Never have so many of the once-humble Norwegian mountain cabins called a “hytte” been sold as last year, and sales during the Easter holiday week have shocked brokers. At the same time, though, conflicts are rising over everything from new developments to the high property taxes charged by the local governments where hytte communities are located.
New statistics released by the analysis firm Prognosesenteret show that around 30,000 Norwegians bought a hytte last year, of which 7,000 were newly built. State broadcaster NRK reported that all indications are the trend will continue this year, with large turnouts of prospective buyers at showings and agreed sale prices often several hundred thousand kroner over appraised values.
When 15 couples showed up at one advertised “open hytte” showing at Hovden in the mountains above Setesdal, they had to line up outside because they couldn’t all fit into the 70-square-meter hytte at the same time.
Market ‘boiling over’
“I’ve worked at Hovden for 14 years and I have never experienced anything like it,” Eivind Bjorå, a broker for real estate firm DNB Eiendom, told NRK. He and a colleague sold five hytter in just one day earlier this week. “The hytte market is boiling over,” he claimed.
There also have been reports of mountain resort condominiums selling briskly, with one developer at Geilo pulling in NOK 50 million after selling nine units in his new project in the course of a day. Bjørn-Erik Øye, a hytte market analyst at Prognosesenteret, confirmed the unusually strong market: “There’s been an explosion during the past two years, and we are surprised the pressure is staying so high.”
Øye points, though, to post-war baby-boomers reaching retirement age who want holiday condominiums or are buying free-standing hytter for their families. Others are selling their existing cabins and buying much larger ones with all the comforts of home. A resurgent national economy with low unemployment also helps.
Property tax protests
There’s not only jubilation among hytte owners, though, many of whom have been hit by huge and unexpected increases in the property tax charged by the local municipality. Politicians in popular hytte communities like Ringsaker and Lunner have come to view holiday property as a lucrative source of new or more tax revenues, and hytte owners often pay more than permanent residents for such public services as garbage collection and hooking up to the local electricity network.
NRK reported that around 250 hytte owners at Bjønnåsen in Ringsaker turned up last weekend for a meeting to plan protests against local authorities, after their property tax bills skyrocketed this year. The local politicians had decided, like those in Lunner and many others, to reassess tax values of properties bought long ago, and in some cases tax bills rose by 80 percent.
“Enough is enough,” claimed the leaflets piled up on a table at the modest hytte owned by Birger Lillesveen. It’s part of a relatively old Bjønnåsen hytte community in Ringsaker that lacks both electricity and water, but that didn’t stop local officials from nearly doubling some of the hytte owners’ property taxes.
Taxation without representation
“We feel like we’re being punished for the contributions we’ve made for many years,” Birger told NRK, noting that the hytte owners themselves organize and pay for preparation of ski trails and snow removal from local roads. They don’t feel they’re benefiting from much if any local public services, also after contributing to the local economy through their purchases of local goods and services.
What’s worse, like many owners of holiday property nationwide, they’re subject to taxation without representation. They can only vote in their home community, not where they own holiday property. Local politicians can’t be threatened with being booted out of office.
“The tax hikes are viewed as unfair,” acknowledged Maja Farstad, a researcher who has written a thesis on conflicts in municipalities with lots of hytter. Other conflicts range from the approval of new hytte developments that spoil open space for their existing neighbours, to local allowance of noisy snowmobiles and local grazing rights that allow sheep and cattle to wander onto hytte property and leave smelly signs of their visits behind.
Anita Ihle Steen, mayor of Ringsaker, told NRK she’s accustomed to receiving letters, emails and phone calls from angry hytte owners, with many of the protests leading to front-page stories in both local and national media. She claims that conflicts are unavoidable and she doesn’t fear for the reputation of Ringsaker, home to major sikiing and hytte areas like Sjusjøen.
“You can’t have large development without conflict,” Steen told NRK. Farstad cautioned, however, that local politicians shouldn’t make hytte owners feel like they’re ignored in political processes. Protests will only escalate, and put regions that have come to rely on hytte owners as a source of eoonomic development in an favourable light.