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I Bought Property in Kiev, Ukraine - Here's Why!

Yes I know it sounds crazy, but it's official, I bought my first ever piece of real estate. It's my first home, my first condo, whatever you want to call it, and I paid for it in cash. I still remember being inspired by my middle school friend David Hwang during a random lunch catch up when I was back visiting San Francisco. This was in 2012 and I was completely broke. He told me that he had bought a house in the city, and I was shocked on how he was able to afford it. We were the same age, and he wasn't a rich guy with a high paying job or anything. He was working at a box factory, and had just saved up 50% or more of his paycheck each month by living and eating at home, and not going out on weekends to spend money.


That was a huge reality check for me as I was completely broke at the time with maybe $2,000 in savings, and nothing invested. The idea of saving up over $100,000 for a down payment sounded completely out of reach. But sometimes, that little seed of seeing someone else similar to you achieve something big, is all you need to get into gear. That's when I started working online, building businesses, and eventually, a few years later, I did it, I managed to save up enough for a down payment. But it was then that I realized how terrible of an investment buying a home is, and that my money would be better invested in the stock market or somewhere else while I continued to rent. This is the blog post where I share my thoughts on why I finally caved in and bought an apartment, (condo) and why I did it here in the capital city of Kiev (Kyiv) Ukraine. 


kiev kyiv apartment




Why I Bought an Apartment


The first big question I should answer is why I bought a piece of property at all when all of my research has shown that it's both cheaper and easier to rent your primary residence than to buy. If you've never sat down to do the math on why renting isn't throwing money down the drain, here's a quick summary. When you buy a house, you'll have other expenses besides rent including closing costs, property tax, maintenance, and repairs.  Then you either have a mortgage in which you're paying interest, insurance, a downpayment, or you're paying for the house in cash, in then which case you have the lost opportunity cost of not investing that money elsewhere. 


The main benefit of owning your own home is having a forced savings account, which is the only way most people would ever save or invest money. The financial benefit of increased value is eligible as on average property only increases by the same rate as inflation, unless you just happen to get lucky, but then again you could have done that in the stock market as well. The secondary benefits of owning a home is knowing that you have fixed costs, and a place to put your things, call your own, and the stability of owning something. But for me, I don't mind changing cities if one place starts getting overpriced or crowded as I know that the world is constantly evolving, and the next San Francisco, Seattle, Chiang Mai or Portland is sprouting up somewhere else in the world. Fixed rent is only important to those who refuse to move or change locations. 


So why now is the question. The answer is, multiple things. One is that I've bored and house hunting and apartment shopping, looking at HGTV renovations, and IKEA shopping has been fun. I'm finally at a point in my life where not needing to work, or have any responsibilities is getting boring and I want a project to work on. I also believe that property prices in the center of Kiev/Kyiv are underpriced as even though it may seem expensive to some, compared to other capital cities in Russia or Europe, being able to find an apartment for under $2,000 per square meter/$186 per square foot in the center, is a great price. Even though I do plan on living here for 4-6 month a year, I also plan on renting it out as an income stream when I'm gone. Here are a couple videos that I filmed a while back during my initial research on where buying a house/apartment was financially worth it or not. By the way, in Europe buying an apartment or flat basically means buying a condo, it's the same terminology they use in New York.









Why Kiev, Why Ukraine?



The next big question is, okay, so you finally decided to buy a condo, good for you, but why Kiev? (Kyiv, Ukraine). The main reason is that I just like it here. It's my third trip here and I can imagine myself happily spending every summer here for the next 10 years or longer. Kiev is a very unique city that isn't easily replicated anywhere else in the world, so as prices here go up, I want to hedge against being priced out of the market. The only replacements for Kiev would be either Moscow or St. Petersburg in terms of culture, language, food, population, density, and things to do. And if you factor in costs of living then Moscow is out of the picture as prices are the same to New York or London. So if things in Kiev keep getting more expensive, I want my flat to be able to keep my costs of living the same. 


Ukraine has the lowest annual property tax in the world at just $2 per sqm per year. Compared to 1-2% of the house value or cost per year on in the USA, that's a savings of $3,000 a year or more. My Home Owners Association (HOA Building Fee) is also around the same price or less, which means my total annual carrying cost will be $200-$300 a year. That to me is true home ownership, while "owning" a house or condo in North America means you still own $3,000-$5,000 a year which is akin to paying $400-$500 a month even for a place you bought. 


