Living on Moscows Coastline

Unis Real Estate AdvisorsDevelopments along the Moscow Sea have increased recently, building on a man-made waterfront and the legacy of a popular Soviet hunting ground, and are doing well despite the current economic situation.

Given that Moscow is in one of Russia’s land-locked regions, it seems quite a claim for it to have a coastline. Yet in popular speech one does, in fact, exist. Officially the Ivankovo reservoir, the stretch of water that Muscovites name the Moscow Sea, sits on the border between the Moscow and Tver regions and has the closest equivalent to a seashore in the area. Over the last few years a number of developers have begun work in the region, building up sites around the water for luxury living. These developers are keen to capitalize on the coast-like surroundings and obvious attraction that the huge reservoir provides.

“The proximity to the water and the freedom it provides were the greatest reasons for choosing the Moscow Sea,” said Salavat Dautov, manager of a residential project by the same name. The Moscow Sea project is being developed by UNIS, an international real estate firm. “Four years ago we identified the spot and realized that there was something of a free niche in the area to be exploited,” Dautov said, indicating the development on an aerial shot of the area in the company’s office in Kitai Gorod. “The thing is, dachas are needed in the area around Moscow,” he said, “and a lot of Muscovites already like watersports or they have yachts. So we evaluated who it would interest and began the project on the back of some encouraging research.”

‘Moscow Sea’ is a fifty-five hectare settlement for elite dachas, which borders the reservoir on one side and private woodland on the other. As opposed to other developers in the area, Dautov said that one distinguishing factor was that the company did not in fact construct the dachas but rather offered individual plots for buyers to build as they saw fit. The plots come with contracts for construction, and Dautov’s argument was that the company wanted to allow buyers a “free choice” when developing the plot.


Unis Real Estate Advisors
Marina Zavidovo, part of the Moscow Sea development, has space for up to 100 yachts. Volga-Volga will similarly cater to yacht owners; however, the current ban on re-fueling on the lake could present problems.

All the same, 'Moscow Sea' encourages its buyers to build in a style harmonious with the surroundings, which often means people go for a Scandinavian design, using full tree trunks to create a cabin effect. Typical houses are around 400 to 500 square meters in size on plots of about 4,000 square meters, including garages and swimming pools — despite the proximity of the water. The size of the plots puts them in the elite bracket, affording buyers the space to build a house and still have plenty of room for additional facilities appropriate to ‘seaside’ life.

Korcheva: Washed Away by Moscow’s Sea

Seventy percent of Moscow’s drinking water is contained in the Ivankovo reservoir, created over seventy years ago at the behest of the Soviet government. With a total area of 327 square meters, the Ivankovo is still a long way from being the broadest reservoir in Russia. Further down the Volga, near the car manufacturing center of Tolyatti, is Ivankovo’s much larger sister-reservoir, created some twenty years later, and covering 6,450 square meters.

But the Ivankovo is still big enough to hide some considerable secrets.

While scientific town Dubna, established in 1956, was able to benefit from the reservoir and its hydroelectric dam, there was one town in particular that was not so fortunate. Korcheva, a name probably unfamiliar to most people these days, used to be a small town of about 2,000 people. This was until the compulsory resettlement of its inhabitants and the destruction of the town through the planned flooding of this part of the Upper Volga, thus creating the Moscow Sea.

Korcheva, records for which date from the 1540s, according to historical site Korcheva.ru, was once a growing but modest rural town, comprising over 400 houses and its own church. The town swung between administrative zones during the nineteenth century and at one point was left with no administrative authority governing it. In 1937, the status as center of the Konakovsky region was stripped from the town and the residents were moved away.

The remains of Korcheva now lie under 14 meters of the reservoir’s water. Yet the water is not so deep everywhere that Korcheva is entirely erased from the landscape. At certain points along the bank of the reservoir, parts of the old town are said to be visible, people from Dubna said. As Muscovites run a hot bath in winter, it might be something for them to remember that the town, whose name has been lost, still guards the supply of water upon which much of Russia’s capital, Europe's largest city, relies.

     

Created in 1937, the reservoir borders several towns, including the science town, or naukograd, Dubna; the Zavidovo forest behind the Moscow Sea settlement is famous for having been Leonid Brezhnev’s favorite hunting spot and a retreat for the Soviet elite, while now it is said to be where Dmitry Medvedev has a dacha. Such associations undoubtedly lift the prestige of the area in the eyes of potential homeowners, a phenomenon that can also be seen along the Rublyovskoye shosse, leading west out of Moscow.

Zavidovo itself lies on a traditional route between Moscow and St. Petersburg and has had a long history of famous travelers pass by or through it. A new Moscow-St. Petersburg highway, known as the Bolshoye Leningradskoe, is due to be built by French company Vinci, the Transport Ministry announced in July. The first section of the new road that is scheduled to be built will run near the Moscow Sea area and facilitate traffic movement to the region. For Dautov, this is a great plus for the project as he felt that it would further encourage Muscovites to invest in second homes in the area. “As it stands, we are only about two hours from the Moscow Ring Road, or MKAD, and that’s where the traffic’s bad,” he said. “With little traffic and a new, quicker road, it will really be no sweat getting to the Moscow Sea.”

Given that the typical buyer for 'Moscow Sea' is what Dautov described as equivalent to the “top management of leading companies in Moscow”, it seems logical that cutting the journey time for what are most likely busy people should be a priority. While there is no helipad just yet for residents, the reservoir, although shallow, hosts a lot of boats. As a result, the Moscow Sea complex includes a marina, suitably called the Marina Zavidovo, which has berths for up to 100 yachts, together with all the necessary supporting equipment.

