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A week in the life of an international estate agent

publication date: Jun 19, 2007
author/source: James Wyatt
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Property exhibitions vary in shape and around the world and the number of people attending will vary wildly too. Indian and Pakistani exhibitions think nothing of 50,000 visitors over three days, whereas a lot of UK exhibitions now struggle to attract a few thousand. Last year, I had to suffer three days in Dublin at an exhibition where there were fewer than 1,000 over three desperately boring and unproductive days. Won’t be going back there!

It is often assumed that America does these kind of shows ‘biggest and best’. But they don’t. In fact, I’ve come to realize that our property marketing is probably better!

I’ve reported on the Middle East in the past, and their property Exhibitions are very flashy with wonderful stands. But the hospitality tradition of sitting down for hours and hours talking about your family before you get down to business, over thick tar like coffee and sickly sweets is beyond me.

No, the King of them all is SIMA in Spain – Salon Inmobiliario de Madrid – held every year at the massive IFEMA Exhibition Halls near Madrid airport. After an excellent NAEA congress on Friday, there was thankfully a long Bank Holiday weekend before I headed off to Spain for the year’s biggest party – I mean property exhibition.


Sir Stelios takes me to Madrid (for £6 more than it costs me to go 21 miles on the train to London!), and a handy shuttle bus completes the journey to my usual cheapy hotel. The Novotel has a big advantage over nearly all the other hotels that are ‘recommended’ in that it is almost next to the Exhibition centre. It has a pool too and the bar is cheap.

I take the underground into town. Just 50p anywhere compared with London’s monstrous £4. The NAR (America’s National Association of Realtors) have their ‘welcome’ meeting at some ghastly NH Hotel in the grotty ‘Americas’ district of Madrid.

The Americans are good at this kind of meeting. We all have to stand up and introduce ourselves, where we’re from, why we are in Madrid and so on. This kind of thing used to turn my stomach, but it breaks the ice. This is a week long event, and all the presentations, lectures, events and parties are explained to us as well as an address by the US Embassy. All good stuff.

And then the dreaded networking. Our cousins from across the pond love networking, although for a lot of them, this involves no more than a cursory exchanging of business cards.

There are NAR members from a dozen countries at this meeting and it is useful to exchange views on each others markets and marketing methods. One Puerto Rican Agent was offering American customers a free boob job with every property purchase! “Pay for one boob, get the other done free!” Unbelievable.

The SIMA organisers were on hand, and dragged everyone off for a tour of the local tapas bars.


Simply orientating yourself at SIMA is quite a job. The show catalogue is a mind boggling 420 page monster. The accompanying ‘Practical guide’ is mere 356 pages. More than 800 companies are exhibiting this year over an area of one million square feet – just over half the space available at IFEMA. Simply to walk from one end of the building to the other takes ten minutes, so a degree of planning is worthwhile unless you are determined to make this into a walking expedition (which it is anyway).

The day starts with a conference round table discussion about ‘Establishing New Marketing Outlets’. NAR President Dick Gaylor and our own Ian Tonge from the NAEA are on the panel. The conclusion was unclear to me, although another panelist, Kristina Szekely took 20 minutes of waffle to let us know that her Spanish estate agency was probably the best marketing outlet. Thanks Kristina for that…

I meet up with Laura from my office who is here for the rest of the week and my brother who runs our sales department, who is here for the day simply to see what all the fuss is about.

Groupo Pinar is the first to have one of the many cocktail parties just after midday. This huge company has a predictably huge stand, which has a shiny Mercedes Benz on display. Our host’s translation goes slight awry as he tells us that there is one being given free to all their Agents today. What a result! I instantly think of driving it home on Saturday, before realizing that what he actually means is that they are giving one to every purchaser today. Shame.

We move on to the International Business Centre where there is a ‘welcome’ cocktail party. This is a useful area to meet up the hordes of professional visitors from the US, South America, Europe and South Africa. And the 11 professional from the UK. Just 11. An embarrassing number really, considering we are such an important market for the Spanish developers. I sit with an Argentine chap for 15 minutes during which the Falkland Islands are much discussed. I never falter in calling them the Falkland Islands and he never falters in calling them Las Malvinas. The South Americans are here in force, with Brazil tipped as the ‘hot’ new market.


There are over 20,000 ‘professionals’ visiting SIMA this week, and most of us treat Thursday and Friday as the main days for working the halls hard – meeting existing client developers to maintain the personal side of the relationship, and meeting new developers to see if their products fit with our business criteria.

But there are still useful talks and lectures to attend, and I start the day at two interesting discussions – “The Second Home Market in Spain – View and Prospects”. The presenters confirm that too many properties are being built in Spain right now, and the demand isn’t quite there.

Then “How to Improve Competitiveness and Provide Added Value To The Product”. Well, this is the perfect answer to the first talk! Build better properties, and build them with the right consents in place, seems to be the view. Interestingly, one of the speakers was from Aifos who were themselves involved in a spot of bother recently for selling new homes without proper building consents…..

The day is spent talking and talking and talking. There are so many business opportunities here. It is giddy stuff and the hours fly by. Part of the fun of SIMA is simply looking at the amazing stands. Some of them cover 5,000 square feet. Many have a second storey for the ‘VIP’ area (usually a bar). Spanish developers like to have the biggest and best stand at SIMA. It’s peacocks showing their feathers. “Mine’s bigger than your” and all that. And cost doesn’t seem to come into the equation. I heard of many who are blowing well over half a million euros on their stand for the five day event.

For me the most striking was the Calidona stand – large, elegant and functional. Polaris World had a new stand which was a real eye catcher. Noisiest was definitely the Royal Duja Group who have an ear splitting Spanish band at every exhibition. Praise also to Groupo Mall who rather strangely had a Mexican guitar trio playing on a mini golf course!


The morning lecture was “Increase your Profits with International Commissions. ”Something I gather us Brits are terrible at. I met goodness only knows how many Americans who make an awful lot of money from referrals. Memo to myself to do more. Then Peter Knight of Phoenix plc on “How to Stand out from the Crowd”. If anyone can, it’s Peter – he’s an excellent speaker.

In between business meetings, there is yet another cocktail reception, being held this time by the Florida Association of Realtors. More card swapping and so on.

Early evening, a group of us meet up at the same NH hotel I had visited on Tuesday. It seems the quality of the hotel hadn’t amused many of the American contingent and a number of them had checked out the first night and decamped to a swankier joint.

The organisers put on a tremendous last night party at the stunning Palacio de Gaviria. It’s an Italian Renaissance styled p(a)lace, built in early Victorian times and is now used for all sorts of functions. The various rooms were used for us to sit and chat, dance and even line-dance with scantily clad beauties. Hmm, that was fun. At midnight we all turned into frogs and the place opened its doors to the public as a public disco. Thing were still going strong when a number of us left at 5am. This, I presume, is the real reason why the Spanish need such a long afternoon siesta! My trip home is another story all together…..


This is my last Going Global diary. I’ve written it for a year, covering something like 10 countries and numerous Islands. On my travels, I’ve met a lot of Agents, and thankfully what stands out is that UK Agents have the most sophisticated marketing methods of anywhere in the world. We work longer than just about anyone, and we get paid the lowest commissions. There’s something wrong there.


James Wyatt MNAEA, MARLA, TRC, REALTOR ® Barton Wyatt International T:01344 843000