HOMES: Nevertheless, you come here regularly?
Oswald Grübel: Yes, I’m here for an average of ten days a month. When I visited for the first time about 20 years ago, I immediately realized that this was the right place for me. I sleep better and so much energy than anywhere else. The peace, the green landscape, the light breeze that always blows in this hilly landscape, convinced me immediately. I built myself a house but then, although I was still in the middle of my operational job.
HOMES: Did you build yourself?
Oswald Grübel: Yes, but I would not do that again because I had to rebuild several times. I would rather buy an already built and new house nowadays.
HOMES: But you did not regret it anyway?
Oswald Grübel: No, building was much cheaper than it is today, and land and construction prices have increased tenfold in 20 years.
HOMES: You have been President of La Zagaleta for five years. Did one have to persuade you to do that?
Oswald Grübel: Not much. As a homeowner and now also as Chairman of the homeowner´s association and for several years a co-shareholder, I’m of course interested in making things go well here.
HOMES: What is your contribution?
Oswald Grübel: My main responsibility is to maintain reputation, help define the strategy and manage finances. As we have a low debt we could survive perfectly a rate hike. Every year, we build a few houses at our own risk, so that we can also offer turnkey projects, where a buyer can move in without having to worry about the least. Even the hand towels, bed linen, crockery and cutlery are already there, the sound system is working, and the TV channels are programmed.
HOMES: Where is the trend going?
Oswald Grübel: We are currently almost no longer building in the traditional Andalusian style. Today, the majority of buyers want modern architecture with plenty of steel and glass and window fronts, which offer a view of the beautiful landscape and the sea. The kitchen is becoming more and more the center of living and are no longer as in the back corner of the house. For our new properties, we mainly rely on the so-called futures, i.e. on buyers who can afford houses between six and eight million euros. We want to reach and build some to 200 additional homes here, on average we sell three houses per year, although there have been years in which we have sold 20.
HOMES: But at this rate, it will take another 10 to 20 years for the site to be expanded. In addition, houses from the secondary market are coming into the market again and again.
Oswald Grübel: Yes, that’s right, often houses come on the market because a generational change takes place. But we are long term thinkers and prefer quality rather than quantity. And we are planning further similar projects parallel to the location, so that we can continue to grow in the future. La Zagaleta has made a name for itself as a developer of quality homes in a prime location. We also want to use the brand and our know-how at other top destinations. We search in Italy, Portugal and Greece and receive attractive offers from other regions. But we are no kamikazes and select very picky. We have very selective customers, so we have to be equally very choosy. So far, however, only one project has fulfilled our ambitious criteria.
HOMES: Are you talking about Valderrama?
Oswald Grübel: Yes, we were lucky enough to be able to buy in 2015 the land with the world-famous golf course. Also, former world-class golfer Greg Norman wanted to get it, but we got the nod on the second attempt. We have invested 40 million euros, sold the golf course to the members for 28 million, and now we have become owners of 220 hectares of building land in a prime location for 12 million euros. There we plan a similar concept as in La Zagaleta: We will divide the land into spacious plots that are loosely built with individually designed houses. We are also planning to build a hotel and a new golf course, which we want to have designed by a world-class golf architect. As in La Zagaleta, we will also have a service company at Valderrama, which will take care of all the problems for the owners – from the cleaning to the catering service and maintenance. Our guest management also offers highly exclusive experiences and a bespoke concierge service. That’s what makes the difference: we do not just see ourselves as real estate developers, we also offer our customers the entire after-sales service.
HOMES: How do you have to imagine life here? Do the owners know each other? Do you celebrate parties together?
Oswald Grübel: Yes, you run your way, in the Clubhouse, on the golf course or at the horses. In addition, we meet at exclusive events where luxury brands like Rolex, Patek Philippe or Mercedes like to hold with us.
HOMES: Your buyers are citizens from all over the world but also from countries where money-laundering and corruption are commonplace. It can be assumed that a lot of dirty money is invested here.
Oswald Grübel: This is no longer possible nowadays, that has stopped about 15 years ago. We have to do a due diligence on every buyer and at the latest when making the payment, like in Switzerland, the buyer has to prove where the money comes from. We do not want any difficulties or scandals.