Just outside Moscow, there is a cluster of houses that, at first glance, resembles a scene from the English countryside. Red-brick villas overlook lush, landscaped parks. Property brochures are filled with pictures of grazing cattle, trickling streams and the promise of “old English style” architecture. Inside, the houses are more typically Russian – think gilded taps and elaborate fireplaces – but on the outside at least, this is a place that aspires to the simplicity of the English rural idyll.
These mansions are part of a new development, yet to be named by its developer, Parcel, that is being built on the edge of Razdory, the first main village from Moscow along the Rublyovo-Uspenskoye highway, a route that has long attracted wealthy Muscovites. Just outside Moscow’s ring road, Razdory can hardly offer open countryside – but for the pop stars, government officials, oil magnates and other billionaires looking for an upmarket dacha here, it is just far enough from the city to feel rustic.
Vladimir Putin and Roman Abramovich both own houses near the Rublyovo-Uspenskoye Road. Last year, realty estate entrepreneur Vladislav Doronin was said to be building a house in the shape of a spaceship for his (now former) girlfriend, supermodel Naomi Campbell.
“These are ‘people of the world’, with high social status and in possession of several properties not only in Russia, but also abroad,” says Nina Reznichenko, head of the out-of-town department at real estate firm IntermarkSavills. “They buy land plots, big houses and premium town houses [and] the infrastructure is developing at an incredible pace.”
The growing demand for high-end properties in Moscow’s suburbs has attracted increasing amounts of investment, and advisory services are often sought in the UK, a country now familiar to many wealthy Russian buyers. The Anglicised appearance of some of the newbuilds at Razdory is no accident – the wider development has been modelled on London’s Regent’s Park and was designed by British-based urban designers John Thompson & Partners. “With so many Russians purchasing London town houses over the last decade, it’s no surprise really that they are taking the look and feel of England back home with them,” says Yolande Barnes, director of residential research at Savills.
The developers eventually hope to build 1,000 homes spread across 2 sq km, together with a country club, sport and leisure facilities, high-end retail outlets, a kindergarten and a secondary school. Although just 150 homes are projected to be completed by 2015, IntermarkSavills, a Russian estate agency, is selling a selection of English-style “cottages”, ranging in price from $2.9m to $4.2m.
Real estate on the Rublyovo-Uspenskoye highway is now the most expensive in Russia. For $2m to $3m, it is possible to buy a “cottage” in a purpose-built village encircled by a steel fence or wall, but it is not uncommon for prices to reach $40m. The most sought-after areas are well away from the highway, overlooking the Moskva river and extensive pine forest. Sotheby’s International Realty is selling a six-bedroom mansion here with classical pillars, gold-tapped bathrooms and a moat for $25m.
Security is key. Most properties have CCTV cameras and many have barbed wire and guards at the gate. New houses are the most popular, and they are often sold as shells, allowing the new owners to put their stamp on them. Wealthier buyers often prefer to build properties from scratch, on land that costs between $80,000 and $120,000 per 1,000 sq metres, and typically requiring a minimum $3m spend, including purchase and building costs. It is not cheap but that is the point.
Local residents shop at the Barvikha Luxury Village, an upmarket shopping centre built in 2005, where they can pick up Baccarat Crystal or a Ferrari. Moscow has more dollar billionaire residents than any other capital in the world apart from New York – according to a report released this year by Forbes – and they invariably desire country homes nearby.
However, local agents say a more moderate “middle-class” millionaire is now on the rise. These buyers often live in the area full-time, and tend to be more interested in houses or even apartments priced at about $2m. Eighty per cent of the first phase of the new development at Razdory has already sold since it was launched last year, and many of the units sold were at the lower end of the price range.
The desire to tap into Russia’s developing wealth is spreading further afield too. Just north of Rublyovo-Uspenskoye are the Novorizhskoye and Rizhskoye highways, also popular with high-end buyers. Until now, the elite has favoured Razdory, but local agents say that settlements such as the gated community of Novaya Riga have become increasingly popular and are now outperforming their Rublyovo-Uspenskoye counterparts. Knight Frank is selling a five-bedroom property in Novaya Riga with five bedrooms and a tennis court for $18m.
There are numerous developments being built along the highway, catering to the growing number of Muscovites keen to move outside the city but within commuting distance.
These include Rublyovo-Arkhangelskoye, described as a new “elite mini-town” by its developers CMI Development, which is set to be one of the largest real estate projects in Europe, occupying a 4.3 sq km site close to the Moscow outer ring road. The town will feature schools, medical and sport centres, parks, shops, restaurants, an entertainment complex, and even a yacht club. Ross Haxton, managing director of the development’s British branding consultants SCG, says the town was envisaged as a kind of European-style city appealing to “a wide range of wealthy buyers”, with an old and new town and a variety of properties. “The phrase ‘middle-class millionaire’ is a good indication of what this type of place is catering to – after all even the apartments are likely to cost upwards of $1m,” he says.
● Buyers should read the deeds properly. There have been cases where land along the Rublyovo-Uspenskoye highway has been sold illegally to developers
● Foreigners are allowed to buy property on almost the same terms as Russians, but may soon have to seek prior permission from the state
● The average temperature in Moscow in February is -7.6°C
● Crime rates have fallen 5 per cent since the start of a Safe City project in 2012, says Moscow’s government
What can you buy for …
$500,000 Not much in Razdory
$2m-3m A five-bedroom “cottage” in a secure compound in Razdory, with shared sports facilities
$20m+ Anything from a mansion styled on Versailles to a villa shaped like a spaceship. The choice is yours