House Hunting in … Finland


This three-bedroom, three-bathroom house sits on a platform overlooking Lake Saimaa, one of the largest freshwater lakes in Europe, in the town of Mikkeli, in southeastern Finland.

Built in 2017 for Finland’s annual housing fair, the 2,249-square-foot home, called Villa Saimaanhelmi, is an example of modern Finnish architecture, said Kenneth Katter, a partner and sales associate with Snellman Sotheby’s International Realty, which has the listing. The angular two-story home, with a wood frame and metal roof, uses abundant glass, white-painted walls and extensive outdoor terraces to harmonize with its surroundings.

“The hallmarks of Finnish architecture are light material choices, functional design elements and strong focus on the usability of each specific room,” Mr. Katter said. “The large, open areas and windows connect the home to the scenic Lake Saimaa and the nature around the house.”

The sloping, 0.67-acre lot, in a new housing development in Finland’s heavily forested lake district, includes a private boat dock and a carport with a storage shed.

An entry hall leads to a light-filled open kitchen, dining and living area. There is a powder room and staircase to the left. Off a hallway to the right are two bedrooms, a glass-enclosed study and a walk-in closet. The open kitchen has tile floors and appliances from the Italian manufacturer Smeg. The two-story living room has floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the lake, a wood-burning fireplace and a set of glass doors that open to a large wraparound terrace.

A wood stairway ascends to the second floor, where the master suite has floor-to-ceiling windows, a walk-in closet and doors that open to a broad terrace with a Jacuzzi. Also on the second floor is a full bath with a large sauna and shower room.

The house has radiant floor and ceiling heating provided by a geothermal system, as well as a central system with a panel to monitor all of its functions, Mr. Katter said.

It is about two miles from the market square of Mikkeli, a town of about 54,000 in the region of Southern Savonia, the heart of Finland’s lake district. The area has hundreds of miles of pristine lakes, islands, rivers and canals winding through forested hills and ridges. There are historic sites like the medieval castle Olavinlinna, in the nearby town of Savonlinna, and many popular recreational activities, including fishing, canoeing, camping and steamboat rides.

The closest international airport is in Lappeenranta, about 65 miles southeast. The capital city, Helsinki, is 150 miles southwest and accessible by direct trains from Mikkeli.

Finland’s housing market has rebounded since the global financial crisis of 2008, with more home loans taken out in May 2019 than in any month since June 2012, and more new homes completed in 2018 in the major cities than in any year since 1991, said Harri Hiltunen, the managing director of the Finnish Real Estate Federation.

Growing urbanization has led to higher home prices in Finland’s cities, especially Helsinki, where the metro-area population has grown to about 1.5 million, according to Statistics Finland. Despite the new construction in urban areas, housing supply has struggled to keep up with demand, as more people arrive from rural areas, Mr. Hiltunen said. And prices are falling in less-populated areas outside the cities.

“In housing markets of smaller towns and outlying regions, the prices of old dwellings have continued to fall,” he said.

Housing prices outside Helsinki have decreased about 5 to 10 percent over the past two years, Mr. Katter said. Information from Statistics Finland released in June showed that the prices of homes in housing companies — the equivalent of co-ops in the United States — rose by 0.5 percent year-over-year in greater Helsinki, but decreased by 2.5 percent in the rest of Finland.

The major cities in the lake district — including Jyvaskyla, Lahti and Kuopio — have seen strong demand for newer homes, keeping the housing market buoyant, Mr. Hiltunen said. “Older people have sold their single-family homes and moved to modern city apartments next to the public services,” he said.

And high-quality homes there continue to sell, Mr. Katter said, with single-family homes going for 250,000 to 500,000 euros ($280,000 to $560,000), while larger homes can range in price from 750,000 to more than a million euros ($840,000 to $1.1 million).

Overall, Mr. Hiltunen said, “prices of holiday houses with a shoreline have decreased during this decade, with the exception of seaside areas in southern Finland.”

Foreign buyers are uncommon in Finland, with 760 of about 62,200 total real estate sales made to nonresidents in 2018, Mr. Hiltunen said. Of those foreign buyers, about 65 percent were European Union residents and 16 percent were Russian, he said.

In 2017, Americans bought 18 properties in Finland, he said.

In the Finnish lake district, Mr. Katter said, he has had buyers from the European Union, Russia and Asia.

There are no restrictions on foreign buyers in Finland, brokers said.

Buyers’ agents are less common in Finland than in the United States, although they are growing in popularity, said Antti Karanko, a senior associate with Merilampi Attorneys, in Helsinki. A buyer’s agent typically charges a flat fee that can vary greatly; a good rule of thumb is 5,000 to 10,000 euros ($5,600 to $11,000), Mr. Karanko said.

While Finns don’t typically retain a personal lawyer to handle home sales, it is recommended that foreigners unfamiliar with the market do so; the fee usually ranges from 200 to 350 euros ($225 to $400) an hour, Mr. Karanko said.

The seller pays the listing agent’s commission, usually 3 to 4 percent of the sale price. The buyer must pay a transfer tax, usually 4 percent of the sale price on real property and 2 percent on securities like co-ops, Mr. Hiltunen said.

Mortgages are available to foreign buyers, although most Finnish banks have stringent requirements for qualification, Mr. Karanko said.

Finnish and Swedish; euro (1 euro = $1.12)

The annual property taxes on this home are 750 euros ($840), Mr. Katter said.

Kenneth Katter, Snellman Sotheby’s International Realty, 011-358-45-864-8062; sothebysrealty.fi

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