House Hunting in ... Argentina
A THREE-BEDROOM HOUSE WITH A POOL OUTSIDE BUENOS AIRES
$1.35 MILLION (7,038,225 ARGENTINE PESOS)
Published on nytimes.com, May 2013
This rectangular building, known as Molecule House for the system of interlocking aluminum rods and connectors that makes up its foundation, has 3,229 square feet of space over two floors. Its signature modular geometric structures also act as a decorative feature throughout the house — in ceilings, along windows, even as table legs and balusters. It is being sold furnished.
The central living room has a double-height ceiling and two glass-paneled walls; like most of the house the floor is in a reclaimed wood called Incienso, with a heating system underneath. It is flanked on one side by the dining room, on the other by the kitchen, which has two freestanding counters topped with thick slabs of reclaimed pine. Appliances, among them an Ariston oven and stove, are stainless steel.
Upstairs, the master suite has an air-conditioned bedroom, a white-tiled bath with a skylight and a walk-in closet. On the other side of the house, at the far end of an open walkway, are two bedrooms and a shared bath.
The property of almost 11,000 square feet is landscaped with palm and silk floss trees, flowering shrubs and a collection of cacti. A wooden deck leads back to the pool; a small geodesic dome provides a sculptural element.
Molecule House is in La Celina, a gated community of 70 homes on large lots. Polo fields are within 15 minutes’ drive; Buenos Aires is about 45 minutes away.
The market in Buenos Aires, which traditionally uses American dollars, is stagnant, in part because the government recently restricted real estate transactions in foreign currencies. Wary of the Argentine peso with its history of high inflation and depreciation, many sellers are holding back.
Emiliano Pagnotta, an Argentine economist who teaches at New York University, described the market as “essentially collapsing.”
“The number of sales in the main market, Buenos Aires, are down 40 to 50 percent compared to the previous year, which was not a great year to start with,” he said.
But according to Martin Bricca, a managing partner of Buenos Aires Habitat, it’s a good time to buy. Those who are selling, he said, are not averse to negotiation. “Three years ago, if you offered 30 percent less than the asking price, the owners would say no,” he said. Sellers today often accept offers 15 to 20 percent under asking price.
WHO BUYS IN THE BUENOS AIRES AREA
Most foreign buyers in the Buenos Aires area are from North America and Western Europe, typically Britain, Italy and France.
There are no restrictions on foreign buyers, but financing must be obtained at home, as Argentine banks generally don’t provide mortgages. Elias Kier Joffe, the managing partner of the Buenos Aires law firm Kier Joffe, described real estate transactions as straightforward, explaining that Argentines typically rely on notaries public and don’t hire lawyers.
But given the recent restrictions on foreign currency, Mr. Joffe strongly suggested that foreign buyers hire a lawyer, even before contacting an agent for a property search. The lawyer, notary and closing costs together make up about 3 percent of the sale price, he said.
Foreign buyers usually wire their payments into the bank accounts that many sellers maintain abroad. The payment method must be stated in the purchase agreement and the account declared to Argentina’s Federal Administration of Public Revenue.
City of Buenos Aires tourism: bue.gov.ar
Buenos Aires Province tourism: buenosaires.tur.ar
Buenos Aires Province portal: gba.gov.ar
LANGUAGES AND CURRENCY
Spanish; Argentine peso (1 peso = $0.19)
TAXES AND FEES
The broker fee is 4 percent of the sale price; additionally, a transfer tax of 3.6 percent is typically split between buyer and seller. Property tax is $1,200 a year, maintenance $400 a month.
Rosario Lix Klett,
Argentina Properties Sotheby’s International Realty,
011 54 11 5648-9880; sothebysrealtyargentina.com
House Hunting in ... Barcelona
A FOUR-BEDROOM HOUSE WITH A POOL IN BARCELONA
2,300,000 EUROS ($3,013,714)
Published on nytimes.com, April 2013
This four-bedroom four-bath house with a terrace on the roof, a courtyard at the back and a pool in the basement is set behind a decorative iron fence on a pedestrian street in central Barcelona. Spanning almost 3,700 square feet, with wooden shutters and an orange stucco exterior, it went up in 2000 on the site of a teardown. The current owners worked with an architect in designing the open floor plan. Almost all floors and wood details are of Indonesian teak; most kitchen appliances are by Gaggenau; bath fixtures throughout are by Hansgrohe, Dornbracht, Jacob Delafon or Geberit.
