Interview with Stephen Lahiri, Director of Lucas Fox Marbella, in En Sueco magazine
Tell us a little bit about Lucas Fox, why was it established, where do you operate and what do you think sets it apart from the other real estate agencies in the area?
Lucas Fox was founded in Barcelona in 2005 by Stijn Teeuwen and Alex Vaughan, two entrepreneurs, from Holland and the UK respectively, who had both studied law. They met in Barcelona through mutual friends. Stijn and I had previously worked together in Marbella during the boom years for one of the biggest real estate companies on the coast. We learnt a lot of lessons from that experience before eventually deciding to change direction – Stijn moved to Barcelona to establish Lucas Fox and I moved to the Middle East to manage a newly set up company in Dubai.
Many of the principles of Lucas Fox were to a large extent formed as a result of our experiences. We vowed to focus on professional values and principles, focusing on quality marketing and realistically priced property as well as avoiding the typical “hard sell” techniques previously used to convince buyers to buy properties off plan in order to “flip” for profit.
These basic principles have served the company very well and so whilst many other real estate companies and the industry were in decline during the economic crisis, Lucas Fox steadily grew to become the leading independent real estate agency in Barcelona and subsequently opened offices in the Costa Brava, Sitges, Ibiza and Mallorca.
Lucas Fox is now the biggest private independently owned real estate agency in Spain with more than ten offices including: three in Barcelona, Madrid, Ibiza, Mallorca, Valencia, Costa Brava, Maresme, Sitges, Marbella and Andorra.
Who are your main clients and what kind of properties do they tend to look for?
From the outset Lucas Fox has focused on listing good quality and well priced properties, typically at the higher end of the market (over €500,000). We do not work as a part of any MLS data base and personally are fully familiar with all properties we promote.
Most of our potential buyers are from overseas, but the nationality depends on the area in which a client is looking. For example many clients buying in the Costa Brava are from France and the UK, whereas there is a much more varied mix of nationalities buying in Marbella, coming from the Middle East, USA, Russia, Northern Europe and of course a very large number from Scandinavia.
Most of our clients are much more design, quality, and location orientated than in the past. Subsequently these buyers tend to prefer new build, modern, designer style properties in key accessible locations, over the more traditional style properties further back from the coast.
You started working in real estate on the Costa del Sol in 2001. How has the property landscape changed since then?
Both the mix of nationalities and the properties clients are after have changed considerably. 15 years ago the vast majority of buyers were UK and Irish retirees looking for a second home. There were also a high number of investors speculating by buying off plan properties to “flip”. Nowadays the average age of buyers seems to be lower and they are much more evenly mixed in terms of nationality. There also seems to be much more focus on contemporary designs. Finally, most buyers are now buying for their own personal use and not for speculation.
Where do you think the opportunities currently lie for the savvy investor looking to buy in this area?
The market has picked up significantly over the last 1 to 2 years yet there is a lack of modern, quality properties on the market due to the lack of building over the last 7 years. Many owners of existing properties are in negative equity and now that they see the market picking up, they are less prepared to negotiate prices further. At the same time, developers are starting to launch new projects (15 new projects already released this year) and they are selling fast. This can create a confusing picture for buyers, who perceive that there is still a glut of properties available at knock down prices. Prime locations are hot, and anything close (walking distance) to the beach and with facilities is selling quickly. It really is all about location!
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of buying in Marbella, and what potential pitfalls should they avoid?
1) Check that your agent is an established agency with a registered office and complies with Andalucia law by completing a “DIA” (check list of legal paperwork) for every property that they promote directly on their website, brochure or in their shop window.
Avoid the many “one man bands” that work from their home. You will have no security if anything should go wrong and they often do not comply to the law. It is a legal requirement in Andalucia that the “listing agency” complete a “DIA” . In reality, however, many, most smaller agents and some bigger ones don’t bother.
2) Avoid working with too many agents. Choose one and try and stick with him or her.
Unlike in Scandinavia most sellers register their properties with multiple agents. In Marbella a good agent should be working for you as a “buyers agent”. This means that as well as showing you his own “listings” (properties), he can and indeed should be showing you properties via other agents also. There are many properties on the market in Marbella and so his job and expertise should be identifying your specific requirements and then picking out and showing the best properties in the market available for you.
Lucas Fox Marbella has recently opened a new Property Lounge, what is the concept behind the Property Lounges and what prompted you to take this step now?
We now have six Lucas Fox Property Lounges – two in Barcelona, one in Maresme, one in Sitges, one on the Costa Brava and more recently one in Marbella. The Lounges are a new concept in retail space which sets us apart from traditional agencies. They are designed to be a professional yet relaxed environment for both sellers and potential buyers, whilst representing and enhancing the core Lucas Fox values of integrity, creativity and professionalism.
2015 is a significant year for Lucas Fox as it celebrates its 10 year anniversary. What do you think has been the secret to the company’s success during the last 10 years?
The company has grown significantly over the last 10 years and importantly, without any external investment. We now have around 100 multilingual staff including sales and rentals agents, support staff and a dynamic in-house PR and Marketing team. I believe that our success can be attributed to our focus on professionalism and high levels of customer service but above all due to the people we employee and who represent us.
What plans does Lucas Fox Marbella have for the rest of 2015 and beyond?
Lucas Fox opened our Marbella office 2 years ago. We have had some significant sales during that time and we have now firmly established ourselves in an increasingly competitive and rapidly changing market. We intend to continue to consolidate our position in the future and will be making some key appointments to help us do so. We are particularly focused on bringing some new projects to the region and are working closely with some key developers and partners to start marketing these exciting new projects very soon.