pühapäev, jaanuar 21, 2007

Real Estate

So we've been looking for a place to live in the city of Tartu, you know that unappealing hellhole in southeast Estonia where there are no good indie rock bands and the best thing is the road leading to Tallinn? Yeah, that one.

Anyway, I know the Estonian real estate market quite well, having searched for and found an apartment in Tallinn back in the year of our Lord, 2003. I recall there were several kinds of apartments available in Tallinn. For starters, there were the off-limits apartments - either ones in the Old Town or those new futuristic ones out in Pirita that look like Captain Kirk's love shack from Star Trek.

Those are off limits as my wife and I are but meager artists of the written word. We do not aspire to such eurocratic heights. After the off limits places come the wooden, pre-1940 dwellings. Many of these have been remodeled and are gorgeous. We wound up buying one in Kalamaja. But, on the flipside, the older ones have some extreme elements, such as 1) large communities of feral cats nearby; 2) wood heating, accompanied by neighbor's house with roof burned off; 3) did I mention wood heating?

That's right, many Estonians use puu to keep themselves warm at night, and if you look at them like they are stuck in some kind of 1920s time-warp where going to toilet means going to the outhouse and using the Montgomery Sears catalog to wipe your ass, they'll look back at you and tell you that you are crazy and that wood heating is the best thing since fire was invented.

Of course, the ladies don't mind wood heating because they get their husbands to freeze their munad off and go outside in the dark of winter to collect more firewood to survive, eating a bowl of gruel that has boiled over the fire as their reward for manliness.

Along with the culture shock of living in a land where using cash is quaint, but using wood to heat your room is the thing to do, most real estate agencies like to provide photos of the toilet in the apartment, just so you can inspect it online to make sure it's safe to squat over when duty calls.

This is a very Estonian thing to do. Estonian real estate agents like to get to the point. There's no bullshit. They show you the dirtiest place in the house and let you judge whether or not you'd consider parking your butt there and leafing through a fresh edition of City Paper.

Estonia is currently stuck in this weird limboland between post-Soviet and normal, where lots of it is starting to look fresh and new, but behind every new Selver, there is a filthy toilet waiting to remind you of the bad old days when Gorbachev was the "charismatic" leader of the USSR. Speaking of USSR, there are other apartments available, many of which were built during the 1945 - 1985 time period.

The Stalin-era buildings were mostly built by slave labor from German POWs and real estate agents might mention this to you as if you'd feel better knowing a bunch of 20-year-old guys named Friedrich sweated their balls off to build your flat, only to continue to build flats until their lives were terminated. Well, "German-built" actually means it's less likely to fall apart, while just plain "Soviet-built" is supposed to mean that you should watch out that the place doesn't fall down when you slam the door. I am not into these big apartment buildings. There's something about gray apartment blocks, pelmeenid, and limited daylight that makes me want to drown my sorrows in vodka. That life just isn't for me.

One way Estonians have sought to liberate themselves from the gray is to cover the buildings with colorful metallic paneling, which makes them look more Copenhagen and less Gorky Park. I welcome all attempts to resuscitate wounded dwellings and to bring them up to speed for our new and progressive century.

Anyway, apartment hunting is hard work, and I am actually not doing any of the heavy mental lifting. But when it comes to actually moving the stuff into the apartment, you can expect to see me there, huffing and puffing, and utilizing all those muscles I rarely get to use.

39 kommentaari:

Flasher T ütles ...

Heh, I know what you mean. I went through the same thing last summer. The trick is that there's very little price difference between the old apartments and the brand new apartment buildings. So, I ended up with a flat in a brand-new three-storey wooden building in a slightly suboptimal neighborhood, at a very reasonable price.

(Shameless self-plug: http://www.antyx.net/2006/05/inevitability.html Hey, it's on-topic at least!)

Estonia in World Media (Rus) ütles ...

well written and sarcastic piece. But, as most joke do, has a piece of truth in there

from rakvere ütles ...

Hey! I live in a Soviet apartment block, it's not so bad ;) (granted, it was built in 1988) If you make your flat beautiful and the flat union (sic! prolly) takes normal care of the corridor, then it's okay. You can't actually see the greyness from the inside :P

Eppppp ütles ...
Blogi administraator eemaldas selle kommentaari.
Giustino ütles ...

