The headlines speak for themselves. “From Russia—with Cash,” waxes the Wall Street Journal. “Russians snap up Australian luxury,” declares the BBC. “You are not imagining that Russian buying spree,” confirms The New York Observer. “Despite crisis, wealthy Russians are buying up coastal Montenegro,” writes the The New York Times. Cash clad Russians have arrived at the international property scene with a bang and they are looking to buy prized real estate through out the world.
The economic slowdown has only further raised the Russian interest in property investment. The RTS, Russia’s stock exchange, has lost 75 percent of its value in 2008, “making Russian shares the cheapest in the developed world,” according to a recent article by Overseas Property Professional, a trade magazine and website for international real estate professionals.
“One can hardly trust in the Russian stock market. Low oil prices ruin all the business indexes in our country despite the formidable government aid. I believe that, in these troubled times, people think about more solid investments, such as real estate,” said Alexey Konovalov, the editor-in-chief of Prian.ru, the leading Russian overseas property portal.
Investing in property in Russia not only costs a pretty penny, but there are fears that the markets are ready to collapse. Analysts believe prices have risen to unsustainable levels in major cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg and supply outstrips demand in some segments. The instability of the country’s stock market coupled with fears of a real estate meltdown at home has sent well heeled Russians abroad in search of safe havens around the world. “We expect more Russian investors [to go] overseas,” said Konovalov.
Who is buying
Hardly surprising, then, that property agencies are scrambling to market to them. There is a lot of interest in just who these newly minted wealthy Russians are and what exactly they are looking for. In reality, however, it is hard to pigeonhole the Russian market. “Wealthy Russians are mostly interested in luxury properties in London, Cote d’Azure, Paris, Tuscany or New York,” according to Konovalov. “Our middle-class nationals are looking for affordable apartments or houses up to 100,000 euros in Central, Eastern Europe and Middle East,” he said. Even senior citizens, who don’t have much in the way of spare cash, can afford a property abroad after selling “their […] houses or their rooms in communal flats,” according Konovalov.
What they are buying
Russians owning real estate abroad have become more and more common in the past five years, according to Konovalov. Their reasons for internationally purchasing property are as diverse as their real estate destinations. According to a survey made by Prian.ru, 20 percent of Russian buyers are purchasing property in resorts for vacation homes. Another 20 percent are looking for a place to retire. An even larger portion, 27.5 percent of survey respondents, stated their desire to immigrate to the country of their purchase. A small slice, just 5.4 percent, see owning property overseas as a status symbol. The rest buy for investment- and business-related purposes, some planning to make money by renting their properties out and others hoping to resell.
“Russians are buying mostly homes and land. Commercial properties are not so popular,” according to Konovalov. “The number of requests to the Prian.ru property database increased by 15 percent in October,” he said. It went up from about 500,000 in September to about 580,000 in October.
Where they are looking?
Most Russians are searching for properties close to home, in Europe, though a small percentage look in places as far as Egypt and Thailand. This number may increase now that several eastern European countries have recently seen a drop in their credit ratings. Prian.ru breaks down the top 10 countries visitors to the website inquired about last month as the following:
- Bulgaria: 14.53 percent
- Germany: 8.02 percent
- Finland: 7.87 percent
- Spain: 7.85 percent
- USA: 5.19 percent
- France: 4.78 percent
- Czech Republic: 4.61 percent
- Italy: 4.33 percent
- Egypt: 3.17 percent
- Turkey: 3.00 percent
Montenegro and Greece are in the top 15. Also, interest in Thailand has shown a strong increase while Cyprus has seen seasonal decline.
To be sure, Russians are part of a relatively new and bigger trend. Increasing global wealth will continue to make new millionaires and billionaires. Nowhere is this more true than in places such as Russia, China and India. The diversity of international property buyers is likely to continue to evolve as national borders fall to the wayside under the irresistible charm of the rich.