Ruble Expected to Stand its Ground, for Now

The currency's exchange rate could hit a low of 37 rubles per dollar at the end of the year, he said, which would be at 10-percent decline from the level the Central Bank set for Tuesday. However, the issue is not the level, but the speed of the decline, he added.

A 10-percent drop would simply replicate the currency's retreat last year. The Central Bank set the rate at 33.6 rubles to the dollar for Tuesday.

The regulator last week brought an end to daily currency trade interventions, signaling it was on track to float the ruble on Jan. 1 next year. Coupled with a downward trend for the ruble last quarter, the move could set the stage for a faster decline going forward.

Sergei Vlasenko, president of real estate company Megapolis-Servis, dismissed the likelihood of linking housing prices to a foreign currency, unless the ruble depreciated at a rate of 10 percent for at least three months in a row.

The ruble tumbled by about 15 percent over May 2012, but real estate value did not match the surge, he said. Residential prices went up about 4 percent as people sought to invest the lighter ruble, he said.

"Short-term jumps do not affect anything," he said.

Maria Litinetskaya, chief of real estate broker Metrium Group, also said residential construction companies would consider a transition to pricing in conditional units if the ruble fell sharply for several months on end.

Vadim Lamin, managing partner at real estate company Spencer Estate, recalled a recent incident when a woman selling her apartment got "hysterical" in the middle of the long process. She realized the rubles that she would eventually get, which were locked in a safe deposit box, would be worth much less than she had expected at the start of the deal.

"Fortunately, the ruble climbed back somewhat a couple of days later, and everything went all right," he said.

"Next time, when she sells another apartment, rest assured that she will definitely set the price in conditional units," Lamin said.

Ikea appears to be one of the more steadfast adherents to the ruble in Russia, saying its prices in the national currency — indicated in the furniture retailer's catalog — remain unchanged throughout the year. In a bid to mitigate the danger of exchange rate fluctuations on the company's profit, Ikea seeks long-term agreements with suppliers and has increased the share of locally produced goods in Russia to 40 percent, according to spokeswoman Maria Tikhonova. Using the local currency for prices is the standard practice for the company in all countries of presence, she said.

Stress tests conducted by the Central Bank show that Russian lenders would have no problems if the ruble depreciated by 30 percent, the regulator's deputy head Kseniya Yudayeva told the Wall Street Journal.

Yudayeva reiterated the Central Bank's intention to allow the ruble to float freely by 2015, adding that these plans would not be affected by exchange rate fluctuations on the currency market.

"From the standpoint of financial stability, we are looking at the balance sheets of banks and financial institutions and the amount of volatility that they are able to weather without complications," Yudayeva said, Interfax reported. "We conducted stress test, and found that ruble devaluation could reach 25 to 30 percent," she said, adding that the Central Bank does not expect that magnitude of fluctuation.

The offer of apartments exceeds demand: whether it is time to take a commission from Landlords?

According to Vadim Lamin, managing partner of a real estate agency SPENCER ESTATE, renters and tenants continue to come to the capital, in the budget more than $ 2000 per apartment the situation is not alarming . According to him, these figures are overestimated at least twice. According to Spencer Estate, the share of investment apartments in the rental market is on the order of 5-10%.

Lamin recognizes that an outflow of tenants due to the deterioration of the situation of foreign policy is, however, his company continues to settle just arrived French, Swedes, Germans, Ukrainians . He also believes that the proportion of flats, off-sale and for renting small. In "Inkom-real estate " confirms  his words that the number of such objects are 1-2 %.

"A lot of investment apartments are bought and sold on without finishing, and investors involved in the sale of their business, not much interested in a slow rental process. As a rental business premises should be prepared for living, it requires additional investments. There is a part of the secondary sellers which shifted to rent , but many of them are supplied flat on rent and for sale, increasing the ruble price or putting it in the currency " - says Lamin.

The whole nine yards

“Moscow courtyards, especially centrally located ones, have lost their former importance, decreased in size and in some places been forced out by new development sites,” said Vadim Lamin, managing partner at the Spencer real estate agency. “A spacious yard can hardly be found in the center of Moscow – what is left are small patches with squeezed-in playgrounds.”