Another reason why I chose to buy in Kiev is finding short term apartments here are a pain in the ass and overpriced. Unlike Chiang Mai, Tbilisi Georgia, Bansko, or other cities where it's cheap and easy to find a nice place for monthly rent, here it's always been difficult or overpriced making it both mentally and time consuming, but also just annoying. So having a place I can come back to each year that I already know I like is a lifestyle benefit. If all goes well, I might even buy a second apartment here in Kiev to live in, while the other unit brings in rental income that I can use for spending cash while i'm in town. The other huge benefit of buying real estate here is being able to get Permanent Residency for investing just $100,000 usd into the economy. Ukraine doesn't allow dual citizenships though so a 2nd passport won't be an option. But still, having a Ukrainian Green Card will give me peace of mind, an a legal second country of residence in case there's another world wide travel ban. 


But to sum it up, I like the freedom and personality responsibility of the Ukrainian culture. There's no such thing as playing the victim card, or expecting everyone to conform to your extreme beliefs regardless if you're left, right, vegan, carnivore, feminist, men's rights, socialist, or capitalist or anti-capitalist. People here are realists and have real problems, but even more than that, they respect and allow everyone to have their own beliefs and don't try to force others to believe in what they think is the only way. Personally I like the traditional family values that Ukrainians have with family being important, frequent visits to your grandparent's village, taking care of each other like I do my Mom, respect for elders, etc, which in the west is quickly disappearing. I can't respect anyone who calls their parents by their first names, or anyone who doesn't have the courtesy to take off their stores when entering a home.


But overall it's just an awesome city to live in if you earn more than $3,000 a month after tax. It's a hard place to live if you're struggling financially, earn less, or don't have any savings, but if you're financially well off. It's a great city with tons to do, unique architecture, tech, great wifi, amazing food, people, and relatively low costs of living for living in a capital city. As for the weather, I think it's the best place in the world from Mid April when Spring starts to around October when it starts to get cold. It's dry, sunny, and honestly an amazing place during those 6-7 months of the year. Kyiv is also a tech hub and has really smart innovative people, as well as just as many ride hailing apps, e-scooters, food delivery, and other convinces as Austin or other big tech hubs. Here's a blog post that goes deeper on why I like Ukraine and my thoughts on their Economy and Culture. 











Apartment Shopping in Kiev




Finding a place to buy in Ukraine wasn't easy. To be honest, I wouldn't recommend it to most people. Buildings in the city center are old and prone to a lot of hidden problems. While new developments are often finished way behind schedule, poorly constructed, or sometimes never finished at all. Buildings from the outside as well as common areas often look dilapidated, soviet, or unwelcoming. Even finding places for sale are difficult as unlike the US where we have easy to use sites like Zillow, Redfin or Trulia, or the real estate agent's MLS, things here are difficult to navigate. 


That's why I ended up going through two different real estate agents, as the first one, although a really nice guy, just didn't have access to the inventory in the area I was looking at. Buying an apartment here is also dangerous as even your own Real Estate Agent, your so called Realtor isn't actually licensed by anyone or the state, so it's up to you to do your own due diligence. There's also no such thing as title insurance, so it's up to you to make sure you check that everything is clean before you make a purchase. That's why I ended up paying over $1,000 to hire a lawyer. Her name is Tetiana Yakovenko from Contact Ukraine if you're interested. Also my agent I ended up with is Masha Filimonova from Blagovist. 


Here's the apartment hunting series that I made, which was a total of three videos. The funny thing is, I actually put down two offers right away so it could have been just one video if things didn't fall through. Take a look to see what apartment shopping here in Kiev is like and what some of things to watch out for are. The locations of these flats are all in the city center which explains the relatively high pricing. Anyone who says they can find an apartment in Kiev for $50,000 or less, either hasn't look around since 2015 or is talking about places outside of the city center. 











Apartment Pricing in Kiev



This a tricky subject as officially the average price per sq meter for apartments sold in Kiev are $1,000, exactly half of what I paid. However, that figure is skewed low as first off, a lot of people under report the amount of money they sold for so they can pay less tax on the transaction. It's similar to how in American people often buy a used card for $10,000 cash but report to the DMV that we paid $5,000 for it to save on sales tax.  Secondly the price includes pricing for all of Kiev, and places outside of the city center are usually half the price or less. It's the same as why prices in Manhattan are so much more than the rest of New York City. The third factor is the discounted new construction, where it's been popular to buy property pre-construction which is delivered 1-3 years later as an empty shell unit with no kitchen, flooring, bathroom tiles and or paint. These places are sold at 50% discounts as you're taking the risk of financing the project in hopes they sell enough units to finish on time and under budget.


