Interview with Omar Koleilat

The team of PRAGUE FORUM had recently a meeting with Omar Koleilat, CEO of CRESTYL.

CRESTYL is one of the most progressive companies in the Real Estate Development sector in Prague with some outstanding projects.

Their slogan is : Constantly seeking the “WOW” Effect”.

By Hans Weber Dr. Pietro Andrea Podda PhD. And Mauro Lazzari

Prague Forum: lease tell us something about yourself. Where you come from, your educational and professional background, when and why you came to Prague…

Omar Koleilat: It’s a bit complicated with me:-) I am of Czech-Lebanese origin and I grew up in Lebanon, with stints in Dubai and France mainly because Lebanon was an unstable country and my father’s business was in Dubai. As a child, I used to think I would be a medical doctor like most other members of my family (my father graduated from Charles University in Prague). Yet during my studies I developed an interest in architecture—I became fascinated by skyscrapers, captivating and highly complex structures which can solve many space-related problems. So I graduated in architecture and I also have a British RICS postgraduate diploma in real estate investment. And how did I end up in Prague? My mother is Czech, so it was natural for me to turn my attention to the Czech Republic after my studies, yet there were more reasons. Firstly, I had a brother, a grandmother, and a lot of other relatives here, but I also got the opportunity to play professional basketball for a Czech team as I was heavily into sport during my studies. Making my living doing sport used to be my dream job, as is surely the case with many children. Unfortunately,this did not last long as I was not good enough to be able to make a living this way at the level I desired. Eventually, it was architecture and the opportunities in the Czech Republic that made me a developer at the end of the 1990s. Frankly, I consider development one of the most beautiful professions. It combines large concepts and ideas with little details such as sidewalks, lights, shades and shadows. Altogether defining the spaces we live in and how we feel in them.

Prague Forum: Please tell us something about your company. When and by whom it was established, and the main steps in its evolution.

Omar Koleilat: I founded Crestyl with a colleague of mine who is now retired. After gaining some experience at a British development firm operating in the Czech Republic, I decided to go my own way. All the investors were only focusing on the biggest cities, however my perception was that there was huge potential hidden in the regions. Professionally, I have always been interested in central city districts. I think every city with a population over 50 000 deserves its own modern fully developed centre. In a way, this was actually quite an easy path because in the regions any developer was welcome and valued. The main turning point was the acquisition of the portfolio and the team of an Italian residential developer that was called ICKM that made us immediately impactful on the residential market and in parallel, the key project that actually influenced not only me personally, butCrestyl as a whole, was the DOCK project in Libeň. Docks at that time(fifteen years ago)was our largest investment, with many challenges . Some people did not understand why we had decided to acquire a neglected piece of land that at one time used to be a dockyard. The project is currently being finalized and the results of our long-term efforts are visible—the biggest firms have their offices there and all the apartments have been sold. DOCK has brought life to the surrounding area and at the same time has become a natural component of it. It has also proved in practice that our strategy to combine apartments, offices and shops in one place works perfectly well, and fulfilled our mission in making a positive and lasting impact on the urban fabric where we intervene. The latest major landmark in the evolution of Crestyl occurred this year when we entered a foreign market for the first time by acquiring one of the largest Polish residential developers.

Prague Forum: What is your market philosophy? What are your main competitive advantages?

Omar Koleilat: Through a positive impact on the urban fabric wecreatebeautiful and comfortable places for living in all its sense. I find it anachronistic to look at individual buildings in isolation without any regard for the whole. The whole is actually what really matters: the synergy of all the functions a site has to offer and the people who have a relationship with it. We do not only think about the architecture of buildings but the entire public space, the tenants, the residents, the users, the partners, and the neighbours, but also all the others who have ties to the place where our project is built. This is where we see great potential that we believe in and, as developers, work on and develop. The fact that we focus on retail, offices and residential gives us the opportunity to enliven places which would otherwise remain stagnant for many years before moving forward. This synergy means it is possible to create real communities at the individual locations even in the midst of an anonymous metropolis. Simply put, we do not “implement projects” but build addresses where you would want to live. And even though each of our projects is different and has its unique characteristics, this fact is actually what links them all together. Good addresses give enduring value to a place.

Prague Forum: What are your main current projects?

Omar Koleilat: I would give the three largest projects as examples. We are preparing a large project in the centre of Prague called Savarin. This is located right next to Wenceslas Square and features traditional arcades connecting the square to Na Příkopě, Jindřišká and PanskáStreets. The project involves the careful reconstruction of existing historic buildings and the creation of a completely new public space with vegetation and open space in the inner courtyard. It was designed by contemporary world architecture and design icon Thomas Heatherwick and his studio. The new Hagibor neighbourhood is also being constructed at a neglected area adjacent to the Želivskéhometro station. There will be five residential buildings together with six office buildings constructed there. All of this will be connected via a pedestrian boulevard with shops and restaurants running from the metro exit to the new square. Outside Prague, we are launching a brand new multifunctional project in the very centre of Brno, on the site of the current Tesco Dornych building where we are going to build four office buildings in addition to commercial spaces, a hotel and apartments.

