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Croatians live at home longer than anyone else in Europe, house prices are “crazy”

Image source/Getty, Deepak Sethi/Getty, Tyler Le/BI

  • The average Croatian leaves his or her parents’ home at 33, the highest age in the EU.
  • It is expensive for young people to buy or rent in Croatia. BI visited Dubrovnik to investigate.
  • Millennials described feeling like teenagers in their 30s, despite being business owners and parents.

Lukša Malohodžić is 27 years old and runs a successful business – life should go on its way. But he still lives with his mother and his father.

He leads boat tours for wealthy tourists showing off the stunning Adriatic coast, well aware that he cannot afford to live there.

Like a lot of Croatian millennials, he has yet to leave the nest and doesn’t see that happening anytime soon.

Sitting in a cafe in Dubrovnik’s old town in mid-April, he reflected on the situation.

“There comes a point where it starts to weigh on you,” he said. “You start thinking, ‘I really should change this,’ but what can you do?”

According to Eurostat, the EU statistical office, the average Croatian leaves his or her parents’ home at the age of 33, the highest number ever.

For men, it is even older: just under 35 years.

Dubrovnik’s old town, seen from the city walls.
Joshua Zitser/Business Insider

In the United States, almost everyone has moved away by then. US census figures say that only 16% of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 live with their parents.

BI visited Croatia in April, at the start of Dubrovnik’s tourist season, to hear first-hand how it is affecting millennials there.

They talked about feeling stuck and infantilized: a 35-year-old woman whose relatives still read her email, a grown man whose grandmother kept track of his appointments.

According to the data, Malohodžić can expect to live under his parents’ roof for another seven years, but it could be even longer.

“It is difficult to buy something or even rent it,” Malohodžić said. “It’s just crazy.”

Eurostat notes that housing prices in Croatia have increased steadily over the last decade. Last year, Croatia had the largest annual increase in the house price index among all EU member states.

Malohodžić says that a “vast majority” of his friends are in the same situation as him and that only a lucky few have inherited property.

Property prices in Dubrovnik, a picturesque UNESCO World Heritage Site, are especially high.

According to the news outlet Total Croatia, the average purchase price of an apartment or house in the city is slightly above 3,600 euros per square meter, which is equivalent to approximately $335 per square foot.

The U.S. figure is about $230 per square foot, with much higher wages to buy it.

The average salary in the United States is more than triple that of Croatia: approximately $59,000, compared to $18,500 in Croatia.

Ivan Vukovic, tour guide, sitting in a cafe in Dubrovnik.
Joshua Zitser/Business Insider

“You can’t earn the amount of money you need to buy property here,” says Ivan Vukovic, a tour guide who has lived in Dubrovnik since he was born in 1981.

Vukovic has lived through Dubrovnik’s various transformations over the years, from the bustling crowds during the Yugoslav tourism boom of the mid-1980s to the devastation of the War of Independence and the subsequent return of cruise ships in the era. postwar.

Today, it is part of another tourism boom, fueled by tourists eager to see the city that served as King’s Landing in HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”

Dubrovnik was the main filming location in Croatia for King’s Landing, which appears on HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”
Joshua Zitser/Business Insider

While tourism provides economic opportunities for Vukovic and many others, he says it has also worsened the already dysfunctional real estate market.

The increase in foreigners wanting a piece of Dubrovnik has increased demand for vacation homes, he said, and local entrepreneurs are turning more and more properties into Airbnb to make money.

AirDNA, a short-term rental data analytics company, told BI that Dubrovnik, which has a population of about 41,000, has more than 5,500 properties listed on Expedia-owned Airbnb or Vrbo during the summer months.

“Both foreigners and wealthy locals use these properties mainly as investments because the returns are very good,” Filip Brkan, member of the Association of Real Estate Companies of the Croatian Chamber of Economy, told BI.

For renters, this can make finding a year-round place nearly impossible. The money that can be made from short-term rentals also drives up the price of purchasing vacant properties.

“What needs to be done in Croatia is to increase the supply of housing,” Brkan said.

But in some parts of Dubrovnik, Vukovic explained, that is not feasible.

“We can’t expand,” the tour guide said. “It is a small UNESCO-protected city and the price has skyrocketed because there is always someone who wants to buy property in Dubrovnik.”

Dubrovnik, view from the old town walls.
Joshua Zitser/Business Insider

For Josip Crncevic, 34, the prices seem far out of reach.

“I always like to tell my guests on tour that, right now, it will probably take two lifetimes to buy something inside the walls,” he said.

Even in the suburbs of Dubrovnik, Crncevic said homeownership is unattainable for him.

For now, he lives in a three-story, multi-generational family home about seven miles outside the city.

His uncle’s family lives upstairs and his grandmother downstairs, in a setup that Crncevic describes as three separate apartments, each with a private entrance and lock.

While it’s not the situation he dreamed he was in at age 34, he said there are some positives.

Crncevic likes helping her grandmother with daily tasks, although proximity has posed challenges in the past, especially when it comes to dating.

“My grandmother is the best CCTV in the area,” he said.

Setting limits

Privacy is a recurring problem for many millennials living in similar conditions in Croatia.

Marija, a 35-year-old woman who asked to be referred to only by her first name so she could speak candidly about life with her in-laws, said the decision was born out of necessity.

Marija and her husband moved into her parents’ house in 2019 because they couldn’t find an affordable rental and buying was not an option.

Although it seemed like a sensible financial move, Marija said she now considers it a big mistake.

“We would like to have some kind of privacy and not be questioned on a daily basis,” he said.

The biggest problem is setting limits “like not reading email and not entering the house without knocking,” he added.

Sanja Cikato, a 47-year-old woman who lives with her husband and two teenage children above her mother, said setting those boundaries required patience and perseverance.

Sanja Cikato with her husband, Angelo, on the terrace of their house in Dubrovnik.
Joshua Zitser/Business Insider

“At first it wasn’t perfect, but then over time we just learned to live together in this house,” he said.

Cikato said achieving this required open and honest conversations, but that her mother still occasionally overhears the couple’s fights.

Despite the difficulties, she said the benefits, such as help with childcare, outweigh the drawbacks.

When her children, now 12 and 14, were younger, her mother was a live-in nanny, allowing Cikato to work longer hours during the tourist season.

Diana Marlais, another working mother, echoed this, telling BI that multigenerational living saves lives for working parents.

Bogdan Dascalescu, Diana Marlais, their children and their parents spend the evening together at their home.
Joshua Zitser/Business Insider

Cikato also said that the setup creates a special bond between his mother and her children, and that he wants to replicate it when his own children are adults.

“You have to understand that before that was something really normal,” he said.

But Malohodžić, who represents the youngest cohort of Croatian millennials, considers it “purely economic” and not a tradition worth maintaining.

He said he wouldn’t choose to live this way if finances weren’t such a big factor.

He wouldn’t choose to be in his twenties and still “sometimes feel like a teenager.”

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