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October 25th, 2018

Investment with fun factor – Bilanz Homes – Mr. Grübel

From the tee of the 16th hole on the golf course at La Zagaleta a Swiss flag is blowing up on the hill on top of the roof of the Villa. There lives the long-standing board member and today’s Honorary Chairman of Credit Suisse, Rainer E. Gut. He was one of the first who discovered the charm of the hilly green landscape behind the coast of Marbella and built a holiday home in the Golf & Country Club La Zagaleta.

Translation of the article BILANZ HOMES, published in October 2018.

(The magazine is published twice a year as a Real Estate supplement of BILANZ, the leading Swiss business and economic magazine).

Oswald Grübel, Credit Suisse Group and UBS former Group Chief Executive has found his second home at LA ZAGALETA, in the hinterland of the Costa del Sol.

Today he is the Chairman and a partner in Europe’s most exclusive real estate project. A home visit.

From the tee of the 16th hole on the golf course at La Zagaleta a Swiss flag is blowing up on the hill on top of the roof of the Villa. There lives the long-standing board member and today’s Honorary Chairman of Credit Suisse, Rainer E. Gut. He was one of the first who discovered the charm of the hilly green landscape behind the coast of Marbella and built a holiday home in the Golf & Country Club La Zagaleta.

Since then, a lot has happened on the nearly nine square kilometres large area: two golf courses have been created, riding stables, tennis courts, two clubhouses, 50 kilometres of roads and a heliport have been built. In addition, 230 houses have been built so far, with a sales volume of two billion euros.

Investment with fun factor – Bilanz Homes – Mr. Grübel

This results in an average of 8.7 million euros per building. But there is hardly a limit to the top. The most expensive house to date costs 55 million euros and, with 20 bedrooms and en-suite bathrooms, has the dimension of a typical boutique hotel. “The Russians and the Arabs are buying in the top price category,” explains Ignacio Pérez Diaz, who is the Zagaleta Group´s Vice President of Marketing.

Investment with fun factor – Bilanz Homes – Mr. Grübel

Germans are more likely to buy modest homes, even if they have over a billion euros. Indians, Pakistanis and Americans are also buyers, but it’s often customers who have their centre of life in England, and La Zagaleta, with its nearby Malaga airport, is easily accessible even for a short weekend.

 Full service for busy people Customers are often busy people who want to find their home, garden and pool in perfect conditions when they arrive. This is ensured by gardeners, cleaning teams, security staff and craftsmen of the Zagaleta Service company. The price for a proper maintenance of a five-bedroom villa, 500 to 600 square meters of living space, and a 2000-square-meter garden with pool costs around 70.000€ a year. However, this includes the cost of local taxes and the unlimited use of golf, tennis and riding facilities for the entire family.

Discretion and privacy are top priorities at La Zagaleta Golf & Country Club. Nevertheless, it is known that here, among others, the Lucerne watch and jewellery king, Jörg Bucherer, lets the wind blow in his face. Other owners: the German Carsten Koerl, who before the bursting of the dot-com bubble brought the bookmaker Betandwin on the stock market and today CEO of the St. Gallen sports data provider Sportradar, the Swede Bertil Hult, owner of the based in Lucerne EF language schools, the Englishman Sir Frank Chapman, former CEO of British oil and gas company BG Group, as well as English-born Hans Roger Snook, co-founder of British telecom provider Orange, Lord Stanley Fink, a British hedge fund manager and former CEO of Man Group, in Switzerland became known through the 2002 takeover of RMF, the hedge fund of Rainer-Marc Frey. Another prominent owner was Irishman Peter Sutherland, former Chairman of Goldman Sachs. He passed away in January this year.

But younger buyers also enjoy the concept of La Zagaleta: for example, Marco Vögele, a descendant of the textile and shoe merchant Charles Vögele, or the 39-year-old Dane David Heinemeier Hansson, who created the popular framework Ruby on Rails as a software developer and today partner with the software company Basecamp. He lives mostly in windy Chicago and sought a place in the sun – actually only for rent. But La Zagaleta blew him away right away. When he received the TV crew of a popular Danish show for a house visit, he praised the gated community’s climate, landscape and security as well as the “combination of Spanish laid-back mentality and Swiss reliability and quality”.

Investment with fun factor – Bilanz Homes – Mr. Grübel

Kashoggi once lived here This mix derives from the history of the project: in 1989, Spanish banker Enrique Pérez Flores bought the property together with the private estate “La Baraka” from the bankruptcy estate of arms dealer Adnan Kashoggi. In 1991, the development company La Zagaleta was founded. The Pérez family is still the majority owner today. The senior is still closely following his business from his home in Zürich-Höngg, his son, José, works as CEO, his younger son Ignacio, who grew up in Switzerland and speaks perfect Swiss German in addition to his mother tongue Spanish is responsible for the brand strategy. Mix of Swiss reliability and Spanish “laisser-faire” The CS-Grande (Credit Suisse) Rainer E. Gut helped, at least in the background, with the foundation of the company and was one of the first house buyers. And it was probably no coincidence that his CS colleague Oswald Grübel became aware of this area in 1998 and built his second home with a guest house, an indoor pool and a spacious garden with lavish flower ornaments and palm trees. When Enrique Pérez Flores turned 90, he wanted to hand over the board of directors to someone younger and found his successor in the person of Grübel. With a share of 7.5 percent, the Swiss banker is now one of the company’s major shareholders. “Of all my investments, this one has the greatest fun factor.”Oswald Grübel spends an average of ten days a month in La Zagaleta, often together with his partner Renate Häusler.

Investment with fun factor – Bilanz Homes – Mr. Grübel

Interview with LA ZAGALETA´s Chairman of the Board, Oswald Grübel on the philosophy of La Zagaleta

“We are not kamikazes”

HOMES: Mr. Grübel, sorry, if we keep you from playing golf ….

Oswald Grübel: No, no, I rarely play, even though I have two perfectly groomed and very attractive golf courses right on my doorstep. But I find the politics and the markets much more interesting.

Investment with fun factor – Bilanz Homes – Mr. Grübel

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.


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