The prices of properties in Prague will keep on growing, and people will be deciding whether to buy much faster than they do today. Elena Jakubovič, the founder of a successful company Y&T Luxury Property, thinks so too. Her company focuses mostly on premium houses or apartments and will soon celebrate eleven years on the market. In a big interview for LP-Life.cz, Elena Jakubovič talks not only about what to invest in in the upcoming months, but also about her personal views on the profession of real estate agents. They can often "boast" negative labels from people, and she fully agrees with that.
How will the year 2020 be different from 2019?
Clients will decide faster whether to go through with a purchase or not. This year there was a lot of speculation about a coming recession, and many buyers were waiting to see how it would all turn out. We even have cases where people took six months to decide whether to purchase.
It's a classic, some politician or economist "spits out" a piece of information to the media that apartments are overpriced by X%, and there are hundreds of articles written about it that influence the direction of the entire market. How do you know where the price ceiling for Prague and all of Czechia is? I feel like they were already saying that properties were overpriced back in the 90's. And back then they were sold for way too cheap compared to today.
What do you advise people invest in when it comes to real estate in 2020?
I'd invest in 3+kk flats, which are priced lower per square meter than 1+kk, 1+1 and 2+kk. Moreover, they're good for co-living - a trend in living where two people co-rent an apartment, only sharing a part of it, usually a living room and a kitchen. In the long run it's also a better investment, because there will be a higher demand for 3+kk from a demographic standpoint.
The economy is doing well right now and a recession isn't expected, families tend to have two children and single people have more money, so they can afford to rent a 2+kk on their own. In case of a decrease of economic indicators, families will more often have one child, and shared living will not only be a "trendy" thing, but a necessity. That's why leasing 3+kk apartments will bring their owners much more interesting profits.
The company Deloitte stated in their November market assessment that this month the number of apartment listings went down for the first time and the number of available apartments in Prague is lower. Does that mean that prices will go up in the coming months?
The prices will go up, but it won't be only because of the decrease in availability. There are new projects coming to the market that managed to get prepared in the last three years, and new clients are coming to the market. I still feel that Prague is undervalued and has a much higher price potential, especially compared to other European cities.
The average price of apartments in Prague is currently 112,000 CZK per square meter - that is 4,400 EUR (Source: Y&T Luxury Property). For comparison - the average price in Vienna is 4,199 EUR, and in Berlin it's 4,973 EUR (Source: Deloitte). Some people may argue that Vienna has better architecture and Berlin is something else too, but none of that influences property purchases in this or that metropolis. What does influence the decisions and will raise the prices in the city center is stuff like the opening of a Chanel boutique on Pařížská street.
You might be looking at me in surprise now, thinking I've gone mad. (laugh) How can a luxury boutique influence prices all across Prague? It's simple! Architecture and history are great things, but people in general do not want to "eat, meditate, love", but to "eat, have fun and shop".
Going back to Deloitte's analysis, they calculate the mean prices on the market and so they include extremes the likes of Pařížská and the surrounding area. So even a single apartment with a surface area of 300 square meters and a price of 300,000 CZK per meter will skew the whole picture. And the average price of 164,633 CZK that we have documented in Prague 1 will turn into 193,000 CZK per meter. Nobody cares that an apartment priced at 300,000 CZK per meter is also furnished with luxury furniture worth tens of millions.
These anomalies shouldn't be included in the developers' index. One of the advantages of Y&T Luxury Property's price assessment is that we do not reassess our prices retrospectively and based on data from external sources, but we base them on our own catalog of developers and private owners, all in real time.
The economist Pavel Ryba from the Golden Gate company said in his December interview for LP-Life.cz that he expects a recession spanning between 1 to 5 years and that as a result of this, real estate prices will go down by about 20 to 40 percent. How do you view this situation? Do you worry about property value dropping?
Y&T Property lists properties in the center and other interesting Prague locations which are more immune to market downturns. During the last three years we have documented a rise in the value of properties in Prague 1 by up to 25%. And that is also my prediction for the next three years.
Can any investment fund offer you an 8% years profit, which is the rise of the property value, and 5-6% more from rent? After all, many people know that even the Golden Gate company recently obtained their own property in the wider center of Prague and gave up renting in Prague 1. The value of property not located in the center is less dependant on economic fluctuations, but we choose our portfolio carefully. And personally I do believe in the rise in property value in close proximity of the center.
In the case of a recession, is the drop in value bigger in luxury properties or common real estate?
