A Brief Overview of the Changing Housing Market in Poland
Providing adequate housing is a concern all around the world. In this piece I would like to focus on the changes in the housing market in my home country of Poland.
In 2024 it is not uncommon to spend between $200,000 – $250,000 to purchase an apartment (under 700 SF on average) in most major Polish cities, with single family homes selling for much higher amounts (Statista.com 2023). In fact, in the last decade the price of new construction condominium apartments increased by 95% for newly built and by 87% for condos resold on the second-send market (Szkwarek 2023).
Prices of real estate in Poland are predicted to increase in the near and long-term future.
For the last 30 years Poland has been a country embodying the principles of democracy and free-market capitalism resulting in world-leading economic growth, new job sectors, a lot of foreign investment, well-educated employees, an influx of immigrant laborers, refugees, international students, and international professionals. The housing situation has changed as the real estate market is reaching similar price levels to Poland’s neighboring western countries such as Germany.
Despite an increase in Polish salaries, the increase in real estate prices, the low construction rate, as well as an influx of people from other countries who need housing pose new barriers to Poles who want to purchase their own home.
There are many factors contributing to the increase in the cost of real estate and shortages of housing in Poland. I will briefly discuss some of the major historic, geopolitical, economic, and social factors that contribute to the housing crisis in Poland as well as the impact of this process on communist-era real estate assets previously thought of as devalued.
Polish urban areas emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries due to the activity and dynamics of two social groups: the Polish nobility and Catholic clergy. Polish nobles were building rowhouses, palaces, and manor houses. Rowhouses built by nobles in cities were mainly used to generate income for the owners and, just like today, their location, size, and quality influenced how much rent the owners could collect. The clergy owned their own residences, palaces, and other institutions such as schools, and mainly used them for religious and educational purposes as well as residences for the clergy (Kałkowski and Stanisławska 2008).
In 1790, according to historic data an estimated 80% of the population lived in the countryside in very modest conditions (Janicki 2022). Most homes had two rooms that were shared by big families.
After World War I, similarly to other European countries, Poland was faced with a significant shortage of housing. By the 1930s Polish cities struggled with securing accommodation for residents who were arriving into cities from rural areas. Historic records show that the rate of building new residences was about 20% of what it was before World War I, and about half of the buildings were built with wood materials and the other half with brick.
There was overall frustration among the nobility with the lack of opportunities to build more and better-quality housing (Kałkowski and Stanisławska 2008). The goal of expanding housing in Polish cities was halted by World War II and invasions from the Soviets and Nazis. The war significantly destroyed many major Polish cities, including the capital of Warsaw which was practically leveled.
In post-WWII Communist Poland, severe housing shortages became even more acute. The Polish Communist government focused on industrialization. The process of industrialization required a new workforce. Residents were relocated to urban areas to work in new sectors of the industrial economy.
This process brought many young people from rural areas to Polish cities. It was clear that the government needed to invest in creating a new and comprehensive housing program. In the mid-1950s, the government introduced new housing policies aimed at the mass construction of neighborhoods of high-rise apartments.
These new condos attracted people from the countryside to relocate to Polish cities as they were not just associated with new job opportunities, but they also became a symbol of Poland’s modernization (Bartkowiak 2024). Rural areas and small villages surrounding Polish cities were often rezoned for residential purposes and annexed to urban areas.
For three decades (the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s) communist urban planners were planning and building communities that were intended to represent new, modern, urban lifestyles. These communities, at least as a concept, were intended to conveniently and locally cater to most needs of their residents (Bartkowiak 2024).
While built mainly with efficiency in mind, the high-rise condo buildings were often planned and developed with a robust infrastructure around them: access to public transportation (street cars and buses), walking distance to preschools and elementary schools, a local grocery store was usually located within the development, and a health clinic was also nearby (Anders 2019, Łukaszewski 2019, Bartkowiak 2024).
Most importantly, the apartments were attainable for the average Pole. For some residents, especially those moving from the countryside, it was often the first time they lived in their own space, without overcrowding and with their own private bathrooms. They no longer had to share their residence with other family members, and it was an opportunity to live close to their new workplace.
Characteristically of other communist-era developments, these neighborhoods were marred by poor execution on a promising concept–living space square footage was very small, there was little privacy or sound insulation, neighbors had to share laundry facilities, the quality of the built infrastructure was questionable (Wybieralski and Mikulec 2009).
