Home Searching in Russia: Inexperienced and Fashionable on the Gulf of Finland

House Hunting in Russia: Green and Modern on the Gulf of Finland

This five-bedroom villa is in a gated community in the village of Repino, a resort area on the Gulf of Finland, in western Russia, about 20 miles from the historical center of Saint Petersburg.

The modern, 8,611-square-foot house was built in 2012 on a tree-studded, 0.91-acre lot with a fountain, a pond, a gazebo and a separate 1,076-square-foot staff house.

The property “ensures a glamorous stay close to Saint Petersburg, with state-of-the-art facilities and comfort,” said Filippo Mascellaro, chief executive of Kensington International Group, which has a nonexclusive listing with the owner.

A 65-yard driveway leads to a paver courtyard at the front of the house, with a three-car garage to the right of the transparent front door. Beyond the foyer, light filters through floor-to-ceiling windows into the open-plan, double-height center hall, where four oxblood red De Sede armchairs ring a cylindrical hanging fireplace. The house is being sold furnished.

The living spaces are spread across three floors connected by floating stone staircases with zebrawood handrails. The wood, with black, yellow and brown veining, is also used for doors, the TV surround and the upstairs library. Walls throughout are finished with decorative Venetian plaster, and the flooring includes Italian porcelain tiles and German parquet.

Two steps up, in the curved living room, a white leather sofa and armchairs face a wall-mounted TV, part of a Bang & Olufsen multimedia system. Paintings by Viktor Anufriev, a contemporary artist from Saint Petersburg, were commissioned specifically for the walls.

The kitchen has painted wood cabinets with an opaque wine-red varnish, matching glass, aluminum frames and artificial stone countertops. The backsplash is opal glass. A hooded cooktop is on the center island.

Two guest bedrooms, one en suite, are down a windowed hallway overlooking the terrace. Along the corridor, an indoor swimming pool and heated Jacuzzi are treated with silver ions and ultraviolet light rather than chemicals. The round pool room also has a bathroom and a sauna, and exits to the terrace and garden.

Upstairs, the main bedroom suite has a vaulted ceiling, a balcony, a wardrobe room and a studio with an Italian desk and other furnishings. Two more bedrooms on the opposite side of the upper level have en suite baths and room-sized closets. One has trapezoid-shaped windows that reach the ceiling; the other includes a playroom.

A billiards room, home theater, fitness room, laundry room and storage are on the lower level. A smart house system controls the heating, ventilation, window blinds and landscape lighting, and there is 24-hour video surveillance.

The yard is accessible from every downstairs room. In one section, an Alpine landscape design has a stream. The terrace is furnished and equipped with external heaters.

The village of Repino, a popular vacation retreat that belonged to Finland from 1917 to 1948, is known for its wide beaches and dunes along the Gulf of Finland, as well as its restaurants, bars, shops and hotels. The drive to downtown Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, takes 25 minutes, and Pulkovo Airport is about 45 minutes away. Moscow, the Russian capital, is 450 miles southeast.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union 30 years ago, Russians have endured several ruble devaluations and other economic crises, making them leery of financial investments, said Nikolay Pashkov, general manager of Knight Frank Saint Petersburg. Real estate is another matter.

“Any crisis encourages Russians to buy real estate,” Mr. Pashkov said.

This year, the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the latest currency depreciation and other economic woes. But “despite the current situation, the demand for real estate, both in the mass market and in the premium segment, was high,” he said.

Sale prices have followed. After a period of steep decline in 2019, the market began a recovery at the start of 2020 and saw the price index across Russia climb steadily through the third quarter of the year for both new and existing homes, according to data from Moody’s Analytics, the economic research firm.

From January to September 2020, demand volume by size for apartments exceeded the same period in 2019 by 7 percent and by 14 percent for the number of apartments. This year “promises to be higher than 2019 in terms of sales,” Mr. Pashkov said.

The pandemic has also fueled a desire for space, causing sales in the suburbs to have “nearly doubled,” said Aleksander Ginovker, the director of Saint Petersburg-based Nevsky Prostor Real Estate. “The population came to the conclusion that residing in the country is good for health in all respects.”

(As of Nov. 30, Russia had reported 2.8 million cases of Covid-19 and 39,491 deaths, according to the New York Times’s coronavirus world map.)

Additionally, in the nonluxury or “regular segment,” transactions have increased because of a state-supported “preferential mortgage program,” with interest on loans reduced to 6.5 percent or less — a record low for Russia, Mr. Ginovker said.

In Saint Petersburg, “severe restrictions” have been imposed over the past decade on new construction in the historic city center, making it increasingly difficult “for developers to find and approve lots for new projects,” Mr. Pashkov said. As a result, high-end projects have moved to the “gray belt” — onetime industrial areas outside the historic center. New mass-market projects include mixed-use developments with multiple apartment buildings and ground-floor shops, cafes and schools in former agricultural areas and former industrial areas far from the city center.

“They are no longer quite luxury housing, but rather premium-class housing,” he said.

In Moscow, prices are 50 to 100 percent higher than in Saint Petersburg, though sales volume is comparable, Mr. Ginovker said. In Saint Petersburg — home to about 5.4 million residents — $500,000 can buy a two- or three-bedroom apartment in a new business-class residential complex on Krestovsky Island, on the Gulf of Finland. For $1 million, a buyer can find a three- or four-bedroom flat in a new residential complex, or a 2,400-square-foot cottage in Komarovo, a resort village also on the gulf, 27 miles from the center of Saint Petersburg.

“The purchase of real estate in Saint Petersburg is considered investment-profitable,” Mr. Ginovker said. “Saint Petersburg is one of the top 10 cities in the world with the highest growth in real estate prices.”

At the high end, an apartment in a “modern elite” building on prestigious Krestovsky Island runs $1,300 to nearly $1,900 a square foot, said Irina Mosheva, chief executive of Moscow Sotheby’s International Realty.

Foreign buyers tend to be businesspeople looking for apartments, Ms. Mosheva said, adding that about a third of foreigners who buy property in Russia do so in Saint Petersburg.

Many buyers come from neighboring countries such as Belarus and Ukraine, Ms. Mosheva said, with others coming from Finland, Latvia, Estonia, India, Lithuania and Britain.

Buyers drawn by employment in Saint Petersburg’s educational, industrial, scientific and cultural sectors also come from the United Arab Emirates, France, Italy, Switzerland, Iran, China, South Korea and Vietnam, Mr. Ginovker said.

There are no restrictions on apartments or houses for foreign buyers, Mr. Pashkov said, with the exception of properties along state borders, in agricultural or seaport areas.

A notary or a lawyer is not required when conducting the closing, but foreigners often retain an attorney to support the transaction, especially if it’s done remotely.

There are no additional fees or taxes for foreigners, but additional expenses may be incurred for a translator and notary, required when certifying documents translated into Russian, Mr. Pashkov said.

Foreign buyers must prove their identity, include a passport, a translation of the passport into Russian certified by a notary, a visa, migration card, temporary-residence permit or residence permit. If the buyer is married, their spouse must consent to the transaction.

Russian; Russian ruble (1 ruble = $0.013)

Property taxes on this house are about $80 (6,000 rubles) a year.

Nadia Vitari, Kensington International Group, 011-39-3-288-394-090, groupkensington.com

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