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International firms wait to be summoned into Slovakia

While major international realtors doing business in the region say political instability and a small market have kept their clients from expressing much interest in Slovakia, smaller international firms already doing business in Bratislava remain happily busy. Several large real estate firms said that because of historic ties between Slovakia and the Czech Republic, their Prague offices occasionally field clients' requests to research sites in Bratislava. But virtually none said they have received enough of those requests to justify setting up a separate office in Slovakia. Nigel Young, who works in the Prague office of Colliers, which also lists Budapest and Warsaw among its 180 offices worldwide, said "We've looked at the possibility," of doing business in Slovakia. "It's client-led. They would come if the business were there."

While major international realtors doing business in the region say political instability and a small market have kept their clients from expressing much interest in Slovakia, smaller international firms already doing business in Bratislava remain happily busy.

Several large real estate firms said that because of historic ties between Slovakia and the Czech Republic, their Prague offices occasionally field clients' requests to research sites in Bratislava. But virtually none said they have received enough of those requests to justify setting up a separate office in Slovakia.

Nigel Young, who works in the Prague office of Colliers, which also lists Budapest and Warsaw among its 180 offices worldwide, said "We've looked at the possibility," of doing business in Slovakia. "It's client-led. They would come if the business were there."

But other realtors, such as Spiller Farmer, which has been operating in Bratislava since 1994, say there is business in Slovakia's capital city. "There is a market here, but not a lot of depth," said a representative of the British-based company. He said that in Bratislava's current market, finding a first tenant is not as difficult as lining up second and third ones. "As we say in Texas, 'It is a mile wide, but an inch deep.'" Young of Colliers said, "It's going to take a major project" to bring the attention of major firms to Bratislava. He classified a major project as being 5-10,000 square meters.

One such project could be the landmark Hotel Carlton, which is currently up for public tender. A winning bid for that project would likely include hotel, office and retail space. But a source at the National Property Fund, which is conducting the tender, said little interest was likely in the Carlton. The Carlton may be symptomatic of little interest in Slovakia. "Slovakia has a dire reputation among Prague people," said Andrew Shepherd, Ryden's office manager in Prague.

He said that last year, the Slovak market was "quite dead," and Ryden sold only one site in Slovakia. But he said business seems to have picked up this year. "There's a lot of confidence now, despite the political uncertainties. We sold three to four sites in Slovakia this year."

But while Shepherd said Ryden "has always toyed" with opening an office in Slovakia, the company does not have actual plans to do so.

None of the major international firms operating in Prague said they had plans to open an office in Slovakia's capital. The typical strategy of working on clients' requests was described by Irina Ivanova, who handles office negotiations for King & Co. in Prague. "We would try to accommodate our clients, but I don't think we will actively go into the Slovak market."

While firms on the ground in Bratislava are not eager to see big competitors with extensive resources enter the market anytime soon, they also do not seem too concerned with the prospect. "If they do come, they're not going to know the market," said the representative from Spiller Farmer, a firm that has recently done deals for British Airways and the European Union in Bratislava. "They may have a stable of international tenants, but they don't know how to make a deal any better than we do."

Martina Molt, of ACI, a company that has been active in Bratislava since January 1993, scoffed at her more wary competitors. "They say 'Bratislava is too small for us,'" she said. Then, smiling, she added, "It's enough for us." "There is a market here , but not a lot of depth."

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