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Construction of New Housing is One of Primary Economic Drivers in Helsinki

Construction of New Housing is One of Primary Economic Drivers in Helsinki

Wednesday, 1 November, 2017 - 07:30
This four-bedroom apartment is in a building with 27 units. The living room has parquet floors and 13-foot ceilings. Tuomas Uusheimo for The New York Times.

This four-bedroom, one-bath apartment is on the second floor of a classical-style, 19th-century building in the center of Helsinki, Finland’s largest city and its capital. The building is a housing company — the equivalent of a co-op in the United States — with 27 units and ground-floor commercial space.

The 1,600-square-foot apartment was fully renovated in 2012, said Tommi Karhula, a sales agent with Snellman Sotheby’s International Realty, which has the listing. The main entrance opens to a foyer that leads to a large living room with 13-foot ceilings, a wall of windows overlooking the city, refinished parquet floors and a decorative floor-to-ceiling tiled stove, one of three in the apartment. (The stoves are not used for heating now, but could be made functional, Mr. Karhula said.)

The eat-in kitchen, through a hallway from the living room, is all white, with painted wood floors, pressed stone countertops and an induction cooktop.

Two of the apartment’s four bedrooms are small, with upper loft spaces. The master bedroom has a walk-in closet. The bath is tiled in a sand-colored stone and has a trough-style sink, a free-standing soaking tub and heated floors. A washer and dryer are in a hall cabinet.

Parking is not provided by the building, but there are usually street spaces nearby, Mr. Karhula said; the required city parking license costs about €260 (around $311) annually.

The building is on the western side of downtown Helsinki, directly across from Hietalahti Market Square, the site of a popular outdoor market that operates year-round. Many cafes and restaurants are nearby, and Helsinki-Vantaa international airport is about 30 minutes away.


The Finnish economy, and its real-estate market by extension, have struggled since the global financial crisis, but both have improved in the last couple of years, agents said.

Construction of new housing is one of the primary economic drivers, as demand is strong in cities like Helsinki, home to about 635,000 people, according to a recent report on the Finnish property market by KTI Finland, an independent research organization for the real estate industry. Residential construction starts in Finland were up 40 percent last year over 2013 to 2014, with almost half the new apartments built in the larger Helsinki metropolitan area, which has a population of about 1.1 million, the report said.

“We have a rising market, finally,” Mr. Karhula said. “The global downturn affected Finland quite harshly, but now the market is significantly stronger. People trust the economy at the moment, which is helping.”

Apartment prices in the greater Helsinki area have risen about 16 percent over the last five years, from €3,920 a square meter in 2012 to €4,550 (about $436 to $505 a square foot) in the first half of this year, said Jukka Malila, the managing director and chief executive of the Central Federation of Finnish Real Estate Agencies.

In the city itself, southern neighborhoods and those along the coast — including Ullanlinna, Eira and Kaivopuisto — are in highest demand among luxury buyers, said Paula Hovav, an agent with Re/Max Royal, in Helsinki.


Most foreign buyers are from nearby European countries like Sweden and Estonia, and are employed in the city, Mr. Malila said. Russian buyers are also common, he said, both in Helsinki and in areas with vacation homes, near the country’s eastern border.

Mr. Karhula said he is seeing more buyers from China, especially in ski areas like Lapland, in northern Finland.


There are no restrictions on foreign buyers in Finland. Buyers do not typically use a real estate agent, nor do they hire a lawyer to handle the transaction, Mr. Malila said, unless it is complicated or involves a very high-end property. “The role of lawyers is not very strong in Finland, like in some other countries,” he said. Instead, “the role of the seller’s real estate agent is quite strong in organizing the transaction process.”

The seller pays the agent’s commission, usually about 3 percent.

Should a buyer choose to hire a lawyer, the cost is usually between €500 and €1,000 (or about $597 to $1,195), he said.

Foreigners can obtain a mortgage in Finland, though “in practice, it depends on the bank,” Mr. Malila said. “If it’s not for a permanent residence, obtaining a mortgage can sometimes present some challenges.”


Finnish and Swedish; euro (1 euro = $1.19)


A monthly fee charged to all apartment owners covers the building’s property taxes, as well as heat and maintenance. The fee is currently €2 a square meter, or about €300 a month ($358) for this apartment, Mr. Karhula said.

Buyers pay a transfer tax of 2 percent on apartments and 4 percent on houses.

The New York Times

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