Raluca's business model is unique and full of learnings for every one of us: despite being forever in love with Barcelona, she has decided to move closer to her customers (Switzerland), not where her products are (properties on the Spanish coast). This helps her better understand their needs, their desires and priorities, so she can help them with perfect tailor-made solutions. A successful one-woman-show, passionate about her rewarding work and strongly connected to the realities back home in Romania. Enjoy!
Name: Raluca Tronaru
Hometown: Rimnicu Sarat
Abroad since: 2007
Living in: Geneva, Switzerland
Current position & company: International Real Estate Consultant / Founder of Maisons du Soleil
TGR: Raluca, where are these “Maisons du Soleil” located?
RT: My “Maisons du Soleil” is located in Switzerland, close to Geneva. Here is where I start to build the dreams. My clients’ “Maisons du Soleil” are located under the Spanish sun. On the Spanish coast is where I make my clients’ dreams come true.
And you have found a group of Swiss buyers for them…
Yes, I did, and not only Swiss. I am based in Switzerland but I have clients from many countries, from different continents. I moved to Switzerland at the end of 2016, as I want to focus on a niche and develop the Swiss interest for Spanish real estate market.
After 4 years as general manager of a real estate agency in Barcelona, after fulfilling the dreams of hundreds of international clients, I decided it was time to take the challenge, to fulfill my dream and put my business idea in practice.
It's more like a business lesson if I may - be where your customer is, not the product, right?
My business concept came from the needs of my clients. I did not want just to help them purchase a property in Barcelona. I am by my clients from the beginning, helping them to identify correctly what is the best investment approach for them without any conflict of interest, to have realistic expectations, to find the right property and integrate into Spanish life.
Real Estate Market in Barcelona is very competitive and crowded, so I wanted to do something different: be there where my clients are, not just wait for them to come to me in Barcelona. I identified an unexplored niche in the market and moved to Switzerland. Swiss have strong buying power, prices of Spanish properties are very accessible for them and they love Spanish culture and life style.
After working with clients of multiple nationalities, with different cultural backgrounds I have learned to adapt. If I ask the right questions, if I understand my clients and make a personalized and realistic investment plan for each of them, from the beginning, any client can become the ideal client.
There are two types of buyers: rational and emotional. Most of my clients are rational buyers. They are driven by numbers, ROI, costs ….
Did you have any previous experience with Switzerland?
I had several Swiss clients in the past. My first sales client and my first sale was to a Swiss buyer back in 2011. This is a funny story. A colleague from the sales department was complaining about her difficult client. The manager suggested her to give the client to another agent. I asked to take the client. At that point I had no sales experience, but I have always been good with people. I listened to my client and gained her trust.
On a sunny autumn day, with zero sales experience and unlimited enthusiasm, I met my first sales client for the first time. We had planned five viewings for that day. After the first visit she fall in love with the apartment and decided to place an offer. And this is how I closed my first sale with my first client and the first apartment I have showed, on Calle Bon Success.
How do you usually manage to win a customer?
It requires a lot of hard work to win and keep a customer. Real estate industry is highly competitive, with many players on the market. So if a consultant/agent does not do more than his/her best and does not anticipate his/her customers needs, the customers can just go to a competitor.
In real estate, customer experience is essential. The buying process in Spain can be very stressful and confusing for a foreign buyer. Most of the buyers invest all their life savings, so first I need to gain their trust, to prove them I am able to make their dream come true in the most smooth and stress free possible way.
In this industry, customer experience generates word of mouth and recommendations, and this builds a reputation. With the reputation comes more clients.
Why focus on Barcelona and not any other place on Earth?
I went to Barcelona for the first time in 2010, as a tourist. Even though it was December, there where 17 degrees, sunny, palm trees, orange trees. And the city … all the beautiful buildings, the markets, the beach, the restaurants … Everyone seemed so happy and loud, the city was so alive. I was fascinated. It was love at first sight. I knew from the beginning that was the place for me.
At that time I was an Erasmus student in Belgium, so after 5 days I had to go back to the cold Belgium winter. At the end of the semester I went back to Romania and did everything possible to get another scholarship, this time in Barcelona.
In August 2011, I moved to Barcelona for a 3 months internship in the marketing department of a real estate agency. This was my first contact with the real estate market. Shortly after, I got transferred to the rental and then the sales department. This gave me the opportunity to discover every street of the city, every hidden corner, every magic place Barcelona has to offer.