Hey! I live in a Soviet apartment block, it's not so bad ;) (granted, it was built in 1988) If you make your flat beautiful and the flat union (sic! prolly) takes normal care of the corridor, then it's okay. You can't actually see the greyness from the inside :P

I've been told the 80s-built homes are the best. And your comment brings up a good question, "Would you rather live in a beautiful house facing an ugly house, or live in an ugly house facing a beautifil one?"

Anonüümne ütles ...

"Would you rather live in a beautiful house facing an ugly house, or live in an ugly house facing a beautifil one?"

I'd definitely go with the one facing a beautiful one.

Anonüümne ütles ...

On second thought, the ugly one is probably going to be demolished first, so the beautiful one would be a good choice too. It depends...

Tatsutahime ütles ...

If you buy the place then you can afterwards easily transform it into stove oil heating place. As I understood you are making a long-term investment? Wood heating problem is asically leaving you house alone for a long time.

Georg ütles ...

Hey, Tartu has band called "Tartu popi ja rocki instituut". And indie festival plinkplok somewhere in summer
http://www.plinkplonk.ee/2006/.

georg ütles ...

aah, and there you can listen to tartu popi ja roki instituut
http://www.plinkplonk.ee/2006/mp3/TPRI%20-Balti%20Metropol.mp3

its cool
its good
has also some soviet relics.

Katrin ütles ...

Believe it or not, I feel that those old Soviet-time apartment buildings are better built than some of the "luxury" apartment buildings in Manhattan. At least they have some insulation. Given the choice, of course everyone would rather stay in a small stone house with a cute garden...

Giustino ütles ...

Believe it or not, I feel that those old Soviet-time apartment buildings are better built than some of the "luxury" apartment buildings in Manhattan.

Manhattan wasn't built in a day, but many of its buildings are built like they were built in one day.

Anonüümne ütles ...

:)))) wood heating and freezing our "munad" off:)))) Maybe here's the secret why estonian and finnish men have the biggest balls in the world (and the healthiest sperm) - cold.

romana ütles ...

"...Estonia is currently stuck in this weird limboland between post-Soviet and normal..."

Justin, would you kindly define "normal"? I'm a bit abashed about what you might mean with that, so let's discuss?

Also, I think that you can find plenty of good indie music in Tartu, although the best years must have been when I was living there :):)

Anonüümne ütles ...

culture shock of living in a land where using cash is quaint, but using wood to heat your room is the thing to do

X-D

Giustino ütles ...

Justin, would you kindly define "normal"? I'm a bit abashed about what you might mean with that, so let's discuss?

Good question. Since I usually enter Tallinn via Stockholm or Helsinki, they appear "normal" while Tallinn is "quasi-normal".

Eppppp ütles ...

Indie music topic - I guess Giustino was referring to his previous post about Tartu and to some of its comments? We do think that Tartu has a good music scene and there are some other good things besides the road to Tallinn... ;)

---

As for showing restrooms in the photos, they do it in America, too. I as a customer want as many photos as possible.
The other thing is that some of the Estonian appartments are not renovated and these WC pictures may look pretty gross...

Anonüümne ütles ...

well... karlova can be absolutely adorable - those wooden houses built in the 1920s and '30s, most of them in the middle of being renovated, some in dire need and some already done. and it's only 10 minutes from central town. Tähtvere is also a good place- mainly stone buildings that were originally constructed for the teachers and professors - hence why this neighbourhood is also a mere 5 to 10 minutes walk from the center depending on how fast you walk. Unless you're prepared to live as the students do, I wouldn't recommend the Supilinn area although it's not nearly as dilapidated as it was a few years ago.

Also, I always find the best part of moving into a new place to be the renovation. new wallpaper, new arrangement of furniture, settling in and making the place feel like home. Nevertheless, i'm getting kinda tired of it by now as I'm about to move for the 4th time in my 22 years (to Amsterdam, no less)

notsu ütles ...

