VILNIUS - At the crossroads of Zemaitijos and Siauliu streets, Robertas Liudvinavicius stood under a roof and smiled as he watched his soggy construction crew walk across tall metal beams carrying wooden boards.
Rain or shine, the "Mikalojaus ziedas" project is forging ahead to create a brand-new two-story luxury house situated in the center of Old Town. In spring 2008, the two-story house will feature an underground parking garage, elevators, sauna, jacuzzi and a party hall.
"We want people to have a good place of living. In our imagination, we wanted to have a nice courtyard for people to feel safe and relax," Liudvinavicius said.
In Vilnius, the high demand for housing pushes developers to find more places to expand and meet the needs of potential buyers. However, real estate companies and developers told The Baltic Times the luxury market is still small or in development states in Klaipeda, Kaunas and Vilnius.
"In Lithuania, luxury residences we understand as new luxury apartments, which are built at the top floors of new skyscrapers. Most of the luxury apartments are distinguished with large space (over 90 sq m.), big terrace or balconies," said head of InReal brokerage department Mindaugas Simkus.
"As luxury apartments have not been built for such a long time, it's hard to draw visible trend," Simkus added.
Liudvinavicius, project manager for Sektor Real Estate UAB, said there's a small handful of high-class apartments for people to buy or rent in Old Town because of building permit laws and heritage preservation.
"There are some historical investigations into the streets and archaeological findings," Liudvinavicius said. "Our project is practically the first in Old Town to fully demolish an old Soviet administrative building and start construction [of a luxury house]."
In other districts, individual architects and small groups in the bohemian district of Uzupis are vying for competition for city approval to renovate and destroy former Soviet factories, said Liudvinavicius.
In Old Town, the few luxurious apartments from a former mansion at the Stikliai Apartments, and the Barbacan Palace Apartments near the city's former defense wall are tight in terms of occupancy.
Some of the Lithuanian basketball players occupy 10 of the 17 rooms at the Barbacan Palace Apartments. Each apartment has fully-equipped kitchens, wireless Internet, balconies, furniture, and hotel cleaning services.
"We are proud that we have stayed open for only four years and every season, our basketball players have come back," said Quality Hotel Barbacan Palace Director Viktorija Juskaite.
Despite their success of loyal tenants, there's no plan to expand.
Other high-class apartment buildings in Old Town are close to full occupancy, too.
"I don't think it's a small market. I think the market is good, but there really isn't anything to offer right now," Juskaite said.
Lithuanian Free Market senior policy analyst Giedrius Kadziauskas said the city's building permit laws impact the real estate market.
"The supply of luxury apartments is in the hands of the city council, where and how much can be built. The second point, the locations to water and nature, is well-affected by the city regulations because there are general rules that there should be no buildings within 50 to 100 meters from the water. This limits the supply heavily. The third ... that limits the supply is the heritage sites, where you can't renovate, redesign, or create certain dimensions near the protected Old Town zone. All the three areas are rather difficult to negotiate with the city council and the Department of Cultural Heritage Protection," he added.
Many developers look outside of Old Town for their projects. One ideal place for luxury residence development is aimed at the seaside, not the city.
InReal broker Mantas Bagocius said in Klaipeda, clients have preferred to buy houses near the sea rather than luxury flats in the city center.
One three-bedroom luxury apartment from the InReal real estate company is priced at 958,000 litas (277,456 euros) for 71 square meters. To buy a new flat is estimated to range from 10 to 15,000 litas per square meter.
"House prices are lower and you get nature and a quiet neighborhood. In the center, it's a different environment," Bagocius said. "Clients usually stay for one month or a few weeks in luxury flats in the city center."