Friday, 29 October 2010

Commuters jammed on dawn's byways

Regular readers will know that for much of the time in Jeziorki you can walk around for hours without encountering another human being. This peaceful state is replaced each weekday morning by a traffic jam of out-of-towners seeking an alternative way to work to ul. Puławska. For years now, Puławska in the morning is a solid jam all the way from Piaseczno to Al. Wilanowska, where traffic finally eases. So cars from Piaseczno, Lesznowola, Magdalenka and all points south snake in through Zgorzała, their drivers taking every short-cut possible to avoid standing still, like rivulets of water running around rocks on their way downhill.

Above: ul. Trombity, close to our house, just after sunrise. A steady stream of cars is progressing down our street. Speed bumps restrain impatient drivers' latent idiocy, while at the other end of our road, a half-kilometre-long jam awaits these cars.

Below: Those who don't turn off onto our road have a half-kilometre long jam on Karczunkowska to get to Puławska, for a further 7km of stationary traffic.

Living in Jeziorki, we have alternatives; the city centre is within striking distance of a fit and determined cyclist, and the train service is reasonable. But I do feel some sympathy for those living further out, beyond the reach of Warsaw's public transport network.

A few months ago I was talking to the owner of a terraced house in Mysiadło, just outside Warsaw's boundaries. He bought the house at the height of the post-EU accession boom, for 1.1m złotys. Now he's looking with his wife to move to a larger house, further out, in Magdalenka. The estate agent they talked to said they could expect to sell their house for 700,000 złotys - a prospective owner would have the negotiating power to haggle 100,000 złotys off the 800,000 złotys asking price, she said.

Why have the prices of houses in Warsaw's outer suburbs fallen so dramatically? Apart from the general state of the market, it is jams. People living on the capital's fringes are having to spend three hours a day in a car make a straightforward financial calculation; how much is that time worth?

Warsaw's property market is opaque. In England, everyone knows to the nearest £5,000 how much their property's worth. This is because estate agents' windows are full of pictures of houses inside and outside, prices clearly marked. Local newspapers are stuffed with illustrated ads of houses, conveniently grouped by area and price. At dinner parties, Brits will swap tales of that house across the street that's "just like ours, but with a smaller garden that's just gone for half a million". Poles have little clue as to how much their property is worth until they actually try to sell it. In London, a house is advertised as selling for, say, £595,000 freehold. In Warsaw, property prices are expressed in zlotys per square metre - if at all.

Out of curiosity I looked in one estate agent's window in Nowe Miasto, clearly aimed at tourists. Lots of photos of interiors of flats - nearly every price tippexed out. Total lack of information. Only one property had a price shown - 13,500 złotys per square metre for a 52.2m flat. How much? Well, I make that 705,000 złotys. How much is ground rent? Doesn't say. Where's the flat? Only the vaguest indication.

Poland's estate agents are, by and large, not very good. Because they try to extract a fee from both buyer and seller, there's a good incentive for both parties to avoid a costly intermediary. Buyers would spend all Saturday driving around Konstancin or Magdalenka looking for that house in the estate agent's photo with the blue roof and the wooden swing in the front garden. So the estate agent doesn't show a photo or say where the property is. Instead, tens of thousands or ads are dumped onto the internet, most of them no longer current ("Ah... that house has just been sold... but we have dozens like it...").

Until the property market becomes more transparent and Warsaw's commuting issues are at least alleviated, we are all condemned to jams and overcrowed public transport.


Anonymous said...

Michael - all valid points.

Here is one that would never pass the test in many countries: "they try to extract a fee from both buyer and seller". They need to have a fiduciary responsibility to someone - in this kind of case who can they be said to represent? What is there is a problem with the transaction - who is accountable.

Needs to be cleaned up - goes on the long list of things that need to be tended to in Poland.


student SGH said...

On Tuesday I asked my manager (the one who had recently moved to Zamienie) how he was getting on with commuting.

"I found a shortcut", he replied, "I turn left into ul. Trombity, drive up to the tracks, then turn right and meander around miscellanous byways until I reach ul. Ludwinowska from which I get onto ul. Puławska" and pass by the most clogged section."

He thought he was the only smart one, but I put him straight saying this had been a regular route for rat-runners for a few years...

Didn't see his car on any of the photos though...

Very apt remarks on how commuting times bring down the value of property.

Anonymous said...

I remember when a flat in Warsaw would sell for 3000 dollars and now, some 25 years later it sells for a 15 fold. One would think the housing prices in Poland are overinflated and not strictly related to the global economy. Will they correct even further down? Most likely, as more and more housing (read apartments) are inherited by childless families. The whole idea of taking up a 30 year mortgage and hiring a real estate agent is relatively new in Poland, compared to let’s say Britain. So give it a chance. When it comes to suburbs, no matter how many lanes of highway you may have leading to the city, the bottom line is that the land is cheaper there and so is the housing. And when you add to that the lack of good infrastructure, schools, hospitals, employment, restaurants and cultural venues, most people will pay a premium to live in a big city.

yellerbelly said...

Ashamed to say that one of those commuters is occasionally me. We've just moved from ul. Woronicza (just in time as it happens - the Marynarska works had reached our front gate) to a beautiful spot in Głosków. My commute starts at 06:15 though, so I miss most of the jams.

For someone who's move to Warsaw 4 years ago was the first experience of city living, I'm happy to sacrifice 45 minutes in the car each way for peace, tranquil woods and an open fire at weekends!

And considering I've been impatiently overtaken on several occasions whilst driving over the Trombity speed bumps, I'm not convinced it slows everyone down!

Caught the train from Zalesie on Friday - very convenient considering my office is in ZT. Nice to have the option when the driving becomes tiresome.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Yellerbelly: I'm glad you're not the one doing the overtaking! (here I must name and shame the female driver of a silver Toyota Aygo on WPI plates with cats' paw decals on the back who drives like a maniac down our road each morning)

1) the speed limit along the entire length of ul. Trombity is 30kmh.

2) there's no pavement along ul. Trombity, and people (including my children) walk along the street to the bus stop in the dark for five months of the year.

Given that Zalesie is one stop before Piaseczno, where the train gets really crowded, I'd say the train is your best option.