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www.professionals.cz Professionals - Real Estate Agency V Celnici 1031/4, 110 00 Praha 1

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March 2009

Procure it Direct gets the goods C8


Q&A

Seeking professionals Real estate firm caters to expats’ every whim

VLADIMÍR WEISS/The Prague Post

Tomáš Duda founded his company, Professionals, 15 years ago. He learned the tricks of the trade while studying in Australia. BY SARAH BORUFKA

days.

FOR THE POST

T

omáš Duda, a native of Slovakia, had to criss-cross the globe before he finally found his true calling. While living in Australia, it was the realtor who had sold him his house there who convinced Duda that he needed to go into the business himself. Duda took his friend’s advice, went to school and got his realtor’s license. He eventually moved to Prague and, in 1993, founded his own company, Professionals, which recently celebrated 15 years on the Czech market. Today, Professionals finds itself a leading player on the Czech real estate scene. The company specializes in the mediation and sale of commercial real estate, the sale of apartment units in newly built apartment complexes and the mediation of residential leases. Professionals, which caters largely to the expat community, also provides a number of additional services such as marketing studies, project consultation and help with financing. The company that started with just two people now employs about 30. Taking time out of his busy schedule, Duda recently sat down with The Prague Post to discuss how the market has changed over the past two decades and what he’s working on these

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The Prague Post: Let’s talk a little about your professional background. Tomáš Duda: I learned about the [real estate] business in Australia when I was going to school there and got licensed. After finishing there, when I got to the Czech Republic, I had to start over and learn a lot of new things again, because, back then, the situation here was very different, and, at that point, I was teaching myself how to do everything. So I learned from experience and from other people. But I knew the basics from my time in Australia. TPP: How was the real estate market back then compared to now? TD: Very, very different. We started doing just residential business, so we would match people up with apartments. Very few people spoke English here back then, so that gave us an edge, and we started catering to all the expats in Prague. Later, we started mediating offices for people and gradually started doing more commercial business and sales as opposed to rentals. TPP: When did you start doing commercial business? TD: That was a gradual process, but people started asking us if we had any offices, and so we slowly started getting into

it, from 1994 onward. When the business increased, we opened up a commercial department to deal solely with commercial rentals.

TPP: Which do you find more difficult, the mediation of residential leases or commercial leases? TD: There is higher turnover in residential leases, definitely. It is a relatively quick thing: The client comes and tells us what they need. They see something they like, and then they take it. Commercial leases are more complicated. They tend to be bigger and involve more people. Sometimes, a whole firm moves from one location to another, which can take a while. Also, more people need to give their approval. And, with rentals, usually the people know what they like and what they can afford and make their own decision. But, of course, commercial rentals and sales are more lucrative. If we rent an apartment for 20,000 Kč [$904] a month, then we get a provision of that amount, and if we mediate a big office, then the rent can be several million [crowns], and our commission then is, of course, much higher. You definitely deal with two different sets of people. Residential clients are usually amateurs. They are not really specialists. In bigger commercial projects, both the owners and the clients usually understand the business. www.praguepost.com


PROFESSIONALS V Celnici 4, Prague 1 Tel.: 224 934 680 Web: www.professionals.cz

COURTESY PHOTO

Professionals is almost finished selling the 160 apartments in the Arboreum project.

TPP: What is the ratio of commercial to residential leases in your company? TD: In terms of rental mediation, it’s about 60 percent to 65 percent commercial business. The rest is residential. The kind of residential leasing we do involves a lot of expats, of whom there are fewer and fewer here. TPP: What do you think is different in dealing with expats as opposed to locals? TD: We don’t really deal with Czech clients. The majority of our clients are expats who work for firms that put them up and pay for their housing. So our clients are here on contracts and come from London, New York, Moscow, and get a job here for about two years. Czech people do not get housing provided to them by the firms they work for since they are from here. So they tend to be more willing to buy an apartment than foreigners, who might leave and go somewhere else after a few years. TPP: What are some of the bigger projects your company is working on at the moment? TD: Bigger projects are not really what we typically do in the residential leasing sector. It is more scattered apartments in different buildings. We do not really lease,

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say, 200 apartments in one apartment complex. At the moment, we are selling apartments in the Residence Viva. It is in Prague 9. There are about 160 apartments in that residence. Or Terasy Unhošť, which comprises about 50 houses. We are almost finished selling the 160 apartments connected with the Arboreum project [in Prague 5]. Those are some of our bigger residential projects. And then there are commercial projects, where we tend to do bigger projects more often. I am not that involved in the commercial projects.

