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Around 4,000 people work each year in this sector, concentrated around Marbella, Estepona and Benahavís
24.04.13 - 13:51 -
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The construction of luxury homes escapes the crisis and requires qualified workers
The average cost of this type of villa is over four million euros. :: Josele-Lanza
There is one construction-based sector where the machines have not stopped working and where at times it is difficult to find qualified staff to carry out certain jobs. With building cranes in hibernation and more than 200,000 people out of work in Malaga province that may be hard to imagine, but it is true. This sector is within in the triangle formed by Marbella, Estepona and Benahavís and last year it generated more than 250 million euros worth of business and about 4,000 jobs, of which 1,000 were direct.
The television programmes that show mansions with vast amounts of open space and where life appears to be easier have allowed us to discover spa baths, underground gymnasiums where an entire rugby team could train, glass walls through which the water in the swimming pool melds with the blue of the sea and the occasional eccentric owner with exhibitionist tendencies. But behind this façade lies an industry that has kept alive at least a part of the construction sector and where one specific area of Malaga province competes for world leadership.
The DOM3 association, which brings together 23 companies related to the construction of top-of-the -range homes, estimates that during the past year about 60 properties were built within the aforementioned triangle of Marbella, Estepona and Benahavís and whose cost per unit was at least one million euros. Apart from the figures mentioned above, this business also generated another which the offices of the Hacienda tax authority will value above all others: 22 million euros in IVA (value added tax).
These amounts are far from those achieved during the boom years, when the annual figures were at least double those attained at present, but this sector has managed to stay afloat and, unlike the rest of the property development industry, it did not sink when the crisis cut off the flow of finance and showed the size of the bubble it had formed.
In fact, it continues to remain afloat and away from the ups and downs of the rest of the property sector. It neither grew excessively during the years when the bubble was formed, nor did it plummet when the crisis came.
With top-of-the-range properties - those who work in the sector avoid the word ‘luxury’ because of the stigma they believe it causes - there is the advantage that clients do not need finance or have easy access to it. However there is also the complex task of satisfying people who can be considered the most demanding purchasers in the world.
Following the policy of Donald Trump, who recommends that when it comes to buying property three factors should be taken into account, “location, location and location”, the luxury houses are mainly found in a few specific areas. La Zagaleta, Guadalmina, Los Monteros, Sierra Blanca and La Quinta are some of the most popular, although the triangle formed by the three municipalities is characterised by its scattering of properties of this type.
In fact, the area can boast that its only competition is on the Côte d’Azur in France, the Italian island of Sardinia and, to a lesser extent, also in Dubai.
There is one factor which is usually unalterable when it comes to defining what we are talking about when we mention a ‘luxury’ property: the environment. If a top-of-the-range house is surrounded by others of the same quality, its value grows. Space is another of the most highly valued aspects. These are houses built with a maximum of two storeys above ground level on no less than 1,500 square metres of land and which are at least 350 square metres in size. They usually have outdoor and indoor swimming pools, a gymnasium, a spa, a cinema and something else which has become inescapable: nowadays nobody builds a luxury house without a lift.
One of the reasons why the construction of this type of house generates so much wealth is that the whole process, once the land has been acquired, is carried out in the same area: from the design - there are about 20 architectural studios, mainly in Marbella, which have specialised in top-of-the-range houses - to the final decoration, including specialist builders, suppliers of materials, security companies, gardening companies and interior decorators.
High specialisation
In most cases these are companies that are not very big but that are highly specialised and usually work for a very small number of clients, often only one or two at a time. Their marketing is also different. They don’t follow the traditional channels and they work in a coordinated fashion with specialist agencies in the countries where the buyers are to be found, because the Spanish market for this type of property is very small.
However, according to Dom3, paradoxically in a province where the construction sector has been particularly badly affected by unemployment, finding skilled people to work with the highly complex and expensive materials which are used for these properties is not always easy. The companies say they find a lack of training when they need to employ specialists in the treatment of marble, installations or the latest in electronics.
Because of this, the sector is preparing a strategic plan for top-of-the-range properties which aims to draw the attention of the authorities to the need for improved training in those aspects, because this is essential if Marbella and its area of influence are to continue as world leaders in this industry.
Above all, this is because the chain of wealth creation does not end with the construction of the house. The owners of these properties are the people who have the highest purchasing power and although they usually spend most of the year abroad they also travel to the Costa del Sol several times a year.
Also, most of these properties have permanent household staff. Nearly all the owners employ between two and five people on a permanent basis to take care of maintenance, cooking, cleaning and gardening duties . This is not a negligible factor. In fact, it is practically one small -to-medium sized business per top of the range house.
Clients: rich, foreign, anonymous, ecologists, demanding, understanding
The market for this type of property is concentrated in Scandinavia, the UK, France, Russia and the Arab countries
People who have worked with this type of client profile them as the owners or directors of leading global companies, who are demanding but at the same time understanding about the peculiarities of the country and who value anonymity above all. At this level, rich and famous are qualities that do not go hand in hand.
Anonymity is one of the aspects most valued by these clients and is one of the reasons they choose the Marbella area, where they are unlikely to be recognised. “Sometimes they may feel like playing a game of golf or strolling around Puerto Banús in sandals, and nobody would suspect that they had just met the owner of an oil company or the director of a huge multinational business,” explains Sofía Polo, of Grupo Polo, one of the 23 companies that make up Dom3.
But being far away from the centres of power to which they belong does not make them relax when it comes to demanding the most for their money.
“These are people who travel a great deal, they know all the latest trends and they insist on having the best. They know what they want,” explains Sofía. However, the level of demand is almost always accompanied by a high level of understanding. “These are educated people who understand the peculiarities of each country,” she says. They also tend to be demanding about matters such as the use of energy and respect for the environment.
Although the businesses sometimes start projects themselves and then seek channels of commercialisation afterwards, the majority of their work is through projects brought to them by the owners, who acquire land on the Costa del Sol and then look for the companies who can help them create their ideal house.
Almost all the purchasers of properties of this type are foreigners - Scandinavians, British, French, Belgians, Arabs and Russians are the most active markets at present - so knowledge of languages is essential, but so is knowledge of the latest materials, the latest technology and the latest fashion in decor. “Most of the suppliers are in Spain but sometimes we have to look for materials abroad,” explains Sofía Polo. At times, it is the demands of the clients that bring the professionals up to date. The existence of a type of transparent glass for the doors of a bathroom, which becomes opaque as soon as they are locked, was one of the things Sofía learned from a client. She had to go to Sweden to buy it.
However, the greatest demands from clients are with regard to internet connection, something which is not always the best on the Costa del Sol. “These people never stop working and they need to be permanently connected; sometimes they don’t understand that the internet may fail or that it doesn’t work at the speed they need,” explains Sofía.
In fact, although the houses are equipped with jacuzzi, gymnasium, swimming pools and cinemas, there is something which is never lacking and which tends to be the first thing the buyers ask for. Inside their new house, they always need an office.

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