Annual contests

Moscow city government has encouraged residents to gentrify the areas they live in by holding its annual best courtyard competition. The first round of the competition takes place each spring, when a jury selects winners in various categories at a district level, who then represent the district in the citywide contest. There are about a dozen categories – from best courtyard to best school and kindergarten yard to best yard-keeper.

The first citywide contest was held in 1995, when Moscow’s 850th anniversary was celebrated.

“The need for such a competition was dictated by the lag in the development of courtyards compared to the improvement of city streets and highways, which became evident during the preparation for the city’s 850th anniversary celebration,” the Moscow city government says on its official website.

Points for creativity

In the contest, the best courtyards are selected according to various criteria. The yard should be clean with enough trash cans and street lights. There must be benches, a garden, a parking lot and other facilities. The absence or poor condition of any of these features costs several points.

Additional marks are given for original design and creative ideas. The authors of the 2009 winner, called “Petrovsky dvorik,” created a miniature copy of St. Petersburg in their yard with columns, fountains, lions and a bust of Peter the Great.

The winners and nominees usually look very much alike, it has to be said. Those prizewinning yards that have all the necessary facilities, such as playgrounds, flowerbeds, small gardens and benches are very different from the average Moscow courtyard.

Better in the suburbs

But one trend is a constant: year in and out, the winning courtyards are invariably located in the city’s suburbs – Butovo, Zelenograd, Sokolinaya Gora and other remote areas.

“The farther from the center, the more spacious the yards are,” Lamin told The Moscow News. “There are a few exceptions, though – large landscaped yards can still be found in the Leninsky Prospect and Universitet districts, and occasionally in the Krasnaya Presnya and Kutuzovsky Prospekt neighborhoods. Generally the government monitors courtyards, but their area is steadily getting smaller. Newly-built houses usually have very little adjoining territory.”

The prizes awarded to the winners are a good motivation to take part in the contest. Over the last six years best yard-keepers have received vacations in countries as diverse as the Czech Republic and Spain’s Canary Islands as a reward. This year, though, no vacations were awarded, a spokesperson for the city’s department of housing and community amenities told The Moscow News.

The chinovnik factor

Another motivation to make the courtyard look beautiful is the presence of a senior official living nearby.

Such apartment blocks always have clean elevators, good security and fully-equipped courtyard. “A landscaped yard is one of the main factors affecting clients’ decision to buy or rent an apartment,” Alexander Ziminsky, director of the elite property department at Penny Lane Realty, told The Moscow News. “A nice area around the house is a necessary condition for elite and business class housing.”

The biggest problem of Moscow courtyards is the lack of parking space, resulting in many yards being turned into parking lots, Ziminsky said. He also said that courtyards increase the market value of apartments. “A well-kept landscaped area with a playground and guest parking facility increases the yield by 10-15 percent,” he said.

The main challenge for residents trying to develop local courtyards is how to keep the area nice and clean after the contest is over. Often fences are built, for example.

The family factor

Vadim Lamin, of the Spencer agency, said that courtyards are often a key factor for families with kids when renting or buying an apartment.

“The presence of nearby park-land or some greenery is also very important,” he said. “Initially, large apartments in good apartment blocks near parks and gardens, with their own landscaped area are better rented and cost more. These factors have no, or almost no, effect on rental prices for small apartments for 1-2 people.”

Discounts in Elite Housing Rentals Disappearing

Demand for elite housing rentals in Moscow continued to climb in the first half of 2011, according to real estate agencies. Experts expect the market to reach pre-crisis levels by the end of the year.

Demand for high-budget residential rentals increased 18 percent compared with the same period in 2010, according to an IntermarkSavills study. The Arbat-Kropotkinskaya, Tverskaya-Kremlin and Leningradsky Prospekt districts accounted for 43 percent of the total requests.

At the same time, the supply of elite housing fell 24 percent.

The shortage of elite housing was felt most noticeably inside the Garden Ring, according to Penny Lane Realty research. Fewer apartments renting for $2,000 to $5,000 per month were available in the Arbat, Patriarch's Ponds and Ostozhenka districts, where supply fell 30 percent.

These market shifts are giving landlords the upper hand in picking their tenants.

"The market is now turning 180 degrees," said Galina Tkach, leasing department director at IntermarkSavills. "The landlords are naming their conditions and picking their clients."

