Statistics: Residential Space In Estonia Has Increased 0.4 Per Cent Y-o-Y

Citing figures from the Estonain statistics office, Tõnu Toompark has reported on his Adaur blog that the total number of newly constructed residential units compared with the existing housing stock has increased by 0.4 per cent y-o-y, to 2012. The actual area of residential space versus existing stock increased by 0.68 per cent over the same period.

These may not seem like huge figures, but we are talking about increases as compared with the existing stock of course; the figures for the ‘boom’ years were much higher, with an approximately 1.1 per cent increase in numbers of units compared with stock in the peak year of 2007 (and over 1.4 per cent when measuring new developments by area) and at no point during the slump did the figures actually move into negative numbers.

That said, a one per cent increase in new housing over existing stock is required to account for depreciation in that existing housing, according to Tõnu. The magic one per cent figure will allow the maintaining of the quality of housing, or indeed an improvement through refurbishments and renovation work, Tõnu explains.

However, at best, there are only three years so far where that has happened, at least when going on area of residential stock (rather than numbers of units) namely 2007 as we have noted, and the two years either side of that. Thus in general there has been a deterioration in the overall quality of the housing stock over the last few years, when applying this rule, Tõnu notes.

That said, the situation is markedly better than was the case prior to the boom; 10 years ago in 2002 the number of new units compared with housing stock had only risen by 0.18 per cent y-o-y and the figure for area of new residential space had only increased by 0.3 per cent on the existing stock, writes Tõnu.

The original article (in Estonian) is here including a graph of y-o-y figures for ratio of new residential developments (by number and by area) to total stock.

It will be interesting to see if the mini-boom in construction which is taking place at present, and likely to be accompanied with a growth in commercial construction due to a dearth in good office space, will contribute to pushing the ratio of new housing to existing stock closer to the desired one per cent mark.

Goodson & Red Tallinn Property Consultancy is a premier real estate service in Estonia, specialising in residential and commercial Tallinn real estate, with a strong focus on consultancy services for overseas property investors in Estonia. Our recent media accolades include mentions in both the UK quality newspaper the Daily Telegraph, and the New York Times.

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Ten Top Tips When Buying Residential Property In Tallinn And Estonia

In amongst all the up-to-date news and developments about the real estate market, and everything else in Tallinn and Estonia, we like to provide concrete advice to those who are thinking of buying in Tallinn. After all, property is our passion so we ought to give vent to that now and again!

To that end, here’s some advice on buying here, which we’ll provide free, ‘cos we’re like that. We might even cover the dos and don’ts of letting out property here soon as well so watch this space. Even if you have already invested here, you will find some useful tips to help you navigate the small but thriving real estate market here.

We have taken the perspective of a potential overseas investment buyer in Estonia (i.e. buy-to-let) but the following is largely also applicable to those who are thinking of buying a part-time (such as holiday home or pied à terre in Tallinn) or indeed full-time dwelling in Estonia.

Please note that this post is for information only and should not be taken as legal or financial advice. Please contact a legal or financial professional for that! (We can help get you in touch). This information is provided free of charge and, whilst we strive for accuracy in all things, Tallinn Property and Goodson & Red accepts no responsibility for any loss or other misfortune arising after acting upon this advice.

That said, we are confident that the information provides an accurate consumer-eye picture of the residential real estate climate in Tallinn and strongly advise you to bear it in mind, especially since there is unlikely to be any similar information avaiable in English, so read on..

1) Find a reliable partner who will protect the buyer’s (i.e. your!) interests. The best indicator is a good friend, acquaintance, a positive experience or a recommendation from someone in the know here. If you are not sure then visit at least a couple of estate agents/brokers to get a better idea of different work cultures and strengths.

Some of the agents here in Tallinn are large and well established, including Uusmaa and 1Partner, which have a large volume of items, a big staff, offer a range of services and have plenty of knowhow (Uusmaa was founded in 1993 not long after Estonia became independent, and is nationwide). 

