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House-hunting in Sweden: An entire historic village for sale at 70m krona

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The 62-acre health village of Satra Brunn in south-east Sweden is a rare example of Swedish village architecture, with some of its structures dating to the year 1700.

Stockholm

SEVENTY buildings sitting on 62 acres of lane in rural Sweden. The price: 70 million Swedish krona (S$10.4 million).

A rare example of Swedish village architecture is on offer in Sala, a rural town in Sweden's Vastmanland County, about 90 minutes north of the capital Stockholm.

Even rarer: The entire hamlet of 70 buildings, known as Satra Brunn, is for sale, with some of its structures dating to the year 1700.

Operated continuously for 300 years, first as a wellness retreat and then as a holistic research and treatment centre by Uppsala University from 1747 to 1999, the 62-acre village was built around a natural underground spring heralded for its therapeutic waters.

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The property has been owned since 2002 by a group of 15 local residents who wanted to "preserve the unity and history" of the village, said Mats Wikman, one of the shareholders. In addition to its spa operations, the site also hosts festivals and concerts.

He said that with most of the owners now in middle age, "we need other people who can take care of it".

A journalist who wrote a book about Satra Brunn, Mr Wikman said that of the 10 or so similar health villages built in Sweden during the 18th century, this is the only one to survive with its historical fabric mostly intact.

"Despite its history, the place is not very well known outside the area," he said. "In my point of view, it should be regarded as a world heritage site."

Jonas Martinsson, who has this listing with Residence Christie's International Real Estate, said other such properties often are re-developed beyond recognition, but "when you walk around Satra Brunn, you are following Swedish culture and building history from 300 years back. All these houses have their short or long story".

The heart of the village is a cluster of its oldest buildings, including the spring house. While some were constructed as dormitories with shared bathrooms and common rooms, others served as family cottages or more decorative homes for professors or wealthy patrons.

The smallest are 100 square metres and the largest, the Bergabo, a striking building set off by a watch tower in its frame, is nearly 483 sq m.

Mr Wikman estimated about 45 buildings - many still named for their former occupants - would be good candidates for conversion to personal homes.

"The big challenge would be to choose which houses a new owner wants to start working on," Mr Martinsson said.

Most of the buildings do not have kitchens, as food was prepared and delivered from a central kitchen, but they all have plumbing and floor plans that would accommodate kitchen conversions.

Many houses still have original details such as wood panelling, decorative ceilings and tiles, and at least three-quarters are insulated for winter.

All are timber, made from local materials, some with traditional carved porches. The mostly uniform red colour is actually a natural copper and iron-ore paint sourced from local mines and applied as a preservative.

The village includes a 19th century deconsecrated church and commercial enterprises such as a conference centre, restaurant, a working spa with an indoor pool, sauna and gym; a bottling line that produces two million bottles of high-grade spring water a year, and a preschool for 40 local children, operated by the municipality.

The school is three years into its 25-year lease agreement, which provides operating income for the village, Mr Wikman said.

The buyer can choose whether to continue operating the commercial spaces. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, all operations are currently suspended until the fall, although much of Sweden has remained open.

The municipality of Sala, in south-central Sweden, has about 13,000 residents and draws tourists to its historic silver mine, which dates to the 15th century.

Mr Martinsson said many Swedes come to Sala for its lakes, fresh air and bird watching. The nearest city, Vasteras, is about 30km south. Stockholm is 90 minutes south by car and accessible by high-speed train.

He also said Sweden attracts buyers with its "financial balance and society", adding that "people come from abroad and see that we don't have gated communities and it's open".

Sweden's housing index saw successive year-over-year gains from 2014 to 2017 before falling 3.7 per cent in 2018, the year a change in mortgage regulations required borrowers to pay off their loans faster, said Pontus Kopparberg, chief executive of Residence Christie's International Real Estate in Stockholm.

After those rules were suspended, the housing index recovered, rising 3 per cent from 2018 to 2019.

Lars Fredegard, owner of the Lars Fredegard agency in Stockholm, said he recently sold a two-bedroom apartment with about 290 sq m there for 60 million krona.

Nationally, prices for multidwelling and commercial buildings, like many on the Satra Brunn site, rose by 11 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 from the fourth quarter of 2019. Agents agreed that low interest rates for commercial properties have boosted demand in some areas.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Sweden opted not to shut down, relying instead on voluntary compliance to control the spread.

As of June 15, the country had recorded 51,614 confirmed cases and 4,874 deaths, many more per capita than its Nordic neighbors.

In Stockholm, agents now show properties by appointment only, and said higher-priced real estate has been mostly unaffected by the crisis.

"So far it's quite normal," Mr Fredegard said, adding that sales in January and February were strong, although now "it's moving a little bit slower".

Mr Kopparberg agreed, saying he has seen a mere 2 per cent price dip. "The prices and the turnover are about the same as last year, so it's really surprising that the market is working close to normal so far," he said.

But those who are looking are taking longer to buy, said Niklas Berntzon, a broker with the Eklund Stockholm New York agency.

"People are more concerned about their timing, are uncertain about their jobs or their companies," he said. "Right now they don't trust themselves to make the right decision."

Andreas Wallstrom, acting group chief economist at Swedbank, said that although the microdata for the second quarter of 2020 "looks bad", the housing sector "will not suffer much" during this crisis. He said prices are affected more by cost of living, disposable income and interest and mortgage rates.

"The housing market, I'm not too worried about in the short term," he said, noting that commercial real estate "is much more dependent on how the overall economy gets along and how long this crisis will be for different sectors". NYTIMES

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