That being said, my budget was around $100-$120k ideally, but I knew that I would go up to a maximum of $150k if the place was large and a standout. Starting with places in the $80k range, they all required a ton of renovation and would easily be another $20k+ and 6 months+ of work. I thought I had found an amazing place for $95k but after my lawyer did the title checks, she found out that there had an outstanding mortgage from a now defunct bank in Crimea and a shady Notary document saying it was clear when in fact wasn't. These are just some of the common scams you'll find and have to be aware of when buying property in Ukraine. 


That's when I decided to stop looking at the total price and to consider any place that was under $2,000 per sqm as that was my target price. When the Baseina st. apartment came up, I almost passed on even seeing it as the price was on the top of my price range and at first I thought it would be too busy or loud of a location. But luckily I went to see it as it turns out, it was perfect. It's right on the main central street, with great restaurants literally at my front door, and a supermarket across the street. But to make it even better, my unit faces the courtyard away and is completely silent and away from the traffic. That combined with 2m/6ft thick walls, and super high 12ft/3.8m ceilings, this old heritage Tsar era building made it a yes for me. 









The Buying Process



It's different and a bit tricky here in Ukraine verses back home to buy a house or condo. In some ways, it can be simpler as there are less checks and balances, but it's also more dangerous and riskier as well. A lot of sellers would be happy if you literally gave them a suitcase of cash in USD preferably, but that' snot recommended for obvious reasons. Also your agent, who is basically a salesman, will try to get you to put down a non-refundable cash deposit to "secure" the apartment and take it off of the market ASAP, as soon as the very next day. In the US, it's not a big deal as you can just write, "subject to passing inspection" and you can get it refunded if things don't check out. 


However in Ukraine it turns out that once you give the deposit, you'll have a very hard time getting it back even and will have to go to court to even try. That's why if you watch the video above, I ended up hiring a home inspector, lawyer, plumber, and electrician to come check everything before I put down the deposit of $4,000 to take the place off the market and start the transfer process. Also since it's in the historical city center, the owner also needs to get permission from the Cultural Heritage agency to sell the property, and for me to make any renovations or changes to the building which takes some time. 


Since I wanted to go through the Permanent Residency by Investment process, I needed to first transfer the money (over $100k) into a USD investment account here in Ukraine. Make sure you give yourself a few weeks to do this part as your US bank will 100% flag your transfer and you'll need to clear it with them. From there, I was able to then transfer it into a UAH account (paying the conversion fee). But the seller wanted USD as it's a more stable currency to hold, which meant I needed to pay another conversion fee to transfer it back into USD. There is no such thing as escrow here, which means, on the day of the transfer, we'll all meet at the bank, transfer the money, and sign over the paperwork.

Right now I've made the deposit and have started the bank transfers from the US to Ukraine, but am still in the process of finalizing the deal which will take a minimum of a few weeks to hopefully no more than a couple of months. In the meantime, I've been watching House and Home and HGTV to get design ideas. I'm excited to close the deal, get the keys do some light refinishing of the unit, and to finally move into my own flat. I'm not excited for dealing with the headaches of home ownership, signing up and paying for bills, utilities, and having to deal with maintenance and other potential responsibilities. But I think that at the end of the day it'll be worth it. It's reassuring to know that i'll own a place with low carrying costs where I can live in no matter what happens, and that international property is untouchable and non-taxable by the US Government. This is my safety net for in case everything in America somehow goes to crap in the future. 













 
With love from Kyiv,


Johnny FD





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  1. Congrats Johnny! Great purchase, well done.

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  2. Congratulations And celebrations . good luck

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  3. Congats! I work as LinkedIn consultant with many Ukrainian companies and I see great perspectives for Kiev.

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  4. Wouldnt want to wake up to that view after a night of drinking.

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  5. Bravo! Congratulations Johnny!

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  6. Perfect explanation.Good luck.

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  7. Look forward to seeing your finishing touches.