"The attitude of landlords has changed in terms of their readiness to offer discounts," said Georgy Dzugarov, general director of Penny Lane Realty. "If, 1 1/2 or two years ago, during the crisis, the majority of them gladly agreed to discounts, now that is more the exception."

The rental price for one- or two-room elite-class apartments rose 15 percent in the first half of 2011 while the price for three-room apartments rose 10 percent, according to Penny Lane Realty. Rent for elite housing is now a minimum of $4,000, and there are apartments that go for as high as $50,000 per month.

Renters are also demanding more value for their dollar.

About 68 percent of potential tenants in the elite market in 2010 were foreigners, according to IntermarkSavills. Tkach said these renters expect Western-style comforts.

The number of elite renters who consider only furnished apartments increased 15 percent from the same period last year. Five percent more look for an apartment with a garage or a permanent parking place. Forty percent of clients consistently require property with a concierge or a guard.

"Location is very important, of course, but prime location is not enough to call the housing elite," Dzugarov said. "An elite apartment must be wonderfully remodeled and have all the necessities of life."

Dzugarov advised those who want to rent an apartment in August or September to start looking now or to wait until October or November when the market calms down.

"The first half-year of 2011 has already shown an increasing shortage of attractive proposals for rentals, which is reflected in the prices," he said. "The return of a large number of expats to the market and the shortage of new offers as landlords go on vacation will cause the prices for rentals to rise 7 to 12 percent more by the end of the year."

by Moscowtimes

Moscow Commercial Real Estate Rebounding

The size of investments in the domestic real estate market grew 128 percent last year to reach almost 2.2 billion euros ($3.1 billion), as economic stabilization after the crisis encouraged foreign and local investors, a survey said Monday.

Although the overall transaction volume remained low compared with the pre-crisis level, Russia outperformed other countries in Central and Eastern Europe and mainstream investors are expected to return to the market in the future, CB Richard Ellis said in the report.

Russia saw a total of 27 deals last year, compared with 22 in 2009, with an average transaction volume accounting for 80 million euros, almost twice as much as in 2009.

According to the report, the stabilizing of the domestic economy, which grew 4 percent last year, resulted in increasing investors' confidence.

"The results of 2010 showed a significant increase in the investors' confidence of the stability of Russia's real estate market," said Christopher Peters, head of research at CBRE.

Green Living: Earth-Friendly Cleaners

Households all across the nation use an arsenal of cleaning products to keep their homes in good working order. With the prevalence of food-borne illness on the rise, such as E. coli and Salmonella, a clean home is more important than ever.

The question is posed then as to whether or not there are green options for cleaning supplies. Do they carry the same punch?

Many of today's most popular brands are full of harmful chemicals. On our own the contribution may seem minimal. Yet, as each household sends these chemicals down the drain, the impact on the environment increases exponentially. This harsh impact has many green activists searching for ways to use earth-friendly cleaners.

Here are ways that you can take your cleaning "green".

First, be sure to only buy products that fully disclose their ingredients. Some brands list exactly what is in their products right on the package. Choose these over brands with lists of chemicals no one can pronounce.

Next, buy products that are free of dyes and perfumes. You may be tempted to buy fabric softener or laundry detergent that is scented like the "lavender fields of France," but dyes and perfumes are polluting our waters every day. Clean laundry smells just as good as perfumed laundry.

The next consideration is botanical disinfecting agents. Essential oils, the inner workings of plants and flowers, have been proving their worth. Take thymol, for example. It is produced by the thyme plant and works wonders for disinfecting.

The Seventh Generation brand is popular and easily found in stores across the nation. They have found that their natural disinfecting cleaner, "Kills over 99.99% of household germs, specifically: Influenza A viruses including H1N1, Rhinovirus (type 37, the Common Cold virus), Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella enterica, Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa on hard, nonporous surfaces."

And finally, think about using homemade cleaners. Vinegar is a tried and true cleaning favorite. It is great for cleaning windows, spills on carpets, working on home odors, removing toilet stains, and the list goes on and on.

That's why some people call it the "miracle cleaner".

No, natural cleaners are not the ultimate substitute for bleach and other tough cleaners. There are times when it is necessary to use these. However, there are plenty more times in our daily lives that gentler, more natural cleaners are the perfect fit.

Carla Hill -

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