ILIAS PAPAGEORGIADIS, The Greek in Real estate: “The taxi drivers and prostitutes have disappeared from the real estate market”
Author: Alexandru Vărzaru
On forums he’s called the Greek. After Jean Valvis, Papageorgiadis is the second most well-known Greek in Romania. He has a blog, www.iliaspapageorgiadis.ro, where he writes about bad real estate agents, greedy sellers and naïve clients. He became well known in 2007-2008, being the one, despite the trend, that was saying that the crisis will come and prices will fall. I have been following him ever since and I base my belief in him and other like him, hoping that one day I will be able to buy an apartment with 20.000 euro in the center of Bucharest.
Reporter: Who are you, where do you come from?
Ilias Papageorgiadis: My family was in commerce in the Ottoman Empire, because it was an area without borders, like the European Union is now. When Greece lost the war with the Turks in 1922, my family had to start from scratch. They had been very wealthy in Turkey but they lost everything and came to Greece only with the clothes on their backs. Until 1957 my family had the biggest meat business in Greece. They bought all the lambs in Northern Greece and Macedonia and sent them to Athens, approximately 10.000 a week.
Rep: I remember the story about what happened on your blog.
I.P.: In 1957, my family bought trucks in order to improve the commerce with Athens. They sent all of the trucks with lambs to Athens, before Easter. It was a sabotage, they trucks were stuck somewhere and got to Athens very later. Until they figured it out, they had already lost 2 days. They arrived in Athens on Saturday afternoon, before Easter. The lambs where bought with 42 drachmas and were sold with 11. The loss was equivalent to 2 million euro today. The lambs were not bought on invoices, but based on a verbal agreement. They had 2 options. The first was to say: “sorry, we’ll pay you back in 5-10 years, we’ve lost everything”. They chose the second option: an extremely expensive loan, one of the biggest in Greece at the time, in order to pay everyone. The loan was fully paid in 1989. They did everything in order not to lose the respect of the society. In 1974 we were close to paying off the loan but because of the regime and the war with Cyprus, the rate increased from 4% to 42%. It was a difficult choice. I don’t know how many people would do that but my family did. And I’m proud of them.
Rep: Why did you come to Romania?
IP: In 2003 I was a journalist and I had a politic marketing company, I did campaines for politicians. I also had a commerce firm. In my town, Katerini, I was known as a journalist, since 1991. In 1993 I made the first free magazine in Greece. In 1996 I had a show on television but I understood quickly that it wasn’t worth it. Journalism is a good profession, an interesting one but there is a saying: journalism is the best profession if you know when to give it up. In 2003 I thought about it for a long time and I understood that Greece would fall after the Olympic Games. I was certain. I talked to a lot of people and everyone told me that I was crazy. The deficit was still small, everything seemed in order but I said that it wouldn’t last. As a journalist I went to a lot of places, in Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, I didn’t like it. In 2004 I came to Romania and I said this was the place for me. The first thing that impressed me in Romania was that it had snowed quite heavily but the streets were clean, If it snows in Greece everyone complains but no one does anything. I thought: “Wow, what an organized country, every street is open!”. Another reason was that in 2004 the state had a lot of flaws. Exactly like in Greece! If you’re German, if you come from Denmark, you’re shocked when you arrive here. For someone that is used to this type of situation it feels like home. Another reason: in a place where the residents don’t trust themselves, everyone complains and work very little, it means that someone like me, a foreigner, has a place on the market. I came here with very little money. I had enough to buy a good car. And I started over. If you’re a foreigner, you know what the impression is? “He’s an idiot”. It’s the same for many countries. It took me 6 months to understand Romania.
Rep: What were you doing exactly?
IP: I did real estate. I had meetings every day, I checked documents, I asked what a cadastru was or a carte funciara. I didn’t have any money, I needed to understand.
Rep: Do you remember your first deal?
IP: I remember every property I bought or sold. For me Bucharest is split in: here I know who the owner is, here I know how much I made and here I know how much I lost. The first deal was a land in the south of Bucharest that I bought and then sold to a client of ours for a very high profit. The person that bought it sold it again and the third owner was the one that actually developed a residential project there.
Rep: Do you remember the first profit?
IP: Some few thousands euro. It wasn’t extraordinary. I didn’t even have an office in the first months. That being said, I respected my client, I tried not to do anything stupid. I can’t say that I was perfect But Romania helped me learn.
Rep: When did prices increase in Romania? Do you remember the moment?
