Bird Droppings from Estonia: Buying property in Eesti
Archived Articles 18 Jul 2008 Hilary BirdEWR
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I started to look for a new place to live after Christmas as the landlord – a perfect gentleman - put up the rent. He was very reluctant to do this but his business has gone downhill - he develops films but nowadays everyone has a digital camera. I cannot complain.

I tried to buy the flat underneath me at my Vanemuine block but, while I was in the UK raising money, someone else nabbed it.

Buying a property here in Estonia is much less time consuming than in the UK. From offer to sale took about two weeks. The transaction was done through a notary (solicitor). My biggest expense was getting a translation into English of the contract of sale and hiring the translator to come to the exchange of contracts for simultaneous translation. I now own 40% of the land at my address outright. According to my translator, this way of dividing a plot of land and what’s on it is a German system - it’s not like the UK leaseholder-freeholder system.

When I had a flat in London I had a lease for 99 years and was responsible for repairs to the interior of the flat - the freeholder was responsible for 100% of repairs to the common parts, rechargeable in suitable proportion to the leasholder/s. Here we are joint owner-freeholders. The notary stressed several times that we should be sure of what we were letting ourselves in for as there were many disputes arising from property squabbles in Estonia and I did wonder if this situation was inevitably given the legal arrangements. There was also (I thought) a rather strange clause that stated that the downstairs incumbents had the right to buy my part of the house within two months of exchange of contracts. The law states that my money must be returned in this eventuality but this seemed very odd to me. If I put good money on the table, I expect to own the place straight out. I also have to pay a small land tax, whereas I pay nothing as a freeholder in the UK. I rather liked the signing of contracts being done with both parties and a notary in the room as you have the opportunity to ask questions that can be answered directly.

After we had exchanged contracts the former owners and myself came to the house. I was given the keys and both parties witnessed the utility readings. I was shown how the utilities worked, where the water stop cock was, how to control the Heath Robinson CH system and then we went off together again to the Water and Electricity authorities where the outgoing folk signed off and I signed on. All very personal. I can’t imagine how this could happen in London! You’d spend all day in traffic jams! I was rather shocked about the amount of public information given about the other parties financial affairs – the amount of mortgage owed both by the neighbours and the outgoing owners was revealed on several occasions, an intrusion of privacy that would not go down at all well in the UK!

The house is situated in Tammelinn (Oak Town), a leafy garden suburb about 10 minutes drive from the centre of Tartu. A family of merchants who imported spices built it in the 1930s, during the ‘Estonian Time.’ They were deported to Siberia (undesirable bourgeois, one supposes) in the early 1940s by the communists. The house was in multi occupation during the Soviet time. It returned to private ownership after the restoration of the Republic in the 1990s. My portion of the house (50’ meters in area as compared to 44’ meters in my old flat) consists of three rooms and an interesting landing with a work-station on the first floor and a ‘wet room’ on the ground floor with shower, WCs and my washing machine. The CH is wood fuelled (I have a woodshed) but there is an electric boiler for constant hot water. I shall have to order my wood by the ton; this is really going back to my childhood where coal was ordered and delivered! I also have a cellar (that I cannot manage to climb into), two large garages (one of which I am thinking of as a summer house or studio in the very distant future) and a small garden with two cherry trees, two apple trees, goosegog and cranberry bushes, wild strawberries going bonkers, onions and flowers – moon daisies, cornflowers and the big blowsy peonies that are such a lovely feature of gardens here – and a lot of weeds. The garden is just a tad overgrown as the previous owners moved out nearly two years ago. There have been some students renting but when were students ever interested in gardens? Green fingers may have to be summonsed from the UK, lured by promises of our beautiful spring and summers, now in full swing!

The exterior of the house needs a new roof and the walls need re-cladding but expenses for this will be shared with the downstairs neighbours who are a quiet couple (Kerli and Heiki) with three children. Their part of the house and garden is impeccable – they are already doing repairs and are keen to get the place fixed up - the last incumbents just wanted to move on. I have taking a liking to them, and, I think, vice versa. Which is just as well given the legalities of the situation.

I will have to put up with the awful Soviet décor for a while. Some of the decoration is quite puzzling – didn’t the USSR ever sell wallpaper in rolls of more than one, one wonders, as the wallpaper peters out three quarters of the way up a wall. The colour scheme is dire - mucky pale-ish blue and turd brown in the sitting room while the grey-brown kitchen floor lino resembles fine grain vomit.

I can’t help thinking it’s a good omen that the author of ‘Bird Droppings’ has landed in Bird land! The property backs onto to Kotka (eagle) St, nearby streets include Pääsuke (Swallow) and Käo (Cuckoo) St.

All this domestic activity has not interfered with my arty treats, but reviews will have to wait until the next ‘Droppings.”
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