The tiny vestibule opens to a large, airy living room, anchored at its far end by a floating staircase and a small glass elevator that travels from basement to rooftop. The room adjoins the dining area and the kitchen, which has a stainless-steel island topped with a thick slab of wood, and a wall of glass doors. These open to the walled courtyard, which in addition to a modular wooden deck has cypresses and flowering plants around a pebbled seating area.
The courtyard has stairs to the skylighted basement, which has a large living room, a full bath and a laundry room in addition to the heated swimming pool. When the modular deck in the courtyard is removed, sunlight flows into the pool area through skylights. “At night it’s quite nice because you can have a swim,” said José Pablo Canal, an owner. “You see the stars, but no one can see you.”
The master suite and two other bedrooms share the second floor; the rooftop terrace, one flight up, is tiled with slate and has panoramic views of the neighborhood.
Despite the central location, the house is extraordinarily quiet because it is on a pedestrian-only street, said David Franks of Lucas Fox International Realty, the listing agency. It is in Sant Gervasi, a residential neighborhood, near the border with Gràcia, a more commercial area filled with small shops, tapas bars and cafes. The Eixample, an adjacent area dating to the 19th and early 20th centuries, is marked by the work of architects like Antoni Gaudí. Passeig de Gràcia, a wide, bustling shopping street, is about seven minutes’ walk.
The housing market, like the rest of the economy, is in turmoil, resulting from a crash followed by severe austerity measures. Residential property prices are generally 35 percent lower than before 2008, according to Mr. Franks, although he added that for prime areas in Barcelona, the decline is closer to 25 percent. The trend is expected to persist over the next year or two, leveling out at 3 or 4 percent below current values. Although Mr. Franks sees the market as eventually improving, it won’t again reach the levels of 2007, which he described as “outrageous” and “surreal.”
WHO BUYS IN SPAIN
Foreign buyers in Spain come primarily from Western Europe and North America. Mr. Franks says Barcelona also has Russian and Chinese buyers.
A notary public handles the property transfer, but buyers are also advised to hire a lawyer, and to expect a fee from $2,500 to $6,500. The lawyer arranges for property inspections, obtains the registration number required for foreign purchases, and drafts the purchase agreement with the seller’s lawyer.
In view of Spain’s depressed banking system, said José Ángel Cano Muñoz, a partner at Gómez-Acebo & Pombo, a Barcelona law firm, foreign buyers should obtain financing from their home countries. But Mr. Franks says some Spanish banks are giving mortgages to qualified foreign buyers able to pay 50 percent of the purchase price.
Barcelona tourism: barcelonaturisme.com
Barcelona portal: bcn.cat
Modernista architecture guide: barcelonamodernista.com
Catalonia guide: catalunya.com
LANGUAGES AND CURRENCY
Spanish, Catalan, Galician and Basque; euro (1 euro = $1.30)
TAXES AND FEES
The transfer tax is 8 percent of the sale price; the property tax is about $3,000 a year; notary services cost $1,500 to $2,600.
David Franks, Lucas Fox International Properties,
011 34 933 562 989; lucasfox.com
House Hunting in ... Scotland
A THREE-STORY VICTORIAN IN EDINBURGH
$2,384,794 (£1.6 MILLION)
Published on nytimes.com, April 2013
This five-bedroom house spread over about 4,100 square feet is in a historic residential neighborhood, the Blacket Conservation Area, south of Edinburgh’s city center. Built in 1858 on a third of an acre, it has a sandstone exterior and a slate roof. A recent renovation has preserved original details like floorboards, ceiling moldings and four fireplaces.