IP: In 2004, in December, Romania was going through the same process Serbia is going through now as its trying to integrate in the European Union. And I remember that a very nice man came on television saying that it the next year, because Romania was entering the EU, the prices will increase by 30%. The next morning everyone increased prices by 30%.
Rep: So you were on a market that increased suddenly. How was that?
IP: There was a minority of serious people that made money and a majority of unserious people that also made money. I saw many cases in which the unserious made a lot of money. The model created by the press after 2004 was, unfortunately, that the cool man was the one that stole from others and made easy money that they spend on girls. And the girls get money easily, without putting any work into it. It’s a shame! And many believed that it was going to last a lifetime. We make money and we go to Monte Carlo, USA and Bora Bora and when we don’t have any money left, we make more tomorrow morning. In Greece we have a saying: Easter is only one day per year.
Rep: So Easter was only between 2004 and 2007?
IP: It was. Now it’s finished. If you notice, the majority that stole money lost it as well because they invested in properties until the last moment, meaning to sell them 2 or 3 times over the selling price. If you have money, it doesn’t mean that you are also intelligent and you can be a businessman. People that don’t know what to do with their money, lose everything. This is a lesson that many failed to learn. I lost a lot of money trying to protect my clients.
Face to face with Maradona
Rep: How come?
IP: I was in a fight once with Diego Armando Maradona. It was a situation when I said: the owner should put the papers in order and then we’ll buy the property. The investment was huge, some tens of millions of euro. When the sum is so big, you need a minimum of guaranty. If someone doesn’t want to give it to you then it’s a problem: Why doesn’t he want to? Something is fishy. The client was angry with me because his lawyers told him everything was in order, so did the architects. I blocked the transaction. Someone else bought the property after his consultant told him: “everything is great”. 5 years later and the property is still empty because it has legal and urbanistic problems.
Rep: And what happened?
IP: I lost my commission worth some hundreds of thousands of euro, 3 years went by in which my client did not talk to me. After 4 years he said: “Congratulations! You were right. I’ll buy you dinner”. What am I supposed to do with your dinner?
Rep: But what’s the connection with Diego Armando Maradona?
IP: Because I was fighting with the owner, trying to protect my client and he told me: “If you know anything about real estate, I’m Diego Armando Maradona!”.
Rep: How do you see the market now? What is the situation?
IP: I’m happy because the market is much cleaner now. Many people have left. There are no more taxi drivers, no more prostitutes. You went into the cab and you were asked: do you want to buy a land? Where? And then you found out it was at the end of the world at the affordable price of 10 euro/sqm. It isn’t like that anymore, the market is much more concentrated. But mentalities are not easily changes. Many people don’t want to know the reality. When I wrote that the market would fall, many were angry with me.
Rep: Did you lose clients when you started saying these things?
IP: Of course. But I can now say that I didn’t lie. If you want to hear only good things, there are others for that. But business is for the long term. If I let you make a mistake today, you won’t have any money tomorrow.
Rep: How much more will the market decrease?
IP: The important thing is that the trend be real. If there is demand, then the prices should increase, why not? If not and people are only trying to manipulate the market, that’s not healthy. Starting with 2009, in every January, many intelligent people come and say that the prices will increase. But without demand. And what do they do? The block the market, play with people’s feelings, they seem like good people and ultimately when someone makes an offer at a good price, they don’t sell expecting more and losing the offer in the process. Yesterday I met with a lady that came to my office with cookies and told me: “In 2010 I had an apartment in Dorobanti, with 4 rooms and had a selling offer for 230.000 euro. You told me to sell and erect a statue in honor of the buyer because the price will fall. My husband said that the price would increase because he read it in the news and asked for 280.000.” After a year, when they needed the money they sold for 140.000 euro. Ultimately I told the truth and they lost a lot of money. It’s an art to buy but it’s even more difficult to sell.
Rep: What is happening in Greece now?
IP: Many things. In Greece there is an unofficial civil war. More or less, there are two camps: the ones that want to stay in Euro Zone, want to stay in Europe, with problems but present. And the other camp that say: forget about the Euro Zone, Europe, our debt, let’s go banktrupt. Because they are frustrated by the countless austerity measures.
Rep: In which camp are you?
IP: I want to stay in the Euro Zone. But I don’t agree with the austerity measures that have resolved nothing. They come up with new ones every day. But what are we doing for evolution, growth? Nothing.
Rep: How does Romania compare?
IP: Romania has many advantages compared to Greece. Romanians don’t understand the many advantages they have as a country. They don’t have a big debt or deficit, they have a good economy and growth potential. Romanians complain but where are things great now? Germany? France? Italy? Spain? I’d like to know.