterior belies an ornate interior. Its size and layout qualify it for use as a guesthouse. The entrance opens into the courtyard, which has a central fountain. Doorways, columns and walls are partially covered in “zelliges,” intricate geometric designs made from tiny pieces of tile pressed into plaster, a craft for which Fez artisans are renowned. Delicately carved plaster designs border windows with rounded tops and crown molding.

Framing the courtyard on the first floor are three living rooms, which currently function as bedrooms, and a room called a “bartal,” traditionally used as a meeting place for celebrations, Mr. Elsener said. There are also three and a half baths on this floor, some outfitted with Roca fixtures from Spain, others with Jacob Delafon fixtures from France. The kitchen is on this floor, as are several additional rooms not currently in use. The house has central heating and air-conditioning, as well as supplemental electric heating in the bathrooms.

On the second floor overlooking the courtyard, two balconylike passageways have tiled floors and railings made of decorative ironwork and cedar; one is currently in use as a library. The floor has three bedroom suites, among them the master, its bathroom walls tiled in emerald green halfway up, then coated with a traditional waterproof lime plaster.

The doors, door jambs and window frames are carved cedar, some of them adorned with copper or stained glass.

There are two mezzanine rooms in the house, one on the staircase landing between the first and second floors, the other between the second floor and the roof. The roof terrace overlooks the Medina, a sea of satellite dishes on old rooftops, several minarets in the distance, and Mount Zalagh beyond. On the roof are two rooms, one used as a laundry room.

Fez is considered Morocco’s cultural and spiritual center. It is home to the ninth-century Karaouine University, believed to be the world’s oldest, which today functions as a theological teaching center. The Medina was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1981. Fez also has a large modern section, but the Medina is the fulcrum of its architectural, cultural and religious history.

The Medina is conservative; most of its residents wear traditional Islamic clothing. But Westerners are frequently seen, especially in the spring during the Fez World Sacred Music Festival, which draws a worldwide audience.

The housing market has been slow since 2008, said Tim McTighe, a partner of Fes Properties, which sells, restores and manages properties in the Medina. “I’d say the glory days were between 2004 and 2007,” said Mr. McTighe. He and other brokers attribute that primarily to the global economic downturn, though they acknowledge that the regional political turmoil of the Arab Spring hasn’t helped.

“Unfortunately some people put Morocco in the same basket” as Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, and other strife-torn countries in the area, said Mr. McTighe, suggesting that possible investors might be watching and waiting. “But Morocco is a very peaceful country, night and day with a country like Libya.”

Despite the sluggish market, however, prices have not fallen sharply, because there are fewer properties on the market. “There have been some good bargains from foreigners who had to resell riads quickly,” said Mr. Sola. Mr. Elsener said it was a good time to buy, especially given improvements in Fez’s accessibility. “There are more direct flights to Europe,” he said, “and they are working to double the size of capacity at the airport. We also have a new highway that opened last June — from Fez you can drive to the Mediterranean in two and a half hours.”

The city has two distinct real estate markets: the Medina, and everything else. Affluent Moroccans tend to buy in the new part of Fez, Mr. Sola said. Practically all properties in the Medina are Moroccan-owned, usually passed down through families, he added. But when a foreigner does buy property in Fez, it is likely to be in the Medina.

The French constitute the largest group of foreign homeowners, followed by Belgians, with a sprinkling of Italians and Britons. Many foreigners buy with the intention of opening guesthouses.

There are no restrictions on foreigners — “no nationality forbidden,” as Mr. Elsener put it. This house has clear title, an official documented history of previous ownership. In the Medina, only about 10 percent of properties are in that category, and it gives their buyers a significant advantage. “Nobody can come and say, ‘My grandparent gave me half of this house,’ ” Mr. Elsener said. “It’s a very safe transaction.” And without the title, the buyer might have been subjected to a lengthy bureaucratic process and a fee of nearly $9,000 in tax and legal fees, in order to obtain proper documentation from the City of Fez.

Because this house has already cleared the title hurdle, Mr. Elsener believes that hiring a lawyer is unnecessary and that a notary can handle the sale. Financing is available to foreigners from larger Moroccan banks, he said.

Fez portal:
Fez blog:
Unesco World Heritage site:
Annual Sacred Music Festival:

Moroccan Arabic, French; Moroccan dirham (1 DAM = 11 cents)

Transfer tax and notary and registration fees cost 6 percent of the official property sale price. The buyer also pays 5 percent of the purchase price to the real estate agency. Property tax is minimal, about $127 a year; electricity and heating run $64 to $255 a month.

Cédric Elsener, Maroc Immobilier Capital,
011-212-655-321-921, maroc immobilier