This apartment on a narrow cobblestone street inside the stone walls of Tallinn’s medieval Old Town has 2,100 square feet over three levels. It is in a walk-up building that, despite three renovations since 2002, has retained historic details like exposed oak rafters, stone walls, and remnants of an ancient mural.
The apartment itself has a contemporary, airy feel imparted by numerous windows, skylights and high, pitched ceilings. The entrance is on the second floor. Directly beyond is a modern kitchen with brushed steel appliances and cabinetry by German companies. The refrigerator and electric stove are made by Gaggenau. The cabinets are designed by Bulthaup. The kitchen ceiling has recessed lighting, and two floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto a courtyard and a church. Andrew Whyte, a property adviser with Goodson & Red, the real estate company in charge of selling the property, described the area as quiet.
Next to the kitchen is a combination living room and home office. On two walls, parts of a mural depicting Viking longboats were uncovered during renovations and are now behind protective glass. This floor also has a sauna, an attached shower room, and a separate bathroom, lined with black granite and white marble and outfitted with Philippe Starck fixtures.
The second floor, a roomy yet attic-like space with skylights, is reached by a compact staircase made of oak with glass guard rails. This level, its exposed-beam walls leaning inwards, has a second living room with a modern working fireplace, overlooking the main living room and office area from a little balcony. A staircase leads up to the bedroom suite on the third level. A white porcelain bathtub, designed by Philippe Starck, is inside the bedroom, behind frosted glass. A small loft above, reached via a short, steep staircase, could function as storage space or a walk-in closet. Several large antiques from France and China are included in the asking price.
Tallinn’s Old Town was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1997; it is full of 13th-century buildings and churches with steeples, spires and domes. Over a mile of the original medieval wall with attached lookout towers still stands. Despite the robust flow of tourists, the Old Town is still very much home to locals. Outside its walls, high rises and other new buildings define a more modern Tallinn. Soviet-style structures are visible throughout the city, vestiges of Tallinn’s past as a Socialist republic.
The market is still reeling from the global economic crisis. “The economy as a whole was the second-worst-affected by the crash in the E.U.,” Mr. Whyte said. “Prices were halved, sometimes more than that.” He described a grim scene of foreclosures and negative equity from 2008 to 2010, with a “patchy” recovery. “It’s only very slowly picking up,” he said. “The prices have hardly increased.”
However Liisa Linna, a lawyer at Hedman Partners who specializes in real estate, said that properties in the Old Town, the most expensive in Tallinn, fared better than the rest of the city, not falling as precipitously after the economic crisis. “The Old Town is a very good place to invest because the value never decreases that much,” Ms. Linna said.
WHO BUYS IN TALLINN
Buyers in Tallinn are predominantly Estonian. Of the foreign buyers, most are from Finland and Russia. A few are from Western Europe — Britain, Ireland, Italy and Spain. Foreigners living in Tallinn tend to have independent businesses, often conducted online because it is cheaper to have their operations in Tallinn. Even so, Skype, the voice-over-Internet-Protocol service created in Estonia and now owned by Microsoft, has attracted some foreign workers.
Hiring a notary for the transaction is compulsory and each party also has the option of hiring a lawyer. “Usually Estonians, the people who live here, don’t hire a lawyer,” said Kirsty Laidvee, a notary. Mr. Whyte agreed, saying that hiring a lawyer “would probably be extra money you wouldn’t need to spend.” Part of the notary’s duties is to prepare the transaction documents and explain the contracts of the sale to both parties.
Still, a lawyer can conduct a background check on the property, and if need be alter the standard contract prepared by the notary. “It’s not very often there are problems,” said Ms. Linna, the lawyer, “but we have had some cases where the seller kept some information secret, the buyer had not used the help of a lawyer, became aware of those problems, and it is much more difficult to help him. I would recommend using the lawyer.”
As contracts are written in Estonian, most foreigners hire notaries fluent in their language; many speak Russian, Finnish and English. The notary might translate the documents orally at the signing of the contracts, or a buyer can hire a translator to prepare a written translation.
According to Mr. Whyte, as long as foreign buyers can verify the source of their income, obtaining financing from an Estonian bank is a straightforward process.
LANGUAGES AND CURRENCY
Estonian; euro (1 euro = $1.32)
TAXES AND FEES
To register as the owner of this apartment, the buyer would pay a one-time state fee of $1,801, according to Ms. Laidvee. The notary fee of $3,984 is typically split between buyer and seller. A lawyer costs about $2,000 on average; property tax is about $500 a year. Heat, electricity and water cost about $2,600 a year.