Vesela Ilieva is Managing Partner at the luxury real estate brokerage company Unique Estates. She has more than 16 years of professional experience in the real estate sector, some of which on leadership positions within the large real estate holding AG Capital. Mrs Ilieva has two master's degrees – in International Marketing and Sales from the University of National and World Economy in Sofia and in Corporate Real Estate, Finance and Strategy from City University London. Under her leadership Unique Estates became the market leader in Bulgaria in luxury real estate. Vesela Ilieva is a certified expert in residential property and a member of RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors). She is a board member of the Bulgarian Business Leaders Forum, the Lady's Forum association and works actively on various social causes.
In the autumn, Unique Estates became exclusive partner of the biggest global network selling the most expensive properties in the world, Luxury Portfolio. What improvements will this partnership bring about to your dealings with international customers or properties?
Yes, in the autumn of 2016 Unique Estates became the exclusive partner for Bulgaria of the largest international network of luxury real estates Luxury Portfolio. Luxury Portfolio is the leading network of luxury real estates in the world, part of the Leading Real Estate Companies of the World. The company's headquarters is in the United States, and it also has offices in London and Hong Kong. Unique Estates is its 60th partnering company.
For our company this partnership is an excellent opportunity to unleash our potential on an international level. Our customers in the country will get access to the market of the most unique properties in the world. Still, the portfolio of properties, represented by the platform of Luxury Portfolio, includes the largest worldwide selection of homes, which worth over USD 1 million. Only in 2015, for example the platform offered on the market more than 50,000 of the most luxurious properties in the world.
Owing to this partnership the foreign investors will get access to the broad portfolio of Unique Estates, which includes the most valuable real estates in the country, and we will present them an exceptionally quality selection.
Which were the factors that pushed the real estate market to heat up last year?
Through the last year the real estate market woke up. People saw that it stepped up and gradually the trust has returned. At the same time, a huge role played the policy of the banks. The low interest rates on deposits, which reached unprecedented levels in the past year, provoked the interest of buyers and led to the realization of real transactions. People want to invest their money into something safe and it is the main reason for many purchases. This is valid especially in the real estate deals in the luxury segment. The other key factor is the stirring credit market and low interest rates on mortgage loans.
Are there any interesting trends you have observed on the Bulgarian property market of the past several years?
It is enough to limit this retrospective look only to the last year – it was interesting, rich in trends, dynamic. The real estate market woke up and got out of its several years' lethargy. Demand grew up double, the number of actual transactions increased a lot, as the time for their final conclusion shortened. This speaks for increased realism by part of the sellers and buyers and “congregation” of the offered prices and the prices at which the transactions are concluded.
The increased number of purchases for investment purposes was one of the milestones in 2016. These transactions formed 30% of all deals in the market.
The interest in quality real estates increased. The buyers have become more demanding with higher criteria and bigger requirements. Generally, the interest in the central streets of Sofia returned. The pedestrian part of Vitosha boulevard and surrounding areas are still preferred area to live in, and this drew the attention to them for purchases with investment purposes. Another demanded area is the region around the Doctor's monument, which is traditionally preferred by the buyers.
The interest in new projects returned.
Through the year there was a certain growth in the luxury sector of the real estate market as the main engine was new construction, which offered new “smart” homes and offices. For the high activity in the luxury real estate market in 2016 speaks the growth in sales over EUR 1 million. The biggest deal in 2016 was the purchase of a luxury house at the foot of Vitosha mountain for EUR 3 million. Unique Estates was the brokerage company of the deal. The sale of a residence on the Southern Black Sea coast for EUR 1.95 million was another emblematic transaction of the year. While such sales are rare, their presence suggests that the wealthy buyers have returned to the market and are willing to invest.
What are your business expectations and growth forecasts for 2017?
Overall prognosis shows these trends will continue in 2017. We do not expect increase in prices, except for particular luxury real estates and buildings, but as a whole the market will continue to be active. The market of new construction emerges as even more challenging because of the planned commencement of large projects, which are expected to lead to price retention.
The stirring credit market will lead to active demand throughout the year. The growth of mortgage loans will continue, and in 2017 it will be within 15-20%. The average size of loans is also expected to slightly increase, while the interest rates will continue to decrease gradually to average annual levels of 3.5 – 4.5%.
Now to the traditionally popular locations – the Sofia downtown and districts like Iztok and Lozenets, we can add regions with rapidly growing infrastructure such as the region around Paradise Center and the new subway station.
The trend which is expected to continue in the new year are sales of projects in a process of development. We also expect more offers for rent of luxury apartments on the market.
Many have pointed to corruption and a tiny labour market as the biggest drawbacks of doing business in Bulgaria. What is your take on this?
We have our own recipes for these problems. We oppose corruption by a consistent policy of transparency. Another means we use are the serious partnerships with global organizations working in the real estate field. Our collaboration with Luxury Portfolio – the leading network of luxury properties in the world, is a guarantee for our customers. We worked hard to achieve this partnership and it is a recognition of our success.
Targeted at addressing the labor problem, we have developed a corporate policy of constant development of the Unique Estates team. In 2016 we have expanded the number of our employees by 30%, compared to 2015. Our successful team of professionals is a result of our policy to invest in our employees, to organize additional professional trainings and educational programs for them, to create and maintain high ethical team atmosphere of mutual assistance and exchange of good practices. This helps us preserve our employees, part of whom have worked with us since the founding of our company 10 years ago.