The house is entered through a portico on the second of three floors. Beyond a small vestibule, and accessed via a long hallway, are several rooms, among them a bedroom with a marble fireplace and a large kitchen with original Scotch pine floorboards, white Ikea cabinets, black granite countertops, and a custom-made stainless steel backsplash. Appliances and finishes include a Smeg gas oven and a Franke faucet.
The kitchen opens to a living room, which has French doors leading to a terrace. The view from there of the expansive back lawn encompasses mature trees including a silver birch, fruit trees, flowering laburnums and camellias. An external spiral staircase, made by the Scottish Ballantine Bo’ness Iron Company, descends to the yard.
The lower level, floored entirely in oak, is reached by a contemporary oak staircase in the entry hall. It has a living room and a game room, as well as a garden room with a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors opening to the back lawn. A bathroom, a utility room and a two-car garage complete the floor.
The third floor, accessed from the entry hallway by a traditional staircase with iron balusters, has four bedrooms. Ceilings are 11 feet high, and many rooms have original ceiling moldings and cornices. The master bedroom has a marble fireplace anda large bay window overlooking the back lawn; across the hall is a bathroom with tub, sink, toilet and bidet by the German company Villeroy & Boch, which also made the ceramic tiles resembling slate. Views encompass Arthur’s Seat, the famous hillside peak in nearby Holyrood Park.
Houses in the Blacket Conservation Area, from the Victorian and Regency periods, are popular with families because of their size and amenities, said Matthew Munro of Knight Frank in Edinburgh, the listing agent. The neighborhood is close to good schools, golf courses and a swimming center. The house is about two miles from Edinburgh’s main rail stop, and less than an hour’s drive from the airport. Edinburgh, a World Heritage Site, is home to several universities, including the University of Edinburgh. The Bank of Scotland and The Royal Bank of Scotland are also based there.
Scotland’s residential market hit its peak in 2007. Prices have dropped 10 to 20 percent since the global economic downturn, brokers said.
Best sellers tend to fall within the range of $450,000 to $1.8 million, as buyers at this level are better able to obtain financing, said Mr. Munro, adding that more expensive properties hadn’t fared as well.
The worst off are properties selling for $380,000 and under, typically smaller homes for first-time buyers who have struggled to get mortgages because of more stringent lending policies, said Andrew Diamond, a partner at Lindsays Solicitors and Estate Agents in Edinburgh.
WHO BUYS IN SCOTLAND
Foreign buyers in Scotland are a diverse if small group, from elsewhere in Europe as well as the Far East, the Middle East and the Americas. According to Neil Harrison of the Edinburgh Solicitor Property Centre, fewer than 2 percent of homes last year in Edinburgh and the surrounding area were sold to foreign buyers, 5 percent to buyers from England, Wales or Northern Ireland, and the remainder to buyers already living in Scotland.
There are no restrictions on foreign buyers. Sellers are required to provide a comprehensive written assessment called a Home Report, documenting condition, energy performance, renovations, and other pertinent information — even disputes with neighbors. Buyers must hire a solicitor, who charges anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000. The contract of purchase and sale is drafted by the buyer and seller’s solicitors.
Solicitors in Scotland often sell real estate as well; Mr. Diamond estimates that solicitors sell 80 percent of the properties in Edinburgh. Traditional real estate agents are typically employed by national chains and tend to sell higher end properties.
If prospective buyers seek to hire a solicitor for the purchase of a house that the solicitor is coincidentally selling, the solicitor is required to refer them to another solicitor, Mr. Harrison said. Foreigners can obtain financing through Scottish banks, providing their finances meet bank requirements.
Scotland tourism: visitscotland.com/
Edinburgh tourism: edinburgh.org/
Edinburgh portal: edinburgh.gov.uk/
Blacket area: blacketedin.org/
LANGUAGES AND CURRENCY
English, Scots, Scottish Gaelic; British pound (£1 = $1.52)
TAXES AND FEES
The transfer tax, known as stamp duty, is about 5 percent of the sale price. The annual property tax, known as council tax, is $3,540.
