Residential - AG now a major player

Tim Harrup

For some time, the residential domain has been taking on far greater importance in the overall real estate market. Major players which previously only concentrated on the ‘traditional’ sectors such as offices, retail… have entered the domain. One of the biggest is AG Real Estate, which now has a stand-alone department ‘AG Residential’. Its Commercial Director, Vanessa Issi, explains what the company is doing.

PRE: Tell us what AG Residential is all about.

V.I.: AG Residential is a new brand created within AG Real Estate 2 years ago in order to sell new residential projects to everybody, a B2C orientation therefore. We look for new sites, our architects evaluate the opportunity to build a property on them, we introduce permits to the public authorities and when the permit is delivered, we start with marketing, and client follow-up in order to accompany our clients from A to Z. This involves the whole of the process by which an individual client purchases and moves into an apartment for their own residence. Our clients are people looking for a property for themselves or for an investment.

PRE: This sounds a bit like a traditional real estate agency…

In a way, but the difference is that we develop our properties ourselves. All our apartments are sold from plan. We prospect the market before we develop, looking for new projects. AG Residential looks for new sites, for projects which already have a building permit or not. But we also look for old office or retail buildings which are in need of rehabilitation and which we will convert to residential. And above all, our company AG Real Estate has a large portfolio that gives us the opportunity to find some buildings to redevelop. We have observed that the highest demand on the real estate market today is for residential. The greatest demand – and we look at what is happening across Europe as well – is for two and three bed apartments.

PRE: So you look for projects before you receive requests from individual consumers?

Yes, and this contrasts with real estate agencies, which receive requests to sell residential units first, and then go and look for potential clients. We have a different approach. We look at what is being sold in a particular district, then we look for suitable projects. Then we invest in the project, and we develop it, always with the end user in mind.

PRE: Does this mean that you have a portfolio of units ready to be sold?

V.I.: Yes, we have now seven projects underway in different stages of development. Some havebeen entirely developed and delivered and the others are underway.

PRE: How many apartments do you have ready for sale at the moment – December 2019?

We have 25 ready to buy in Canal Wharf but we will launch the 2nd phase in June 2020 with 132 units. So, we will rapidly launch the marketing of this new phase. We still have 15 apartments in Cavell Court out of 77. Most of them have been rapidly sold. There remain five apartments in L’Alliance but we are launching two new phases in 2020 as well as a nursing home. Around March 2020, we will also instigate a new project in the centre of Brussels, Urban Court, 142 units. We still have a lot of housing to sell in Regatta, which totals 1850 units. We are expanding and will launch many new projects in 2020 …We have to anticipate now to have new projects for later.

PRE: How does the potential consumer find out about these projects?

Our Marketing and Communications Manager, Muriel Lambotte, decides on the best marketing plan once the project has been defined. But in all cases, our project and its advantages, along with the characteristics of the district, are available on our AG Residential website.

PRE: If I want info on a project – Cavell Court for example – will I see the details on the AG Residential website?

Yes, but also on the individual website or Facebook page of each project.. We make sure that each apartment which is already sold is immediately taken off the website, and we give the possibility for the consumer to search according to specific criteria. We have now very efficient digital marketing tools including social media, native and programmatic advertising, retargeting… and I lead a content strategy based on the analysis of persona. My only aim today is to generate leads for Vanessa so that she can transmit them to her team.

PRE: What happens when somebody expresses an interest in a unit?

When I receive a request, I despatch it among our internal sales team. These persons, independent but working exclusively for AG Residential, are real estate professionals and they know the projects from the very beginning. This is a guarantee of better follow-up with our clients. These sales people fix a meeting with the potential client either here in our building or in our different sales offices at the site of the project itself.

PRE: So then it becomes a traditional agency operation? V.I.: Yes exactly, with follow-up, sales agreement, signing of the deeds…

PRE: How important is Residential for the overall business of AG?

There are 3,900 units underway at one stage or another, and we want to expand rapidly. We are 20 people in our department; we have taken on five new persons over recent months to give a better service to our clients. So we really are a substantial department in our own right, not just a small operation. And we are fully supported by AG Insurance, which sees our activity as being in line with other products the Insurance activity generates. In the future, our aim is to create with them new partnerships to offer our clients the most advantageous products.