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Emilia Jedamska’s phone rang on Feb. 24, the day Russia invaded Ukraine. It was a long-standing client of the Côte d’Azur-based real estate agent. “He’s rented with us for years and always wanted to buy,” she says. “He asked, ‘Are there any flash sales?’ ” The war, he figured, might turn wealthy Muscovites into motivated sellers.
Russians, of course, have been a fixture of the Riviera since imperial days, but have flooded back in the past two decades as the oligarch era unspooled. Their impact is everywhere in the region, even as the fabric of the area retains a Frenchified feel. “In Cap Ferrat, Russian is the language of the joggers on the street,” Jedamska says. No wonder, then, that the threat of potential sanctions in the war’s wake prompted her pragmatic client to see whom among them might be sweating for other reasons — and in a rush to list. Yet Jedamska says the war’s economic impact has been minimal.
Several landmark local properties did indeed come under French government sanctions a few weeks after the war broke out, prohibiting the owners from accessing or selling their properties. Frozen assets of Vladimir Putin-endorsed owners include Château de la Croë on the stretch of the Antibes coast nicknamed the Bay of Billionaires, once home to King Edward VIII and now one of Roman Abramovich’s many houses, and steel tycoon Viktor Rashnikov’s Villa Nellcôte, where The Rolling Stones recorded Exile on Main Street. The seizures make headlines, but they don’t drive the market, at least according to another luxury broker, Alexandra Lloyd, who stresses perspective. “The amount of properties sanctioned is minimal compared to the amount of properties we have,” Lloyd says. She points back to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. That coincided with a change in French real estate law which introduced greater checks and balances, making it harder to dump dirty money into Riviera estates. “Before that, it was crazy town with Russian purchasing,” she recalls.
Even today, Lloyd continues, should sanctions-antsy owners think of listing, there are more non-Russian buyers than ever, thanks to the pandemic-induced work-from-anywhere era. “I don’t think there’s going to be any big sell-off. If I were Russian, I’d hold on to my house as long as I could,” she says. “These are investments.”
Indeed, there are few parallel markets anywhere in the world, per Knight Frank partner Edward de Mallet Morgan. “This isn’t super prime or ultra-prime real estate, it’s stratospheric — the one percent of the one percent of the one percent,” he says.
The only palpable impact of the war has been on rentals — though it proved a blip. Most of the priciest homes — 120,000 euros ($127,000) per week or so for the likes of one of St. Tropez’s ultra-exclusive Les Parcs villas — were booked by Christmas, per Jedamska, but several Russia-based renters canceled as the situation became more tense. Those villas didn’t lie empty for long, though. “The Russians from Russia were replaced by Russian clients set up in Cyprus, Monaco or London,” she says. And 2022 is shaping up to be her best year of a decade or so in business: “We have waiting lists for houses that rent for 45,000 euros ($47, 500) per week, so prices aren’t dropping. We have owners who didn’t buy one new cup for their house but have increased the price because they feel they’re not expensive enough.”
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