While many residents of these developments dreamed of their own single-family home with a backyard and more privacy, in reality two generations of Poles grew up living in such high rises.
As communism ended in Poland, and a new economic reality set in, those who were able to adjust their skills to take advantage of the free-market economy were often able to move to better quality, more spacious, and more private housing. For decades, those that were left living in post-communist high rises were senior residents who have lived there all their adult lives, and service-sector workers or those who could not adapt to the new economic reality.
While I am personally opposed to the process by which communism was installed in Poland, how it was legitimized, and how the communist government derailed Poland’s economic and social development post WWII, I find it is simultaneously interesting to explore and appreciate some of the innovative urban planning principles that were implemented by Polish planners of the period.
Interestingly, I found that there is an increasing group of consumers learning to appreciate the qualities of Polish developments built during the communist era. Recently there has been new appreciation for urban planning of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s among young generations of Poles and it is not uncommon to read articles that emphasize the benefits of living in the communist-era high-rises (Anders 2019, Łukaszewski 2019, Bartkowiak 2024).
That newly found appreciation centers around 3 main qualities: square footage is small but that makes the apartments affordable and easy to renovate, the neighborhoods are usually very well connected to the city via public transportation, bicycle routes, and multi-lane highways, and the neighborhoods offer diverse green-space and recreational opportunities with onsite playgrounds, biking trails, parks, and greenery.
This stands in contrast to many new developments that are significantly more luxurious but at the same time built on increasingly expensive land resulting in much less green or open space for residents, and sold at much higher cost.
Today’s Housing Reality and Current Housing Developments
In 2004, Poland joined the European Union cementing its new status of a developed country with a stable democracy, a functioning market economy, the ability to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the member states, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.
With a population of 38 million and a highly skilled workforce, membership in the European Union opened the floodgates for foreign investment. Many international corporations established their presence in major Polish cities taking advantage of the relatively affordable and educated workforce and a society that was hungry for progress.
American companies with a significant presence in Poland include Amazon, GE, IBM, Whirlpool, PepsiCo, and many others from the list of Fortune 500. In 2023, Intel announced a $4.6 billion facility in Wroclaw–symbolic of Poland becoming a target of high-tech investments as well. With higher complexity jobs came higher pay and a competition for workers.
In the last couple of decades, purchasing a small condo in Poland was relatively achievable for most people who were employed in full time positions and were willing to take out 30-year mortgages. In the new capitalist economy, since 1990s, the younger generation was quickly building their careers working in the banking, healthcare, agricultural, technology, trade and other sectors and many Poles were establishing small businesses that afforded them a decent standard of living.
Along with the changing incomes of Polish families, two elements also changed: due to the growth of cities and job opportunities in cities many families abandoned their dreams of single-family homes to live in commuting distance to their workplace. Second, Poles expect an increasingly higher quality of residential buildings that must now also deliver access to desirable recreational and educational opportunities.
A good example of a product of developers meeting the demand of new Polish lifestyles is Miasteczko Wilanów in Warsaw. Miasteczko Wilanów is one of the biggest residential projects in Europe that houses a large community of young business professionals who work in Warsaw. The project started in 2002 and it has become a complex of apartments that vary in type and size.
It is a home to over 10,000 people (Hamilton May 2024). Miasteczko Wilanów features many individual condominium developments as well as walking distance of Polish and international schools, multitudes of restaurants, wine bars and coffee shops, hiking/biking and recreational trails, beauty salons, shopping, and close proximity to the Warsaw airport and city center. Similar communities emerged in other Polish cities becoming a norm for Polish professionals.
Geopolitics, War, Refugees, and the Polish Housing Market
As a country representing the eastern border of the European Union and a neighbor of Ukraine, Poland was greatly impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This impact is evident in several ways: first there was an increase in Ukrainians moving to Poland. Due to its robust economy, Poland featured a significant population of workers from Ukraine even before the war.
Approximately 1 million Ukrainians lived in Poland prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine (Kusek 2019). The conflict in Ukraine just changed the dynamics of migration from Ukraine to Poland. After the conflict started, a significantly higher number of Ukrainians moved into Poland.
At the same time many Ukrainian men who had already been working in Poland left Poland to go to Ukraine and fight in the war–this resulted in the loss of a significant portion of the workforce working in the construction industry (PKO Bank Polski – Analizy Rynkowe). This resulted in a double-factor impact of housing–more people were looking for housing while fewer people were available to build.
