House Hunting in Lithuania: Wood, Glass and a Private Lake Near Vilnius

Built on a hillside on the northwestern outskirts of Vilnius, Lithuania, this 4,844-square-foot house was designed in 2010 by the Lithuanian architect Tomas Lape for an executive, his journalist wife, and their two sons.

After the children grew up and moved out, the couple “decided to sell the house and travel the world,” said Giedre Simanoniene of Baltic Sotheby’s International Realty, the listing agent. “They love the house, but they’re just two people.”

Set on 2.4 acres in Buivydiskes, a growing suburb just outside Vilnius’s city limits, the angular home was conceived “to feel as if there’s no border between the inside and outside,” Ms. Simanoniene said. Its 23-foot ceilings and walls of windows complement natural materials like wood, stone and granite. “It’s a highly conceptual design, living with nature in a very modern house,” she said.

Behind the home, the landscaped grounds include a lake and an artificial pond. “The lake is fed by a stream, so it’s always fresh,” Ms. Simanoniene said. Next to the pond, the sellers added a separate building with a spa and sauna.

Since the home sits at the end of a cul-de-sac, “there are no neighbors, and you have total privacy,” she said. The gated driveway leads to a boxy garage clad in wood and aluminum. A hallway connects the garage to the kitchen, whose minimalist design contrasts sleek white fixtures with black Miele appliances. “The kitchen was designed so that all of the storage is hidden,” she said.

In the loftlike living room, three long sofas surround a handmade wood table beneath an amoeba-shaped light fixture. A broad bookcase conceals a small office at one end of the living room. A room-length fireplace sandwiches a fire pit between a glossy white bar top and polished-stone base.

Glass panels with plant-inspired etchings open from the kitchen to the high-ceilinged dining room. Just off the dining room, an oak staircase ascends to the second floor. The same wood enrobes part of the home’s exterior. “You have many of these details from outside coming inside,” Ms. Simanoniene said. A windowless wine room on the main level, decorated with hand-painted silk murals in grape motifs, maintains a natural chill from the home’s hillside position.

On the second floor, the oak-floored main bedroom includes a large dressing room and en suite bathroom. Two more bedrooms share a bathroom, and each has its own walkout to the grounds. The sellers converted a fourth bedroom to a gym.

Buivydiskes, about seven miles northwest of central Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital and largest city, has roots in a 12th-century manor built by Lithuanian nobles, Ms. Simanoniene said. Land was relatively inexpensive until 2016, when the national government and European partners completed part of the Western Bypass, a superhighway designed to relieve traffic and better link Vilnius to other Baltic capitals. The highway opened the door to development as well, including a plan for 180 apartments nearby.

Buivydiskes “is little-known, but very convenient for the city,” said Sandra Jakule, an agent at Asmeninis NT, in Vilnius. “It’s not very popular now, but land will become very expensive,” she said. “The largest shopping center in the Baltics is under construction right next to this place.”

The home is an outlier in the area, according to Arnoldas Antanavicius, director of RealData, a Vilnius real estate consulting firm. The region “is popular among economy and middle-class buyers, but it is quite rare to see a luxury object there,” he said.

But Linas Lekamavicius, broker/owner at the ReBaltic firm in Vilnius, called this section of Buivydiskes “a prestigious luxury area, with large land lots and a lot of privacy. It’s in a pine forest, outside the city center but not outside the city, and perfect if you want to live in nature.”

The city of Vilnius has about 700,000 residents and sits in the southeast corner of Lithuania, close to the border with Belarus. Its medieval Old Town, with a mix of gothic, renaissance, baroque and neoclassical architecture, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

This property is about seven miles from the Old Town, and about 10 miles from Vilnius International Airport.

Apartments make up most of the inventory in Vilnius’s city center, with some historic townhomes and a few detached houses, Ms. Jakule said. At the outset of the pandemic, apartment prices “took off like a train,” she said. “Demand is high and supply is low.”

Lithuania’s economic outlook has been more of a factor than Covid-19 in the city’s housing market, she said: “People are afraid of high inflation. They want their money to keep its value. So they’re investing in real estate, and developers can’t build fast enough.”

