Spirit of NOW
The zeitgeist is a concept from the 18th-19th century German philosophy, meaning “spirit of the age” or “spirit of the times”. By Sankhyayan Datta
With eight projects in Poland in the pipeline with delivery dates after 2020 – including a well-known building complex at the crossroads of Nowogrodzka and św. Barbary streets in Warsaw and a post office in Kraków – ever since aptly-named Zeitgeist Asset Management (ZAM) was created, it has been building a land bank. Full steam ahead. No looking back.
The company was founded in 2014. It buys, develops, finances, manages and sells real estate properties for private and institutional investors in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Headquartered in Prague, ZAM has offices in Berlin and Warsaw. Since its establishment, the company has been growing dynamically, currently managing assets worth over EUR 515 million, almost 463,000 sq m of plots and 338,900 sq m of leasable area.
‘History defines our company’
Zeitgeist debuted on the Polish market in 2016 and has since purchased over half a dozen period properties – properties that were built during a specific time period, characterized by a distinctive architectural style. “As for period properties, history is something of great value to us, defining our company, the Zeitgeist,” explained CEO Peter Noack, a co-founder of the company.
“Poland is very important for us as it has a growing and stable economy with several regional markets that offer many opportunities. For Poland, three factors should be considered. First, the prices of apartments are rising, resulting in searching for alternative options. Second, it is getting much harder to get a mortgage, with new collaterals required and other restrictions. And last but not least, is the generation change. One of the latest PwC reports says that 81 percent of respondents agree that it is more profitable to use somebody else’s goods than to own something. A trend to ‘use without purchasing’ is easy to observe on the real estate market,” he said.
“We brought experience from markets in Germany and Austria. In the CEE region, we observed an increase in living costs for private households. This, in combination with the mortgage policy of the national banks of the Czech Republic and Poland, led us to invest in this niche,” he added.
Rise in Poland
In June 2019, the real estate firm announced the beginning of its investment in the Praga district in Warsaw’s east – a plot that it bought in 2018. It plans to revitalize a building located near the historic Praga Port. There will be apartments for rent and the ground floor will be occupied by commercial facilities. Zeitgeist declared the purchase of two properties in Kraków in August 2019 from Orange, a French global telecommunications giant. One of them is a historic building at ul. Wielopole 2, where the seat of the Main Post Office is located, and the second one is a partially built-up plot at ul. Cystersów 21. Investments in Kraków are interesting for the market as the building at ul. Wielopole 2 is well recognized among the residents – for 120 years it has been the seat of the Main Post Office. In September 2019, ZAM bought from Orange a complex of six buildings covering almost a hectare in the city center of Warsaw at the crossroads of Nowogrodzka and św. Barbary streets. The French behemoth had got them from Telekomunikacja Polska. The complex includes a four-story block from 1933, a monumental and historic eight-story Post and Telegraph office from 1931 and a 22-story technical building building, towering over the neighborhood. Zeitgeist acquired the complex, located 300 meters from Warsaw’s iconic Palace of Culture and Science, for €81 million. Before buying the buildings belonging to Orange in Warsaw, the firm had around 60 percent of their investments in the Czech Republic, but currently, compared to Poland, it’s about half-half.
Most of Zeitgeist’s employees have worked with real estate developers and as a result, they are used to seeing the final product and not so much only the existing structures. They work closely with top specialists in the field, like Dr Josef Holeček, a well-known Prague conservationist as well as Professor Petr Urlich, an architectural historian. The core team comprises of active university lecturers specializing in the 19th-century architecture. In their projects, they often bring back the original shapes, colors and facades that were destroyed or converted during communism.
ZAM has developed its own brand for student housing – ZEITRAUM – currently, the biggest Czech student housing operator, running four student houses with nearly 95 percent occupancy. It aims to be in the three biggest ones in Poland soon. “We have already begun working on projects offering 647 beds in Warsaw, and in the pipeline, there are further 1,000 beds,” Noack stated.
In Poland, there are 1.4 million students and Warsaw is the second-largest academic city in Europe, after Paris. This results in huge demand for student housing that is faced by low-quality dormitories in Poland. Only 8 percent of students in Poland can count on places in dorms.
“We see many synergies between student housing and long- or short-term leasing. Our focus on students was a natural consequence of the market analysis,” the CEO emphasized.
Zeitgeist is very flexible when it is convinced of a location and a project. The asset management company always tries to have a win-win situation for the seller and themselves.
“We are not the ones giving up just because we did not succeed in the first round. Our success is the completed building and tenants moving in as they like the product. The greatest hurdles are caused by construction regulations that hinder the fast expansion of assets,” the co-founder claimed.