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Russia: Muscovites Give Up The City For The Quiet Life

A boy riding a bicycle among new homes outside Moscow (ITAR-TASS) MOSCOW, March 28, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Nine years ago, Igor Bokov, his wife and two children bought a plot of land in the village of Stanovoye, 30 kilometers southeast of Moscow. Their plan was to build a little wooden house where they could spend weekends in the summer, but nine years and two more children later, they are still there.

"After living here for just two weeks, we understood that a Moscow flat is not ideal," Bokov says. "There are people living on top of you, people living underneath you, people living next to you. Wherever you go, there are people all around you. Here, there is fresh air, quiet -- which you hardly ever get in the city -- trees full of birds, sunsets and sunrises that you simply never see in Moscow."

Clean Living

The Bokovs sold their three-bedroom apartment in Moscow and built a large brick house with the proceeds. Igor says the drive to work -- he is the owner of several electrical-repair shops around Moscow -- takes just as long as it did when he lived in the city. But now his family has a conservatory full of tropical plants, a sauna downstairs, and a huge garden, and they keep chickens and a goat.

Vladimir Yakhontov, the deputy director of out-of-town real estate at Miel Realty, says the exodus from the city is only just beginning.

"I think that over the next two, three years there will be a mass resettlement outside the city limits," Yakhontov says. "So there is going to be an enormous demand for out-of-town houses. At the moment, property outside Moscow is undervalued, and I think the price per square meter, which is lower out of town than in the city, will mean even more people move out of Moscow."

"I was able to build a house for the price of my two-room apartment. But really I left for one reason, the most important one, and that was the environment." -- new home owner

Unlike many of the world's capitals, Moscow has no sprawling suburbs. The city ends abruptly at the MKAD, the ring road that marks the boundary between Moscow and Moscow Oblast. During the Soviet era, the land beyond was agricultural or used for dachas -- the wooden houses people built to escape to at weekends and during the hot summer months.

Now all that is changing. According to Yakhontov, some 23,000 out-of-town homes are currently on the market, and many more are being built. And with prices lower outside the city, he says, Muscovites can get a bigger home if they sell and move out. The average cost of property in Moscow is $4,000 per square metre -- beyond the MKAD it falls to about $1,000, he says.

Cottage Industry

It is a phenomenon that is not limited to the Russian capital. Irina Danchenko, an agent at Parker and Obolensky Real Estate in Ukraine, says something similar is happening in Kyiv in Ukraine.

Cottage settlements springing up in the shadow of Moscow's 'Khrushchevski' (ITAR-TASS)

"There are about 24 'cottage' villages in different directions from the city center at the moment. They are very popular," Danchenko says. "Because the cost of a flat in the center of town now is very expensive, and so it makes more sense to invest your money in a piece of land, build a house on it and it will work out as being more profitable than buying somewhere in the city. And of course it goes without saying that living out of the city is better in terms of the ecology."

House prices in other СIS capitals are also on the rise, and entrepreneurs have used the opportunity to buy land or property on the outskirts of the city. Outside Baku,in Azerbaijan, the Absheron Peninsula -- once home to a handful of dusty villages -- is now thriving with cottages and villas. On the edge of Yerevan, some Armenians have begun building homes with views of Mt. Ararat in a compound that has the only golf course in the South Caucasus.

And near Astana -- where property prices have soared by more than 900 percent in the last five years, according to a report by the American Chamber of Commerce in Kazakhstan -- wealthy Kazakhs are opting for out-of-town properties over city-center flats.

In Moscow, however, it isn't just the rich who are making the move. Svetlana Mikhailova, a teacher, and her family recently made the decision to leave the city. They are in the process of building a house in the same village as the Bokovs, and they hope to move in for good by the summer.

"We decided to buy some land and build a house. Our daughter is already grown-up -- in this way we get to pass something on to her," Mikhailova says. "Everyone can be comfortable and happy, because in Moscow the conditions we live in are quite a lot worse than they will be here. It's just a little flat, a typical 'Khrushchevka' [one of the hundreds of identical concrete apartment blocks built during Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's reign] only 40 square meters in size -- that's how big the kitchen in the new house we are building here will be."

Paved With Gold

On one stretch of Rublyovo-Uspenskoye Shosse, a major highway that runs west out of the city, houses with swimming pools and landscaped gardens can be purchased for up to $15 million. There is even an elite shopping district selling sports cars, jewelry, and designer clothing on a plot of land that used to be a pine forest.

Ivan Vorobyov, an analyst at Inkom Realty, admits the new housing is aimed at the higher end of the market. "Many of our villages are for rather well-off people," he says. "That's to say, I think we are building properties for middle-class and upper middle-class families. And for the rich, too -- that goes without saying. Because we do have some fairly expensive houses that start at $2, $3, $4 million."

Nevertheless, with property prices within the city rising every year, Vladimir Yakhontov at Miel Realty says it is still possible for ordinary Muscovites to sell up and move to a bigger home outside the capital. He knows, because he did it himself.

"I left Moscow for several reasons. First, I was able to build a house for the price of my two-room apartment," Yakhontov says. "But really, I left for one reason, the most important one, and that was the environment. Because my wife and I were living in the center, we had a son and he started to get ill. Allergies, and lots of other things. We moved out of town, and everything got better."

With the developers moving in, Yakhontov says it is becoming more difficult to find affordable housing close to the MKAD. But he says Muscovites who are prepared to travel up to 50 kilometers beyond the city limits can still buy land and build houses that would be far bigger than anything available in the city today.

RFE/RL Russia Report

RFE/RL Russia Report

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