    I see you really did think this through

    Jeff Beeler

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Jeff! It was a long, tough decision, but I'm glad I went through with it.

      Delete
  8. Congratulations Johnny from Cindy in Montreal!...I enjoy following your posts!

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  9. Congratulations! Great country, friendly people.
    My friend and I were in Kyiv two years back and we loved it. You can read about my trip by checking out "NR Venkatesh GoNomad.com" in Google.

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  10. Hello. I am from nyc and bought a property here as well. Not in kyiv though. After reading to your story. There are a few things you did right. Like hiring lawyers for due diligence. And hiring plumbers and electricians to check iut the apt. Especially in old buildings this is a must. However. There are zillow type websites in ukraine with maps and all. And even many apts advertisec by the owner. Of couse all agencies will tell there isnt any. Nonsense. There ard many. This is why i dont deal with agents. First off. Theydont care about the buyer or seller. The only thing theycare about is comissions. especially with foreigners they try to sell you what locals wont touch. Inventory that has been sitting for while. usually be ausd it is overpriced real estate. i was even told in one agency never to return why. Because i was bargaining prices and comissions. I am still trying to figure out why people pay 3 to usual 5 percent comission to these agents. When they basically dont do anything to earn it. They dont even know whag they are selling. They have to refer all questions to the seller. They dont do any checks on the properties. Al they do is show you a property. Give you a price. And tell you what the commission is including the taxes.and then get s deposit from you and have you sign a agency co tract that makes it non refundable. I had more offers in my pocket with significant lower prices direct from owners. Then that agency had for me and gladly walked out of there. There is no reason to deal with them. Saved me thousands of dollars and got better deals then they could ever offer. And payed zero commission. Second of all becareful when you buy through an llc to get perm residency. First of all there ard tax implications. When you transfer the property from llc to yourself. If you sell the property under the llc there ard capitol gains taxes you must pay in ukraine and in the states. Its double taxation. Yes you get your perm residency within a year. I think its better to buy inyour personal name and get perm residency in 5 years. No taxes on the property apts under 60 metres and after 3years no capitol gains tax and easier to sell. But at least you did nog get totally ripped off like many foreigners have in ukraine. Thougb I dont think you got the greatest deal either. Eventhough its dead center of kiev at 2k a metrr its a big on the high side. Anyhow at lrast you got through it without losing all your money.and uour sanity
    So cheers for that !!!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the tips and sharing your experience! I've actually hired a different agent for my investment property that i'm looking for here, this guy seems a lot more useful than just being a salesperson. As he's more of a full stack investment partner, as he'll manage the renovation and property rental afterwards as well. Lets hope they all one go well. =)

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    2. I do not trust any agency or agent. I been living on this side of the world for ocer 15 years. I understand the culture and how things work here as good as any local i have
      seen and experienced alot. I have never ever seen any agent that truly cares sbout either buyer or sellers. I assure you you are paying premiums for properties and everything else thry offer. In i know where they arr showing you the properties i saw in the videos. The same sources i get direct to owner properties. And they are quoting yiu premiums of 12 to 15 percent. Plus their 3 to 5 percent comission. So in essence you ard paying them 20 percent over what the owners price is. Of course they will offer you the world.

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    3. The big question is then, how do we buy directly from owners? I agree that Real Estate agents are mostly useless and don't add enough value to justify asking for thousands of dollars.

      Delete
  11. By the wayi will add that therd are escrow accounts here in ukraine. There are several banks thart offer the service. The way it works is. Once the transfer of ownership is done at the notary thr seller then takes the sales cobtract etc to the bank and then they show the correct documents the money is teleased by wire transfer ir cash to them. So this is not true either. Also you said thag international properties are non taxable by the IRS. Not true as well. In fact any rent that is received is taxable is the usa.if reported. Meaning any rents you receive from this property is taxable by ukraine and usa tax au. Authorities as income. Again if you do it all legally. Also when you sell the property there is a capitol gains tax over anything the amount thst shows hou payed for it back in the states. Please rsee the IRS website all income worldwide is taxable by the irs

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    1. Thanks for the insights and the advice. You're right about the capital gains tax. I was trying to refer more about the IRS can't take my international property away if I ever went bankrupt in the USA for any reason. But yes you're right about the tax implications.

