TBY talks to two executives in the real estate sector on entering the Kazakhstani market and future prospects for developing the industry.
How have you looked to build up your product and service portfolio across Kazakhstan?
STEVE BROWN During the property boom, less emphasis was placed on obtaining professional real estate services by either the developers or the banks. The collapse of the banking and property sectors has meant that all parties partake in genuine and stringent assessments of commercial real estate projects from conception to completion and subsequent asset management. Although the market remains slow, the developers that have survived the financial crisis, plus new developers entering the market, now seek a high level of consultancy support such as that provided by Veritas Brown | Cushman & Wakefield. Without wanting to “blow our own trumpet,” within the past three years we have established ourselves as the market leaders in the service lines that we provide. We have made great progress with developers who acknowledge our in-house expertise, and as a consequence we are working with the largest players in most sectors across the country, including notable infrastructure development support for the Kashagan project and the largest retail mall development in Almaty. We are also valuing asset portfolios for listed companies and large local corporations across the region.
GIANLUCA MATTIOLI We follow our customers’ desires, wishes, and needs, and rather than simply leaving the building to them once they move in, we continue to provide services as they operate their businesses. This is our policy—not only in Kazakhstan, but in all the countries in which we work. We have been in this country for 15 years now, and we have always been interested in practical, readily optimized projects. In Atyrau and Aksai, for example, we are building serviced apartments that will address the needs of tenants in the most efficient way possible. This approach is based on the idea that expatriates expect a certain level of comfort in their living space, and we conduct studies to ensure that we attain that standard in our projects. The same applies to our new construction. We did a similar study prior to beginning construction of our new 16-story building, and found that demand still exists. We provide services that no one else does, and once the new building is finished we believe there will be as much demand for space there as in the current one.
What is your outlook for the local market over 2012?
SB Restricted by tax consequences and limitations placed on banks directly operating property portfolios, the commercial real estate sector remains largely stifled by many of the banks’ inability to foreclose, write-off, or dispose of property-related non-performing loans (NPLs). We have seen an increased demand for development consultancy and valuation services, particularly in the last six months. This is encouraging, not only from the point of view that the industry is seeing a small but tangible revival, but also that developers are seeking professional advice from industry experts. Development activity is slowly increasing, but until the banks legacy property portfolios are resolved the revival will continue at the rate of a trickle. There is certainly room for significant commercial success in Central Asian property development—the question is not if, but when. We foresee modest growth in 2012.
GM In general, there are a lot of empty buildings in the market, at prices lower than ours, but we are performing better due to our high quality of service. Because of the over-supplied market, I don’t foresee many new projects starting. The only construction projects that are continuing are those financed by the government. There is still not much around compared to four years ago. As far as our operations are concerned, we hope to have our new building in Astana completed in the spring or summer of 2013. We have also presented a new project in Almaty, to be built on a piece of land we own behind our building there. The building will have a maximum of six floors, because Almaty is in a seismically active zone and we are a responsible company. Thankfully, our company is in good condition, but a crisis is a crisis. We are still seeking opportunities, as long as the commitment is long term. The project we finished in 2000 paid back our investment only three or four years ago. We estimate that it will take four-and-a-half years to fill our new 16-floor building.
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