Other Developers in View

Competition for the Moscow Sea development in the immediate surrounding area is currently fairly limited, Dautov insisted. “Our particular advantage is that we are on the side of the reservoir nearest to Moscow,” he said. “So, just as it is relatively quick getting from the outskirts of the capital to our development, so we are also the closest project in the area to the city.”

But he cannot — and did not — claim to be the only such project on the Moscow Sea. There are at least four or five comparable projects under construction in the region, providing business-class to elite housing for the typical executive profile that Dautov described. The Konakova River Club is a luxury development spanning several islands around the Moscow Sea area of the Upper Volga, covering almost 100 hectares, while Razdolye is a comparable project to the ‘Moscow Sea’, though one that includes pre-built luxury dachas.

Volga-Volga, another potential rival project also located on the reservoir, is a complex conceived in 2007 and currently being constructed. The project is partly owned by Artplay, a Moscow-based design center, which houses art spaces for architects, designers, artists and engineers, as well as housing equipment producers and furnishers. The concept for Volga-Volga draws on some of the artistic features of the Artplay center, such as its architects using their ideas to come up with a harmonious design for the waterside retreat.

   
Volga Development
The residences currently under construction on the Volga-Volga development are using design ideas from architects at Artplay, a Moscow-based design center that part owns the project

Nikita Zolotov, managing director of Volga-Volga, said that such a design helps attract the attention of the typical buyer, “a forty-something professional, likely with a family. In terms of profession, it’s the top managers we attract.” Zolotov added that a number of politicians had expressed interest in the area, although did not give details as to who exactly. Volga-Volga has been promoted at a number of housing and design shows, as well as having had considerable Internet exposure, making it likely to have caught the eye of a wide range of high-profile nature lovers, he said.

Moreover, just as with the other developers, Volga-Volga’s management appears keen to make use of the marine opportunities presented by the location of the project. They plan to have a small marina, to house yachts up to twelve meters. One frustration, however, that could emerge for yachters on the water of the Moscow Sea is re-fuelling, said Zolotov. “At Volga-Volga we will have all sorts of repair facilities in place and aim to accommodate yachters as much as possible,” Zolotov said. “But that still can’t help us with one draw-back — namely that re-fuelling regulations on the water mean it will be tricky for yachters to fill their engines.”

Before building facilities for yacht repairs and servicing, Volga-Volga had to get permission from the Moscow Canal authorities and federal administration. The Moscow Sea lies on part of a waterway network that extends all the way up to the Baltic Sea and runs down, past Moscow, to the Caspian. People bring their yachts down to the Moscow Sea area of the Volga, since it is connected to the waterway, from as far away as Finland, the developers said. “Sometimes the boats are pretty big too,” said Zolotov.

Volga-Volga has already had $10 million invested into it and the project is still in its construction stages, Zolotov said, saying that the major costs to date come from acquisition of the land, in addition to the construction. Land in the area belongs principally to the government and Dautov described how UNIS bought the land for the Moscow Sea settlement from what had previously been a collective farm and said that the transaction was “hassle-free and problem-free”, in something of a refreshing departure from stories of endless bureaucracy and difficult negotiations with the state over land plots in other areas. Volga-Volga too reiterated that their experience with the Tver region administration was positive, particularly given that the company’s plans for the concept of the project had “changed several times” since its inception. As it stands, the Volga-Volga project comprises seventy plots, all with full contracts for exploitation.

  
Unis Real Estate Advisors
Plots at 'Moscow Sea' are being sold with contracts for construction, allowing buyers to build as they see fit. Scandinavian-style accommodation is popular.

Security is not a feature that any of the developers in the area appeared too worried about. However, both the Volga-Volga and the ‘Moscow Sea’ teams were keen to stress that they use CCTV, guards and a regular patrol. “But what is the point in having a fence around the complex?” asked Dautov frankly. “What good would a fence do when there’s miles of forest on one side and reservoir on the other?” Moscow Sea’s subcontractors, Moscow firm VladimirStroiLes, and Finnish Rovaniemi, have made sure that the security of the complex is not compromised, but that the place is kept as open and natural as possible. “Nature is the selling point,” said Volga-Volga’s Zolotov, echoing this attitude.

Of course, one might think that the crisis is a major factor for nascent projects like these in less central areas of the Moscow region. For it has been Russia’s regions that have felt the harshest winds of economic turbulence since the global financial drought began nearly two years ago. But both Volga-Volga and ‘Moscow Sea’ were buoyant in their assessment of how things stand.

“Of course the crisis has affected us. Just tell me how it hasn’t. But for the last four or five months, we have seen discernable stability. We’ve been selling on average two plots per month and, believe me, at the high-end of the market, that’s good. They are not casual purchases,” Dautov asserted. “I can’t vouch for our competitors, but it seems as though the period August 2008 to March 2009 was tough for most.”

    Volga Development
The Ivankovo reservoir lies on the Upper Volga, Europe's largest river, which flows from north of Tver down to the Caspian Sea, connecting a total of eight large hydroelectric reservoirs, all built during the Soviet era.

Zolotov was able to back this up in part, at least. “In terms of financing,” he said, “at beginning we thought that we would not use loans — and take a more ‘classical method’. As it turns out, even if we’d wanted to in the crisis, it would not have been possible. In fact, this was something of a plus as we didn’t have to turn to creditors all the time.”

In terms of other ventures, UNIS has international operations, currently in Spain and Morocco. But fairly recently the company also sold off its U.K. residential portfolio in London, with fortuitous timing just as the market turned sour there. Its primary focus is now in Russia, Dautov said, and the ‘Moscow Sea’ project is the main one in view. So optimistic is the company with the outlook for development in the area, that it has even just begun work on a second, additional section to the original site — ‘Moscow Sea Two’, where even larger plots will be available for those ‘needy Moscow dachniki’ to build on in this backyard sea in Muscovy.