«FORTUNE FAVORS THE BOLD»

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«The Interview» Business Partners Magazine of the American Chamber of Commerce – «BUSINESS PARTNERS»- JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2019

Charikleia Stouka, realtor® and founder of Alma Real Estate, talks to Business Partners about the secrets to her success, the fulfillment that comes from making a difference in people’s lives, and the rewards of perseverance. (page 24)

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. How did you get started in real estate? Was this something you always you wanted to do?

You could call it fate or a happy accident. I stumbled into the real estate sector while seeking a job, many years ago. In the beginning, I didn’t even know this profession really existed to the extent that it does. At the time my family had increased financial needs, and as a single mother, I was looking for a career in which success is rewarded with more than just a flat salary. Of course, this also carries a risk, but I was ready to give it my all and hope for the best. I had previously studied construction engineering and had some experience managing small family property, so I figured this was a natural next step. I took a job with a local real estate agency to gain insight into the sector and learn from more experienced colleagues. As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. But I was learning fast, and soon enough I was in a position I felt comfortable going at it alone. That’s when I decided to start Alma Real Estate, initially from a desk in my parent’s living room, which they were kind and understanding enough to provide. Necessity really is the strongest motivation. Alma was born out of necessity, but I found that I loved constantly challenging myself to the best I can in my field. Having something of your own to work for, made everything seem worthwhile. We have grown a lot since that first desk in 2001, and we keep taking on new challenges. Every day is an opportunity to grow.

What makes you so passionate about real estate?

To this day, my passion for the real estate business grows from the satisfaction I receive from successfully matching a property and a client. Knowing I have found the best home for a family or the best office space for a business to flourish is a reward I value highly. This is what keeps me passionate and motivates me to continue. I receive great satisfaction when I run into former clients and I get that confirmation that the choices we made together for their property were the right ones. Hearing, “This property is exactly what we were looking for,” or, “We are happy because of you,” makes all the difference between a job and a passion.

Why did you choose the name ALMA for your real estate business?

Alma is the Greek word for “leap.” At the time, deciding to start this company was a great leap of faith. Of course, my family had faith in me, but I also needed to have faith in myself, stick to my decisions and follow through with my plan. Later on, I found out that the word «alma» exists in many languages, with its various meanings, funnily enough, all relevant to our ethos. In Italian and Spanish, for example, «alma» means “soul” and in Latin, it means “kind” and “nourishing.”

Where is Alma Real Estate active today?

Our day-to-day activities are focused around the northern suburbs of Athens as well as the city center, but we follow our clients wherever they can benefit from our services and guidance. We are mainly active in the residential and retail/office markets, but having been in the market for so long, we have grown our network to include businesses, specialty buildings, industrial buildings, luxury villas and summer houses, as well as plots of land for development and even islands.

What is your company’s mission?

Our mission is to empower our clients, through our combined experience and resources, to make the best informed real estate decisions. Our clients are at the center of everything we do, and our work focuses on what’s best for them. Every client has different needs and aspirations and is a unique project for us. We stand by them throughout the entire process and provide services that extend way beyond the date of the contract.

What is the real estate business like? What are some of the challenges you face?

The competition in this field is fierce, so it’s important to distinguish yourself from your competitors. It’s also crucial to efficiently manage cash flows between active periods and less active periods. Cyclical and seasonal demand in some markets, holidays, changes in legislation, changes in banking, changes in government and, of course, the ever-volatile Greek economy keep you on your toes, and you have to continuously adapt. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Running a business is not so much about your resources but about your resourcefulness. There are ups and downs. There have been periods when business was great and periods when it was a challenge to keep the lights on. To win you must stay in the game—and that sometimes means putting aside your ego, taking an objective perspective, and doing what is best for the business.

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«IT’S A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT, RUNNING A BUSINESS IS NOT SO MUCH ABOUT YOUR RESOURCES BUT ABOUT YOUR RESOURCEFULNESS» – “ JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2019 – «BUSINESS PARTNERS»

Based on your experience in the field, what do you think it takes to succeed?

One of the most important qualities for any entrepreneur is to be able to remain objective and flexible and do what is necessary for the client and for the business to thrive. Another important quality, especially in our line of work, is efficiency, and that comes with experience. I’m now much faster at determining which clients are serious prospects and how to best allocate resources to find the most appropriate match between them and the right properties. That said, success is an ever moving goalpost. In my case, would say that what has propelled Alma Real Estate and my own career is recognizing that every client is unique and finding what works best for them, and always being ready to seize opportunities! The most important ingredient, of course, is sweat equity: putting in the hard work day in and day out, come rain or shine.

Alma Real Estate has now been active for the best part of two decades. What is your opinion on the way the industry is developing in Greece? What do you think the future holds for the real estate market in our country?

Many aspects of the industry have changed and are continuing to change at a rapid pace, but the industry at its core is the same it has always been over the past couple of decades. The scale of projects remains the same—although there are some larger scale projects planned for Athens in the near future if the economy continues to recover! The clients are also the same, but demand changes through the years based on the economy, legislation and the lending power of banks. We are slowly also seeing an increase in foreign investment which will hopefully continue as the legal framework improves. One part of our work that has changed a great deal is advertising. Social media now claims an ever-increasing market share in the promotion of real estate. The future cannot be predicted, but we are seeing some increased activity lately, in demand as well as supply, with developers slowly getting back into the game. We hope this continues.

So what is your advice for aspiring realtors?

Education is key. Learn, learn, learn—and learn! If you are not experienced in the sector, either join a course or take a job with an established agency and work with experienced realtors. When first starting out, you must plan your budget. Do not expect to be profitable from day one. Don’t forget to factor in your personal expenses, and make sure you are aware of all expenses involved, especially advertising and fuel charges. Success is like rent, it is due monthly. Do not make cash flow projections based on your best months. Plan for long term growth. Last but not least, make sure to walk in your client’s shoes, every single time.

What about homeowners? Are there any tips or pointers you want to share with them for choosing a realtor?

It is best to get referrals from friends who have used a realtor in the past and are satisfied with the service. Research the realtor’s background and their office beforehand, and make sure you are aware of your legal rights and obligations before starting your professional relationship. The most important factor in a successful cooperation is communicating your needs and wants with honesty. You have to be honest with your doctor, lawyer and realtor!

What advice would you give to young people thinking of becoming entrepreneurs?

Entrepreneurship is a very hip word these days. The media idolizes entrepreneurs—but they only show the successful side of things. Business is a journey, and as is the case with all journeys, you must be well prepared for the ride and ready to stick it out no matter the weather. Be prepared to fail and be prepared to learn as fast as possible. Remember that “fortune favors the bold» and when you make it through, it will be the trip of a lifetime.

 

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