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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Out of Town, Homebuyers Say Smaller Works

MTA visitor at April's Lenexpo construction and technologies exhibition checking out a model of a wooden dacha.
ST. PETERSBURG -- A man may boast of his home as his castle, but Russians are increasingly turning to building country homes and dachas that are plain, economical and rather small.

Gone is the swagger of post-Soviet exaggeration, bulky turrets and superfluous spaciousness. Igor Firsov, head of the architectural firm Art-Studio, says Russians have come to choose practicality over luxury.

"The times of such architectural extravagances as turrets are passing. There's a tendency to build smaller and smaller cottages. Five years ago, the average house size was about 250 to 300 square meters. Today, this has shrunk to between 150 and 180 square meters," Firsov told a round-table discussion on house and dacha construction in St. Petersburg last month.

"It's not usually sensible to build a house that's less than 100 square meters, but such projects already exist," he said, adding that the trend for smaller housing could continue for another decade at least, with the average house size staying at between 150 and 180 square meters.

Lans Development, a firm that sells its designs to developers, said that up to 70 percent of their clients preferred average-sized houses.

"In the early 90s, a house was a status symbol. But, the economic situation and attitudes have changed," Nadezhda Roshchina, head of Lans Development, said at the round table.

"It's not just that the size of houses is shrinking. It has a lot to do with increasing comfort. People are choosing the optimal living space that can also fit in extra facilities such as a sauna," she said.

In part, the trend towards optimization has a natural explanation, in that a larger home is much more difficult to maintain.

"Building castles, villas and mansions, examples of which can be encountered in the Leningrad region, is not the main trend in the out-of-town housing construction market," Valery Kim, head of the Leningrad region's architecture committee, said in an e-mail.

"Along with the huge construction costs, owners of such edifices face huge operating expenses, which sometimes total $1,000 per month," Kim said. "It seems more sensible to allocate the minimum living space of 50 to 80 square meters for a private house. Or at a stretch, 90 to 120 square meters."

Kim said that 335,000 square meters of private housing were constructed in the Leningrad region in 2004.

Firsov said that prices for houses in the region started at $800 per square meter.

But not all in the industry agreed with the architects at the round table. Igor Luchkov, analyst and manager of the department for valuation and consulting at the Becar real estate agency, said the tendency toward smaller housing was not yet clear.

"There's a general decrease in demand at the moment. But it's a seasonal swing," Luchkov said. "In general, however, the trend is quite the opposite. New houses are getting bigger in certain market sectors."

While 60 percent of houses in the United States are built from wood, Russians tend to pick concrete or brick for their out-of-town accommodation, although some analysts said this could be changing.

Firsov said that only 30 percent of his firm's orders came in for wooden homes, and those were usually from clients looking for "something cheaper, like a country house." He noted that the trend was especially distinct on the secondary housing market. "Selling wooden-frame buildings can be very difficult," Firsov said.

However, Leonid Karankevich, manager of real estate sales at City Realty, said that price played a more important role than material when selling a home.

"Everything depends on the price. If one tries to sell a wooden-frame house for the price of a brick one, it won't work, because building a new one would be cheaper. But if the price is reasonable, why not buy it?" he said by telephone.

Mikhail Piltser, general director of the St. Petersburg and Leningrad region timber processors' and furniture manufacturers' association, told the round table that changes in the market were partly due to the involvement of local authorities.

At two conferences earlier this year, construction companies in the Leningrad region presented their projects, and the region's governor, Valery Serdyukov, announced that meetings would be held in 12 municipal districts to focus their attention on wooden construction, Piltser said.

Kim said that already 31 percent of the Leningrad region's private housing was wooden, while brick and concrete houses accounted for 36 percent.

The idea of backing more wooden housing construction could be due to the material being more environmentally friendly, well suited to the local climate and relatively inexpensive, analysts said.

"The most economical homes are so-called block houses, which sell at about $100 per square meter. Brick is the most expensive, at about $700 per square meter, excluding decoration. Wood is somewhere in between," Karankevich said.