OVER 100 PROJECTS IN 2019

Spain 2020 | REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to José I. Morales Plaza, CEO of Via Célere, on the company's evolution, trends in Spanish real estate, and ambitious construction targets.

What are the activities of Via Célere? What is the origin of the company and how has it evolved in recent years?

Via Célere was founded in May 2007 by Juan Antonio Gómez Pintado, the former Chairman, alongside four people with the vision of growing internationally. The first operations were in Brazil and Bulgaria, followed by Poland, from 2008 to 2010. The economic crisis hit Spain dramatically, and the real estate sector sunk, though several opportunities emerged. Some financial entities were identifying experienced operators and servicers that could develop the number of assets they were recovering from defaulting clients. In 2010 and 2011, Vía Célere reached an agreement with some of these financial entities, and that implied the return of our activities back to Spain. In 2011, Vía Célere reached an agreement with Bankia, Banco Sabadell, and Catalunya Caixa, and in 2012, a lot of opportunities were identified to start the development activities as an independent home builder. Via Célere has been, since its early days, a fully owned construction company that today executes between 30 to 40% of its projects. In 2017, different international funds approached the founder in order to acquire Spanish operations. Via Célere was evnetually sold to a group of funds led by Värde Partners. I joined the company as the CFO in November 2018 and in June 2019, I was promoted to CEO, when the chairman and founder of the company decided to leave.

Via Célere has a strong commitment to innovation and industrialization. How do you embody this in your projects?

We have more than ten internationally recognized innovations in our business operations. Our philosophy is to do something different from what the industry has done in the past in order to be better: from better design, more efficient construction techniques or more comfortable homes. We have many challenges ahead, but one we specially care about is the environment. Our sector has had a significant negative impact on the environment, and that is why today we have transformed all our projects in eco-friendly ones. We have been building homes almost the same way in the last 50 years, so we need significant efforts in terms of innovation and industrialization. These two factors automatically imply cheaper and better homes and therefore, better access for young people. We, as a society, need to guarantee that people between 24 and 35 years can afford homes. This must be a priority for any given country, including Spain.

What is the commitment of Via Célere to building energy-efficient flats?

Right now, 80% of our projects have an “A" energy efficiency rating, the highest one. We work on these environmental topics with the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM) in order to analyze and further develop the goals set by the UN for our sector. One of the most relevant ones is water consumption during the construction process. We provide data to the UAM in order to validate the efficiency of our operations. In the case of our developments, the consumption profile is of 6-7cbm per sqm. One of our commitments based on these results, is to return 20% of the water consumption we incurred. We cannot do it directly because water is not generated in our operations, but we can collaborate financially with NGOs and other institutions in order to develop new technologies to improve sanitation and irrigation, among many other projects.

Vía Célere has several offices throughout Spain. Does Madrid have the potential to develop its real estate?

Madrid is a very dynamic city and it has its own growth drivers if you compare it with other mid-size cities in Spain. It can be considered a mature market since there are very few land plots to be developed in the downtown area, but if you go outside the core of the city, new neighborhoods are emerging in an extremely dynamic and vivid way. Madrid was the first city to recover from the crisis and became a focus of attraction for all players in the sector. Of course, that implied an increase in construction costs, but also in retail prices. Going forward, one of the big problems of Madrid is the availability of fully permitted land plots.

Has Via Célere considered entering new markets such as logistics or offices, the hottest sectors in real estate in Spain currently?

We have been always a home developer and we will remain as such since this is our area of expertise. There are other attractive segments within the real estate arena, but they require additional know-how that we do not have. It is clear for us that the long term trends point out to a significant increase in volume and price of the e-commerce goods, and this will impact the way logistics are designed today (probably in the future it will make more sense to have huge warehouse facilities outside the cities and small storage capacity premises to reach the last mile), but clearly that is not part of our core business. We are convinced that the complexity of each niche within the real estate sector requires a specific skill set and very specialized players. By the end of 2019, we will have more than 110 developments underway throughout Spain and this will consume all of our energies. Our priority is to be able to exceed our customers' expectations every time a product or a service is delivered on behalf of Vía Célere.

Why is Spain such an attractive country for foreign investment in real estate?

Spain is probably one of the fundamental real estate markets in the world. We are a very privileged country in terms of weather, we have one of the best healthcare systems in the world and we live in a very safe country. Prices are very reasonable for international customers and that creates a very attractive business case for second residences. If we talk about first residences in big cities, we are now in a very sweet moment of the cycle. Spain was hit very heavily by the last crisis and that forced families, corporations and the public sector to reduce significantly. That put many of the customers in a very healthy financial situation acquire a house with savings and capacity to deal with big mortgages. Affordability of the houses is not a problem in many of the Spanish big cities and therefore, demand needs to catch up the scarcity of the offer of the last five years. Once this become more stable, we expect a long plateau for the price of the assets in the coming years. And of course, the current evolution of interest rates clearly helps to sustain a strong demand for the real estate sector.

How has the local real estate sector and its policies evolved after the crisis?

Crisis has hit some of the players of the real estate sector hard. First, most of the players operating before the crisis went bankrupt due to a lack of financial discipline and excessive leverage in the balance sheets. Secondly, financial institutions suffered a lot with the non-performing loans coming from the real estate sector. So, both players have learnt a lot from those days and now they are much more conservative. Banks act today as bottlenecks to access financing and home builders pay a lot of attention to their loan to value ratios.

What are the objectives of Vía Célere for the rest of 2019 and 2020?

We want to achieve the goals we fixed for ourselves in the strategic plan. We will reach the delivery of circa 1,500 units in 2019, above 2.500 units in 2020, and we will reach circa 4.000 units in 2021. If we can deliver the above mention set of figures, we will be leading the Spanish home building sector since 2019.