When asked how someone got into their career field, typical answers include an interest in the business, perhaps family connections, or simply the chance to earn a good salary. From a music hobby to real estate though seems a bit of a stretch. That´s the answer you´ll get though out of Aleš Ježek, owner of Prague real estate agency Home Sweet Home (www.homesweethome.cz.)
“I liked music, but I´m not a musician, so I started organizing gigs,” Ježek explains. “I wasn´t satisfied with the spaces available, so I rented my own and created a club. That was my first step into real estate.”
Hailing from Olomouc, Ježek has been in real estate now for 20 years and owned his own agency for the past ten. He made the move to Prague in 1999, based on the current economic situation in the country.
“I´m doing real estate in late 90´s, there´s a little (economic) crisis in the Czech Republic; it´s deeper in smaller towns, but not in Prague,” he says. “I think it was a lucky step; the lifestyle, people, business is good here.”
It was his music interest again that fueled his real estate experience. Ježek wasn´t only organizing shows for local bands, but foreign ones as well. For some this was their first introduction to the Czech Republic, and they liked it.
“In the early ‘90s, everything was cheap and some foreign band members wanted to invest; they asked me for help,” he says. “Of course, I didn´t know what was a good investment, but, because I was young, thought it was easy. But it wasn´t easy, I had to learn the law and terms and conditions and more. Now, what to do with all this knowledge? Decided to form my first agency.”
That he did in Prague with two partners. He sold his portion and in 2006 opened Home Sweet Home. Both agencies, at first, focused on the expats community.
“In 1999, we focused on the expat community because at that time real estate had only existed in this country ten years,” he says. “But a lot of expats were here, and the service level wasn´t there.”
His business method obviously is successful as Home Sweet Home currently has 30 agents plus 20 support staff. In the past two years, they´ve opened two branch offices in Beroun, and Plzen. But it´s not just their office space that´s expanding, also the make-up of their clientele.
“We always served the Czech community as well, but an important change over the last ten years, is we present the agency as having top level western style service,” Ježek says. “Now 70% of our clients are Czech. We are very happy we can serve so many Czechs.”
Home Sweet Home started with short and long term rentals and quickly added divisions to sell homes and rent commercial spaces. They also operate Buy2Let (www.buy2let.cz ) in which investors can purchase a property and Home Sweet Home will handle all rental arrangements, either short or long term, and then when the owner is ready to move on, is able to assist with the selling as well. This “under one roof” is part of the service Ježek likes to emphasis.
“I like to spend money on quality of service, rather than advertising,” he says. “So many of our clients come through recommendations and that makes me happy as that means our people are working well.”
The economic crisis has hit many businesses hard, and real estate isn´t a field that´s been flourishing. How has that affected Home Sweet Home, and what are Ježek´s predictions for the future?
“My personal belief is I´m optimistic about the market,” he says. “I started in this business ten years ago, and in the Czech Republic then, the fight for profit and to exist was very hard; every year you must create, improve in order to survive and grow.”
Ježek says the crisis is no different than any other “crisis” he has faced in the past decade. Now, he says, it´s just more objective. Some examples he notes is there has been an increase in people looking to rent; when people do purchase, there´s a lot more negotiating, and he has seen a drop in tourists renting short-term accommodation.
“For our agency the future doesn´t depend on the global crisis, but depends on our ability to serve,” he says. Ježek also has his own ideas on how to combat a poor economic situation.
“The only way to fight the crisis is to continually grow,” he believes. “Some people save money as a tactic, and I think I´m conservative, but if there are possibilities now, I take them and may be profitable next year.”
Expansion in the Czech Republic has been one of Ježek´s tactics. Home Sweet Home opened a branch in Beroun in 2008, and just this year a second in Plzen. Why those two cities, versus more obvious choices like Brno or Ostrava?
“Beroun is a small town, so for the first place we wanted to try a small town but with good potential because of its proximity to Prague,” he explains. “Plzen, because we analyzed the market and think it was a good decision to test before bigger towns outside of Prague.”
Ježek´s long term goals for the company include five to ten branches in the Czech Republic, and then hitting Vienna and Berlin.
“We have knowledge which is usable in any big city,” he says. “If we serve people in Prague well, it´s a pity not to try it in a bigger city.”
And, he adds with a laugh: “Personally I like adventure, so then we can try something exotic like Cuba.”
Besides his continued interest in music, Ježek likes sports in order to relax, preferably snowboarding and tennis. Travel is his other big hobby, but that one´s often combined with work.
“I travel abroad for business experience,” he says. “What´s it like to rent a flat in Paris, New York, etc., then I come back with results – this was good, we should implement it. So I use my holidays to improve work in Prague.”
He´s also thinking of taking up golf as another combination hobby/work venture.
“I like to walk in the countryside, and I liked to play mini-golf as a child,” he reasons with a smile. “Besides, there is a golf course near Beroun, so perhaps I can help the business there.”
Which pretty much sums up Ježek´s thoughts on doing business:
“You can lose money or you can do your business in an interesting way. I like to try something first.”