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House Hunting in Montenegro: A Bayside Villa With Mountain Scenery

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This semidetached, four-bedroom stone villa is in Lepetane, a coastal village just north of the town of Tivit, in southwest Montenegro.

The 2,443-square-foot villa, built in 1820 and renovated five years ago, sits across a local road from the Bay of Kotor, a mountain-ringed tourist haven that spills into the Adriatic Sea. Its “cocoon” design within a historical facade blends traditional Montenegrin construction with contemporary architecture and modern interior design solutions, said Boris Darmanovic, the brokerage manager at Montenegro Sotheby’s International Realty, which has the listing.

The architect “brought an unexpected amount of light into the house,” Mr. Darmanovic said, using metal bridges to link sliding glass doors in the second-floor bedrooms to the exterior walls. “It’s not typical for these houses.”

Entry is through an arched wood double door in a stone wall encircling a stone-tiled, ground-level courtyard to the left side of the house.

The front door, up a flight of stairs, opens to a great room with classic Montenegrin stone walls and a tiled floor. A curved floating leatherette sectional faces a fireplace with a television mounted above. At one end is a dining table illuminated by twin drum-shade chandeliers. The home is being sold furnished.

Left from the front door, an archway leads to the kitchen, which has stone walls and a stone barrel ceiling. An island is fitted with a white marble countertop, a sink and a cooktop. Along a cabinet wall is a refrigerator, oven and camouflaged powder room. A back door opens to a spacious terrace with a summer kitchen including a barbecue.

From the kitchen, a spiral staircase descends to the ground-level spa. A heated indoor pool has a ceramic tile lining and white marble coping. Across the tile floor are a sauna, a Turkish steam room and a bathroom with a shower. Double doors at the front of the pool room open to a walled open-air terrace near the road.

A study on the ground floor can be used as a bedroom and opens to a courtyard with an antique stone basin and a storage nook for firewood. A one-bedroom, one-bath apartment for guests or staff has a separate entrance.

The second floor’s broad hall has a door to a side terrace. Sliding shades, mounted under solar panels for hot water, shield the porch. Two bedrooms, each with an oak floor and sliding glass door, share a hall bath. A four-foot exterior bridge links the bedrooms from the glass doors to the front facade’s window-size openings and decorative shutters (but no glass). With no roof over the span, sunlight (and rain) pours in.

In the attic, the primary bedroom suite has an oak floor and sloped walls with wood beams. A sliding door opens to a balcony with bay views.

Parking for two cars is across the road by the waterfront. A stone wall and a sloped gravel area serve as a beach, and there is a mooring for a 30-foot boat.

The house is just over a mile from the center of Tivat and Porto Montenegro, a marina with luxury residences, upscale restaurants, branded shops and a boutique hotel. The fortified town of Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage site with coastal churches and a maze of cobblestone streets, is a 25-minute drive. Tivat International Airport is 20 minutes away.

The pandemic damaged the economy in Montenegro, a nation of 660,000 residents, “more than any other country in the region, causing a 15 percent decline of GDP” and an increase in unemployment from 15.3 to 20 percent, according to a U.S. State Department report.

Kieran Kelleher, managing director of Dream Estates Montenegro, a Savills affiliate, said the number of transactions at his firm dropped 55 to 60 percent last year, though prices fell a less alarming 10 to 15 percent. “We predicted a bigger drop in price due to the coronavirus,” he said, but it didn’t happen, “mainly because the developers knew they would be better off waiting.”

By last fall, Leila Calic, director of Resido Montenegro, noticed “a significant increase in inquiries to move to Montenegro full time.” Long-term rentals and purchases began accelerating in December and haven’t stopped.

“I don’t remember a summer we were so busy with purchasing requests,” Ms. Calic said, noting that shoppers often look while they are on vacation. “This summer is different. They come to purchase.”

Niko Lakovic, managing partner and sales manager of Montenegro Sotheby’s International Realty, said 2021 “is booming, and people are buying second homes.”

At Mr. Lakovic’s office, inquiries are up 500 percent and the number of sales along Montenegro’s coast are up “60 to 70 percent comparing to last season, where we were almost completely closed for arrivals,” he said. Prices are now on par with 2019, but “demand is increasing a lot.”

Prices are “quite stable” for villas at the moment, but new apartments have gone up at least 10 to 15 percent, partly because of the higher cost of building materials. “Construction is really dynamic,” Ms. Calic said.

Foreigners make up 99 percent of buyers in the “prime,” or top 2 percent, of the market, Mr. Kelleher said, noting that prices range from 7,500 to 10,000 euros a square meter or ($825 to $1,100 a square foot) for seafront properties and “within the fancy new resorts.”

Away from Montenegro’s Adriatic coast, the “nonprime market” of smaller condominiums is “quite resilient” and “more suitable to locals, but foreigners also buy there,” Mr. Kelleher said. Prices range from 2,000 to 2,500 euros a square meter or ($220 to $275 a square foot).

Penthouses, townhouses and villas at luxury marina developments like Porto Montenegro and Portonovi are selling along with traditional Montenegrin stone houses by the sea.

“People are buying good properties and are buying larger properties and waterfront houses,” Mr. Lakovic said. At the high end, prices range up to $10 million for a three-bedroom waterfront house.

But Mark Wilde, director of Montenegro Real Estate, cautioned that residential pricing is uneven. If two houses next door to each other are for sale, “one is double the price of the other. The hardest thing is to find the property at right prices.”

Buyers come from the United States, Canada, Turkey, Serbia, Ukraine, Britain, Western Europe, China, Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries, agents said.

“Russians still come but not as much in the past,” Ms. Calic said.

Some American buyers who left as children are returning, Mr. Wilde said. “People who went to America and made a lot of money come back here and buy a second home,” he said. “We even get people who come back and buy their old family houses.”

For now, about half the buyers from the United States, China and the Middle East utilize a Citizenship by Investment program, paying a minimum 450,000 euros ($535,000) for coastal properties or 250,000 euros ($297,000) for units in new hotel developments in the ski region in the north, plus a government fee of 100,000 euros ($119,000) for the golden passport. But a new coalition government, which succeeded the pro-Western Democratic Party of Socialists that had ruled the small Balkan nation for 29 years, may scrap the program, Mr. Kelleher said.

Still, personal and corporate tax rates of 9 percent are “an incentive” for buyers, Mr. Lakovic said. Montenegro, which declared its independence from the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006 and joined NATO in 2017, expects to join the European Union by 2025.

There are no restrictions on foreign buyers. Home purchases can be made directly, without forming a corporation, Mr. Lakovic said.

There is no real estate transfer tax on a new property purchased from a developer; a 3 percent transfer tax is paid on resales, Mr. Kelleher said.

Though notaries handle closings, lawyers may be used to do complex contracts and are a necessity “to make sure everything is done properly,” Mr. Kelleher said. He added that mortgages are difficult for foreigners to obtain.

Montenegrin, Serbian, Bosnian, Albanian and Croatian; euro (1 euro = $1.19)

Property taxes on this house are about 1,200 euros ($1,425) a year.

Niko Lakovic, Montenegro Sotheby’s International Realty 011-382-67-310-006; sothebysrealty.me

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www.nytimes.com 2021-08-04 13:30:20

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