For years, big international real estate agencies with offices in Prague or Budapest have refused to enter Bratislava until more of their multinational clients do likewise and demand property advice.
Healey & Baker is now the exception. This London-headquartered international network officially opens in Bratislava this month in the form of a relationship with local agency Spiller Farmer.
Laurie Farmer, the British director of Spiller Farmer, said that the association will combine Spiller Farmer's knowledge of the local market with Healey & Baker's global systems and know-how to offer multinational clients the same service they receive in Western countries.
Farmer added that he expects to provide an alternative to what he called the "massive conflict of interest" inherent in the local agencies that act as realtor-developers.
Two recent trade fairs in Prague and Bratislava confirmed Farmer's hunch that his competition will primarily come from Slovak agencies that are increasingly steering clients towards their own products.
At Immos-Realex, a central European real estate fair held in Prague, none of the major exhibiting international agencies had much to report about business in Slovakia. Two weeks later, none of them were visible at the Bratislava fair, Expo-Real. Instead, the fair featured several local agencies, a few local developers and some firms that act as both.
Conflict of interest?
On one hand, these precarious cross-breeds are building impressive client portfolios with their brokerage services, but on the other, they are on the verge of harming their integrity by functioning as both consultants and developers, raising a thorny question.
How can the same agency be trying to fill its own development project with tenants and at the same time be expected to give clients unbiased advice on getting the greatest property value for their money?
"In eastern Europe, this conflict is quite common," said Ivan Chrenko of HB Reavis, an agency that attracted tenants such as Globtel and Deloitte & Touche to its own Bratislava Business Center office building a year ago. "This market is still young. Here it is common for the same company to function as consultant and developer."
But this is not limited to Slovakia, Chrenko continued. "In Western countries, it often happens that one company is the agent and another is the developer, but they have the same owner." The presence of international agencies that have built a name on giving expert advice could help raise the professional standards of the market.
But Farmer said that while the entry of international rivals into the local competition "would make the market more professional," he does not foresee any coming soon, because "the market's not big enough."
4. Dec 1997 at 0:00 | Rick Zedník