TPP: So are most residential projects apartments sold as opposed to being rented out? TD: Yes. It is rare that newly built apartment complexes have units for rent. Rentals tend to be found in older buildings and parts of town like Staré Město or Vinohrady. There is one project in Vyšehrad, with about 200 units for rent in a newly built building, but that is the only such project I know of in Prague. TPP: What was the most challenging project you’ve ever worked on? TD: That’s hard to say. The first big residential project that we worked on was Kaskády Barrandov. That was 10 years ago, and it was one of the first multi-

unit residential buildings in Prague, so we learned a lot from that. It makes a difference if you are trying to sell one apartment here and another one there, or if you are trying to sell 50 apartments all in the same building. You have to deal with banks, mortgages and other complicated matters, which are not even that complicated once you know how to do them, but first you have to learn it. The banks back then also didn’t have a lot of experience with those kinds of projects. Now, we know how to do it — write out our conditions up front, come up with a payment schedule, all kinds of things, construction standards, etc. It is a complex process, but if you are constantly involved in it, you find that it is always pretty similar. As long as you have a good plan, all the other elements fall into place, and it is just the bureaucracy and paperwork that might complicate things.

TPP: What is the most interesting aspect of working in real estate? TD: I don’t really know how to answer that. I just enjoy it. It is hard to say what aspect of it I enjoy. Maybe that you have to deal with people a lot, which sometimes can be hard, but, most of the time, I like [it]. I’ve been in the business for 20 years, and it is hard for me to imagine doing anything else. TPP: Could you describe which aspect of your work you like the least? TD: When people don’t keep their promises; if they say they are going to sign something or make some other promise and then don’t keep it. It’s been happening less and less, fortunately. Even on a small scale, when a client is supposed to show up at 3 p.m. Friday and then doesn’t, those little things make your life harder, as well. When clients forget to pay, that is, of course, a bigger deal. But things have improved. People here are more reliable now than they were in the early ’90s, when nobody did what they said they’d do. Today, it only happens sometimes, but it bothers me. Sarah Borufka can be reached at realestate@praguepost.com

March 2009

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ARCHITECT

Unique passageways Kafka Center renovation the latest project for architect Marcela Steinbachová BY JOANN PLOCKOVÁ FOR THE POST

N

áhoda is the Czech word for chance and fortune. It is also the word local architect Marcela Steinbachová often uses when describing her career, which most recently included the renovation of Prague’s newly relocated Franz Kafka Center. Steinbachová’s involvement in the extensive project began in 2005 with an e-mail from the New York offices of Steven Holl. The renowned

Photos by MICHAEL HEITMANN/The Prague Post

Marcela Steinbachová (above right) helped renovate the newly relocated Franz Kafka Center with American architect Steven Holl.

C4 | REAL ESTATE | March 2009

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Photos by MICHAEL HEITMANN/The Prague Post

One building of the Franz Kafka Center includes a library and bookstore. The space is defined by its narrowness and black bookcases. American architect was coming to Prague and wanted to meet others in the business. Steinbachová, who, in addition to her own studio, also runs Kruh, an organization that hosts architectural-related lectures and other activities, agreed to help. During his trip, Holl paid a visit to the Kafka Center. He learned that the center was planning to move and that its new digs required extensive renovation. He asked Steinbachová if she wanted to work with him on the project. It was, as Steinbachová puts it today, náhoda. The center comprises two separate buildings.

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The first houses a bookstore and a library, designed solely by Steinbachová. The building is defined by its narrowness — the black woodframed bookcases lining the walls and the passageways leading to and from balconies containing small tables that pull out from this upper area’s bookcases. “It should be a place with books and some hidden places,” Steinbachová says. The back door of the library opens into a small courtyard, leading to the second building and the offices of the Franz Kafka Society, a nonprofit organization that runs the Kafka Center. This building, which was once a former storage area,

also houses a concert and exhibition space on the lower level, as well as a replica of Franz Kafka’s personal library. The renovation done here was a collaborative effort between Steinbachová and Holl. “In the beginning, the [building] was completely destroyed. It was very dark and wet,” said Markéta Mališová, director of the Franz Kafka Society. “The office was very depressing with only two windows, and the house was very small — only 85 square meters.” The architects used skylights, windows and black-and-white bookshelves to maintain the feel of the original building while introducing a con-

March 2009

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Photos by MICHAEL HEITMANN/The Prague Post