Some other bigger agencies in Estonia to think about include Pindi-Eri, Arco Vara, DTZ (which is not so strong in Tallinn) and Domus.

Bigger is not necessarily better of course, and there are a plethora of smaller and middle-sized agents in Tallinn and Estonia in general (at least 300 across the country). The range and quality of services will vary, however, and it is important to understand that the estate agent sector is not so heavily regulated as it is in, say, the UK. Some agents, particularly the bigger ones, are heavily sales-driven; the very small outfits may simply be an individual registered as a company to market a couple of properties belonging to themselves or friends and relatives. In general not all agents are experts in dealing with overseas investors and focus more on the domestic market so it is important to establish their credentials here too.

2) Unless you speak Estonian it is naturally important to find an agency conversant in a language which you understand. Most of the bigger agents, indeed most professional-aged people, will speak English, and most agents will speak Russian too. It’s not hard to find Finnish speakers here either, and not unheard of for agencies who have staff conversant in German, Swedish, Spanish or Italian either.

Most of the bigger agencies will have websites in two to three of these languages (usually English is one of them, although not all of the material in Estonian is necessarily translated) and often each individual agent will list the languages he/she can speak.

3) Be sure of the current market situation. The market is relatively transparent compared with some other areas of the CEE zone; one useful source is the two big real estate portals here, www.kv.ee and www.city24.com. These hold most of the properties that are on the market in Estonia (city24 also covers Poland, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania and Latvia) are searchable (in English) by region of Estonia, district (in the case of Tallinn) number of rooms, size, price and many other variables. Listings usually come with multiple, good quality photos although you should of course visit a property in person before buying; the agent who is acting for the property will be listed. Of course some properties will be listed with multiple agents.

Please note that just because a property is listed on kv.ee or city24.ee it doesn’t mean that the asking price is necessarily going to be reasonable, and be sure to look at the date the advert commenced. If a property has been up for more than a few months it is likely there are some issues either with price or something else. At the time of writing the average price per square metre for property in Tallin was a little over 1 000 Euros/square metre, rising to around 1 800 Euros/Square metre in central Tallinn (usually somewhat more than that in the Old Town itself, with Toompea being generally the most prestigious part of the already-prestigious Old Town) and the sought-after residential district of Pirita.

The figure for the whole of Estonia was 700 Euros/Square metre at the time of writing although there are naturally regional variations, with Tartu and the resort town of Pärnu, for example, being more expensive than the towns in the eastern-most parts of the country.

A bewildering array of statistics is published every month by one of the big hitters, Pindi-Eri, although the catch is it’s all in Estonian. This includes figures for average prices, sizes, number of owners etc. for all areas of Estonia going back many years (transparency, remember!). Some more comprehensive information is available on real estate expert Tõnu Toompark’s adaur blog (again usually in Estonian) together with Goodson & Red’s quarterly Market Review (and this IS available in English!) plus of course this blog.

4) When you have found an agent, obtain from this real estate partner an accurate picture of the service they provide and the fees they charge buyers for their services. It is normal for buyer’s agents to charge something. This shouldn’t be much more than a two to three per cent commission, or a fixed fee plus commission, or purely a fixed fee, but it varies by agent and also type of property.

It would often work in the buyer’s advantage to go for a fixed fee, since with a commission, it is not in the agent’s interest to get a lower price since they would be losing out on commission in so doing. At the same time this fixed fee might be split between an initial sum and a ‘bonus’ sum payable on completion of sale. A ballpark figure fixed fee would be a around 1 000 to 2 000 Euros for the initial fee. The bonus will often be pegged to the value of the property and could be anything from around 500 Euros for a small property to 3 000 or so for a high end property. In any case the fixed fee should equate to a commission of around two to three per cent, without the disincentive noted above.