Matthew Munro, Knight Frank in Edinburgh,
011 44 131 222 9600; knightfrank.co.uk
House Hunting in ... Greece
A MARBLE-FLOORED HOUSE NORTH OF ATHENS
$4.4 MILLION (3.4 MILLION EUROS)
Published on nytimes.com, March 2013
This four-bedroom house over two levels was designed by Nikos Valsamakis, a Greek architect known for contemporary, minimalist structures. The rectangular concrete house, spanning 5,565 square feet, went up in 1989 in Politia, an upscale residential neighborhood in the northern suburbs of Athens.
The airy foyer has a skylight and a bay window that extends to the double-height ceiling. The floor here, as in most of the house, is made of Dionysos marble. “Maybe the whitest possible marble you can extract in Greece,” said Theo Bosdas, the managing director of Engel & Völkers Athens North, who has the listing. A hallway from the foyer leads to a large open room with a dining area and two seating areas, one with a fireplace. Each seating area is roomy enough for a coffee table, sofas and chairs. The space is flooded with natural light from a glass-paneled wall that slides open to a tiled terrace and a lawn with pine, medlar and olive trees.
The first floor also has a study with cherry shelving, a half bath, and a bedroom suite opening to the garden. The open kitchen has custom cherry and white ash cabinets, a white marble countertop, and an electric ceramic stovetop; the appliances are by Miele and GE. Off the kitchen is an informal dining area; a terrace with a barbecue can be accessed through a glass door.
A sleek white marble staircase leads from the foyer to three bedrooms, one of which was recently converted from a portion of the upstairs landing. The master bedroom has an attached bath with a Jacuzzi and Duravit fixtures, a walk-in closet, and glass doors that connect to a terrace. The second bedroom, too, has an en-suite bath and a sliding glass door to the terrace.
The house has under-floor heating as well as a central unit; there is air-conditioning on both floors. The basement houses several utility rooms. An underground two-car garage has a passageway to the house. A low wall made of pale brown stones, along with cypress trees and rosemary bushes, circumscribes the lot, which has almost 10,000 square feet of space.
Politia is a tranquil suburban neighborhood sloped on a side of Penteli mountain. The area has well-regarded schools and sports facilities, including swimming pools, a private tennis club and an indoor soccer court. Shopping, from convenience stores to luxury boutiques, is within a 10-minute walk or drive. The center of Athens can be reached in as little as 45 minutes, by public transportation or car.
A severe recession compounded by a national debt crisis has had a profound impact on Greece’s real estate market. According to Mr. Bosdas, property prices have dropped an average of 35 to 50 percent since their peak in 2008. He said about 150,000 properties were sold annually in Greece from 2002 to 2008. “But in 2011, which are the latest figures, only 11,000 properties were sold,” he added, “so the market shrank by 95 percent.” Greece is therefore the perfect buyers’ market, as prices can now be negotiated and “cash buyers are kings.”
Kostas Dokimakis, a lawyer who owns Dokimakis & Associates on Syros, an island south of Athens, expressed a similar view. He too has seen a drop-off in prime prices on popular Greek islands like Mykonos, Santorini and Crete since 2008, although declines have not gone further than 20 percent. According to Mr. Dokimakis, on less touristy islands like Naxos, it is possible to buy a property for $60,000, which “gets you nothing on Mykonos.”
New property taxes imposed over the past few years, coupled with 30 percent unemployment and pension cuts, have forced some homeowners to put their properties on the market in “fire-sales,” said Arsinoi Lainioti, a lawyer who practices in Athens and in Boston, Mass.
WHO BUYS IN GREECE
Most foreign buyers in Greece are from European Union countries and North America, according to Mr. Bosdas. Ms. Lainioti has seen that same demographic, along with South Americans, adding that the buyers are generally “Greek-somethings,” as she calls them — people of Greek descent. There is a concentration of French and German buyers on the islands, and Russians tend to buy in Crete, Mr. Dokimakis said. Mykonos attracts buyers from all over the world, he said.
There are no restrictions for foreigners, except for a few select areas along the border with Turkey. For homes costing more than $104,700, a buyer is required to hire a lawyer, typically costing 1 to 1.5 percent of a property’s selling price.