Franz Kafka Society Director Markéta Mališová (above left) is pleased with architect Marcela Steinbachová’s inspiring vision. temporary, open look. Vaulted ceilings on the lower level and unique views from the windows also help characterize the space. “You can see the Maisel Synagogue,” Steinbachová notes. “Also, I found a small street in old photos. These windows [look out onto] the old street.” The center is located in the city’s former ghetto, where, in the 19th century, Czechs, Germans and Jews lived together. Many of the streets and original buildings have been abolished over the years. This street is private, and today can be viewed from the Kafka Society’s windows, Steinbachová points out. There are more hidden passageways here, including a spiral staircase leading from the office to the lower level and two original sets of stairs: one that is used by the public to reach the lower level, and another leading to the rooftop, which can be used for special events during the summer months. The unique passageways that led to Steinbachová’s career began when she entered Charles University, where she worked toward a degree in humanities. “Along with psychology and philosophy, I could also study other subjects like art. I could study what I wanted, so it was good for me,” says Steinbachová, who wanted to be a psychologist and philosopher throughout high school. While she embraced the benefits of the program, Steinbachová felt unsettled. “I felt I had to create something. I felt I can’t only speak about things that someone has already spoken about before,” she explains. Her restlessness and creative energy eventually led to architecture. After graduating from Charles University, Steinbachová attended the University of Applied Arts and, later, Prague’s Academy of Fine Arts, where she graduated in 2003 with a degree in architecture.

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At first, Steinbachová dove into the business by herself before collaborating with a friend and opening Skupina, a Vinohrady studio, in 2007. Despite being only 34, Steinbachová has already worked on some highly respected projects, including the 2008 renovation of Kino Světozor, Ostrava’s Arena Theatre and the National Technical Museum in Prague, which is still in progress. However, the project she values the most from a professional standpoint is one that never materialized. “About two or three years ago, we [Skupina] entered a competition for the renovation of Wenceslas Square,” Steinbachová says. “We didn’t win, but were very satisfied with the project.” Steinbachová’s plans for the project featured a new square underneath the existing one, with an underground transportation system that could be viewed through a glass surface. Despite the loss, her plans were written about in Mladá fronta Dnes, one of the main Czech dailies. “We received a lot of e-mails from the young generation [saying] they liked it,” she says. “This was very satisfying.” These days, Steinbachová says she would like to move beyond interiors and exhibition work. “I would like to do normal houses,” she says. Skupina is small, however, which makes it complicated for the studio to get the larger, more expensive, projects. “If you can find an investor for me [who] wants to do a family house, a house in the city or a hotel, I will be very glad,” Steinbachová laughs. “The best would be to do some cultural institution — a new museum, a church or theater.” But, for right now, Steinbachová smiles. “My wish is to do houses.”

SKUPINA Šafaříkova 15 Prague 2 Tel.: 776 565180 E-mail: ms@skupina.org Web: www.skupina.org

Joann Plocková can be reached at realestate@praguepost.com

www.praguepost.com

FRANZ KAFKA CENTER Široká 14 Prague 1 Tel.: 224 211 850 Web: www.franz kafka-soc.cz


The next issue comes out Apr. 15, 2009.

Looking for a home Looking for an office Everything you need to know about the Real Estate market. Call to advertise now! Contact Eva Kopečková at 296 334 408 or ekopeckova@praguepost.com www.praguepost.com www.praguepost.com

March 2009

| REAL ESTATE | C7


PROFILE

Cost-saving solutions Procure it Direct is helping hotels and other businesses ride out the recession BY JOHANNA BREEN FOR THE POST

T

he sour economy apparently hasn’t left everyone in a lurch. In fact, Procure it Direct (PiD), a global procurement company that specializes in buying goods for the construction, development, retail and architecture sectors, reports business is booming — and growing. With its headquarters in Prague, PiD is one of the fastest-growing companies in the Czech Republic. The 2-year-old company also has branch offices in London, Dubai, Hong Kong and Guangzhou, a city in southern China. The company is also mulling a possible U.S. location. “They have literally grown so fast in the last two years,” notes Brendan Donnellan, who is a part of the company’s public relations team. “Because their business model is ‘value engineering,’ it is clear that this ... will do well in the current climate.” Value engineering — getting the same product but tailored to different specifications or brands — is also effective in reducing costs. Basically, the company can choose to buy a lamp through traditional supply chains or buy it from PiD for a fraction of the cost. PiD buys from all over the world — not just from cheaper manufacturing regions in the Far East, but also from within Europe. In essence, the company can procure just about anything from cups to sofas, says Andrew Smith, who left a managerial position at Orco a few years ago to establish PiD. Quality control is important, and PiD staffers refuse to compromise quality to clinch a deal. Nonetheless, the company prides itself on being able to provide products up to 40 percent cheaper than the competition. “We’ll procure anything [within reason] for anyone, and we’ll get them the best price on the day internationally,” Smith says. Getting the “best price” is achieved on several levels. Firstly, rather than having an internal purchasing department, companies can outsource to PiD, using the service only when needed with no associated overhead costs. Secondly, the three-way relationship between the client, PiD and the manufacturer cuts out the middleman. “People say, ‘But aren’t you the middleman?’ and, of course, we are, but we’re only one middleman, not six,” Smith says. A common misconception is that PiD is a wholesaler. The company doesn’t hold stock and doesn’t provide goods straight away. Instead, PiD contacts suppliers with client orders and prefers to be involved in the early stages of a project so it has time to negotiate the right deal exactly. So far, the company appears to be off to a great start. It has several multimillion-crown contracts in the works already and has helped to outfit a number of local hotels, including the Marriott Courtyard and the newly opened Kempinski off Wenceslas Square. PiD has also been behind the look of some of the Suncani Hvar hotels in Croatia and Hiltons all over the world. Smith says his company is ambitious but sensible, refusing to take on too much at once and

