Sustainability and energy efficiency are not only compatible with developing high-end housing, but they have become increasingly more sought after on the local market, Leonidas Anastasopoulos, managing partner of local developer Alesonor, tells BR. The company is investing EUR 14 million in a green luxury residential project, Amber Gardens, in northern Bucharest.

By Simona Bazavan

Do you see demand for luxury housing picking up this year?
There has always been demand for luxury housing; it is just that the discussion about what luxury means has shifted. Our previous project before Amber Gardens was a residential building in the Domenii area consisting of 11 luxury apartments. It sold out in a record six months in the middle of the crisis.

So yes, there is demand for luxury and we really believe this market is starting to pick up. Also, I think we will see a lot more new projects being started this year. Not many luxury projects were being developed before so this leaves a lot of space. There will also be an increase in the number of transactions this year.

What does luxury housing mean today on the local residential market?
This is a discussion that we have always had at this company. We have been building luxury apartments on the local market since 2003 and we have constantly tried to push this concept further with every project we’ve developed. What we have seen over the years is that for householders luxury is not about having doors with gold handles; it’s about being able to make a house feel like home. And to do that you have to take into consideration all your senses and not just the visual. A luxury green home does exactly this; it addresses all the senses. It involves the smells, the quality of the air, the light, the temperature. All these are things I think make the difference and have become defining factors.

Has the concept of luxury evolved over the past few years?
Absolutely. Back in 2003 luxury meant having a bigger home. If buyers got a generous space that was enough. Things have evolved since then. Moreover, clients have more bargaining power and are more demanding as this is a buyer’s market. They also want more energy-efficient homes.

Is reducing energy costs relevant for buyers ready to pay more than EUR 200,000 for a house in your project?
I would say energy efficiency has more than one meaning. One has to do with costs. However, the price of the house is an investment which, if the client decides to sell after 10, 20 years, they will not only recover but will also make a profit. Good quality means they will spend less on maintenance and refurbishment costs over the years.

We are developing this project which today meets the requirements of the 2020 EU Directive on zero-energy buildings. We have calculated that because of this a family with two small children can save up to EUR 3,000 a year compared to a conventional house.

But this is only the financial aspect. Our clients understand the concept of sustainability and the importance of protecting the environment for future generations. And Amber Gardens demonstrates that sustainability and luxury are not incompatible: you can have both. Amber Gardens is certified by the Romania Green Building Council and also won first prize at Bucharest’s Annual Architectural Awards in 2013.

Does building a green project cost the developer more?
It is a matter of perspective. We have a very long-term strategy so costs are distributed over a much longer period, which makes them less relevant. We believe we are creating a concept that is very relevant to buyers’ needs and also enables us to differentiate ourselves on the market.

Yes, it would have been cheaper to build this project conventionally. Higher costs were generated both by research and design, understanding how your house reacts to nature (what we call bioclimatic design), as well as the actual building costs, the quality of the materials and processes used. It has taken us more than two and half years to reach the project that we have today and we see it as a long-term investment.

With office buildings there is this trend to get a BREAM or LEED certification. Why is this? Because the investors that are building these office projects anticipate that they will sell them and buyers are looking not only at the value of the building but also its running costs. And therefore for them, because they are making this long-term investment, costs become a very relevant subject. If you see your house in the same way then that part should become very relevant too.

How much are you investing in this project?
The total investment is EUR 14 million. The land cost EUR 5.5 million and has been financed by a bank (editor’s note: Alpha Bank). The construction is self-financed. This is why we are phasing out the project. The entire Amber Gardens project will feature a total of 60 luxury green houses. We anticipate it will take three more years to complete.

The land is located in Otopeni-Tunari and was acquired in 2007. We liked the area very much and the city was expanding north as it continues to do today. There were and continue to be infrastructure works in the area like the Piata Presei under-passage. All this creates very good access to the project. Also the land is very close to a forest which is another important aspect for the project’s concept. People who look for a house outside the city want to live in a healthy environment and to be close to nature.

When did you start the Amber Gardens project and how many houses have you sold so far?
We started construction last summer, in July. Right now we have almost six houses completed and we plan to build another 11 this year. As for sales, from the first ten houses we have only three still available. So we have four houses which are not yet built but have been sold.

How much do the houses cost and what is the profile of the buyer you are targeting?
Prices start at EUR 240,000 plus VAT. Most of the houses that we are selling are in the range of EUR 300,000 to EUR 450,000 as most of the buyers choose extra features such an additional room, a swimming pool or a larger garden.

From the beginning we have targeted young families for whom we are looking to create a community, but we also have older buyers. There are both Romanians and expats who pay both cash and by credit. So it is a mix.

Leonidas Anastasopoulos – CV
More than 18 years of professional experience in real estate and telecom, both in Romania and Greece.

Anastasopoulos is a founding member and has been managing partner of Alesonor since 2003. The real estate developer has invested in five residential projects in Romania as well as commercial and industrial buildings.

He is also a founding member and managing partner of Cosmos Mobile Group, as of 2005. The company is the largest independent telecommunication network of Cosmote Romania (Telekom), and the largest distributor of Vodafone and Orange, according to its data.

Anastasopoulos holds an MSc. and BSc. in Mechanical Engineering from the National Technical University of Athens and a BSc. in Business Administration from La Verne University Athens Campus.

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