Some things to know before buying an apartment in Belgrade
I have some exciting news (and this post will have to be considered as the first instalment) as I am sure there will be others as we go along this journey. We are buying an apartment in Belgrade! My witty (and also quite hunky, I might add) Serbian husband has warned me that we are about to embark on an interesting “journey”. Note the quotation marks… So I am expecting occasional bumps in the road. Ok…roger that… we’re going in!
Some people will dream of running away to France. Some dream of Italy. And of course, I did too because they are beautiful places. But, as I visit Belgrade more, and being one to stand away from popular thought, I have developed a different dream which is a bit of a detour…because I dream of my Serbia. Specifically in this case, my Belgrade…to be!
Why buy an apartment in Belgrade?
So many reasons! Hopefully they will become apparent the longer I write this blog. For me, Belgrade reminds me of my hometown Melbourne, especially the street art, good coffee, fashion capital, some of the old buildings, the “down to Earthness” of its residents but also there are so many ways they differ too. Belgrade is a true European city in every sense. And as someone once said – it wouldn’t be Belgrade if it didn’t surprise us! Life isn’t boring that is for sure. Belgraders have a real sense of fun, witty dry humour and are fashionable while they live life for each present moment.
Being born and now living in Australia, I suppose that my view of Serbia is part nostalgia (as people living in diaspora no doubt feel) and partly from my experience of living in Belgrade for a few months/weeks at a time. Serbs have a strong sense of community so it’s always a place where I feel welcome. I actually feel more like I am returning home from a very long trip. My kids surprised me by loving Belgrade from their very first visit and understand my teary eyes when I have to leave, or when I watch videos, like the one below!
Which side of the Sava River?
My husband, having lived in Belgrade for 35 years, has an apartment on the ‘old’ side of the city, Stari Grad. Stari Grad has beautiful old architecture, surprisingly still intact after being destroyed and rebuilt more than 40 times by various occupiers and invaders over the years. Because of its old world charm, the proximity of great cafes, restaurants, boutiques, Kalemegdan Park, theatres and museums, food shops and market all within walking distance – Stari Grad is our preferred area to start our search. That is bliss to a girl who grew up in Melbourne city only to move out to the suburbs (where everything needed a car).
The majority of our family live on the other side of the Sava river, in Novi Beograd ( or New Belgrade) which is on the left bank and was purpose built in the 1940s. Sadly, during WW2, the German occupiers used part of this area, Sajmište, for one of their extermination camps. Jews in Belgrade, Serbian women and children, the elderly and Romani people were “collected” here by the Nazis and exterminated.
Novi Beograd really started booming since the 1990s as the new financial centre (one of the biggest in SouthEastern Europe) with many businesses moving their addresses there, including well known foreign companies. I was surprised how fast this area has built up from say 15 years ago, when it looked more like a residential area with high rises aplenty.
While I know we are always welcome to bunk in with our family when we visit Belgrade, its is a comforting thought to know that we will return to our place and that our palace in Belgrade awaits our return. Knowing that our place will be there, welcoming us each time we arrive, should help me get through those times when I am away from this beautiful city. No longer do I need to drag things back to Australia or worry about beautiful bought handmade items being ruined during the long trip back. I can leave them all there with my promise to Belgrade that I will return!
How to start looking for an apartment in Belgrade
So, where do we start, especially since we are far from Belgrade, in Australia? We’ve been looking at a few internet sites, such as www.nekretnine.rs and www.mojkvadrat.rs. There are so many properties for sale in Belgrade at the moment and the prices are probably at their all time low (which has my husband asking, “Why is that? Are they all leaving?” Typical!) There really hasn’t been a better time to buy in the usually expensive Stari Grad.
We called a few agents and found out that people were selling their apartments due to upsizing or downsizing, or selling their inherited apartment to buy smaller ones for each of their kids (who probably cannot afford to buy their own in the current economic climate). Quite a few apartments have been kept in the family for at least a couple of generations, and often in coveted locations, such as Stari Grad. So if you are thinking about buying a property in Belgrade, it is probably a good time, but don’t quote me if the prices go down further! The only downside for us right now is that our Australian dollar doesn’t convert well to Euros.
Ultimately, I want us to have our piece of Belgrade. Our piece of Serbia together as a family.
Old Belgrade Neighbourhoods
There are a few neighbourhoods in Belgrade (17 municipalities) but we are looking in the Centar and Gornji Dorćol (one of my favourite areas – and I have already written about why I love it there!). Gornji Dorćol (or upper Dorćol ) is on higher ground, as compared to Donji Dorćol, which my mother in law has told us to avoid because it is more industrial and is susceptible to smog. There are plans, however, to upgrade the Marina area (on the Danube) as well as build apartment blocks, so perhaps this may change over time.
There are other surrounding neighbourhoods such as Skadarlija (Belgrade’s boho quarter) which has gorgeous old world charm, with its cobblestoned areas and small traditional restaurants. However, buying here with kids isn’t a good option for us because it is busy in the evenings.
Then there is Vračar (pronounced “vrah-char”) which has one of the highest real estate prices in Belgrade, and is the home to the mega church, the Church of St Sava. Look at the size of this church…truly a majestic sight to behold. You feel like an ant standing in front! Apparently Vračar’s residents are among the most highly educated in Belgrade, probably because of the university faculties and the National Library located there. So, we are also looking in this area too.
Some things I have learnt so far about buying in Belgrade
Ok, so I am learning as we go, and I know there will be more, but here are some of the things learned so far about buying an apartment in Belgrade.
- The real estate agents (or maybe it’s the owners?) generally post lousy photos of apartments on the websites mentioned. I mean really, you want to sell the apartment? Many are dimly lit, taken at awkward angles or generally don’t present the apartment in it’s best light. And then there are those listings with no photos at all. Really, how are you going to get anyone interested? So you really do need to read the listing and take it from there.
- Some apartment buildings can be up to four to six stories high without lifts, especially the older buildings (the ones I love). My husband’s old apartment is on the 4th and 5th floors (as a duplex), with no lift. Imagine taking up tired kids and groceries – definitely not for me!
- Real estate agents are well, like real estate agents everywhere. Take that as you want.
- You need to check not just for current title in the owner’s name (ie that it’s “uknjizen”) but also whether the apartment falls under the recent Restitution law, which was brought in to restore ownership to those people (or their descendants) who had their properties confiscated by the Communist government during WW2. Whilst the claim submission period ended in March 2014, there could still be a pending claim. Your lawyer will need to check whether there is a pending claim before signing on the dotted line.
- Some lower parts of the city, near the Danube, are prone to flooding. Try to avoid buying there if you can.
- Check the body corporate fees (“Infostan”) and whether you need to part pay for restoration of the facade down the track, especially for the older buildings.
Like I said, we are still at the search stage, so once we get closer to buying an apartment, I am sure there will be more I can share with you.
But for now….I daydream about the day that I can put my red geraniums out on the balcony facing the sun, choose furniture (and other home items), watching well dressed Belgraders going about their day, and walking to a nearby cafe with my family for a strong black coffee, orasnice (Serbian walnut biscuits) and hopefully, some cool jazz on a lazy weekend afternoon…