C8 | REAL ESTATE | March 2009

VLADIMÍR WEISS/The Prague Post

PiD’s Martina Schopperová says there is “always a possibility” to cut prices. let clients down. People are a crucial part of the PiD mix. The company recruits people from different industry backgrounds who better understand the needs of the clients in their field. Additionally, PiD employs staff who are able to negotiate better

prices. Currently, the company has 34 employees around the globe with 15 in its Prague offices. As the company has grown, it has expanded the range of industries it specializes in. Within the team are people managing the database, logistics and internal purchasing, as www.praguepost.com


Editorial Julie O’Shea Special Sections Editor Tel.: 296 334 440 joshea@praguepost.com Advertising Eva Kopečková RE Sales Executive Tel.: 296 334 408 ekopeckova@praguepost.com

Next issue April 15, 2009 Advertising closes: April 6, 2009 Cover image: By Vladimír Weiss/ The Prague Post The Prague Post Real Estate section is a monthly supplement of The Prague Post published by Prague Post, spol. s r.o., under license MKČR5971. ISSN 1210-3934 © 2009 Prague Post, spol. s r.o. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited by law.

VLADIMÍR WEISS/The Prague Post

PiD CEO Andrew Smith left a managerial position at Orco to establish his own company. well as project managers, each specializing in a different industry. PiD’s database is central to its operations, consisting of more than 4,000 worldwide contacts. Building it involves meeting suppliers, vetting them and finding out about how they work; so it is more than simply a list of contacts. Client satisfaction and word of mouth have also proved a reliable means of promotion. Employees have lots of contacts, many of whom have stayed loyal to them rather than their company, following them when they moved to PiD. Working with so many different global cultures has also been a learning experience. Something that works in one country, for instance, won’t necessarily work in another. Although everyone is scattered worldwide, there is still a community feeling here. Twice a year, all staff meet in a chosen destination to talk about projects and procedures, which has been a good team-building exercise. Each week, there is also a conference call to share experiences and news. There’s no rivalry between the branches, explains Martina Schopperová, PiD’s European managing director. Rather, there is a sense of working together toward a common goal. There have also been many happy coincidences along the way. Last year, for instance, PiD found itself working with a French hotel. Everything was finalized, Schopperová says, but the client was hoping to pull a French-speaking project manager on board. On her way to Bratislava one day, Schopperová found herself stuck in traffic behind a pileup on the highway. Getting out of her car to wait out the jam along the roadway, she started talking with a Czech man sitting nearby www.praguepost.com

who had just got back from French Canada, where he had been in the furniture business. As it turned out, he was looking for a job and appeared to be the perfect candidate. Not only could he speak French fluently, but he had the experience needed to get the job done right. Schopperová believes that PiD’s setup is such that “anyone can use us. … We have the skills available and a huge potential.” She says the service is relevant for anybody who “has a feeling there is some money leaking somewhere.” In tough times, companies have two choices: cut their buying prices or raise their selling prices. The good news for PiD clients is that there is “always a possibility” to cut prices, Schopperová says. Johanna Breen can be reached at realestate@praguepost.com

PROCURE IT DIRECT Lighthouse Building Jankovcova 2c Prague 7 Tel.: 226 218 511 E-mail: info@ procureitdirect.com Web: www.procureit direct.com

March 2009

| REAL ESTATE | C9


COURTESY PHOTOS

The newly opened Barceló Old Town Praha relies heavily on natural lighting and presents its guests with many unique open spaces.