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    2. The IRS can through local courts levy a tax arrest in ukraine . Its not impossible . But quite lenthy process here. And they can freeze any bank accounts easily. They can also take your passport away if you owe any taxes over 50k. Lastly they can arrest you internationally if they really want to go that far. The IRS tentacles on citizens is just as firm in ukraine as they are in the states.

      Delete
  12. Welcome to Ukraine. But for the future, #KyivNotKiev! This is a principal difference. Kyiv is in Ukrainian, Kiev is Russian. Ukraine is not Russia!

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    1. I wrote Kyiv all throughout the article. It takes time for people to know what city/country I'm talking about. Stop forcing it as people will stop listening to you.

      "capital city of Kiev (Kyiv) Ukraine."

      Delete
    2. Unfortunately only forcing can help to stop use of wrong offensive spelling.

      Delete
  13. Hi Johnny, this is very interesting to me as I am coming to Kiev for the first time this July. Can you say more about the process of having a bank account there as an American? Which bank did you use and how did you manage the reporting requirements for American dollars? I am considering buying a house outside of a city in Ukraine, but I am wondering how much time it takes to deal with the paperwork, the number of steps, etc. Thanks for your very interesting content!

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    Replies
    1. Hey Anne, i'm still going through the process over 2 months later, so it takes a while. =)

      As for a bank account, the best way is to open an investment account at a local bank and transfer the money from US to Ukraine in USD, then from there you can move it around or give the seller USD or UAH.

      I'll update this post once everything finally completes, hopefully by next week.

      Delete
  14. Johnny, how did you find a contractor for the renovation in kiev? Also though the cost range for the renovation might be quite different from person to person, how much do you expect to renovate your condo?

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    Replies
    1. I'm still going though this process. Finding a good contractor in Ukraine is almost impossible. Everyone I've asked didn't like who they used for one reason or another.

      Delete
  15. It's news to me that one can buy a property in his own name and still get permanent residency (PR) if he owns it for 5 years. Previously, I only knew one could buy under a company's name to get PR. Anyway, Ukraine is hardly a stable country. If I can buy under an LLC and get my PR in one year, I will not entertain a 5 year option. This is a country that has had 2 revolutions in the past 20 years, ie. 2004 and 2014. 5 years are too long to wait. Who knows how the next revolution will change the law!

    Neither do I understand the capital gain issue when transferring the property from one's own LLC to oneself. He is both the buyer and seller. Why would he sell it to himself with a gain?

    Lastly, if Ukraine has reliable websites like Zillow back home, I would love to know. I've only arrived 20 days ago. Looking for a rental apartment was a huge pain! I know renting and buying are two different subjects, but both are served by these same scummy real estate agents! First, they inundate garna.net and olx.com with properties no longer available to bait new customers! NOT a single property I contacted on garna.net was actually available. After going through 3 agents, I realized this is how things are and an absolutely honest agent doesn't exist. I ended up going back to my first agent, at least he is most responsive, who then got me a unit at where I want to be. Had I contacted only units directly listed by owners, I would have saved some money. However, NOT a single property in my price range was available by owners in the neighborhood I want to be. I imagine I would face the same challenge if I choose to buy one of these days since I am quite particular about an exact building or street instead of anywhere in the 1-mile radius of a landmark, for example. Am I paying higher than the average price for demanding to be within 80 meters of Deribasivska St. in Odesa and the City Garden is literally behind my wall? Yes, obviously. However, life isn't all about money. I enjoy my neighborhood. That's most important.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I bought the property in my company's name, not my own. You are correct about the 1 year rule. As for the transfer, the property gets reappraised when I transfer it, so I'll need to pay capital gains tax if it appreciates.

      As for rental properties, OLX is the most used one. But you're right. The agents here are scumbags and have spammed all of the pubic rental sites so it's almost impossible to connect directly with the owner. If you speak Russian however, there exists some facebook groups under the name "Apartment rentals without agents in Kyiv"

      I hope things will change in the future, but for now, it's like New York's RE agent scheme, you're forced to use one in most cases.

      Delete
  16. Hey. Great article. Can i ask why you converted from USD to UAH only to convert back. Is this because the seller surprised you last minute or is it because there was some ukraine legal reason for first having it in UAH for the document process. I'm just working out myself this leg.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's one of the weird bureaucratic complications of Ukraine, but it's only because it had to be 100% legal and official as am going through the permeant residency process. Normally you would just buy it in USD as most sellers rather hold the more stable currency.

      Delete

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