Six Russians who blew into Baltimore this week bought a house in Guilford and an office building and a vacant lot in Baltimore County -- all on their first day.
They found out how to transfer ownership, pay the taxes -- and complain to their elected officials.
They paid with funny money, but nobody minded since it was part of a five-week crash course in the legalities of private ownership for high-ranking Russian parliamentary staff -- key people helping to write a new Russian constitution.
The organizers wanted to walk the group through the experience of living with the American economic system, as opposed to having them sit through lectures by experts.
The Russians, of course, have a few problems to contend with in their country that Americans don't, as historian and group leader Dmitry Vyacheslavovich Klimov pointed out.
For example, Russia has no private banking, and therefore no credit system. So who do you call for a mortgage?
There are no private building contractors. Ditto for utility companies. In fact, Moscow hasn't been surveyed since 1916, so it's hard to figure out what lies where.
pTC Even if those problems were solved, very few Russians make enough to buy the kind of Ryland model house the group toured ($169,000 without a finished basement).
"I can buy three or five real wooden homes for the 200 million rubles this one would cost," Alexander Viktorovich Ostrometsky, parliamentary legal expert, pointed out.
Mr. Klimov said Russians can buy land from local governments, but not houses. He said his father has been building a house on a purchased plot for the past 10 years, a little at a time as he gets the cash. He buys the materials and does the work himself.
Anatoly Antonovich Eliseev, another Russian official, even had some marketing advice for Ryland Homes, which is building a pilot development in St. Petersburg: Don't advertise "frame" construction in Russia.
Over there, it means a hut with big cracks in the walls.
The Russians also visited Towson's government complex.
Woodlawn development engineer David S. Thaler was host for Wednesday's program.
The trip is sponsored by the American Foreign Policy Council, a Washington-based cultural exchange group funded half privately and half by the Agency for International Development.
This year's tour is a shorter, more practical version of an exercise first conducted last spring, said Elizabeth Derby, who represented the council.
The group also met County Executive Roger B. Hayden and other officials and tried to figure out a few things that have puzzled Marylanders for decades, such as how the counties and state divide authority over property and income taxes, and how elected officials from different levels of government divide their power.