A chat with Stephen Lahiri, Director of Lucas Fox’s Marbella office about life in Andalucía and the luxury property market
British-born Stephen Lahiri joined Lucas Fox at the beginning of 2012 with over 11 years’ experience managing sales teams in the Real Estate industry around the world. Prior to that, Stephen spent 5 years as an International Management Consultant in London and 3 years as Commercial Director for a Facilities Management company. At the start of 2013 Stephen became Director of Lucas Fox’s Marbella office.
JC: You joined Lucas Fox at the beginning of 2012, after over 11 years managing sales teams in the Real Estate industry in the Costa del Sol, the Middle East and Asia. What drew you to the company?
SL: Stijn (Teeuwen, Lucas Fox co-founder) and I are friends, having previously worked together in Marbella in 2003. When Stijn moved to Barcelona and established Lucas Fox with Alex, I stayed in Marbella for a further 3 years before accepting an opportunity to manage a newly established Real Estate Company in the Middle East. Although I enjoyed my time there and successfully grew the company up to a team of 40 people, I missed Europe and particularly Spain and so after 3 ½ years in Dubai and Qatar, and a short stint in India, I was looking for an opportunity to come back. I met Stijn and his family again whilst visiting Barcelona and he described and showed me what he and Alex had achieved with Lucas Fox. When they offered me the chance to join the team, I jumped at the opportunity!
JC: In your opinion, what makes Lucas Fox unique within the international luxury property market?
SL: Focus and professionalism but above all, old fashioned core values of honesty and integrity. We make the most of all opportunities, we always make sure that properties are accurately and legally listed before presenting them to a client and we provide a modern, cutting edge and professional approach to marketing.
JC: Whereabouts in Andalucía do you live and what is the area like?
SL: I live in a residential area called “Nueva Andalucia” (also known locally as Golf Valley). It is close to Puerto Banús and just 5 minutes from the beaches, yet it is a leafy and suburban area surrounded by 4 of the best golf courses in Marbella and in the foothills of Marbella’s famous La Concha Mountain. I love it because it is quiet and laidback, yet I am only 5 minutes from all the glitzy shops, and facilities of Banús, as well as the more Spanish town of Marbella with its traditional old town, cobbled streets, restaurants and Tapas Bars.
JC: How does Marbella compare to the many exotic places you have lived?
SL: Simply speaking, Marbella offers the best overall quality of life of anywhere that I have been. It has none of the stress of the cities where I have lived and worked, yet is still a truly international and sophisticated community with the standard and level of the services and facilities that you would expect to find in a large international city. But of course, the main attraction is the near perfect year round climate.
JC: How would you describe a typical day in your role as Director of the Lucas Fox Marbella office?
SL: Varied! To be honest there is no such thing as a typical day as my role involves so many different aspects; from meeting clients, meeting developers, managing the team, meeting with journalists and of course, the daily administration of the business. The main reason that I love this job is that it is a people-orientated business and I get to meet some really interesting people from all walks of life.
JC: Is there an established expat community in the area, and how important is this in your day-to-day life?
SL: Without a doubt, Marbella has a strong, established and sophisticated expat community, whilst the main population is still of course Spanish, which means that Marbella also maintains all the culture and traditions of this corner of Spain. From a residents’ point of view this provides a “best of both worlds’” scenario and one of the key reasons that the town attracts so many high profile international residents.
JC: Overall how important do you think it is to speak Spanish when relocating to Marbella?
SL: Personally I think that it is important to try to speak the local language in order to truly integrate into society. However, since Marbella is such an international town, it is perfectly possible to live and work in the town without speaking any Spanish at all. Indeed this is case for many expats and for some who have lived here for years.
JC: What advice would you give to others considering relocating to Marbella/Spain?
SL: Like any town there are many different communities and areas each which attract different nationalities, with varied facilities, infrastructure and price levels. When looking for a new home in Spain, it is as important to study and choose the area. Consider what it’s like living in the area on a day-to-day basis and throughout the year. Front line beach maybe great for a holiday home, but there may be other factors to consider for a permanent residence, ie not ideal in the high season or in the winter when many of your neighbours may be away.
JC: Can you describe in 3 words what you love most about Marbella?
SL: Climate, International, Quality.
JC: What, for you, have been the greatest benefits of living in Spain?
SL: The quality of life on a daily basis; less stress, less commuting, outdoor living, a great social life.
JC: After a few quiet years, Marbella’s property market has reignited. Which areas do you find are receiving the most interest and why?
SL: It is certainly true that the Marbella property market has reignited and that property sales have increased significantly in the course of the last year. The majority of interest has been within the prime and exclusive areas, often near the coast, including the Golden Mile, near Marbella Town and Puerto Banús, although there has also been a considerable increase in interest in exclusive residential areas that are sometimes situated further back from the seafront and therefore offer great views from a higher altitude; such as the Sierra Blanca and La Zagaletta areas.
There has also been a specific increase in interest in San Pedro de Alcantara, mainly due to infrastructural investments such as; a new bypass tunnel, a new promenade link that connects San Pedro to Puerto Banús and finally a 6 million Euro “Ramblas style” park, that is due for completion this summer.
JC: Recent figures show that sales to overseas investors in Spain are continuing to increase. The biggest increase most recently was in the Marbella area with a 25.5% increase in foreign sales. Where have the buyers come from and what are the main reasons they are buying?
SL: There has indeed been a change in the mix nationalities of clients buying in Marbella over the last 5 years from the traditional majority of UK citizens. The main nationalities buying nowadays are from; Russia, Middle East, Scandinavia (particularly Norway), France, Benelux countries, and of course still the UK. More recently since the new residency law for non EU citizens was passed in Spain, there has also been interest from clients from China and even India.
JC: Do you expect this trend to continue in 2014 and beyond?
SL: Yes I am sure that without a doubt Marbella is now set to become increasingly interesting and fashionable again, indeed we are seeing this with the number of celebrities who are now leading the trend, such as George Clooney, who recently purchased in the area.
JC: What impact do you think the new Spanish Residency law (entitling non-EU investors to automatic Spanish Residency when they spend 500 thousand Euros or more on property) will have on the local market?
SL: We are already receiving a significant increase in interest from “Residency” clients, particularly from China and the Middle East. The majority of these clients are looking for high-quality, managed properties that can provide a stable rental income. I believe that this will encourage the development of more quality and managed “aparthotel” style resorts and projects appealing to luxury clients.
JC: What measures has Lucas Fox taken to maximize this potential market?
SL: We have been particularly proactive in establishing key partnerships to manage and assist residency clients including identifying key partners in China and the Middle East as well as identifying and developing appropriate properties to promote to residency clients. We hope to have our own exclusive projects soon that are designed and developed specifically for residency clients.
JC: 2013 has been an exciting year of transition for Lucas Fox, what does 2014 have in store for Lucas Fox Marbella?
SL: After our first 8 months in Marbella we have now firmly established ourselves in the market and built up a strong and direct data base of some of the most exclusive properties in the area, all listed and vetted directly by ourselves. We have already made some key sales and are now receiving a steady pipeline of direct enquires both directly from our website and via our regional offices and international partners. 2014 will be a time of capitalising on the growth in the market and following our signing agreements with some important strategic partners. We expect to strengthen our position with “Residency clients” and will soon be marketing our own exclusive projects, (both off-plan and ready to move into). At the same time we will carry on expanding our portfolio of luxury properties and to help us achieve this we expect to further expand our team.