Prague Forum: What are your future plans, provided you can tell us?

Omar Koleilat: We intend to further raise the standards of quality and design in the real estate business and move the market to higher levels. In general, we want to continue to make projects which are open to and communicate with their surroundings and which are vibrant with life at all times thanks to the combination of several functions. We think that this is the future of development. In short, we want to continue to create nice places to live in—not only for work or accommodation but also for leisure activities. The environment that surrounds people is actually very important. From a purely business perspective, we want to become an important regional player, which for instance was the motivation behind this year’s Polish acquisition. As regards projects, in addition to those mentioned above we are preparing one very interesting residential project in the attractive location of Prague 6 as well as a number of others. Yet it is still too early for any details.

Prague Forum: How is the development market doing in this uncertain time?

Omar Koleilat: Very well in the case of apartments. The only thing changing is the structure and the requirements of buyers, which actually suits us well. As for investments, real estate primarily intended for short-term lease no longer sells that well, as investors who see real estate as security against inflation now predominate. As regards home ownership, after the experience with the lockdowns there is growing interest in larger apartments with terraces, houses with gardens, and apartments with front gardens. Generally, I believe that supply and demand in the residential sector will continue to develop similarly as it has done so far. I expect the excess of demand will last, as will the interest in apartments despite the rising prices. The thing is that sufficient supply is being slowed down by bureaucracy, which disproportionately prolongs the preparatory work, and this is not good for anyone. We cannot respond quickly to the needs of tenants, residents, self-government or the public. My great concern is the politicisation of this segment, which might eventually make the situation worse. This is one of the reasons why we maintain a balance between commercial and residential development.

Prague Forum: What are the main profiles of buyers?

Omar Koleilat: People who want to get a really good product for their money—high quality, well thought-out design, an attractive environment, and properly arranged public space. At the same time, the predominant group is people buying real estate to have a place to call home, who are looking for large apartments with terraces, houses with a garden, or apartments with a front garden. We are a developer oriented on quality and space, and this is our great competitive advantage.

Prague Forum: Will real estate prices in the Czech Republic catch up with “Western” standards?

Omar Koleilat: This has already become a reality in some regions. Supply and demand will always be decisive. I feel that Prague should come much closer to Western Europe due to its economic strength, low unemployment, and relatively healthy public finances. Such development is of course unfortunate as regards prices, but if the property is of an appropriate quality and in a lucrative location, then why not?

Prague Forum: Can you tell us something more about the development market outside Prague? Which areas have more potential? And why?

Omar Koleilat: There are two areas worth mentioning. The first is the area around Prague and, as a matter of fact, the entire Central Bohemian Region, which benefits from and will in the future benefit even more from the rising real estate prices in the capital. We have a large long-term residential project at Vysoký Újezd near Prague in the Beroun region, where several phases have been finished, consisting of low-rise residential buildings, terraced houses, detached family houses, and construction sites. Now additional family houses are under construction and the subsequent phases of the project are under preparation. We also had a residential project in Beroun which was successfully finished and sold out last year. The second key region for us is the Moravian metropolis of Brno, where we are now planning to expand and where we see great potential. There, we intend to focus on multifunctional projects, which in a way have become our specialty.

Prague Forum: What influence is the current COVID-19 pandemic having on your projects (homeoffice, closed shops and the gastronomy sector)?

Omar Koleilat: COVID has accelerated demand for housing and investment into residential property, at both individual and institutional levels. In the last two years, a number of foreign funds have entered the market and want to invest into residential real estate for lease. This is further exhausting the pool of new apartments available to individual buyers. The demand for office space has experienced an inverted curve—therewas a shock, people were sitting at home, and companies did not know what would happen next. Of course in times like that, expansion is curbed and the only deals concluded on the market were those agreed before COVID. However, there has been a revival of demand since the spring, which is also evidenced by the launch of new office building construction projects. The economy still works, companies have contracts, and so demand for modern offices meeting the latest quality requirements and responding to the new trends in the working environment is increasing once again. The result of the COVID period is that the residential market is out of control but the office space market is returning to normal, as is the retail market, albeit more slowly. As regards homeoffice, it turns out that the overwhelming majority of employees will resume work mostly in offices but compared to the pre-pandemic times they will be able to do some of their work elsewhere if they wish.

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