Beware of agents who promote a ‘discount’ on their fixed fee or commission if the selling price is reduced by a certain amount from the asking; this could encourage the buying agent to collude with the seller to set the initial asking price higher than it is worth to give the impression of obtaining a good price. Thankfully such practices in Tallinn are now the exception rather than the norm and not something which larger, reputable agents would be likely to fall into, but as an overseas national it is important to exercise due care and obtain the advice and assistance of a local acquaintance where possible, even simply for language issues. On the plus side, Estonians are quite flexible, if you see a property you like but the buyer’s fee structure doesn’t quite work for you, always speak up and ask how this can be negotiated.

5) Become acquainted with all factors relating to the buying process. These include notarized contract forms, state orders of magnitude, notary fees etc. In general this is quite a straightforward affair in comparison with the UK for example, and it is not necessary to hire a lawyer or obtain a full survey unless you wish to.          

Ask the partner to identify local laws related to real estate acquisition / possession / management. Depending on where you are from, there may be restrictions to buying property (if you are an EU citizen for example, there are not). Also be sure to check whether your country of origin has a double taxation agreement with Estonia; if it does not, you are not liable for taxation on rental income in your own country.

In general if you on the ground in Tallinn or Estonia it is possible to view a property in person in exactly the same way you would do in the UK or US, though you can usually (not always) expect a refreshing lack of hard-sell or ‘estate agent-ese’ in comparison. Making an offer can be done verbally although this does not make it legally binding; the seller might come back with a counter offer, although note that some sellers have little leeway in the negotiation process (due to many people borrowing during the boom time at a large loan to value rate at higher price levels than today). Naturally you should have an idea based on point 3) above plus your own reasearch as to whether you are getting a good deal even at the asking price, and there are some bargains around.*

6) Explore all options for finance. If you are able to borrow from Estonian banks (for instance an EU citizen should be able to) it is worth investigating because they are offering low rates even by present-day standards (as low as three per cent). The real estate portals kv.ee and city24.ee noted in point 3) above carry mortgage calculators which can give the monthly payments due on a property. Banks are much more stringent in their terms than the boom period of course, and 100 per cent loan to value mortgages are a thing of the past, though that is likely to be the case everywhere. In any case the mortgage application process in Estonia is quite straighforward and decisions are usually made quite quickly. If you are based in another country it may be possible to use your income there to determine how much you can borrow; with Estonian real wages still comparatively low by EU standards you may find you can borrow much more than a local Estonian could, however it is a good idea to exercise restraint and not overstretch yourself.    

7) When considering buying an investment property, do think about the type of property you are investing in. Is it likely to be suitable for a student, foreign national or young professional(s)? How old is the building? What are communal areas like? Are there likely to be any planning permission issues? Is there much storage? Is there a parking space? A garden? What are the communal charges? Is it located near to public transport links, retail outlets and other facilities? Again, your agent will be able to advise you on this.

8) Location, location, location. Something of a cliché but true nevertheless. Experience shows that the best chance of investing in a successful rental property falls within the central part of Tallinn. This incorporates the old town, the ‘Kesklinn’ (city centre) and to a certain extent the areas of Kadriorg and Kristiine, to the east and west of the centre respectively, so you should really confine your search to these areas of Tallinn. Also worth considering are areas which are “up and coming”, most notably the waterfront from the harbour westward to the Kalamaja district, fast becoming the bohemian quarter of Tallinn with restaurants, cafes as well as residential developments sprining up, and still within walking distance of the centre; your broker will be able to advise you on the current landscape.

We are not saying that properties outside this zone are necessarily going to be untenable, but the distant location together with type of property (which tends to veer between either Soviet era apartment blocks or older wooden houses which would tend to suit local families, to larger, detached houses with large gardens which would be difficult to let out and manage) make it unlikely. Outside of Tallinn the scope is somewhat more limited for investment property, but your agent will be able to advise you nevertheless.

9) When buying a newly-refurbished apartment, do not assume that the kitchen, and even the bathroom, will be fully installed. Often you will have to by the fittings separately and get them installed, so be clear as to what is and is not included in the price and the time-frame within which the property will be ready for habitation.