The lawyer performs the title search, investigates any liens or claims, and finds a notary. It is also recommended that the lawyer hire an engineer to inspect the property and review the building permit.
Prospective buyers are advised to secure financing from their own countries rather than Greece, whose banks are generally not lending, brokers and lawyers said.
Government portal: primeminister.gov.gr
Greece tourism: visitgreece.gr
LANGUAGES AND CURRENCY
Greek; euro (1 euro = $1.31)
TAXES AND FEES
The transfer tax is about $143,255. The annual property tax is about $14,290, and notary fees are 1.2 to 2 percent of the sale price. The agent’s fee is 4.96 percent of the sale price, split between buyer and seller.
Theo Bosdas, Engel & Völkers Athens North,
011 30 210 80 14 014; engelvoelkers.com
House Hunting in ...
A FOUR-BEDROOM BEACHFRONT PROPERTY IN ST. JAMES
$3.95 MILLION (7.9 MILLION BARBADIAN DOLLARS)
Published on nytimes.com, February 2013
This contemporary home on Barbados’s west coast is nestled between the Caribbean and the island’s oldest house of worship built by settlers, St. James Parish Church, built in 1627. Called Thespina, the half-acre property consists of a two-level house and a single-level cottage several yards away, totaling 4,500 square feet. Both have white stucco facades with pitched shingled roofs. Four decks and patios in the backyard are shrouded by lush tropical gardens. The beach is just beyond a hedge.
The property dates to the 1970s, but was renovated in the 1990s by the current owners who favored a minimalist, open layout. It is being sold fully furnished. The entry hall in the main house opens to a spacious living and dining room bathed in natural light from wood-framed glass doors that look out on three terraces, the gardens and the sea. “What you do automatically, everybody does, is walk straight into the garden, and straight to the sea,” said Peter Lewis, an owner.
The living room has a wet bar made of ash and topped with white Corian, and the floor is tiled in polished coral stone, a local limestone. It shares the first floor with a half bath and the kitchen, which has light oak cabinets, gray Corian counters, a pale gray speckled terrazzo floor and GE appliances.
Two air-conditioned master suites take up the second level, each with a bathroom and a walk-in closet. One bedroom is floored in white ceramic tile, the other in coral stone. Both suites, which share a balcony, have pitched ceilings of exposed beams painted white.
The two-bedroom cottage has a separate entrance but can also be reached via the rear courtyard terrace. Each of the maple-floored bedroom suites has a bathroom, a walk-in closet, and air-conditioning. The cottage also has a media room equipped with a flat-screen TV and a DVD player. Along one wall are four glass-paneled accordion doors that open onto a terra-cotta-tiled terrace.
Thespina has a rear deck made of a Brazilian hardwood called ipe, as well as a terra-cotta-tiled eating area where Barbados Bullfinches have been known to eat out of Mr. Lewis’s hand. “Here, to be honest,” he said, “we don’t live inside, we live outside.” Both areas are covered, and surrounded by plants including ginger lilies, palms, jacarandas, and crimson-flowering flamboyant trees. The towering mahoganies from the yard of the historic St. James Parish Church are also visible.
Thespina’s other neighbors include a handful of luxury homes, a beachfront hotel, Settlers’ Beach and the eco-friendly Folkestone Marine Park, where visitors can snorkel the reefs and visit a small museum devoted to marine life. The house is within five minutes’ walk of Holetown, one of Barbados’s first settlements, which has restaurants, cafes and shops, including a shopping center called the Limegrove Lifestyle Center. There are daily flights to Barbados from Miami, New York, London and Toronto.
Property prices have never recovered the 15 to 25 percent they lost in value to the financial crisis, said Harry Manning, owner of the Barbados real estate firm Harry Manning Associates. He added that sales volume had also decreased, and was only now starting to pick up.
Jonathan Simpson of Realtors Limited, the listing agent, said the economic downtown had actually corrected overvalued prices on the island. He said a property that might previously have sold for $5 million now sells for $3 million — which he described as “a realistic price.”
