Alexei Filimonov, Astera

ASTERA, an alliance member of BNP Paribas Real Estate, is an international company providing a full range of professional consulting services in commercial and elite residential real estate. Alexei Filimonov, Managing Director, tells Real Estate Publishers how Astera evolved into the leading real estate business it is today and what are its plans for future expansion.

Can you tell us a few things about the company’s background?

I started my first company dealing real estate in 1991, right after the privatization. We were the third real estate company listed in Saint Petersburg and the second foreign company in the real estate market at that time. Within five years we became a full-service agency doing everything from market analysis and research to development and property management. Then we opened an office in Kiev in 1996 and started developing there.

During the crisis of 1998 we suffered a lot because we were focused only on foreigners, so our turnover decreased significantly. That’s when we started focusing on the Russian market and we saw that the first sector to recover after the crisis of 1998 was retail, so we became a retail-focused company in Russia. We were the first to start doing high-street retail as a business segment, we did a lot of leasing for shopping malls, land acquisitions.

In 2001 we opened an office in Moscow and basically we keep operations in all the cities. Our main focus is retail, which accounts for approx. 60% of our business, but we also do offices and logistics. As for the cities we focus on, we are really strong in St Petersburg and now we are looking forward to expanding our activities in Moscow.

Do you develop or manage the assets?

Our core business is brokerage and consultancy services, but right now we are also looking into property management. We used to be very active in this segment before 2001, but then we focused on brokerage and consultancy. However, due to the currently low market activity we are looking for a stable business model.

This year a new program Réntier was launched in June by ASTERA in partnership with RBI Holding. The idea of Réntier program is rather simple; a client that buys flat or commercial premises in one of the RBI Holding objects can lease it with minimal time loss with the help of one contact service of ASTERA.

The service includes: selecting investment variant, sale, after-sale service, tenant selection, lease process management (preparation and submitting of invoices, re-signing of contracts, rotation of tenants, claims activities, reporting, claim settle, legal advice, insurance), coordination of additional service (decoration and additional Home Service). The first deals with real estate investors are already closed. We expect that up to 80% of those who invest in property will be the clients of the new program as there are almost no money loss risks, and all investments are stable due to the sustainable development of the market.

Also right now we are negotiating on a large number of contracts of property management in the office and retail segments, so we are expanding the business with our existing clients.

So are you going to focus on the retail segment?

Yes, purely because in the current economic climate we believe that consumption will be the main driver in the next two-three years, so we see opportunity in the retail segment. It is still strong, there are new business models to be introduced in the market and new locations to be conquered.

What are your plans for growth, and where will your growth be directed in the coming years? Are you planning to expand into other markets?

For a long time we have been working with retail premises located in different regions of Russia. We sucessfully rendered consulting and brokering services for shopping centers in Chelyabinsk, Samara, Tyumen, Vologda, Ufa and other cities. In 2012 we entered regional warehouse markets as well. We have cooperation agreements with premises owners in Irkutsk, Yekaterinburg, Rostov-on-Don, Ulyanovsk. We are also working on several projects where ASTERA will act not only as a broker or a consultant, but as a developer as well.

In your opinion, what is the outlook for the retail real estate market in Russia over the next 12 months? How does this compare to what’s happening in the neighboring markets and beyond?

The retail real estate segment is developing actively. Retail operators start tapping regional markets. Today retail chains that have already consolidated their positions in 'million' cities start to open new outlets in smaller cities where people have a high level of income, e.g. Cherepovets, Tambov, Chelyabinsk, Tyumen.

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