Photo courtesy of Mountain View
by Nadine El Sayed
We want peace and quiet, but also a vibrant community, we dream of a neighborhood where our kids can ride bikes in the streets but also refuse to walk for more than a minute or two and demand easy parking options. Our homebuying needs are complicated to say the least; and real estate developers Mountain View are offering the solutions we’re looking for.
Despite the current economic turbulence, Mountain View continues to grow, with an mpressive number of residential projects under construction in New Cairo, Sixth of October, Ain Sokhna and the North Coast. With two projects on the North Coast and two in Ain Sokhna, Mountain View has carved a name for itself in the coastal real estate development segment. Ras El Hikma, built on 121 acres, is designed to transport you to the island of Santorini; with typical whitewashed houses, blue shutters, cobblestoned streets and Greek-cuisine restaurants. Whilst their second project, Diplomats Ras El Hikma, emulates Tuscany, in all its classic elegance; set over 36 acres of land. True to their name, the Sukhna I project is nestled on top of the mountains with panoramic views of the Red Sea. The Sukhna I and Sukhna II projects, built on 50 acres and 23 acres respectively, are both designed to reflect a Hawaiian ambiance, with exotic flowers and tropical gardens.
And with post-flotation price drops and affordable living costs potentially attracting
international buyers, the real estate giant is looking to move into residential tourism for foreigners. We sit down with Chairman Amr Soliman to talk about why their ultimate goal is making us all happy, the complicated list of Egyptian clients’ needs and Mountain View’s pride and joy: the iCity in New Cairo.
What would you say are Mountain View’s pillars of success?
Mountain View if founded on several core principles; integrity, honesty and happiness; these in addition to our focus on healthy living have allowed us to create a trusted and credible brand, which has driven both client and employee trust and loyalty. Our vision is clear, to make our people happy and this is something that is reflected in everything we do.
We work on three axes: empathy, creativity and rationale. We achieve empathy through seeing, feeling and hearing our clients completely, not just through market research and focus groups, but by and with the help of psychologists, who help us gain a deeper understanding of our client's true needs. Then we employ creativity to achieve and exceed expectations, solve issues and create something truly unique. Finally, we employ rationale to see how all of this is logically achievable.
We have learned to ask the right questions; the developments we create are more than just residential units, they are fully integrated communities that account for every aspect of life. We carefully, study the points that ensure happiness is created through everything from our master plans, to landscaping to communal areas and more, with Mountain View committing to their promise; the dream we sell, is the dream we provide.
Yet our concept of creating happiness doesn't stop at our clients. We understand that happy employees will be able to provide better outcomes for both the company and our clients. In fact, we believe in this so deeply, that we partnered with world happiness experts Zappos, to create a scientific process for this!
Can you give me an example of some of those needs you are addressing to ensure your clients’happiness?
We have 500 feddans in New Cairo and another 500 in Sixth of October; this is the
size of the city of Monaco. So while we were planning it, we spent a year and a half thinking about what really mattered to people. We found that people faced a huge and complex paradox; they wanted to be able to easily access everything by car but didn’t want to see rows of cars in the streets where they live in. Different clients had different needs, depending on their age, gender, and even at different points throughout the day, depending on their priorities and the stresses of everyday life. Any compound has a very diverse set of residents and to truly be successful you need to understand how to balance and fairly cater to the needs of all. So we sat down, and identified key concepts we wanted to move towards and those we wanted to move away from.
Cars were the biggest issue: There isn't really etiquette to driving in Egypt, people don't follow the rules and as frustrating as it is, it's something we have come to accept. But how can we guarantee safety for kids, for instance? These are real concerns and a source of daily stress for almost every Egyptian out there, regardless of age or gender. To solve this problem, we created two levels in our Hyde Park project to separate cars from people, but we wanted to do more, in our iCity project. Normally, in residential projects about 35 percent of the land is dedicated to streets for driving. In iCity, we brought this percentage down to 10 percent. We have no intersections and no roundabouts and use circular roads with cars and houses and facilities on separate levels. Houses are also built on separate islands, so the whole compound is made up of small, individual compounds, ensuring greater safety and offering piece of mind for residents who want to live somewhere away from the traffic and overcrowding that causes their daily frustration.
What else are buyers looking for and how are you meeting their needs?