For properties with an asking price of $1 million to $3 million, he added, Barbados is a buyers’ market. But Feona Gray, a partner of the London-based Caribbean real estate consulting firm Caribbean Property International, says prospective buyers should not assume will they find a bargain. “On Barbados,” she explained, “you very rarely come across the situation where somebody needs to sell, they’re desperate, they’ve got a mortgage, they’ve got some actual drama.”
WHO BUYS IN BARBADOS
Given the island’s colonial ties, most foreign buyers are British, although there are growing numbers from Canada, because of its strong currency, and many from the United States. Mr. Simpson estimates that 15 percent of the foreign buyers are full-time residents, either working for one of the numerous off-shore companies or retired. Of the remaining 85 percent, about half rent out their properties for a portion of the year.
Barbados places no restrictions on foreign buyers. The Central Bank of Barbados must grant permission for any transaction, but “that is just a formality,” Mr. Manning said. Nearly all sales are conducted through lawyers. “The lawyer does everything,” said Ms. Gray; “start-to-finish process.” They generally charge up to 2 percent of the sale price. Foreign buyers typically find a local lawyer through the agent, she added.
The property is for sale by the owner, and sits on land owned by the church next door.
Foreigners can obtain mortgages from Barbadian banks if their finances are sound, Mr. Manning said. Typically banks will lend 60 to 70 percent of the purchase price. Nearly all transactions are in American dollars.
Barbados government portal: gov.bb
Barbados tourism: visitbarbados.org
Barbados travel: barbados.org
LANGUAGES AND CURRENCY
English, Bajan; Barbadian dollar (1 Barbadian dollar = $0.50)
TAXES AND FEES
The land tax is $4,500 a year; the lease fee is $3,175 a year.
Jonathan Simpson, Realtors Limited, 1 246 826 9033; realtorslimited.com
House Hunting in ... Norway
A FOUR-BEDROOM MINIMALIST HOUSE NEAR OSLO
$1.6 MILLION (8.7 MILLION NORWEGIAN KRONER)
Published on nytimes.com, January 2013
This house is in Drammen, a port city about 24 miles from Oslo. The current owners collaborated with an architect on the design; work was completed in 2010. The starkness of mostly white walls and polished concrete floors is offset by warm-toned accent walls and inset ceiling lights. “It’s pretty minimalist, but it’s not cold,” said Selma Knudsen, one of the owners.
Faced in white stucco and spanning 2,346 square feet, the house stands at the end of a gravel driveway. It was built with insulated concrete blocks, and has underfloor heating throughout. To the right of the airy entrance hall, the living room has a 16-foot ceiling, while the open dining area, just beyond, is under a soffit for a cozier feel. Natural light floods through windows carved in vertical and horizontal rectangles, made by the German company Schüco, and glass doors that slide open to the back lawn.
The custom-designed kitchen is open to the dining area. Appliances include a Liebherr refrigerator, two Neff ovens and a Neff induction stovetop with two metal extractor fans. The sink was made by Blanco; cabinets are of brown fiberboard; the island, topped with a charcoal-colored laminate board, has a retractable metal extension for extra counter seating. A sitting room completes the first-floor common space; wallpapered in rich brown tones, it has two angled walls that give it a trapezoid shape.
A corridor to the left of the entrance hall connects to the master suite and two other bedrooms, each with gray-stained oak floorboards from the Swedish company Kährs. The master has a walk-in closet and bath fixtures and tiling by the high-end Italian companies Gessi and Viva Ceramica. Also off the corridor are another bath and a half.
The second floor is reached from the entrance hall, via a flight of floating concrete slabs built into a wall covered in textured maroon paper. This floor has a home office, a fourth bedroom for guests, and a storage room.
The house is in Konnerud, an upscale residential area with woods nearby. “You can literally put your skis on in front of my door and go cross-country skiing without seeing any cars, more or less,” Ms. Knudsen said.
Drammen’s downtown is five to seven minutes’ drive. An industrial center on an inlet called Drammensfjord, about half an hour from Oslo, it has about 65,000 residents. Urban renewal projects over the last 15 years have transformed it from the kind of place “you quickly drove through,” Ms. Knudsen said. With restaurants, cafes, stores and theaters, as well as walkways along the water, Drammen has become a popular bedroom community of Oslo, which is easily accessible by public transportation.