Both the city and the real estate industry fascinated me, so I decided not to develop my career as journalist in Romania and permanently moved to Barcelona. In 2012, I became the general manager of the real estate agency. At the age of 26 I had a vast portfolio of international clients to please and a team of 20 employees to manage and motivate. It has been a great challenge for me and I have learned a lot. After one year of hard work, together with my team, we managed to increase the company’s revenue with 230%.
Did you find it difficult to move away from Barcelona just for a business opportunity?
After all these years, I am still in love with Barcelona and the life style in there, so it was not an easy choice to move out. Now I go back there with my clients and I still get to enjoy the city.
How would you rate life in Geneva as compared to Barcelona?
Life in Geneva is expensive Switzerland is a very expensive but beautiful country, very green, with great landscapes, very quiet and peaceful. I do not ski but I love the mountains and I enjoy the walks in the forest. I live close to Leman lake and I like to walk by the harbor or take the boat and visit the small old French cities across the lake.
I have moments when I become nostalgic. Sometimes Switzerland is too quiet for me. I miss the energy and the joy of the Spanish life style
What are your current feelings towards Romania?
I have mixed feelings towards Romania. I love all the beautiful places and culture Romania has, but I am disappointed by the direction towards the country has been heading for years. All the mishandled resources and the wasted potential give me a bitter taste...
But I hope you tell your foreign friends nice things about our country
I have always encouraged my foreign friends to visit Romania, and I promise them they will be pleasantly surprised.
Sometimes I cook sarmale for them. There is no better way to start discovering a country than through its food!
What do you mostly miss about Romania?
I miss my family, but I try to visit it at least 3 times a year. I just wish I did it more often...
I miss the summer holidays spent in my grandparents village. I miss the smell of Christmas and the simplicity of life in there. People used to be joyful and smile more.
I have traveled and lived in many countries, but for me, home is there, in my childhood home
Home... Do you see yourself living there again sometimes?
I am always very excited and happy when I visit my family, but I have no plans to move back. At the moment, for me, Romania is a great country to visit, but not to live in. Too many things are wrong, when they could be so much better with just a bit of effort and a big desire.
Many people in Romania do not live, they survive, they forgot to smile and enjoy life. I think living back in Romania now, would make me feel sad, powerless and angry.
If I would have stayed in Romania, I would have never been the person I am today. Romanian school and society taught me to obey the rules without questioning, to fit in a pre-established pattern. I was taught that before making any decision I should take into consideration first what others may think about me. I had the feeling that no matter how hard people work, their wings are not allowed to grow and spread.
Romania has not given me the chance to grow and it hurts me to see that nothing has changed in the last years and it still restricts the chances to many young people.
As a Romanian abroad it has not been always easy. I had to work hard, but I had the freedom to prove myself, to dream big, to hope and to dare. I was even allowed and encouraged to take risks and fight for my beliefs, regardless of what others think.
I would love to come back, but only when Romania would not break my dreams and would let me grow my wings.
Sometimes I joke with friends that I would move back one day only if I could create my own party and become president, change the mentality of an entire generation and encourage people to dare and act. But I am a dreamer, isn’t it?
Of course you are allowed to dream, no one can take that from you! You are totally right, on the other hand, we are kind of baby-stepping in the right direction, don't you think?
Maybe things are not progressing as fast as I would like, but I think we have great potential as a country. Romanians are very hard working people, intuitive and result oriented. I have met and worked with dozens of nationalities, but none can adapt to any business environment so fast and well as Romanians do. Romanians do not see problems, we see challenges and solutions, and this is a very healthy business mentality. This is one of the main reasons why Romanians are highly appreciated abroad and by the international companies that have offices in Romania.
OK, if it's not about coming back to Romania, tell me about your future plans!
A personal project is to teach my French boyfriend dance a Romanian “sarba” before end of July, when we will go to a Romanian wedding in Brasov . So far I realized I have very little chances to succeed, but I do not give up, yet!
On short-mid term, I want to focus on developing my business and building a strong reputation on the Swiss market. On long term, I would like to intensify my presence on other markets too, but when the time is right.
And for the ending, which is your biggest dream?
I have so many dreams that I will probably need 10 lives to try to make them come true. After I prioritize some I turned them into plans. One of my plans is to be able to retire earlier and travel around the world.
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