Spanish sol Windows galore brighten up the Barceló C10 | REAL ESTATE | March 2009

BY JACY MEYER FOR THE POST

W

hen the lobby of a hotel is covered by a skylight, you notice. When the hallways are one-wall windows, you notice. Barceló, a new hotel near náměstí Republiky, has certainly brought in the sunshine. “Not many hotels have daylight in the lobby. It’s a dominate feature of the building,” says Lina Boudníková, the hotel’s sales and marketing director. A wall of glass doubles as the entry doors, giving you your first impression that this hotel is looking to show itself off from the inside, while a long passageway lined with wood on one side, and a ruby wall on the other brings the “outside” into the reception and lobby area. This space was originally the www.praguepost.com


INTERIORS courtyard, but designers covered it with a skylight and added track lighting. “Architects used a lot of glass and light; the interiors are quite modern even though it’s a historic building,” Boudníková says. The architects “played with colors and metal combined with wood.” The materials are what dominate the hotel, much more than the occasional use of color. The reception desk is wood, while the exposed brick on parts of the lobby walls gives guests a sense of the building’s history. Off the lobby is a small café-bar, the South Lounge Bar. Dimly lit with a curved ceiling, it offers a quiet place to sit and relax. The long space is filled with creamy white leather chairs huddled around frosted glass tables. The bar is dominated by a hanging rack of glass and metal, used to display a variety of spirits and glasses. An entrance from the street makes it attractive for passers-by. The hotel has a couple of separate entrances, including two from its ground-floor restaurant, Zlatý Anděl Fusion. Longtime residents will probably remember that there used to be a restaurant here called Zlatý Anděl. Now redone and renamed, Zlatý Anděl Fusion is subtly divided into three rooms. Upon entering, you’ll find yourself in the cafélounge area, complete with dark wood floors and tables paired with black leather chairs. And, of course, loads of windows.

“People are sometimes afraid to go to a hotel restaurant, so we want to be welcoming from the street,” Boudníková says. The restaurant also features a small bar area with a couple of tables. Notice the lit panels fronting the actual bar. Boudníková says the panels can be changed out based on the season or by request for private parties. The look is replicated in the privacy panels in the restaurant. The restaurant’s dark wood floors meld into light. The lighter colored wood can also be found on a long bench stretching the length of the room. Wooden walls dominate the left side, while the signature ruby wall is on the right. Thin, rectangular light panels are inlaid in the floor and extra decoration and lighting is shared via frosted, hourglass-shaped lamps sitting on the window sills. The Barceló has 62 rooms. Each is slightly different, thanks to the quirks of a historic building. A strong stone staircase passes through every floor, which are interestingly decorated with mosaic landings and marble columns. Since the building is built around a courtyard, the hallways surround this natural feature. Windows run alongside the interior of the hotel, allowing you to look down on the lobby or across to the building’s other side. “On the floors, you feel the history, while the rooms are quite modern,” Boudníková says. Indeed, the hallway walls sport large black-and-white photos of up-close Prague architectural curiosities, like busts, statues and sculptures. Even the

guestroom doors are appealing, with old-fashioned gold-handled knobs. The rooms provide a mix of neutral colors paired with strong black furnishings. Browns, beiges, grays, tans and creams dominate the color spectrum. Decoration here is in the form of large, close-up photographs of leaves. Colors from these photos, be it green or blue, are highlighted elsewhere in the rooms. Bathrooms are well-lit with big sinks. It’s a historic building, so rooms randomly have interesting wall nooks, mosaics and sometimes ceiling moldings. The building dates to medieval times, when it was actually four separate buildings, one of them a brewery. The 17th century saw the buildings connected and transformed into a hotel, with notable guests such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the queens of Greece and Denmark checking in. The classicist facade was added in the 19th century. Copa Management oversaw the transformation of the building, which was completed in May 2007. The building wasn’t managed as a hotel, however, until Spanish operator Barceló came in two months before the opening last December. The hotel has been open for less than three months, and the interiors are doing their job. “It’s a design interior but not cold feeling,” Boudníková says. “Guests feel like they are at home; the rooms are like living rooms. They like that it is spacious with lots of daylight and a combination of modern and historic.”

BARCELÓ OLD TOWN PRAHA Celetná 29 Prague 1 Tel.: 222 337 810 Web: www.barcelo.com Opened: December 2008 Owner: Copa Management Operator: Barceló Hotels & Resorts Architect: Tichý & Kolářová

Jacy Meyer can be reached at

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March 2009

| REAL ESTATE | C11


C12 | REAL ESTATE | March 2009

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Real Estate Guide - March 2009 by PraguePost.com