April 23, 2019

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House Hunting in … Romania

House Hunting in … Romania
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This three-bedroom villa is on the southern shore of Lake Snagov, a popular weekend retreat about 20 miles north of Bucharest, the capital and commercial center of Romania.

The property is three quarters of an acre and includes a two-bedroom, 860-square-foot loft above the garage; a free-standing, 250-square-foot studio unit; and a long wooden dock, boat garage and pontoon for fun on the lake.

The 3,500-square-foot main house, completed in 2009, was built with reinforced concrete and brick, with an orange ceramic roof and a white facade. The front door opens to a foyer, with a small bedroom immediately to the left. Straight ahead is a larger interior hall with a winding staircase, built-in bookcases and a double-height ceiling. Continuing through that second hall, a broad doorway leads to the living room, which has a whimsically designed fireplace with firewood storage built into the wall.

Inspiration for the home’s interior décor came from the sellers’ time in living in the United States, said Dana Barbu, an agent with the Bucharest-based real estate company Regatta, which has the listing.

“They are quite cosmopolitan, and they’ve lived in several countries,” Ms. Barbu said. “Now they live in France. They were inspired by the Hamptons, Long Island and British beach cottages.”

A study with built-in bookshelves adjoins the living room. The combined dining area and kitchen is on the right side of the house. The kitchen has high-end appliances, a butcher-block island and a subway-tile backsplash.

In the rear of the house is a large sunroom with vaulted ceilings and glass doors that open to a two-level wood terrace overlooking the yard and Lake Snagov.

Up an oak staircase are two large en suite bedrooms with vaulted, beamed ceilings, wide-plank floors and balconies. The master bedroom is about 430 square feet, awash in cool grays and whites, with stained pine floors, a chandelier and a fireside seating area. The master bathroom has a soaking tub, stand-alone glass shower and a glass door leading to a balcony. The second bedroom, split into two sections, serves as a sleeping and play area for children.

Snagov, which has a population of around 7,000, is a leisure destination for tourists and Bucharest residents alike. It sits between Bucharest and the ski and mountain destinations farther north, making it a convenient base for ventures in both directions, Ms. Barbu said. It is popular with water-sports enthusiasts, thanks to the lake, which is not wide but stretches about seven miles in length. Snagov Club, a four-minute drive from the property, has a hotel, several restaurants, kayak and bike rentals, and a pool and spa. Henri Coanda International Airport, just north of Bucharest, is about 20 minutes away.

“There is a cult of property in Romania, and most people want to own a house,” said Eduard Uzunov, the owner of the Regatta agency, in an email. Home prices in Bucharest have grown between 5 and 10 percent a year for the last two years, he said, thanks to high demand largely driven by affordable credit.

Prices are growing at a similar rate across Romania, but after a period of steady gains — an increase of about 12 percent in 2016, followed by a 10 percent increase in 2017 — the market slowed in 2018, with prices growing by only 6 percent, according to a fourth-quarter report from Analize Imobiliare, a real estate market analyst, and Imobiliare.ro, Romania’s primary online real estate advertising portal. Dorel Nita, the head of data and research for Imobiliare.ro and the report’s author, concluded that the slowing rate of growth is a sign that the market is stabilizing, after the rapidly rising prices of previous years resulted in a cool-down in demand.

Damian Galvin, the founder of Bucharest-based White Mountain Property, said his agency has seen the volume of sales decline across Romania over the past year for several reasons, including emigration by potential buyers and “uncertainty” in Romanian politics. But in Bucharest, he said, demand has remained steady because the return on rental properties makes investment attractive.

In Bucharest, apartment prices in the fourth quarter of 2018 averaged around 1,300 euros a square meter (about $137 a square foot), according to the report. (Property transactions are often done in euros, rather than the Romanian leu, although Romania hasn’t officially adopted the euro yet; the country joined the European Union in 2007 and is expected to adopt the euro in about 2024.)

Mr. Galvin pointed to a “steady trend” of wealthier Romanian expatriates “buying investment rental property in most major cities due to the unusually high return on investment,” which he said is around 6 to 7 percent annually.

Bucharest’s priciest homes are in the city center, the city’s northern neighborhoods and the northern suburbs, agents said, with apartments in the affluent Herastrau section averaging about 2,560 euros a square meter ($269 a square foot).

Prices of luxury properties in and around the city range from 150,000 euros ($170,00) for a one-bedroom to more than 2 million euros ($2.3 million) for a penthouse or villa, said Alexandru Ispir, owner of the Bucharest agency Otho Estate. Mr. Uzunov put the range for luxury apartments at 200,000 euros ($226,000) to 3 million euros ($3.4 million), adding that luxury houses can fetch up to 15 million euros ($17 million). But for 900,000 euros ($1.02 million), you can buy a four-bedroom penthouse with a shared pool in Bucharest’s most sought-after northern neighborhoods, Mr. Galvin said.

Bucharest offers value compared to other Eastern European capitals, agents said, with prices per square meter approximately half those in Budapest and Belgrade, Serbia.

The area near the historic city center is popular with foreign investors, who often buy older buildings and convert them into hotels and rentals, Mr. Ispir said. In 2018, 15 to 20 percent of his agency’s buyers were foreign — mostly from France, Spain and Sweden — and fewer than 5 percent of them were buying for personal use, he said.

Mr. Uzunov said his agency’s foreign buyers in 2018 primarily came from France, Holland, Greece and Israel.

Citizens of countries outside the European Union are usually permitted to buy buildings in Romania, but not land. However, they may lease the land for free, as long as the structure exists, said Radu Catalin Pavel, the managing partner of the law firm Pavel, Margarit and Associates, in Bucharest. An individual may also form a limited liability corporation in Romania and buy the land through the company.

Hiring a qualified lawyer to perform due diligence is essential, Mr. Pavel said, as “there are still tens of thousands of properties that have been nationalized by the Romanian state and have not yet been returned to the owners.”

Buyers should consult a Romanian real estate lawyer about whether there are unresolved claims by the owners or their descendants, he said.

Romanian; leu (1 leu = $0.24) and euro (1 euro = $1.13)

The property taxes on this home are about 880 euros ($1,000) a year, Ms. Barbu said.

Dana Barbu, Regatta, 011-40-21-232-90-12; regatta.ro

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