Second, there has been a significant increase in the presence of American and other foreign military personnel in Polish cities, especially close to the border with Ukraine. While more localized to specific regions on Poland, press in Poland’s south-east region is broadly documenting the increase in housing costs, food prices, and development in response to the presence of thousands of American troops who are projected to stay there for the next ten years with some having the opportunity to relocate their family as well (Fakt.pl 2023).
Third, the conflict in Ukraine resulted in a transfer of capital from Ukraine to Poland. Refugees from Ukraine do not only represent economically challenged individuals, but many wealthy Ukrainians moved to Poland as well. High end condominiums and homes that did not sell for years were all of a sudden sold out.
Interestingly, Poland’s housing market is also affected by other geopolitical factors that are compounding the housing market’s challenges. First, Poland is seeing a higher number of immigrants from various places in the world–including dynamically increasing migration from former Soviet republics such as Georgia and Moldova. Immigration to Poland is also increasing from more distant places such as Africa, especially dynamically growing in terms of African students moving to Poland to study and from far-east Asia (Kusek 2024).
Lastly, as the world economy is changing, and the cost of living in places such as the United States is also sharply rising, many Poles who had left Poland decades ago are returning to Poland to retire or stretch their retirement dollars.
Social Changes Affecting Housing
In addition to economic and geopolitical factors influencing housing in Poland, it is critical to highlight the fact that part of the pressure on the housing market comes from the fact that Poles are also living different lives than their parents or grandparents. The key change in this area is that Poles, at least those who can now afford it, are abandoning multi-generational living.
In the not-so-distant past, it was not uncommon for extended families to serve as main caregivers to the elderly, with many families living together in multi-generational arrangements. However, relocating of young people to the cities, increasingly busy lifestyles, as well as the pursuit of professional careers and the resulting higher incomes are breaking up multi-generational family units.
Purchasing a smaller condo in the city is often seen as a status symbol compared to someone who stays in a small town or in a village and shares a house with their parents or parents in law. While Poland still has one of the highest percentage of young adults living with their parents (Money.pl 2023) multi-generational living is on the decline.
Urbanization and Emerging Suburbs
In the shadow of intensive urbanization and the process of city development, Poland is also experiencing another significant development – the emergence and development of suburbs (Olejniczak 2023). In the past, Polish cities often had two main environments–the city and surrounding rural areas. Suburbs in the American sense did not really exist in Poland until the 1990s and never achieved the same scale.
However, recently suburban living is taking off in Poland for several reasons. First, the high cost of real estate in city centers and lack of available plots of land for new development is pushing developers to build living communities outside of the city and also offers individuals the opportunity to buy land and build a custom home (Olejniczak 2023).
Suburban developments are often associated with lower pricing and frequently offer decent commuter infrastructure to get to the office. Second, the high industrialization in Poland is creating more and more suburban and rural employment opportunities. Poles no longer need to work in the city to have successful careers which opens us the possibility of suburban and local living. Lastly, in the post-COVID reality, like other nations, Poles have embraced outdoor lifestyles. Living in proximity to the water, forests, trails, golf courses, is becoming increasingly desirable and a counter-trend to big-city dreams. Flexible work arrangements are also enabling professional Poles to challenge the push to live in the city.
What is interesting in Poland is that suburban living offers a true mix of development. Single family, large square footage homes are common in the suburbs. However, city-like condominium developments are also very popular as they allow families to buy similar real estate as in the city center but for a significantly lower price. As such, many suburban areas are now dotted with apartment-style developments reminiscent of those in city centers.
Future of Housing in Poland
There are various, often conflicting opinions about the future of the housing market in Poland. The most common theme that emerges is that the housing market will somewhat cool off but housing prices will not decrease. The key factors influencing the predictions include often conflicting realities: immigration is projected to continue growing further increasing demand for living space, Polish incomes and spending power is also expected to grow further influencing the quality and features of new homes and developments, an increasing number of people is also looking for second homes or recreational properties by the seaside, in the Polish mountains, or countryside.
Finally, it is projected that up to 20% of real estate is now purchased as investment real estate intended for renting, and the rental market in Poland is booming. On the other hand, Poland has one of the fastest aging populations. The aging of the society will likely increase the number of apartments that will recirculate into the market but will also create demand for new living spaces catering to the needs of the elderly.
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