Signs of Optimism In Real Estate Sector

Realtors and developers are starting to show signs of optimism that investors are returning to the market, although analysts caution that actual sales will depend significantly on the discounts being offered.

"We're already seeing signs of a revival of the market on the demand side. And it's not just the interest that's rising -- there are more deals, too," said Alexander Senatorov, president of Kopernik Group. "Prices have bottomed out, or very nearly so."

"We're making a very cautious forecast that the market has reached this bottom that everyone has been waiting for," said Dmitry Taganov, head of the analytical department at Inkom. "In terms of demand and deals, we've returned to the precrisis levels. Investors have returned to the market, and they only buy when they feel prices have hit their low and are about to begin rising."

Since the start of the year, there has been a burst of activity on the real estate market, said Alexei Belousov, commercial director of Capital Group, and PIK sales department chief Garegin Avetisyan.

M.O.R.E-Plaza, a Moscow real estate firm, has received more calls, but the number of deals has remained the same, said first deputy chief executive Mikhail Mikhailov.

Belousov said they had 1.5 times more deals in the last week of January than in all of December, although he declined to give specific figures.

"The activity in January was approximately 20 percent higher than in a quiet month in 2008, but the apartments are being sold only at a considerable discount," said Yelena Maksimenkova, marketing director at MGSN. In December and January, MGSN sold about 30 business-class apartments and 40 economy-class ones, whereas they had no sales in November.

SU-155 spokesman Fyodor Sarokvasha said he thought that demand had recovered to about half of what it was before the crisis.

The devaluation of the ruble, uncertainty over the U.S. economy and fears over the euro exchange rate are forcing investors to turn their attention toward more conservative investments, including real estate, said Rustam Iseyev, president of Financial Bridge Asset Management.

"This isn't a question of speculating so much as protecting assets," he said.

"The activity makes sense: First of all, the market has been at a standstill for almost four months, and delayed demand is building up. Also, after the long holidays, people have returned to the market and are asking about prices. Whether there will be significant sales will depend on the discounts, though," said IRN.ru analyst Oleg Repchenko.

He forecast that prices in dollars could fall another 10 to 15 percent.

According to IRN.ru, real estate prices hit their maximum in dollar terms on Oct. 6, at $6,122 per square meter. On Monday, the average square meter cost $4,973, from $5,102 last week.