The housing market is thriving in Norway, which has low unemployment and abundant natural resources. “It’s definitely a sellers’ market,” said Leif Laugen, the chief executive of the Norwegian real estate company Krogsveen, noting that demand for housing outstrips supply in most areas. Residential prices have risen 27 percent since 2009, Mr. Laugen said.
Drammen in particular has fared well. “The house prices were low compared to Oslo and some of the other suburbs,” he said. “But in the latest two years, the prices have increased most in Drammen.” However Drammen remains cheaper than Oslo and closer suburbs. “If you sell a two-bedroom apartment in Oslo,” Ms. Knudsen said, “you can buy a huge house in Drammen with that money.”
The robust market has some theorizing that perhaps Norway is in the midst of a housing bubble, as the United States was before the financial crisis. Mr. Laugen said it was understandable that outsiders would be “smelling some bubbles there,” as Norway’s housing prices are high and have been consistently rising.
But unlike other countries, Norway has only 3 percent unemployment, a large middle class and regular wage increases — 4 to 5 percent yearly, according to Mr. Laugen. It also has oil and gas reserves.
Even so, Mr. Laugen points to two factors that make him nervous: the number of people buying homes beyond their means, and the number of Norwegian banks lending to them.
WHO BUYS IN NORWAY
The foreign presence in the Norwegian market is on the rise, partly because the thriving oil and gas industry is drawing engineers and other professionals, and these new arrivals are buying houses. No one country dominates the field, said Odd André Engh, a broker with Eie Eiendomsmegling which has this listing. “It could be Sweden, it could be the U.S., the Middle East, from all over,” said Mr. Engh, adding that the mix also varies by city. For example in the Oslo area, where Mr. Engh is based, foreign buyers tend to be from Sweden, Poland, Germany and the Netherlands.
Buying is considered a straightforward process, typically carried out by the agent. In Norway, agents have five years of school and training; in addition, the government regulates all agencies.
Foreign buyers must obtain the equivalent of a Social Security number, which takes only a few weeks. “It’s no problem to get financial support from a Norwegian bank,” said Mr. Engh, provided foreign buyers’ finances and employment status meet the bank’s criteria.
Konnerud blog: konnerud.net
Oslo tourism: visitoslo.com/en
Norway Guide: visitnorway.com/us
LANGUAGES AND CURRENCY
Norwegian; Norwegian krone (1 Norwegian krone = $0.18)
TAXES AND FEES
The buyer pays a transfer tax of 2.5 percent of the sale price.
Odd André Engh, Eie Eiendomsmegling,
011 47 9004 4917; eie.no
House Hunting in ...
19th-CENTURY CASTLE IN NORMANDY
$2.7 MILLION (2 MILLION EUROS)
Published on nytimes.com, January 2013
Plane trees flank the drive to the castle of Fresquiennes, a three-story structure built of brick and limestone in 1826. Its pitched slate roof has a row of dormer windows and six tall peaks topped with ornate finials. The presence among its outbuildings of a tiny domed chapel signifies that the castle was built for nobility, according to Mike Werner, a journalist and tour guide specializing in Normandy.
Nearly every room on the first floor runs the full depth of the house, with both front and back views through large casement windows. The entrance hall, dominated by a grand curved marble staircase, is reached through a central door. Its floor is tiled in white and black marble, and its off-white walls are painted to resemble stone.
The dining room, to the left of the entrance hall, has an imposing floor-to-ceiling brown brick chimney framing a white ceramic hearth. One wall is covered in de Gournay paper depicting a 17th-century scene; the ceiling has oak beams. Beyond is a kitchen of many white surfaces, except for the salmon-red granite that tops an island and the counters. The faucet is made by the German company Grohe; the cabinets are painted wood.
To the right of the entrance hall is a library lined with shelving and cabinets made of darkly stained birch. Next is the living room, which has yellow walls and an ornate marble fireplace. Beyond that is a large end room, currently empty, with another ornate fireplace and a colorful floor of tiny tiles.
