Alex Skouras
Managing Partner
Alesonor

01 July 2021

Alesonor is a real estate developer specialized in green, energy efficient residential projects. It was founded in 2003 in Romania and is best known for Amber Gardens - the first large luxury project in the country to integrate bioclimatic design and passive house standards.

 

As co-founder of Alesonor, can you tell us what were the circumstance in which the company came to life and the vision you are pursuing presently?

In 2003 we came from Greece to Romania and founded Alesonor because the local market was so interesting, challenging and promising that we felt it would be a great place to start our venture. Real estate is our bread and butter and we've witnessed how demand shifted towards residential projects outside of the city center. It's interesting that in Warsaw 43% of people lived in the suburbs, while in Bucharest only 9% dwelled in the outskirts, so we felt there was a huge potential there. Moreover, the pandemic pushed forward the industry by increasing the demand of houses, with lush green spaces and spacious backyards, instead of apartments in city center.

Your focus lies in high quality luxury projects, what is the most notable one and how do you plan to continue this trend?

Amber Gardens is the first housing project in Romania certified Green Home. By integrating bioclimatic design and technologies such as water collecting systems and photovoltaic panels among other key construction principles, our homes consume 90% less energy than a similar home. It is a five hectares project that we successfully developed and sold (I've also bought a house here), with playgrounds, tennis and basketball court, near the forest. Through it we observed how the market craves this type of intelligent, sustainable residential projects and we are now planning to exceed expectations in this sector. 

 

We are now focused on developing the first complete suburb, spread across 31 hectares (85% free area, 15% built area) where, besides green homes and green apartments, we are building the community that our clients seek. Amber Forest will have 1 km opening to the forest, five hectares park, a kindergarten, a school, a supermarket, restaurants, polyclinic, sports facility, office hub etc.

 

What would you say is the main factor that is driving demand in the residential space at this point in time?

We sold more than 200 houses out of which only three to investors, so we are mainly looking towards end-users that plan on keeping their property on a long term. With this in mind, we adapt our projects to the market's demand in such a way that we are sure we're not developing a ghost city. People are now looking for a lifestyle when deciding to invest in a house, so we're responding to this need by building a community and cutting future operating costs as much as possible (through sustainable solutions and initial investments). Having a green home in Tunari means paying less on utilities, 50% discount on local taxes and more affordable mortgage (green mortgage).

You've mentioned green mortgage - is the financing climate more favorable to sustainable eco buildings?

Yes, it is! In countries like Hungary or Poland, the ratio of mortgages per GDP per capita is two-three times higher than in Romania. I'm confident this trend will propagate here too, which means that in the future we'll probably see twice as many bank credits accessed by clients. Products with green home certifications (like Amber Gardens and Amber Forest) can benefit from green mortgages that have a reduced interest rate. Banks are trusting that clients will be able to pay their loans thanks to reduced monthly bills of a green home and the overall stability and satisfaction of the client living in such a house.

It seems that your projects are successful and sought after by clients, but what would be some of the challenges you bumped into on the Romanian market?

When we started building Amber Gardens, the authorities (and the banks) were not informed about green homes and their benefits. But in time, also with Romania adopting NZEB regulation, the market become more and more informed. Another challenge which we turned into opportunity for creating a better product, was the way neighborhoods were built. We've seen multiple times how projects were built chaotically withouth a proper plan. Overcrowding is a problem in Romania (three people per sqm vs. two in Europe) that will become more stringent as people will repatriate. We designed a community with large streets, green spaces, care for privacy and quietness, with all facilities needed..   

The pandemic impacted many sectors of the real estate, but residential thrived - how did you experience this trend?

A January 2021 report showed that only 8% were willing to go back to their office in the same form as pre-Covid, while the rest were preferring a hybrid system with an emphasis on work-from-home. The impact is being felt including from a design perspective, similarly to what happened after the Spanish Flu - when heavy furniture, crowded interiors turned into modern, minimalist designs with bigger windows.

Turning our attention to the future, what can we expect from Alesonor in the coming two-three years?

As I've mentioned before, we're always aware of market dynamics and in the past year we've really seen how important it is that developers fine tune their strategy based on surroundings. However, the direction we've been planning since 2015 - focus on residential projects and sustainable communities - perfectly aligned to the trend prompted by the pandemic. As such, we'll continue our plans of creating safe and healthy neighborhoods where people can enjoy everyday life and have all their facilities at a 15-minute walking distance. 



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