This is how Loucas Valetopoulos answers when asked about VALEUR, his real estate advisory company, which has made a name in the last 15 years as a quality advisor.
He is an economist (LSE graduate) and an ex Citibanker, with jobs in corporate and investment banking with BNPPARIBAS and ABN AMRO.
He was the person who set up ELKE. It was later named Invest in Greece, and is now called Enterprise Greece, a state organization promoting investment in Greece and exports of Greek products as well as the Golden Visa program.
The National Herald: How is coronavirus affecting the Greek real estate market?
Loucas Valetopoulos: In truth, we do not know; it all depends on how long the medical crisis will last, the support government will provide, and whether there will be long-lasting changes. There are no transactions, and deals have been withheld – as would be expected, but the phone has not stopped ringing. We all know tourism and the related services have been severely hit, but will this bring about closures? I do not believe so. The pressure is for prices to go down, but we do not see yet any considerable decline. If I were forced to say something general, I would say that the market is mostly responding by adjusting rents (the short term indicator) downwards and keeping steady the sale prices (the long term indicator).
TNH: What does VALEUR do?
LV: We offer the standard four services: brokerage/agency, valuation, property management, and development advice/investment advice and we are expanding carefully into property management. It is this package that differentiates the modern real estate advisor from the old-time broker. The key is valuation. It provides a reasoned opinion on any actual or envisaged transaction. Then, we can claim to advise owners and to users/investors.
TNH: What do you do differently from competition?
LV: We just put the client first – and we mean it! It is not super technology or fancy report writing – though we may do that too. Mostly, it is listening and delivering on time and budget. We get many customers who come to us when dissatisfied with other advisors.
TNH: You deal a lot with foreign buyers. What unique things do you do for them?
LV: We take the time to explain the local context in clear language and in a practical way. Also, we are not afraid to introduce them to other professionals.
TNH: Tell us some of your best achievements.
LV: Our very first deal: we acted as sole intermediaries in a lease transaction for a 6,500 square meter office building within a renowned building complex, which was the base for the Athens 2004 Olympics. It was a deal sought after by the entire market, yet we did it, and we were novices at the time.
Recently, we managed to provide three options, all suitable but very different in price, for the leasing of 1,250 square meters of offices for short term rental for an educational establishment with particular specifications (offices, classes, amphitheaters).
TNH: Some of your biggest mistakes?
LV: We decided a few years back to continue the successful relationship with an established traditional global real advisor and not to respond to the heavy flirting by a new-on-the-scene global advisor that was seeking a presence in Greece. The old global advisor no longer exists (in the original form), and the new global advisor is now doing well in Greece.
TNH: Tell me why I should come to you to buy or sell a property and not go to the big chains or the global advisors?
LV: They are supermarkets; we are a boutique. The big chains are suitable for standard properties. However, there might be unevenness of service and a quick turnover of personnel, and they do not provide real advice.
We have acted for three different global advisors in the past 15 years. But, for all other projects, or a second opinion, or genuine advice. I believe we are very well placed to help.
TNH: Have you dealt with Greek-Americans? Do you have any particular advice for them?
LV: We deal with Greek-Americans and other Diaspora Greeks. Greek-Americans are a very sizeable group and have kept contacts despite the distance. No particular advice except perhaps the following: choose collaborators as you should, by character and results, not by rumor or relations. Interestingly, a notable investor and an astute and early player in the field is Mr. Halikias. He is a Greek-American, and his Intercontinental REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) is the first non-bank-subsidiary REIT, though there are others.
TNH: Your first job was at Citibank at a time when Citibank was the undisputed world leader. Why did you leave such a position? How did you enter the real estate advisory business?
LV: I left young an excellent job within a leading global company. I was 29, I looked at some of the seniors, then around 45, and said to myself, "I do not want to become like them, and if I stay here, I will." The funny thing is that the next job was the exact opposite. A local outfit of four people who, however, completed a fantastic deal: a 100% 14-foreign-bank financed the leveraged buyout of a shipping loan portfolio at a premium, that was back in 1990 in Greece.
I entered the real estate advisory business by chance: I had left the Piraeus bank group and was looking for a job in 2004. I had earlier advised my brother to start a new career as a real estate broker, and I started doing it myself. The first big success came, and from then onwards, I never looked back.
TNH: You have worked for over 30 years in the private sector and yet headed a Greek state organization in 1996 (ELKE, later Invest in Greece, now Enterprise Greece). How did that feel?
LV: It was an accident. I was looking for a job change, and the post came up. The board of directors had representatives from all three main political parties; the selection process was exemplary, the decision unanimous, the chairman was a fascinating man. I fell in love with the job. It then catapulted me to top positions. I still have excellent friends from that time. Working for the common good, for your country, is unique, it is like being in the Olympics team, the top honors.
TNH: What is your longer-term view of the market?
LV: Greece is a no brainer for either a user or an investor. A lovely country, the most extended history, a colossal civilization, vast diversity of scenery within a 1.5-hour flight time from Athens, safe within the Eurozone, with affordable prices and large investment projects and structural market changes already happening: where else do you get this combination of positive factors? Just be careful with execution.