One good thing about wood heating is that you are not dependent on not-so-dependable district heating system. And in our weather such things are important. It happens now and then that a storm collapses the electrical system of one town or another. I'm not sure whether district heating depends on electricity, but if it does, this would crash along with electric system.
At least, it makes clear that electric heating is the least reliable. Usually most expensive too.
Individual central heating is as good (read: independent) as wood heating, provided it doesn't need electric power.

Oh, against frozing one's balls of: we have a device against it. It is called "clothes";). (As there isn't bad weather, there are only improper clothes.)

notsu ütles ...

I forgot to say: whatever is your heating system, good insulation is THE thing.

Oskar ütles ...

Is the Tartu train station there still boarded up? Why don't you convert this into a fantastic flat?

plasma-jack ütles ...

epp, are you referring to my comments?
expressing the opinion that Tallinn is not merely Vanilla Ninja's town doesn't necessarily mean that I think there are no good bands in Tartu, now does it.

Anonüümne ütles ...

I have been visiting the real estate agents pages a lot recently and also I am puzzled about these gross toilet photos, especially when the owner has not bothered to clean the place up at all! Often one can see untidy living rooms presented as well.

Eppppp ütles ...

plasma-jack, dont worry, we believe you ;)
After the nesting period we will come and check out the music scene.

Eppppp ütles ...

We (Justin and me) got an interesting email from Estonia and I will copy it here..
Just to give a better overview for "outsiders" about the WOOD HEATING phenomenon

"
Why do we use dead trees for heating?
Because of economics of course - it is cheap.
Estonia has enough of wood and peat, but we have no gas nor oil.
Thus local wood is cheap, while imported oil/gas are not. The initial investment for building an oven is also about an order of magnitude smaller than building an oil-based system with pumps and tubes and radiators.
Thus wood heating is simply cheaper than oil or anything else both in initial costs and in running costs.

Using a wood oven/stove/whatever comes at the cost of convenience.
Firstly you must GET the wood that you are going to be burning, and you won't buy it from a supermarket. Everybody has his own connections for this.
Next, you must store the wood somewhere, and carry it to your ovens in smaller ... sületäied (an armful? my english is really failing me here...

All of this will turn you into a logistics and warehousing king.

Actually heating the ovens
will not be a problem if you live a slow life and spend lots of time at home.
My father-in-law has no problem in heating his two ovens.

We have gas heating in our apartement. It works fine. It is convenient: you turn a knob and works. It follows the weather in an automagical manner, can be programmed to heat more or less according to time, day, etc.
We have two ovens which are old and out of order. However, we are going to renovate our apartment,
and we will renovate the ovens too, or at least one of them.
Not for being a primary source of heating, but just for fun.

Should you get an apartement with an oven? Why not, I would say.

I have a few friends who have build NEW houses for their families
(new = built in the last few years) and have decided to use ovens as the single source of heat. They are doing OK.

This email is a lot more pro-wood-heating than I thought it will be.
If I would have the luxury of choosing any kind of apartement or house I would like, I would definitely have one with some automated heating system - gas, oil, wooden pellets (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wood_pellets), whatever. But I would ditch an otherwise fine apartment offer solely because of wood heating.

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ingrid ütles ...

I laughed so hard I had tears in my eyes.. I can very lively imagine you “going outside in the dark of winter to collect more firewood to survive” and “eating a bowl of gruel that has boiled over the fire as reward for your manliness”.

Well, maybe we are a bit looney, but wood heating really isn`t bad at all. By the way, it`s environmentally friendly, wood is a renewable resource. And yes, I am looking back at you and telling you you`re crazy

Anyway, welcome to Tartu and let us know how it`s going with gathering the firewood and heating the ovens.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Hey There:

You never went upstate in NY or what?? Puu is widely used in the states too! The good part in Estonia seems to be that they have enough of it and it is well managed enough to be sustainable!

I am moving into a wood heated place and am psyched! You can make buscuits in a muffin pan, sitting them on top of the woodstove! (And once you get good at it, you're not popping outside to freeze your nuts off every little bit).

As to "normal" -- please! I like the fact that Estonian realities float somewhere between the harsher ones found in the Global South and whatever you call the "normal" rest of the world. US/Sweden/Finnish normal seems a bit on overdrive for me much of the time. (And I was even raised there :))

Thanks for your blog --

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