Milanese homebuyers take advantage of the great outdoors

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Before Covid hit Milan – the first city in the world to be hit by the pandemic outside of Asia – the city’s wealthiest residents rarely used their balconies much, let alone adorned them with potted plants.

“In my 1920s building on Corso Indipendenza, it just wasn’t the right thing to do. A few years ago there were a lot of scathing comments when I put large planters on top of mine, ”says Jane Fraser, event producer who has lived in Milan for 20 years.

“Now on this street there are many, many balconies full of flowers, plants and climbing jasmine. During the pandemic, people set up small tables and chairs so they could sit and watch the empty streets. Over a year later, a familiar boil returned. “The city is different now because bars and restaurants can put tables and chairs outside without paying road tax, so everyone has spread out on the street,” says Fraser.

From floral gestures on the balconies to new architectural monuments, Milan is visibly going green. Greenery was a key theme at the recent Supersalone at Salone del Mobile, the Milan furniture fair. Part of the exhibition space at the Rho Exhibition Center was filled with an urban forest, of which hundreds of trees will be replanted around the city.

The curator of the fair, Stefano Boeri, is considered the architect of Milan’s green transformation. The Bosco Verticale de Boeri in the Porta Nuova district, completed in 2014, was one of the largest urban regeneration projects in Europe, with its two residential towers shrouded in the equivalent of 3 ha of vegetation.

A bar in the Navigli district. Milan was the first city in the world to be affected by the pandemic outside of Asia © Giuliano Berti / Bloomberg

The developers of Bosco Verticale, COIMA – together with Boeri and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, architects of the New York High Line – are working on a new “vertical forest” at Porta Nuova. They transform the abandoned Pirellino office building from the 1950s into Pirelli 39, two towers of houses and workspaces with green walls whose foliage will change with the seasons and absorb 14 tonnes of CO2 per year, according to the estimate of architects.

Such a biophilic design became an attraction during the pandemic. “When the blockages were lifted, it wasn’t the stores people flocked to – it was Porta Nuova Park,” says Kelly Russell Catella, COIMA’s sustainability and communications manager, referring to to the green space around Bosco Verticale.

“People are starting to think about having more sustainable and easier lifestyles in the heart of the city,” she said, citing tree planting programs and 35 km of new cycle paths.

Benedetta Viganò, managing director of Giorgio Viganò Real Estate, says there is a desire to live “in the city 15 minutes away”, driven in part by a post-Covid aversion to public transport. “Being within walking or cycling distance of schools and work is our most popular request,” he says, adding that locals are looking at areas such as hipster Isola (near Bosco Verticale), Porta Romana, with its green squares and small streets behind Porta Venezia, in the historic center.

The roof of a five-bedroom penthouse in Brera, € 12.4m

The roof of a five-bedroom penthouse in Brera, € 12.4 million © Busà Photography

After a 15% drop in the number of transactions last year compared to 2019, Milan’s sales figures are picking up. Sales rose 14.5% in the first quarter of this year, to a total of 6,000 sales, according to Sotheby’s Milan.

But real estate prices have fluctuated little over the years: Italian Immobiliare figures show that the average has fluctuated at € 4,000 / m² for 10 years, and is now € 4,865 / m². Bill Thomson, head of Knight Frank’s Italian network, explains that this is “partly due to the economy, partly due to high inventory levels in the consumer market.”

Lodovico Pignatti Morano, at Sotheby’s Milan, says: “In the mainstream market, when you buy, you buy for life. You only increase if your family grows. Yet the luxury market differs, he says. “Buyers in this area are more interested in properties right now – something cool or exceptional, that they know won’t depreciate. “

Milan map

Although prices at Bosco Verticale compete for “footballers, movie stars, wealthy Russians and Chinese,” according to Viganò, the more expensive properties are traditionally found in the Quadrilatero della Moda, the fashion district, around from Via Montenapoleone.

“Prices are typically € 14,000 to € 18,000 per m², but some properties have sold for much more,” adds Viganò. The ultimate address in this area, says Morano, is Via Privata Fratelli Gabba, whose only property for sale is a 5-bedroom, 443 m² period apartment priced at 12.4 million euros via Sotheby’s Milan.

Often attracted by Italy’s flat-rate tax regime (€ 100,000 on non-Italian source income), foreign buyers made two of the three biggest sales of last year: a € 11.2 million apartment in Magenta and a 9.8 million euro townhouse in the center, both sold off-market, according to real estate agency Tirelli & Partners.

At all price points, however, it’s a connection to the outdoors that matters. As Fraser notes, where the balconies of Milan were once rejected, “now photos of them appear first in advertisements for apartments or houses for sale or rent.” Milan, in many ways, is turning a new leaf.

Purchase guide

  • The prices charged in the historic center of Milan are on average € 9,400 per m². In the city’s larger market, prices in August 2021 averaged € 4,865 per m², according to data from Italian Real Estate.

  • The sales market is mainly aimed at first-time buyers and first-time buyers. According to Tirelli & Partners, only 11% of buyers are investors, who have been left out by the pandemic.

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