10) When employing the services of workmen be sure to get recommendations from your agent or other contacts that you may have in the country. Self-explanatory really, but please note that due to economic factors many of the country’s best construction workers, craftsmen, carpenters, plumbers etc. are out of the country at any given time, sometimes only on a temporary basis but often (particularly in Finland) semi-permanently at least. For this reason it is crucial you get recommendations. On the other hand don’t let this put you off any property which you see as having potential but which needs work; part of Estonia’s economic recovery at the time of writing lies in a mini-construction boom, with rising prices in construction materials ensuring that there are people willing and able to work in this field.

 

*Please note that the above info does not include the case of foreclosed properties, which are generally in the possession of the banks and are often being auctioned off. Having said that much of the excess here has already been taken up and it is difficult to find bargains today, not to mention the fact that there might be issues regarding existing tenants or former owners still inhabiting the dwelling. For this reason we do not recommend inexperienced investors in this region intentionally pursuing this route.

Goodson & Red Tallinn Property Consultancy is a premier real estate service in Estonia, specialising in residential and commercial Tallinn real estate, with a strong focus on consultancy services for overseas property investors in Estonia. Our recent media accolades include mentions in both the UK quality newspaper the Daily Telegraph, and the New York Times.

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Individuals In The Rental Market Need Tax Exempt Status

At a recent round table meeting of the EKFL (Eesti Kinnisvarafirmade Liidu), an association of Estonian real estate agents, construction companies, developers and other related interests, on 26 October, the question of issues related to tax relief for rental income was raised. The meeting found that, in order to increase transparency and competition in the rental market, measures concerning such tax relief would be necessary.

“Today’s rental market happens to be rather opaque, with activities largely being directed by business considerations from private individual to private individual” said EKFL board member and regular contributor to Tallinn Property Tõnu Toompark.

“This opacity means that rental agreements tend to be either weak or entirely missing” Tõnu goes on, “with uncertainty for both tenant and landlord, and, to be frank, unfair maneuvering regarding taxes”.

As far as taxation goes, there is a grey area in the rental sector which leads to a significant competitive advantage to those landlords who are not paying taxes. The EKFL proposes eliminating this advantage and giving rental housing tax-exempt status, for example for a 10 year period.

“Income tax exemption will reverse the advantage given to the unfair competitive advantage that exists” Tõnu continues. “It will encourage those landlords who want to enter into sound and correct lease agreements and the honest moving of money through bank accounts” Tõnu explains.

Tax incentives can lead to rental offers on new apartments, thus expanding the sector. Currently around 15 per cent of people in Estonia rent their living space; this number can potentially grow towards a level in line with the Western European countries of around 25-35 per cent.

A wider share of the rental market will give all people a better choice of accomodation and facilitate greater mobility of labour. A bigger rental market will also help to keep prices stable and lead to various mini-booms in the rental market.

This proposal for an income tax free rental market is motivated by the situation this autumn, where the supply of rental accomodation is standing at a level of around 30-40 per cent less than this time year ago. This low rate of offers has led to a price ceiling and a certain amount of difficulty in finding accomodation. The EKFL believes that the Estonian economy and real estate market, which the rental market is an integral part of, will be greatly improved when a reasonable level of stability can be forecast.

The EKFL is a network of real estate mediation, development, management and consultants. The EKFL round table is a group of active members who meet on a monthly basis as an effective think tank.

The original press release (in Estonian) can be viewed here.

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Ten Tips Which Landlords Should Keep In Mind

Why invest in Tallinn and not another European city, particularly in the former Eastern bloc? Well, now is a very good time to consider investing here. Prices are at around a five year low and the rental market is buoyant. Furthermore Tallinn will be European Capital of Culture in 2011, undoubtedly bringing with it a rise in already-high levels of tourism and associated businesses, and Estonia routinely scores higher in corruption indices than its baltic neighbours, for example. Furthermore Estonia joins the Euro zone on January 1, 2011.

