Alessandro Gravinese, Head of International Clients & Cross Border Valuation in Colliers RES, talks about his first ten years in Colliers and about the role of valuation in Italy and in the international market.
How long have you been working in the real estate industry and how did you end up at Colliers?
I’ve been working in the real estate industry for the past 16 years. I remember my first day because it was my birthday, the 9th of May 2005. In the first 6 years of my career, I worked in two different companies, in the areas of asset management and valuations. Then, 10 years ago, on the 9th of May 2011, once again on my birthday, I joined Colliers. At the time I wanted to gain some experience abroad and lined up interviews with companies in Germany and England, but when this opportunity at Colliers came up, I had no doubts. And today, after 10 years, I can confidently say that I made the right decision.
Let's take stock of these 10 years at Colliers: what is one thing you leave behind and one thing you want to take with you into your future career path?
I leave behind, and am happy to do so, work experience in companies with a pyramid organisational structure that offer limited opportunities for growth. Instead, in the future, I hope to renew my decision to become part of a world in which you provide consulting to third parties and where the added value you offer as a consultant is in demand and highly appreciated by clients. Thus, much more rewarding.
What is one lesson that you treasure?
The value of interpersonal relationships, whether with clients, colleagues or bosses, and the fact that we never stop learning from them. I am known for being diplomatic and very balanced in relationships, but there always comes a certain point when I say to myself: “There, I’ve learned something new."
Moreover, with respect to the processes of learning, training and growth, there are two mottos that I often repeat to my junior colleagues: “knowledge is the basis for all success”, by Winston Churchill (which is even more true in the real estate field, especially for appraisers, as we are quite transversal in the different activities), and “this is part of your professional growth”, usually in reference to challenging situations and during physically stressful periods (especially when workloads are greater, usually December and June, in conjunction with the semi-annual reports of the funds).
"At Colliers, while we are not yet structured to respond to massive needs, we still do NPL analysis and we do it based on our own characteristics and processes, peculiarities, providing better quality work"
In the Italian real estate sector, the economic consequences generated by the current pandemic include a significant increase in impaired loans. What are the opportunities to be seized and what risks should be assessed?
NPLs are usually large portfolios, so the valuation activity is more massive than qualitative. To do such mass valuation work, you need specific software or, in any case, lots of staff. At Colliers, while we are not yet structured to respond to massive needs, we still do NPL analysis and we do it based on our own characteristics and processes, peculiarities, providing better quality work. This means that those who turn to us for impaired loans know that they are not entrusting us with 200 properties, but rather the 20 with the greatest weight and for which more specific analysis is required. In this respect, the opportunity for us lies in the implementation of this activity which, although involving NPLs, we are able to carry out with high-quality results.
Compared to a traditional valuation, the risk in valuing an NPL is that we are forced to make estimates that may later prove to be completely wrong in the actual state of affairs, possibly due to a lack of information. This is actually a risk for valuations in general and not only for impaired loans, but NPLs in particular also have another peculiarity: they are always in areas of Italy that are not considered prime in the real estate market. In fact, impaired loans are rarely found in Milan or Rome, and are usually outside of the big cities: for example, they might be found in the countryside of the Veneto region with production plants. So you have to pay attention to the information you are given and possibly search for more and compare it, with the aim of providing a quality service and formulating the most accurate valuation.
"Over the past year and a half, we’ve looked even more closely at what our colleagues abroad were doing, to identify what best practices they were using at the time"
Valuations in uncertain circumstances: what is the best approach to real estate valuations during this time of market disruption due to the current pandemic situation?
Regardless of the valuation methods, the basis of our work is the information acquired from the market, which we must always examine. However, during the pandemic, we learned how to further increase our bases of comparison, since at such a unique time, the market was no longer able to offer an adequate number of comparables to support our numbers. In fact, over the past year and a half, we’ve looked even more closely at what our colleagues abroad were doing, to identify what best practices they were using at the time. Moreover, to further protect our clients, we followed an important guideline by international body RICS, with which we are certified: to carry out valuations more frequently so as to identify any minimum variation in the market, in a context where uncertainty has become a new element to be considered.
"They see it as a guarantee of a certain level of quality and knowledge of the market"
What are the main requirements of foreign clients in Italy and what is the added value of having a local valuer who is part of an international network?
The international client is willing to pay a bit more than the Italian client, because the latter actually already knows the market and needs the valuation primarily to have a certified value. On the other hand, the international investor, especially one entering the Italian market for the first time, actually relies on you not only as an valuer, but as an advisor as well. Foreign clients also ask for a lot more, wanting every detail with particular attention and diligence. They appreciate the international nature of our company because, although they are seeking a local valuer, they see it as a guarantee of a certain level of quality and knowledge of the market.
What added value has working in an international team brought to your professional career?
Interacting with international clients who have a different culture, including with regard to real estate, has allowed me to broaden my horizons, and I see this as a job benefit. Moreover, it is a type of know-how that can be shared with certain Italian clients who sometimes require an update on the international real estate market (especially European).
What country’s real estate culture appeals the most to you?
Germany, due to their transparency and their innate ability to play by the rules. At Colliers, we are all members of RICS, which applies the same valuation rules throughout the world, but our German colleagues are truly admirable in their strict application of Red Book standards.
"Another aspect we focus on to a significant extent is the description of the locations and assets in our reports"
“Is there a bit of Italy missing” in the real estate culture of other countries?