Listen to this article
The taller of the two towers, Zlota 44, has already broken a record. At 192 metres, the 54-storey structure is one of the highest residential buildings (discounting its base) in the EU. Conceived by Daniel Libeskind, a slightly corporate-looking steel and glass über-tower is given a peculiar grace by its tapered, sail-like arc.
Some of the interiors were designed by Roger Black, who previously worked on Embassy Gardens in London. “The first impression of this part of Warsaw is that it’s quite ugly,” says Black. “But scrape away at the surface and you see something interesting, even quite demure.”
The balance struck between interiors catering for the wealthy sections of “Europe’s China”, as Black puts it (“in terms of the emergence of a middle class”), and the Polish aversion to excess, can be found in Zlota 44’s show apartments on the 50th floor. Walnut-panelled dressing rooms contrast with brushed, exposed concrete on the ceilings and supporting pillars – a reference, maybe, to the building material commonly used in Poland’s apartment blocks after the second world war. The bathrooms, meanwhile, have the feel of a modish five-star hotel.
The most expensive unit on offer at Zlota 44 is a 451 sq metre penthouse costing €6.975m. (By comparison, a one-bedroom apartment on the 40th floor costs €595,000.) The penthouse has a 270-degree view of the city. The layout will be decided by the buyer but as many as five en suite bedrooms can be accommodated. All fixtures and fittings are included in the price – a novelty in Poland, where flats are generally sold as shells.
So who is buying? “We have already sold 25 per cent of the apartments, and two-thirds were sold to Poles resident in Poland,” says Jean-François Ott, president of Orco Property Group, the developer of Zlota 44. “Others were bought by Poles living abroad,” he says. “I can’t think of any buyers who have had no connection to Poland whatsoever.”
Michal Borowski, the developer of the Cosmopolitan tower – a slender 44-storey tower close to Zlota 44, set to be completed in April 2014 – says the foreign buyers are “expats living and working in Warsaw, or [with] family or business connections in Poland”.
Prices at the Cosmopolitan are lower than at Zlota 44. Entry-level one-bedroom apartments cost approximately €5,237 per sq metre, meaning that €286,000 will secure one of several 54 sq metre units on offer. Meanwhile, a 195 sq metre apartment on the 41st floor, sold ready to move in, is available for €1.2m.
Both towers are in the middle of the financial centre. Yet, for all the talk of a “little Manhattan” on the banks of the Vistula, Warsaw’s downtown streets are largely empty after dark. Apart from a popular Hard Rock Café and a couple of new art galleries, there is little urban buzz.
Unsurprisingly, both Zlota 44 and Cosmopolitan offer entertainment on site. Residents of Zlota 44 will have exclusive access to a eighth-floor recreation area – with a gym, a spa and a private cinema – and a top-floor observation deck. Cosmopolitan residents will have the use of a gym and a private club on their fourth floor.
According to James Price of Knight Frank, the new towers “will help to establish this [top-end] part of the market as a ‘normal’ element of the broader market, rather than the exception”. Price says that typical values of €7,141 per sq metre represent “good value compared with many other European capitals” but that the eventual success of skyscraper residences in the Polish capital will depend on the wider luxury sector becoming more established.
In March this year, Atelier Amaro, a restaurant on the edge of Lazienki Park, just south of downtown, became the first restaurant in Poland to be awarded a Michelin star.
Individual overseas investors with no connection to Poland were a mainstay of the country’s real estate market before the credit crunch but have since reduced to a trickle. Knight Frank has reported that, during 2012, offer prices in Warsaw’s residential market fell 3.8 per cent, partly due to an oversupply of units. Nevertheless, the resilience of the Polish economy, and Warsaw’s success as a hub for doing business in central Europe, might make the residential market a worthwhile investment.
Meanwhile, among the frenetic building works going on around Dworzec Gdanski metro station, in the north of the city, a one-bedroom apartment – sold as a shell – with 73 sq metres of living space, in a development called Apartamenty Trio, is available for €201,000. Malgorzata Draczka, the sales manager, estimates that basic fixtures and fittings will add another €475 per sq metre. In the same scheme, a 117 sq metre show apartment, with one large en suite bedroom, a small study and a fitted kitchen – as well as copious mirrors and bamboo panelling – is on the market for €602,000.
● Poland was the only EU country to escape recession during the global downturn of 2009
● High-end units in Warsaw generate net rental profit of around 4 per cent a year after tax and using a property management service
● Warsaw has a population of 1.7m
● The average monthly wage in Mazowieckie, the province containing Warsaw, is €1,100
What you can buy for …
€100,000 A one-bedroom apartment in a renovated building in a pleasant residential district south of the centre
€1m A two-bedroom unit in Zlota 44 with a high-specification kitchen and marble-finish bathrooms