But more than all this, the buying process here is quite simple in comparison with some other countries. For instance, it is not necessary for both parties in a transaction, the buyer and the seller, to find their own solicitor and to suffer the inevitable delays, not to mention cost, of paperwork and procedures during this stressful time. Here in Estonia the process is very transparent and it is sufficient for both parties, upon agreeing a sale, to make their way to one of the many competent notaries, who will carry out all the necessary procedures. This takes place with both parties present (together with a sworn translator where necessary) in a short space of time and for a very reasonable fee (including the standard state fee).

Nevertheless, many people become a ‘landlord’ with little knowledge of the realities of what the process involves. Maybe they are moving out of their former home or part time home, but wish to retain it and let it out. Or maybe they invested in property at the height of the boom here in Tallinn. Or perhaps they came by a property through family connections. Whatever the case, a lack of knowledge about being a landlord can lead to such unwanted scenarios as unexpected expenses, void periods or problem tenants.

To help you avoid any of these undesirable situations, here are some important pieces of advice that we will give to any aspiring, or existing, landlord!

  1. Be prepared to be flexible in rental prices. Sometimes a happy situation will arise where a property will immediately be let out for its full asking price, but at other times, particularly when it is a renter’s market, it might be wiser to accept a reasonably reduced offer from a potential tenant rather than hold out for the full amount and carry the burden of a void period for any length of time.
  2. Steer clear of void periods at all costs, even if this means being flexible about rent figures. This also means you should be flexible in terms of rental periods, for example having a short term let for part of the year and longer terms the remainder, to maximise profits and minimize void periods. This can have the effect or earning 10-15 per cent more per year. Naturally having a fully managed service will mean that the hassle of organising this is out of your hands.
  3. If the property was formerly your personal home or part time home, or contains fixtures and fittings left over from a former occupant, be prepared to make the necessary internal alterations in order to successfully attract a tenant. One’s own personal tastes may not match with those of other people. Experience has shown that tenants on the whole prefer light, neutral colours and modern (but not too extreme) fixtures and fittings. Time to get rid of that lime green ceiling or novelty lampshade! ‘Minimal is king’, is a useful watchword here.
  4. Consider getting a property professionally cleaned at the end of a tenancy period. This can work wonders in attracting a new tenant, breathing new life into worn carpets and making grubby tiles sparkling again. First impressions last and it would be a shame to put off a potential tenant simply because of an unpleasant odour or dirty bathroom.
  5. It’s worth having an inventory taken (even in unfurnished properties). This lists in detail all the items which have been left in the property for the tenant’s use, and the condition of the apartment in general. This will be signed by both landlord and tenant, thus avoiding any unpleasant disputes arising surrounding any damage at the end of a tenancy.
  6. Expect a certain amount of wear and tear. This is only inevitable, and over time items will need to be replaced. As a general rule, fridges and other white goods will need to be replaced as they become outdated or cease to work over the years, and a property will need small redecoration works and maintenance works approximately every four years. Wooden parquet flooring also requires attention from time to time.
  7. Do not leave anything of great financial or sentimental value in a property which you are letting out.
  8. Location, location, location: something of a cliche but true nevertheless. Experience shows that the best chance of investing in a successful rental property falls within the central part of Tallinn. This incorporates the old town, the ‘Kesklinn’ (city centre) and to a certain extent the areas of Kadriorg and Kristiine, to the east and west of the centre respectively.
  9. Do think about the type of property you are investing in. Is it likely to be suitable for a student, foreign national or young professional(s)? How old is the building? What are communal areas like? Are there likely to be any planning permission issues? Is there much storage? Is there a parking space? A garden? What are the communal charges? Is it near public transport links, retail outlets and other facilities?
  10. Keep in touch: your managing agents can advise you about developments at the property, maintenance issues etc, but always respond to emails and queries on this promptly. This will lead to a better relationship with a tenant and an increased likelihood that they will want to stay on.

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