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A new start for housing

By Howard Jarvis. 19.01.2011

Construction equipment
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In the winter sleet, the green-caped workers look like soldiers in a war zone. Knee-deep in mud, they struggle across deep gouges in the landscape left by trucks and diggers.

A once serene lakeside pine forest off the beaten track a couple of kilometers from Vilnius’ Pilaite suburb is rapidly being divided into private plots for more than 40 future houses.
AB Viti, the construction firm behind the project, is planning 42 homes in four multileveled areas. It’s also extending the necessary city communications into the forest and, as a parting gesture, creating a wide loop of asphalt road around the little-seen, reed-shrouded lake.
The future houses have not yet been bought in advance, but as one construction worker told me, the company is confident that they’ll be snapped up quickly.
“The lake is clean,” he said. “I was washing my hands there and saw a freshwater crab scuttling away. People buy houses next to clean lakes.”
The development is starting to be repeated across the Baltic region. “You can count the new housing projects in Vilnius on one hand,” says Edvardas Milukas, world-weary commercial director of In Real, a Lithuanian real estate brokerage company that saw its workforce shrink during the property crash from 600 to just 150, though it’s now “hiring aggressively”.
“Overall I’m starting to be optimistic again,” he says. “But houses suffered a worse collapse than apartments. Developers were often smaller operators, and in the mad rush to build they didn’t think much about quality of construction or proximity to schools. There was no common vision.”
Many of the developers went bankrupt. However, some projects that stopped abruptly when the crisis hit, leaving half-built ghost homes around the cities’ outskirts, are restarting.
“There’s hope for houses. It’s a buyer’s market. Heating costs are rising and houses cost less to maintain,” Milukas explains.
For foreign buyers who fancy the idea of a retreat by a clean and beautiful lake there are lots of opportunities, especially since the second-home market that bloomed in the boom years has collapsed. But for coastal properties, it’s buyers from Russia who are looking to snap them up.
Russians love the activity and noise of the resort of Palanga, Milukas says. Which suits Lithuanians fine, as they generally prefer the quieter resort of Nida on the Curonian Spit or the sleepy spa resort of Druskininkai.


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