One United Properties is a leading developer of residential, mixed-use and office real estate in Bucharest, Romania. In the residential segment, the company has several high-end developments completed, under construction and in the short-term pipeline, mainly in Bucharest’s Center-Northern area. One United Properties is an innovative company dedicated to accelerating the adoption of construction practices for energy efficient, sustainable, and healthy buildings.
One United Properties entered the Romanian market in 2011 and you joined them shortly after. What were your thoughts upon boarding and how did you see the company evolve since?
Indeed, I was actually the only salesperson at the time, working alongside the two founders who were personally handling both the commercial and construction aspects of the business. As the volumes increased, I began putting together a sales team, and grew it step by step.
What's important to highlight is that this company grew organically. The vision of the two founding partners was to bring something new to the market, at a time when people had not yet fully recovered after the shock of the 2008 crisis. To make a difference they approached the story from an angle which prioritized innovation, location, and generally elements that could set them apart. They wanted to redefine urban housing and reimagine the art of living. And we believe One succeeded in doing that.
Could you expand on that please, what sort of innovative elements did One bring to the table?
A good example is One Floreasca Lake, one of our most relevant and bold projects. Andrei and Victor figured that a ventilated facade, large windows or glass framed terraces (all uncommon at the time) would be important for a new construction. As tenants started moving in, they also realized that those who bought penthouses and benefited as a premium element from floor heating were paying lower bills compared to their neighbors. It was a sign this should become a standard element in all apartments.
From one project to another sustainability actually became a core aspect. When your strategy revolves around the desire to become better and better, and adapt to new technologies, you inevitably get pushed forward. We decided to increase the comfort in our customers lives and at the same time to be at the forefront of the decarbonized energy system battle in the buildings sector in Romania. Sustainability is part of the group’s DNA and all the projects developed by One are green certified accordingly.
The concept of "urban regeneration" keeps coming up in our discussions with industry representatives, and One was among the firsts in the market to approach development from this angle. How did the idea come about?
The central idea was to give back to the community abandoned areas of the city and, furthermore, to change them into lively and active living, working and commercial spots on Bucharest map.
After the 1990s the factories inside Bucharest became abandoned leaving behind locations that did not have much utility.
We found here an opportunity that other developers overlooked. Many (especially those in the commercial and office spaces) focused on the northern part of the city. This created a circumstance of intense traffic and difficult commute. Had these factories been the subject of a general urban regeneration plan, we would have speared ourselves a lot of headaches. This concept, alongside that of "live-work-shop", is something we deem useful for the city at large and a strategy we started pursuing way before the pandemic.
A good example is One Floreasca City, built on the former Ford factory, and now integrated in a beautiful mixed-use project, as well as One Cotroceni Park, currently developed on the former Ventilatorul platform, one of our most ambitious regeneration projects.
Speaking of which, how did the pandemic impact your business? Did it change your plans, or the expectations of your customers?
It pushed forward a vision we already had in place. We dealt with a blockage in March (natural given the shocking circumstances), but we went back to the same flux of customers quickly. In April we made transactions worth EUR 5 million and in July we sold three penthouses with a cumulated value of EUR 10 million. By mid-summer we had sold a total of 43 apartments. Granted, we received some requests for discounts, but our pricing policy and strategy remained the same.
It's true that we hold an advantage, which is that we have the financial resources internally to carry a project all the way through. We also afford for instance to finish a property and rent it out - in Romania we don't really have a market for rentals yet, culturally speaking people want to own property, but the new generation is much more dynamic and is starting to create opportunity in this space.
Another aspect is that we work in a niche that benefits from medium plus and high income, so the approach is different. Our clients' thinking was that in times like these it makes most sense to invest in real estate, rather that keep the money in their pockets and risk inflation.
The penthouses you sell are worth millions. What does this value buy you in Bucharest compared to western cities like Paris or London?
You will never be able to buy a four-room apartment for EUR 650k in the center of Paris or London. I say with confidence that whoever has the courage to invest in the Romanian market now will congratulate themselves in a few years. Of course, it matters where they decide to place their money, the idea is to go for liquid properties that can easily be resold.
You have already brought to life residential projects that have the potential to become local landmarks. What exciting developments do you have in store for the coming period?
We have about 850 apartments under construction and another 2100+ in the authorization phase. One Floreasca City and One Floreasca Tower are being delivered this year. One Verdi Park is also under construction and I am in love with the project, it will look spectacular!
Another project worth highlighting is One Peninsula, a real jewel in our portfolio. It is a multifunctional project, in other words a community that brings within the city the type of advantages you would normally find on the city outskirts. Peace and quiet right in the middle of Bucharest. It is also the first residential club in Bucharest with geothermal heat pumps system and also the most exclusive low-rise complex in Bucharest. This system will offer multiple advantages to the residents: total autonomy of heat in winter and of cool air conditioning in summer, as well as reduction of annual heating and cooling costs by 50% compared to conventional solutions.
It sounds like you see a lot of opportunity in Romania. What about the more challenging aspects of doing business here?
When you build your strategy around a certain niche it will bring good and bad things alike. If the legal framework changes, there isn't much you can do but adapt. So, we don't spend much time complaining about challenges, rather we make sure our foundation is geared towards agility and adaptability.
All things considered what is a final message you would send out to investors who are eyeing the Romanian market?
It is a good idea and a good time to invest in residential and offices in Romania. Historically it was proven that when you want to safeguard your money real estate is the most likely to bring the security you need. Add to this the fact that Romania is not yet a mature market - if the economy overall is well taken care of, in three years’ time we will witness very generous growth.
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