Buyers put a number of things into consideration, when choosing their home, security, safety and practical home solutions are all things they think about. Storage for example, is a big issue. Egyptians like to keep things, so it was important for us to create an alternative other than keeping their belongings in the balconies and ruining the view for everyone, this is why we integrated storage spaces in basements.
There was also the question of security; normally if you know someone’s name in a
compound you can use it to get into this gated community, which is a cause of concern for many. Delivery guys can also access facilities once they are let into the compound. But by separating the streets from the houses and connecting the individual islands with bridges hard to navigate and access by strangers, we were able to achieve greater security for the residents. We also included state of the art digital cameras throughout our developments to monitor the movements and actions of security guards.
We basically provide our clients an environment which takes away the stresses of daily life and helps to facilitate happiness. It's like living on an island, with a car-free compound and three parks the size of Azhar Park; and each with its own theme to ensure the wants and needs of our diverse residents are met.
There’s a growing interest in sustainable development and environmentally-friendly projects; how do you implement that in your projects?
I think one of the major issues in sustainable development is to get the revenue needed to maintain it. The financial dimension is essential to maintain these types of projects.
So yes, solar energy is important, but you need financial resources to maintain it.
It’s also important to make use of and adapt your solutions to nature and the surrounding climate. In one of our projects, for instance, we found marble and other materials in our land and so, we started incorporating this in our designs. We also make use of the natural design of the area; so if it’s a mountain area, we don’t try to make it flat, we work with the nature of the areas to create something integrated that respects that natural environment.
Building on this point, in iCity, we found a source of salty water, rather than perceiving this a challenge; we utilized it to create an opportunity. We used this water for the lagoon and then treated it and sold it to the municipality.
In terms of creating concepts that support the environment, we decreased the percentage of streets in iCity from 35 to 10%, decreasing the CO2 emissions. We also plant fruit trees in our parks that are relevant to the natural climate and that our farmers know how to handle and maintain. We then sell this fruit in the farmers’ markets we hold.
Once water supply decreases, we will have to prioritize what plants we irrigate; so fruits will definitely continue to be a priority, as it serves as more than just visual landscaping, but also a source for organic produce.
We have seen a boom in real estate development in the past few years, especially in projects targeting upper economic classes. Are you worried about market saturation?
There is very strong competition in today’s market and there are a number of good and strong developers, which is great, because this creates healthy competition, which drives developers to work harder to meet and exceed their client's expectations and
needs, whilst providing a more diverse range of options and services, for buyers to choose from. Greater competition has actually made the market smarter and more sophisticated. People are more aware of what they are looking for, so, for me, we have not reached saturation, but rather are moving towards a more mature market.
With maturity, we also need to look for new opportunities, which is why we are starting to look at residential tourism for foreigners. Egypt has the opportunity to be a leader in residential tourism; we are cheaper than other countries, the cost of living is becoming even more affordable to foreigners after flotation and we are just four hours away from Europe. Once tourism is back, we have solid opportunities in the field of residential
tourism, which is ultimately very beneficial for the economy. We are already prepared to compete in that segment, in terms of the quality and the level of services in our projects, but ultimately it will take time, until tourism returns, in full.
What about market saturation in second homes?
Second homes are more difficult because you’re competing with second as well as first home providers, so it’s more competitive. But there is still a state of maturity in the market. In the A and A+ segments, I would say there is a high level of maturity that may eventually result in market saturation, yet as you move toward the B and C classes, the gap grows; there’s far less maturity in that segment. On the other hand though, the population is constantly expanding; so this is constantly creating new demand.
With the flotation of the pound, some believe the real estate market will weather through while others believe it will take a hit, much like many other industries; how well would you say the industry is coping?
Both views are actually true and logical; with the flotation of the pound, everyone’s
incomes took a hit. The real estate market in 2016 and 2017 was good, but the hit to personal incomes meant people were able to spend less. Clients, however, also tend to want to buy now because they want to guarantee today’s price and pay in installments as they don’t know what the prices are going to be like in a few years, given the state of the economy. At the end of the day, the real estate market’s cost hasn't increased 10-fold like that of other industries; the materials used in construction, the labor and the land itself are all Egyptian, so expenses haven’t gone up as much as other industries.