“You have fireplaces in nearly each room,” explained Hervé de Maleissye, a partner at Cabinet Le Nail, the listing agency. “It was the only way to heat.” But the castle today has central heating. Most floors are a herringbone oak parquet, and wall and ceiling moldings are all in excellent condition thanks to a restoration completed in 2007. Of the five and two half bathrooms, most have fixtures by the French company THG and tiled surfaces by Porcelanosa, a ceramics company based in Spain.
The master bedroom, one of eight, is one flight up; it has two closets, an en-suite bath and a terrace. It shares the floor with two additional bedrooms, and another bath and terrace.
The third floor is reached via an oak staircase with a carved banister. It has five bedrooms with vibrant colored and patterned wallpaper made by the French company Braquenié, now owned by Pierre Frey. One bedroom has an en-suite bath; in addition, a full and a half bath are off the hall. The building also has an insulated attic, as well as a basement with storage and laundry rooms and several wine cellars.
The castle is set on 92 acres planted with mature cedars, sequoias and beeches; there is a small pond, an apple orchard, and woods with walking trails. The property is 12 miles outside Rouen, which gained a contentious place in history in the 15th century as the site of the imprisonment and execution of Joan of Arc, and whose cathedral was immortalized in the late 19th century in a series of paintings by the Impressionist Claude Monet. The seaside town of Deauville is approximately an hour and a half from the castle, as are the 1944 D-Day landing beaches. The castle is 90 miles northwest of Paris, which can be reached by train from Rouen in 40 minutes.
“The real estate market in France is very nervous right now,” said Marc Tison, a developer and agent with the real estate company Orpi. France’s housing market suffered for about a year following the global economic crisis in 2008, after which it steadily grew, with peaks and valleys, until this autumn. “Now the prices are dropping and the buyers are waiting,” said Mr. Tison, adding that prices are about 10 percent lower than a year ago.
Joelle Larroche, a broker with Douglas Elliman Real Estate in New York City who also sells property in France, agreed, saying, “The past year is the first year it’s really terrible” since 2008, with sellers unwilling to lower their prices. “They prefer not to sell than to lower at this point,” she added, describing the sluggish market as the result of compounded problems: huge debt, high unemployment, low productivity and skittish lenders.
Mr. de Maleissye says real estate prices are 20 to 40 percent lower than in 2007. But unlike Mr. Tison and Ms. Larroche, he has found some sellers willing to lower their prices.
WHO BUYS IN NORMANDY
The British are the predominant foreign buyers in Normandy, Mr. de Maleissye said. Others are typically from Belgium and Holland.
He said many homes in the region, as in others outside Paris that have been considered second-home territory, are now being bought as primary residences. “It’s easy to work from everywhere with the Internet,” he explained.
There are international buyers throughout France, according to Ms. Larroche, but the majority are from European Union countries. She noted a recent influx of Italians, most likely driven to look outside Italy by its unstable economy.
Foreigners can buy property in France without restrictions. Notaries generally handle transactions. “The buyer is very well protected,” said Mr. de Maleissye, noting that title research in France is meticulous and strictly regulated. “You know precisely who owned something,” he said. Either the notary or a real estate agent can draft the contracts; but it is the notary who determines that the property is indeed owned by the seller and is free of debt.
Employed foreigners with good credit can obtain mortgages from French banks.
Normandy tourism: normandie-tourisme.fr
Rouen guide: rouentourisme.com
D-Day information: normandie44lamemoire.com
France tourism: us.franceguide.com
LANGUAGES AND CURRENCY
French; euro (1 euro = $1.32)
TAXES AND FEES
The buyer pays the transfer tax, notary and closing costs, approximately 6.3 percent of the sale price. The property tax is close to $6,000 a year. The agent fee of 4.5 percent is included in the sale price; castle maintenance is estimated at $66,000 to $198,000 per year.
Hervé de Maleissye, Cabinet Le Nail,
011 33 2 43 98 20 20; cabinetlenail.com