Common real estate of course. With ordinary properties there is a higher chance that their owners will be unable to keep up with paying off their loans. Luxury properties in the center are a limited edition and a smart way to store money in property. You can touch a wall with your hand and think that you really do own this. Stock or virtual currencies are things that you will never really own. If you happen to already own a property, do the same: lean against its wall and say: "This is my property!" You'll see how it will get your blood pumping, because security is the one thing we all crave the most.
What do you think of ČNB's current policies in relation to the real estate market?
A recent interview with ČNB's Governor amused me a lot. On the one hand he claims that he doesn't expect an economical recession, and will not be raising the interest rates for next year. On the other he says that he estimates that the prices of apartments will drop. Where's the logic in that? Why'd the prices go down when even Deloitte says that there aren't enough apartments? If you're expecting the price of your chosen property to go down, you can keep hoping and waiting until somebody who's more resolute buys it first.
Do you think that it's better to hedge your bets and buy properties in various locations and maybe even different countries?
Not at all. If you want to minimize risks, buy in Prague 1 and then other locations that have potential, aka the wider center. If you have time to watch the markets in other countries, you can invest there too. But the question is whether it's wise to expand to other countries, when everyone from other countries is trying to invest in Prague... I'm talking regular investors now, not funds.
Could real estate prices in Prague climb up to let's say London levels?
Prague will never be London. But on the other hand, let's be happy that we do not have to pay a land lease on top of the purchase price of an apartment, which is a common thing in the center of London.
The funny thing is that the prices are higher in Paris, up to 12,910 EUR per square meter. But that's only because the population of London is eight times bigger, which affects the number of properties too - there are simply more of the cheaper ones. If you were only comparing prices in the center, London is definitely in the lead.
What do you like about your job? And what do you hate, on the other hand?
I like how dynamic it is. The real estate market development is extremely fast, you meet many interesting people through this job and can feel the euphoria of finalizing a big sale. But you also often feel disappointment when something doesn't work out. Or the general disappointment in people when the time comes to break bread, and titans end up fighting over a coin. (laugh)
What do you mean by that?
Sometimes, even famous people and large companies try to haggle a better price from us. And then there are the worse cases - when they don't pay us at all. And because Christmas is coming and I still believe in good, I'd like to send a message to such subjects: "It's never too late to pay off your debts."
Can you still remember the first property you ever sold?
It was ten years ago. I sold an apartment the interior of which I'd designed. It was a three-story maisonette with a floor plan of 73 square meters and a terrace. It had been quite a challenge - coming up with a logical layout for such a large maisonette.
One particular big real estate agency refused to accept the apartment for sale, as the price I was asking for was unreasonable in their opinion. So I turned to another, and they listed it in their portfolio without anyone even coming to take a look at it. (laugh)
An important Czech businessman with his partner showed up for the first tour alongside the agent. During my presentation he was delightedly running from floor to floor and praised everything in sight. The agent had the opposite opinion which she didn't keep to herself, so instead of listening to the client, she just kept saying "that's terrible", "this will never be sold". I had to tell her: "Petra, shut up, he's obviously fallen in love with the apartment at first sight!"
Is it hard for a foreigner to make it in Czechia and in Prague?
I haven't made it in Prague so far. (laugh). I'm not even halfway to where I'd like to be. It sounds arrogant for a girl who came to Czechia from Kiev on a bus with 70 dollars in her pocket, which she spent on food. I don't expect to ever become a full-fledged Czech, even though half of the blood coursing through my veins is Czech. But I believe that you will respect me in your society.
Who are you clients?
They are both Czechs and foreigners. And we aren't even a part of a franchise of a multinational real estate agency.
By the way, I think that the franchising system doesn't work in this country. I am unaware of a single case where a foreign client would be looking for a property in Czechia through a foreign branch.
Real estate agents often have a negative label, people don't trust them. Is it possible to change it?
This label is often warranted. It's the reason why we don't cooperate with other real estate agencies. We have enough clients and the largest portfolio of properties in this segment. We don't do one-off sales, we're building a strong brand.
When you're in the real estate business, often the only stuff that's true is what is stated on paper. Not that I wouldn't have trust in gentlemanly deals, but for those to work out, you have to strike them with gentlemen, of whom there are few in the business. I have been met with broken promises many times.
What are your plans for the next five years?
I'd like to retire in five years. (laugh) No, that's a joke. I think I'd be rather bored in retirement. But if it doesn't only concern the real estate business, I'd like to write a movie script. I've dabbled in directing and writing scripts when we were shooting our commercials, which we make ourselves. (You can view those below, Ed.) We wanted to captivate people with our originality, which, considering that we have over a million views, we probably pulled off.