Lithuanians are also borrowing larger amounts to buy property, said Mr. Lekamavicius of ReBaltic. “The younger generation is living a bit higher than its means, and taking the maximum loans they can get from banks, so prices have escalated,” he said. “We’re in the middle of a bubble, I think.”

The pandemic has, however, played its part in the dearth of inventory, delaying construction on projects that had been marketed to prospective buyers, said Audrius Sapoka, managing director of Ober-Haus, a Vilnius brokerage and consulting firm. “Postponement of new construction created a gap between demand and supply,” he said.

For apartments, the average price per square meter in new “economy-class” buildings is about 1,550 euros ($170 a square foot), Mr. Sapoka said. “Middle range” units go up to about 2,500 euros a square meter ($275 a square foot), and “prestige” homes can range from 3,500 to more than 6,000 euros a square meter ($385 to $660 a square foot), he said.

At the pandemic’s outset, many Vilnius residents chose to buy second homes rather than give up their city apartments, Mr. Lekamavicius said, so supply grew less than in cities whose residents fled for greener pastures.

Mr. Antanavicius, of RealData, shared data from Lithuania’s State Enterprise Centre of Registers showing that the number of apartments sold in Vilnius rose year over year from 756 in June 2020 to 1,161 in June of 2021. Likewise, the number of detached homes sold in the city rose from 78 to 112 during the same period.

Prices in the resale market rose 7.2 percent in the first quarter of 2021 over the previous quarter, and 15.2 percent over the first quarter of 2020, according to data shared by Mr. Lekamavicius from the same government agency. Among the Baltic capitals, he said, Vilnius is “more expensive than Riga, but less expensive than Tallinn. And while we’re rising every year, we’re much cheaper than Amsterdam or Brussels.”

The property market in Vilnius is “mostly local,” said Mr. Sapoka of Ober-Haus. “Buyers come from within the city or from other regions of Lithuania.” Buyers from outside Lithuania are “usually immigrants who left and are repatriating or making investments,” he said, noting that individual buyers, rather than institutional investors, “dominate the market.”

Ms. Simanoniene, who specializes in luxury properties, said she has seen a few recent buyers from Germany, France, Switzerland, and the United States. “Lithuania’s become attractive because of our economic situation, intellectual potential, quite good tax environment, and well-educated young people,” she said. “And we have four clearly expressed seasons, with beautiful nature.”

Pandemic-related travel restrictions, however, “totally stopped” the market’s few foreign buyers, Mr. Lekamavicius said. On July 1, Lithuania resumed a state of national emergency, tightening those restrictions.

Foreigners can freely buy homes in Lithuania. “Buying property is quite simple, without many obstacles or formalities,” said Eivydas Sadauskas, associate partner at the Vilnius law firm Glimstedt. “But a foreigner should retain a lawyer in case technical issues arise.” Through power of attorney, many foreign buyers also authorize a lawyer to represent them in transactions, he said.

Notaries draw up sale and purchase agreements, said Dainius Palaima, a notary in Vilnius. While down payments exist, “they are not very popular in practice,” Mr. Palaima said. “It’s more common is to hold the transfer of property until the moment of full payment, when a transfer-acceptance act is signed by the parties, in addition to the main contract.” The notary then submits all documents to a public registry. Buyers pay registration fees, which are set by the government.

Lithuanian; euro (1 euro = $1.19)

International buyers pay a 15 percent withholding tax on gross rental receipts for income properties, and face withholding taxes when they sell a property, said Linas Liktorius, director of the tax practice at KPMG Lithuania. As an alternative, he said, “it’s quite usual for a foreign buyer to establish a local entity, like a limited corporation, to own the real estate.”

Real estate commissions in Lithuania average 3 percent, with a 21 percent value-added tax, Ms. Simanoniene said. Notary fees, set by the government, average 0.33 to 0.41 percent of the property value.

While Ms. Simanoniene declined to disclose property taxes on this home, Mr. Liktorius of KPMG said that such taxes are levied up to 3 percent on the market value of a home and up to 4 percent on its land annually.

An additional value-added tax of 21 percent applies to purchases of “a new condo, a new building, or a structure that’s had serious reconstruction done” within two years of purchase, Mr. Liktorius said.

Giedre Simanoniene, Baltic Sotheby’s International Realty, 011-370-616-08636, lt.balticsothebysrealty.com

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