Posts Tagged 'Expose’'

inflation: if it’s not behind you…it’s ahead


109339958 Today in the office I had a nice discussion about the risks of the come-back of double-digit inflation down the road in a couple of years or so, something that we kids of the 70s recall when shopping with our mums at the supermarket.

To me back then it seemed NORMAL that prices of pasta Barilla and Nutella would change every week or so, I did try to desperately memorize the prices but it wasn’t worth the effort. We had then mini-assegni, funny wannabe banknotes-in-lieu-of-coins, something I hear is back in fashion in the US these days. Early 90s, freshly graduated, my first image of London was one of building societies changing daily the interest rates on the window-displays, and I clearly remember that it was in the double-digits (and starting with a “2”).

The discussion ended with “it was all the fault of the Versailles Treaty, it paved the way for disaster for poor Weimar young and sexy Republik…then things went sour”.

Or, as in Tom Tykwer’s “The International”, big debts are big crow bars….

Even if I do not particularly like the new Herald Tribune web edition layout, I do looove the fact that now when using the SEARCH function you can dig deep and directly in the PDFedded archives of the New York Times… there are very interesting articles for useful meditation…which remind me of hedge funds buying single-handedly entire blocks in East Berlin from the helicopter only a few quarters ago, or individual investors buying flats on the basis of the Expose’ and looking up the property only on Google Earth, and not by stepping in the Kiez and walking up the Treppe of the Vorderhaus.

There were neither copters, nor Google Earth back in 1922, indeed turbolent times and postdemocracies are back in Europe…and Angela may be quite right in fearing the comeback of those zeroes by the kilo.

Functional flats from the 50s

When we started visiting flats we noticed that the first clivage is between Altbau und Aufbau.

The majority of flats that are featured in ads online and on the newspapers are those that we nicknamed “Aufbau”,  since they date from the 1950s or the 1960s and were built following standardized plans. The use of space is intensive and clever, ceilings are not particularly high (still, they are higher than in Paris), and even small surfaces do have a nice layout.

Once you have visited a dozen of them you already know what to expect when you visit another one. The smallest flats feature a functional bathroom, a small but effective kitchen, and a Wohnzimmer with a balcony (sometimes as small as 1 sqm, a smorker’s balcony, but definitely there) that doubles as a bed room.

In some cases there are indeed surprises, like this flat’s interesting small hot house for the plants. Our Maklerin (and good friend) F. explained to us something quite logical, ie that in post-war Berlin people spent their holidays on the balcony: having dinner outside, doing some gardening. The small hot house was conceived for storing plants in the winter. In-house it would be too hot and they would take up too much space, whereas the small hot house provided a transitional temperature ideal for storing the pots of plants.

Our architect B. said that he is always amazed by the generally very good quality of design of these 50-years old flats. Very rational and functional, but never poor. You clearly have the impression that through standardization the administration needed to re-build vast amounts of the city and to house thousands of people, but good design was provided together with housing. In every Kiez you can spot the 50s flats, even in the middle of Altbau compact blocks you can still spot where the odd bomb cancelled one building, the 50s geometric lines mend up the shattered urban texture.

During our first flat expedition in august 2007, we “missed” two flats like these. The first was really small but in a fantastic location, in Motzstrasse close to the beautiful Viktoria-Louise Platz. Our bid for the flat was preceded by someone else’s…this was our first disappointment. Because disappointments happen, all the time, when you are looking for a flat. You fall in love with a location, a layout, a sort of je-ne-sais-quoi and then…it’s gone.

The second was close to Rathaus Schoeneberg, facing a nice small piazza, a standardized 1950s building. Recently renovated, and with a nice black marble staircase. Because these buildings are indeed simple, but they were conceived very well at the time. Space for storing your bicicles in the courtyard, Keller downstairs, very frequently they have lifts (quite rare in Berlin), they have nice stairs, made of stone and with windows. Simple, but very dignified and easy to maintain, never grotty. These are dignified buildings.

This time we were the first on the list! We had very clear ideas about the flat we had just visited, we did the offer after less than one hour by fax and confirmed it by visiting the Makler in her office before lunch. We did notice that this Makler looked somewhat unsure or hesitating, but when we handed her the duly filled in form with our signature and offer (she was selling formerly State-owned flats at a fixed price, on a first-come first-served basis) she said that we were the first to have done a bid, so it was just a matter of checking data and starting to talk about notary issues.

We went back to Rome, expecting an e-mail to kick-start the purchase process, but never heard anything from her anymore…she would not answer e-mails or phone calls, nor return messages. Eventually she sold to someone who did an offer after ours. Just because she didn’t feel comfortable in “dealing with foreigners”.

So we discovered that even in the reliable Germany it happens to meet The Unreliable Makler. I must admit, all the flats we visited fitted at a 99% rate the description in the Expose’. Both the Expose’ and the Makler talk are very, very transparent and reliable, reality fits description, a nice feeling compared with our past experiences when renting in Paris and Rome, where Makler equals absurd jargon and unrealistic descriptions.

We did meet with so many Makler in Berlin and the vast majority of them do not speak a single word of English, but are extremely helpful and professional. We make an effort in German, they reduce the speed of their talk, and the discussion goes on. Their Expose’ are immaculately detailed, full of pictures, so the visits are quite easy.

