As we enter another growth year, I thought it worth taking the time to reflect on how we can help buyers, investors and existing owners of Romanian real estate.
Now in our 8th year in Brasov and Bucharest, we have a significant amount of experience in most aspects of investment property, and good contacts for where we dont have the internal expertise, such as mortgages, legal help and company administration. Many of our clients have come to us in desperation from other service providers. You don’t move property managers easily. Moving you bank is easier & how often in a lifetime does that happen?
So if someone moves from their Property Manager, there must be very real problems & in the past 3 years, perhaps 40 have moved to us from elsewhere. Whilst we are flattered, naturally, it highlights what a mess some of the other companies are making of things thereby damaging investment portfolios, property investment reputation, and indeed national reputation. Problems range from simple lack of care or attention, to straight up theft of rent and furniture. Not all Property Management and real Estate companies are like this! I don’t want to scare people. But I could can name at least a handful in Bucharest that fully qualify for most all of these traits.
The first masses of foreign investors in the 2004-2008 wave of property buying were met with a barrage ‘get-rich-quick’ pop up service providers offering to provide all required services to buy, optimize and rent out their investment property. Many investors found, sadly, that they paid out & got very little in return. Some victims even formed a self help group to fight back after being ripped off in a very total sense. The sad reality is, even when investors got a fair to good deal on their property, as soon as the market got tough, i.e. 2008, many of the service providers totally vanished. Not a sound from any of them ever since. Even respected names such as Property Secrets retracted, leaving stranded investors to cope for themselves with little or no support. As a result, many investors sold their properties in despair at hugely reduced rates. It is common knowledge in Romania, that if you want a bargain property, look first at from a foreign owner
I myself never followed the mass route, skeptical of these new upstarts claiming to have vast market experience despite only ever having visited the country a few times! So I took the independent route & bought directly from sellers. I made plenty of mistakes too, don’t get me wrong. When I was unable to get consistent help managing my own portfolio, I put my UK life in the automotive industry on hold, designing what some might describe as automotive erotica, aka Aston Martin, to set up & manage White Mountain Property. Slowly buy steadily we have grown to be the leading property manager for Brasov initially, and we are a respected force in Bucharest.
But I was compelled to write this article after 2 investors in the past month have come to us in wanting to buy property, renovate it and then to manage it. They both described the trouble they had in finding trust worthy service providers.
Existing clients will learn absolutely nothing from reading this. But investors and owners who have not worked with White Mountain will not be aware of all the work the team has done over the past 8 years to reach this position. We continued to grow though the very tough times, when many other providers evaporated in the absence of incomes. We exist primarily as solution based providers, and have in a great many cases, operated at cost, to assist clients get their property back on its feet. This is what has separated us. Many providers will not want to help at all unless there is a healthy profit involved, yet some owners are not in a position to afford this. For example, if an apartment needs a total renovation and furnishing to make it rentable, there is not always room to add big profits. If the property was in the owners own country, they might complete the work themselves to overcome this. But when it is in Romania, they don’t always have that luxury. I made a promise a few years ago on an investor blog for example, that for any of the many clients ripped off by MRI (MacAnthony Real Estate International) by paying for furniture packs they never received, I would personally provide one for them at cost price. 2 Greenfield Residence clients took up this offer in order to get their places rented. In both cases these apartments have been rented almost continuously with a 6 or 7% yield.
I don’t want to pretend we are a charity. We are here to stay, and grow. And in order to do that we need to invest in people, skills, offices, equipment, advertising, transportation and so on. You cannot do this without profit. But it is a balance. Investors need to optimize their property to get the best returns and after purchasing costs, it can be difficult to stretch to add luxury rental furniture. In cases like this we are sometimes often able to help by providing the furniture ourselves and delaying repayment until a rental stream is created. In one case, a Citylights Pipera owner from Scotland had a totally bare 1 bedroom apartment without so much as a light bulb or kitchen tap, under the care of another Property Manager for 3 years un rented. He moved to us in frustration but was unable to find the 5k needed to convert the apartment to a usable state. So we funded the work at 0% interest and once rented, we recovered the loan quickly. In that example, the apartment has been rented at top value, for every week since the work was completed in March 2012.
This morning we agreed a sale with a foreign buyer, who needs renovation, furnishing and subsequent managing for his new Piata Unirii apartment. With prices at their lowest for 6 years and climbing slowly, now is a perfect time to invest if you are looking for annual returns of around 4 to 7%, with capital growth in the long term on the horizon. Equally, there is a very strong demand in Bucharest and Constanta for good quality property due to its very short supply. There are plenty of medium quality apartments in these cities for rent, but very few available that constitute high quality or luxury. As you saw in the above example, it does have to cost a lot to prepare a luxury apartment for rent. It has much more to do with good taste and effort than money. If you have a property in Romania that is not performing as well as it should, please get in touch and lets see how we can turn that around for you.
Director, White Mountain Property