Interviews

How Alisa Zotimova started AZ Real Estate without borrowing finance

8 min read

19 September 2018

Deputy Editor, Real Business

In the traditionally male-dominated world of property investment, Russian-born Alisa Zotimova has carved out a niche with her boutique London consultancy AZ Real Estate.

After over a decade in the corporate property world between Russia and London, Alisa Zotimova set up a boutique consultancy – using her own capital – in Mayfair. The business is on track to turn over £1 million this year. But how did she achieve such growth – and what is her advice for entrepreneurs hoping to follow suit?

Company: AZ Real Estate
Website: http://azrealestate.eu/en/

Your legacy:

I would like us to be remembered for the smart, personal and professional service that we provide. While we are primarily sourcing property for clients, we will always go above and beyond, whether that is advising those new to this country on the best schools for their children or connecting them with other relevant professional contacts.

A client once commented that I combine “Eastern cheerfulness with Western business sophistication” – so perhaps that can be my legacy!

Your business model:

We work closely with our clients to determine their property investment preferences, whether they are looking for a trophy home to live in, buy-to-let property or commercial investment, which could include an entire office or student block.

Following this, we can advise the client on the whole process of transaction, from sourcing the project, negotiating the terms, coordinating lending, legal support and surveys, through to exchange and completion.

How do you measure success?

On a purely financial level, this is down to the volume and size of property deals advised on. However bigger is not always better – it is good to have a mixture of small and large deals to balance the pipeline, particularly as large deals can take a long time to complete and are more prone to volatility through external factors.

On a softer level, I think success can be measured by the strength of our client relationships, positive word of mouth and repeat business.

Do you plan to trade globally, enter new markets, etc in the next 12 months?

The UK will remain our core market in terms of the property deals we complete. But I have trusted partners in Cyprus, New York and Portugal who I can recommend clients to. It is more a case of new markets and nationalities coming to us. We are increasingly dealing with clients from Turkey, China and former Soviet Union territories including Kazakhstan and Ukraine.

How did you fund your business?

I set up the business in 2012 with my own capital. I had worked for a number of large blue-chip real estate firms, during which time I was fortunate enough to make a couple of wise personal property investments. This allowed me to start up without having to borrow. That is not to say I am against debt – far from it, as long as it is smart.

In five years:

This has been our most successful year to date in terms of revenue, headline deals done and also staff growth. I would like to keep building on that, consistently turning over £1m+ per year.

The property market, particularly in London, has been hit by numerous hurdles including punitive changes to stamp duty and of course Brexit uncertainty.

In five years’ time, we will at least have a clear position on Brexit and I am confident that whatever happens there, we will have adjusted accordingly. History has shown that there is always a period of concern or resistance around any significant change, followed by that hardy British notion of ‘just getting on with it.’

I may also look into starting to develop my own property projects, as the demand seems to be there and we have accumulated a lot of relevant skills.

Your highest point…

Passing the five years in operations mark with success and gearing for another five, the time seems to have flown by so quickly and it’s exhilarating to keep building.

Your lowest point…

Brexit.

What would tell your younger self?

You’re doing great, keep going!

Your policy wishlist:

The removal of red tape and the streamlining of the planning system, particularly in London. We need to build more homes but there are so many barriers to entry at present, particularly for SMEs who collectively can form part of the solution. We can’t just rely on a handful of big names to deliver the homes we need.

On the property taxation policy front, the extra 3% just seems punitive in its current form and I think this area could see some good adjustments also.

Your biggest piece of advice to other entrepreneurs…

Although it can be tempting to help secure funding at an early stage, try not to give away any equity in your company. I am glad I didn’t as it leaves me in total control.

Guilty pleasure…

Food, glorious food! Scott’s, Barrafina, Hide in London and travelling places for good food also…

What would make you a better leader?

It’s a journey and I’m on it! Saying “no” more often, getting even more structured, perhaps. But also not getting too hooked up on structure and letting the creative juices flow from time to time.

The one app you use the most…

Instagram for sure. It’s fun on a personal level but also on a professional level. Given the visual nature of property, it is proving to be a good marketing tool and we are increasingly taking enquiries on there.

A day in your life…

Following a quick catch up over coffee with the team, I spend the morning running the numbers on a new equity investment opportunity in Cambridge. On paper it’s a good fit for one of my clients but isn’t quite stacking up financially. However, with some tweaking, I am sure we can make it work.

Over lunch, I meet a new client. In the afternoon, following clearing some emails, I am meeting a developer at a new site in Hampstead.

6pm already? I am a keen runner so will get some fresh air with a jog after work, followed by time with my husband at home – probably over a crisp glass of white.

On your reading list right now…

Transcription by Kate Atkinson, The One Thing by Gary Keller (this one’s been dragging out a bit too long though)

On your watchlist right now…

Succession; The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.