StartGroup has a long tradition of training employees, both in-house and externally.
Since more than a decade all employees entering StartGroup have completed training courses for external certification in key areas of the real estate trade, such as Andalusian Property Law, Data Protection (GDPR) and Prevention of Money Laundering according to the European legislation.
We are also continuously learning new things in external training courses. During 2023 some of the staff have done courses in Chat GPT, Project Management, Administrador de Fincas (Property Management), legal real estate documentation as well as a specialised course in property valuations on a national level.
Bearing in mind that, still now in 2023, it is not necessary to have any training nor certification to act as a real estate agent in Andalusia, Spain. And 95% of the competitors lack training and certifications. So why does StartGroup spend so much time, effort and money in training certifications? To find out we are interviewing Christofer Fogelberg, StartGroups founder.
Good morning Chris! Today we are doing this interview in your private garden by the pool. It is the 8th of December 2023 and, after a rainy night, we are enjoying blue skies and sunshine with temperatures around 23 degrees celsius. Is the weather a big reason why you left Sweden to move to Spain?
– Haha, you would think. I guess it has something to do with it, but in my case I moved here in 1999 to be with my family (parents and sisters) who had already moved here in 1997. I was 19 and had just finished my exams in Sweden. My family had had a holiday home in Benalmadena since 1989 so we had spent most of our school holidays here when we were growing up. Even so, my Spanish was not great so I decided to study Spanish properly and did so in the University of Malaga, which had a great program for that. In hindsight I am so glad I started with the language as I see so many people living and working for years on the Costa del Sol without speaking proper Spanish. They are really missing out!
Ok, so you started your Spanish adventure by learning the language. And then?
In 2001 I started as a trainee sales negotiator in a big Real Estate Brokerage. I was lucky to start at a time when business was booming, so I got to learn quickly. I met my business partner Pascal in this company and we both passed a ISO 9001 certification which was a very good thing that company did at the time.
In 2003 I decided to start my own business as I was not 100% happy with the service given to clients where I worked. So based on the idea of giving a great service and support to all clients; StartGroup was founded.
I see. So today 20 years after the start of the company – how is that vision working out?
Our vision is still the same and has and always will be the base on how we do business. We have been able to grow the business little by little, always keeping our vision in mind. We have a client list that is tens of thousands of names strong, and we have lots of return customers. Both people that bought their property with us and come back when they want to sell, as well as investor clients that buy and sell one of several properties with us every year.
In order to get return business – the most important thing in real estate! – you always have to offer value to the clients. We do so by professionalism, dedication and investing in new technology. As well as having a team that speaks 11 different languages!
So, what is your recipe to being more professional than the competition when there are no governmental rules or enforced licenses for Real Estate Agents?
Great question! I am sorry but a short answer is not possible here… So there are actually plenty of regulations for estate agents in Spain, but they are enforced on a regional level by the autonomous regions (states). We are active on the Costa del Sol which belongs to Andalusia. And Andalusia has some of the strictest rules for how an estate agent has to operate, especially in the way a property has to be displayed to the public. This law in Andalusia is from 2005 so it is nothing new. But even so there are no obligations to have any kind of certification course to work in Andalusia, even though you have to follow all the laws. In other regions such as Catalonia and Valencia they have obligatory registers for Real Estate Agents and to be able to enter the person have to do a certification course of 250 hours and have a valid liability insurance.
So what does StartGroup do to be more professional?
First and foremost – everyone of our staff has to do three external certification courses when they start working with us. That goes for all of them, from admin to sales people. With that they have a great base of knowledge from the beginning. We then have ongoing internal training and various opportunities for the staff to do external courses during the year.
The training courses are done both online during office hours as well as externally, for example at the GIPE headquarters in Malaga.
I might be a bit over the top, but I always want to learn more things and I am so happy to see that so many of my colleagues jump on the chance to do courses they are interested in. This year we have done courses in Chat GPT, Project Management, Administrador de Fincas (Property Management), legal real estate documentation as well as a specialised course in property valuations, to name a few.
I personally did the certification course for Cataluña a couple of years ago, just to prepare for when the obligatory registry comes to Andalusia i the future.
Second – we invest in technology. We are quite up to date with AI, and were very early on in showcasing our properties in 3D. Already in 2017 we bought our first Matterport camera which was the top of the line and very new. We had to buy it from the US and there was a waiting list of 6 months! Only the equipment cost around 10.000€, so we were the only agent that had our own camera and could offer 3D models to our vendors. I can say the investment paid off big time during the lock down 2020 when we could not go out to show property physically. Our clients were also stuck at home but wanted to see property. So the only was was to see our 3D models, which we had plenty of, and see the location on google maps. That way we sold dozens of properties working from home in the lock down. That is a good example of how to use new technology to the benefit of both clients and the company.
At the moment we are quite immersed in AI. We have implemented this technology little by little in our daily routines, but you have to be careful with this still. I see a lot of other companies that let the AI bot do their property descriptions without the correct instructions and it seems they don´t bother checking it before publishing. It can come out very poetic and sound nice, but as our clients are from so many different countries, the key here is to have a clear message which is easy to read and understand. There is no point in using lots of fancy words that hardly anyone can understand to describe a property. In our opinion it is better to be clear and precise.
Third – we try to give back and share our knowledge to the general sector and help to set better standards.
In 2019 I had the great honour to be elected to the advisory board of directors of the AIPP, Association of International Property Professionals. This is an organisation for estate agents offering international property to UK clients and is based in London. Among the things we did during my time there was to launch international training courses for the members, and I am proud to say that StartGroup was the first company in the world to get the AIPP training certificate for all employees.
Even though we are still proud members of the AIPP, the problem with that organisation – as well as some others – is that there is no criteria for entry. Basically anyone can enter just signing a code of conduct and promising to abide by it, and then display the logo.
In my mind, the organisations that put up an entry barrier is a better sign of quality to show clients.
That is why we have also opted to be members of API, ANAI and GIPE, two large Spanish real estate associations. In the case of API, based in Barcelona, you have to do the same course as is obligatory for Cataluña in order to enter, as well as having liability insurance.
GIPE is one of the oldest real estate associations in Spain, founded in 1985 and with HQ in Málaga.
Since 2022 StartGroup´s Daniel Homlquist and myself are on the board of directors of GIPE and have spent a lot of time in the last year to modernise this organisation. The idea for us is to make GIPE the natural meeting place for estate agents on the Costa del Sol. A place to get training, legal advice and get to know like minded agents. In 2023 we launched new training courses for the GIPE certification, available now both in Spanish and English, and have included a professional liability insurance in the member fee. Every month we hold conferences in the headquarters where we invite experts to showcase new legislation and procedures. This way we have created a platform where all estate agents are welcome to participate, of course after passing the exams of the training courses and signing up for the liability insurance. Hopefully our efforts in setting this up will help to raise the standards of the business, at least a bit. But I am afraid there will be no guarantees until the Andalusian government decides to enforce a obligatory registry, like Cataluña and Valencia.
Needless to say all the StartGroup sales-persons are full, certified members of GIPE, each with their individual professional insurance.
Why do we do all of this when it is not obligatory? In short because we want to grow and be better so to prepare for the next 20 years!