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Estonia’s Kau Manor is one for the (Middle) Ages

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Kau Manor was built in 1241 making the historic residence in Estonia a few days shy of 778 years old.

As well as standing the test of time, Kau Manor has stepped smartly into the 21st century, making its mark as an award-winning boutique hotel. Actor Norman Reedus, of Walking Dead fame, and Clint Eastwood’s family are among the noteworthy who have stayed there.

Built for nobility, the mansion has retained its old-world character and some of its original materials. Wall panels and ceiling beams, as well as the chimney system and stone walls, date back to the 13th century.

Decorative tilework and ornamental mouldings add old-world character to a hotel sitting room.
Decorative tilework and ornamental mouldings add old-world character to a hotel sitting room.  (Christie’s International Real Estate)

There’s even a dry toilet, no longer in use, that looks like a built-in cupboard in what is now a dining room, according to listing agent Beqo Hoti of Residence Fastighetsmäkleri, an affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate.

“This old toilet is situated in the room which was used by the lady of the manor,” he explains.

Located 50 kilometres from the capital of Tallinn on the Baltic Sea — sometimes called the Silicon Valley of Europe for its booming technology industry — Kau Manor is hardly stuck in the Middle Ages. Each of the 20 bedrooms has its own theme and modern bathroom. There’s also an indoor pool and private sauna.

Nineteenth-century hunting equipment and African artifacts decorate a lounge.
Nineteenth-century hunting equipment and African artifacts decorate a lounge.  (Christie’s International Real Estate)

The estate, covering 15 hectares of historic parkland, includes the main house and coach house — both with guest rooms — a stable, granary, staff quarters and old distillery, which produces cider and spirits. Outside, formal gardens are interspersed with three ponds and a pavilion.

The property can be traced back to the first Danish census book, an important source of information during the Middle Ages, according to the hotel’s website.

The manor’s thick and irregular walls indicate it began as a medieval vassal stronghold, explains the historical account. “The main building was crafted in several stages, with lavish ornamentation added in the Baroque period.”

Otto von Kotzebue, a 19th-century Baltic-German explorer who travelled the world, once owned the manor.
Otto von Kotzebue, a 19th-century Baltic-German explorer who travelled the world, once owned the manor.  (Dreamstime)

Over the centuries, each owner — including 19th century Baltic-German explorer Otto von Kotzebue — added “something from his era” to create a “beautiful mixture of Baroque, classic and other styles,” Hoti adds.

Used as a school between 1941 and 1975, the manor was subsequently left “empty and deteriorating” for more than three decades, says Hoti.

In 2007, American filmmaker, artist and designer Mary Jordan bought the property with her husband, Estonian politician Eerik-Niiles Kross. She orchestrated a full restoration of the manor house, its first major makeover in 100 years.

The Indonesian-inspired Batak suite in the main house's attic includes centuries-old beams and antique furnishings.
The Indonesian-inspired Batak suite in the main house’s attic includes centuries-old beams and antique furnishings.  (Christie’s International Real Estate)

While the first-floor layout was left intact, all the old timber floors in the house were replaced because of rot, Hoti says.

He points out that the Baroque-style architecture was carefully preserved and enhanced with decorative details that reflect the adventures of von Kotzebue, who circumnavigated the globe and explored the Pacific. (A city in Alaska and a butterfly in the Philippines are named after him.)

“The whole interior design of the manor has been influenced by his travels,” Hoti says.

Decor, including a large, vintage model sailing ship, was influenced by its 19th-century owner-explorer, Otto von Kotzebue.
Decor, including a large, vintage model sailing ship, was influenced by its 19th-century owner-explorer, Otto von Kotzebue.  (Christie’s International Real Estate)

Nineteenth-century maps hang on the walls along with huge historical prints of the work of Louis Choris, the artist who accompanied von Kotzebue. There’s also antique hunting equipment and a menagerie of mounted and stuffed animals.

Rooms are adorned with artifacts from Africa and the Far East, French antiques and artwork from different eras in a redo that earned “most inspired design” honours in the 2016 World Boutique Hotel Awards.

Kau Manor, which employs between 23 and 30 people and now hosts private events, could revert to a private residence, according to the realtor, who notes Tallinn is headquarters for fintech startups and innovative e-commerce firms.

Ponds and a garden pavilion lend a genteel atmosphere to the 15-hectare estate.
Ponds and a garden pavilion lend a genteel atmosphere to the 15-hectare estate.  (Christie’s International Real Estate)

Whatever its future use, the storied estate remains comfortably connected to the past.

“All historic buildings have a story to tell,” says Hoti. “The manor has a very pleasant, tranquil atmosphere.”

Carola Vyhnak is a Cobourg-based writer covering home and real-estate stories. She is a contributor for the Star. Reach her at cvyhnak@gmail.com

The numbers

Price: $5.8 million

Estate size: 15 hectares

Bedrooms: 20

Bathrooms: 20

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place. HomeYou’ve been selected.Only $1.49/week for your first 4 months.Special offer just for you. Unlimited access.

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10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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A Simplified Guide for Toronto First-Time Home Buyers

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Toronto is the largest city in Canada, the fourth largest city in North America, which makes it an exciting place to live in.

But as with other major cities, finding the perfect place to move to can get tricky. If you’re planning on buying a home for the first time in this city, it is indeed a big decision and there are things you should know in advance.

Don’t worry, this guide will help explain the basics of what you as a buyer should know when you decide to buy a home. It will make you feel like a true expert during the buying process.

Decide what type of home you are looking for

There is no right answer to what makes a good home. It all depends on your preferences and needs as the resident. It is, therefore, a good idea to determine as early as possible which features of a home are important to you. If you are buying a home and moving in with someone, it can be a good idea for both of you to make a list and compare.

Toronto is a city that offers different styles of living accommodations and its neighborhoods are quite versatile and diverse, same as the people living there who come from all parts of the world.

The most common forms of housing and real estate opportunities in this city include bungalows, two-storey houses, split-level homes, and the very popular Toronto condos. Due to the high property values, the city boasts of construction of many condominiums as they are a more cost-efficient choice and provide a plethora of benefits.

When you decide on the type of home you want to buy, it is good to do some research and learn the biggest differences between them.

What to think of when choosing homes in Toronto

There are certain things you need to consider when choosing your home in this city. 

Being close to the things you need to visit every day makes life a lot easier. Pay attention to the proximity to shops, preschools, schools, and your job. In addition, access to good public transportation is crucial. Being able to move around the city easily and the opportunity to commute is important to many.

Know that having a balcony can significantly increase the value of your home and improve your well-being. Being able to move easily in the area is something that many people underestimate, but can be very convenient, and this is why you should see if there are good cycles and walking paths. 

And finally, make sure that the house is well designed which is a quality that does not disappear with the age of the house or with renovations. 

Set your budget

Before you start the search for your new home, you must know how expensive of a home you can buy. It is preferable to know in what price range to look for. The budget is usually decided based on your mortgage and how large are the monthly costs you can handle.

A mortgage is always about a balance between risk and income for the bank. The higher the risk for the bank to lend to a particular home, the more expensive the mortgage will be. When it comes to the bank’s reasoning when applying for a loan, it is in principle always a question of whether you as a borrower will be able to repay the mortgage.

The bank also takes into account your financial history. If you are a person who has managed your finances well, the chance increases that you will get your mortgage approved. If, on the other hand, you have a bad reputation with banks, it is weighed in as an aggravating circumstance.

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