But apparently, there is 1 dumb Makler in Berlin, and we met her!

Bottom line: sound disappointment, feeling of being cheated on, loss of time and opportunities. Because we had seen other interesting flats, but then committed to this specific one and did not pursue the other transactions. Our first expedition to Berlin in august 2007 (10 days of our holidays) ended up with a lot of research and a big disappointment…But research is never a loss of time. You will capitalize on it.

Nevertheless, we still are fascinated by the quality of design of the 50s. Our friend in Moabit with the help of Mr B. (the architect) renovated one of these flats and the result is absolutely gemuetlich…on the balcony there is space for pots of Erika and Hypericum.

Considering all the criticism attracted by the balcony-missing Schlange or Snake-building between Moabit and the Spree, during the 50s they had an idea or two on how to build apartments, even on a tight budget…

O. Reuter / Luftbildarchiv Berlin

Location, location, location!

Just back from beautiful Berlin dressed up for Fall, and here is an article on the real estate market.
Location is the most important factor. This is why you need good shoes (and a bike) when looking for flats. You can indeed find something very expensive and hype, or very cheap but in no-man’s-land.
My personal feeling is that during this phase of the financial crisis Sellers who are individuals are waiting before parting with their properties, because they do not feel so confident about holding cash.
At the same time, there could be financial institutions who had borrowed in order to do big developments who may give up. So…the market is in wait-and-see mode. Keep your options open, then…
If you click the title you will see also many comments to this article. You already know AflatinBerlin’s view…
a) Berlin is a value story, not a speculation one – that was a few years back…no quick bucks here.
b) Berlin Maklers are very professional. It is true that the majority do not speak English but the Expose’ are so detailed and the descriptions so close to the reality that you can do your scouting even if you do not speak German. When you get closer to the transaction you will ask for a professional translator’s help…the German Embassy provides always a list of professionals you can trust.
c) there is not just Plattenbauten (=monotone apartment blocks), so…look for location, location, location!
d) there is more to it than Prenzlauerberg!! (we are going West)
Timesonline October 17, 2008

Berlin is cool and property is remarkably affordable

Apartments in the trendy parts of the German capital go for as little as GBP 45,000

Berlin is pinning its hopes on the young. More than half its population is below the age of 35, media companies are flocking to the city and, with three excellent universities, it is establishing itself as the biotech and research capital of Germany.

The Government has invested €75billion (£59 billion) to improve the infrastructure of the city, enticing expatriates to find a home there or invest in residential properties. This, combined with numerous cultural and scientific places of interest, is only adding to the city’s attraction.

The recent privatisation of the public housing stock has led to a small increase in the number of homeowners. However, the city has a strong rental culture – only 14 per cent of local people own their home – and with the rents low and laws heavily favouring the tenant, there is little to drive the domestic market.

Charles Peerless, a director of Winkworth’s international department, concurs: “Berlin is exactly what the current housing market needs. With its huge rental market, it is a safe investment. The ‘less risk and less reward’ strategy is what most long-term investors are choosing.”

The choice in Berlin ranges from the former East German high-rise blocks near Alexanderplatz and the experimental living communities of Kreuzberg to the Neo-Classical buildings of Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain. The latter are the most popular with foreign investors.

These large apartment blocks, with their elegant stucco façades, were built in the early part of the 20th century and offer spacious, high-ceilinged accommodation that is usually ranged around an enclosed garden square. Most of these properties have been sold off in volume to investment companies that are extensively refurbishing, adding central heating, double glazing and modern kitchens and bathrooms. The buildings have been re-roofed, the communal gardens landscaped and all interiors redecorated, with the aim of increasing rents and, in turn, improving capital values.

Andreas Pichotta is one such developer. As a passionate Berliner and admirer of the city’s architecture, he makes his projects as much a labour of love as an investment, although he knows what will make him money. “The most important part of the investment business is getting the right location,” he says. “There is an abundance of very cheap, unrefurbished property in the city but if you buy in the wrong place you are doomed.”

He uses his local knowledge to choose the buildings that he buys and refurbishes with great care. He has made good investments in Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain. Prenzlauer Berg is an area of the city undergoing a renaissance. There is an abundance of restaurants, cafés, bars and eclectic boutiques. Many of Berlin’s media, arts and student population live here. It was not bombed in the Second World War so there is a wealth of old-style apartment blocks. Many have been restored to enhance their traditional features, creating picturesque squares where regular farmers’ markets attract affluent locals.

The area has the highest birth rate in Germany. It became very fashionable in the late 1990s and those who moved there then are now in their 30s, young professionals with families, looking for larger apartments. The location is perfect for commuting into the city and, accordingly, rents are beginning to rise.

Perhaps an even better investment might be the slightly shabbier area of Friedrichshain, in East Berlin, which contrasts with the more gentrified and expensive areas of Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte. After the Berlin Wall came down, Friedrichshain began to develop a reputation as a young district. Its lower rents attracted artists and students; its multitude of empty flats also attracted the attention of West Berlin squatters. It retains its slightly run-down atmosphere – which gives it its character.


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