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An innovative approach to property development

Portrait

Acting quickly in the property market takes a certain amount of courage considering the large sums of money involved. It also takes a natural instinct for a good deal. Both are qualities that identical twins Philipp and Remo Bienz have in spades.

The brothers set up Fortimo in 2000 with the simple idea of combining their skills as an architect and financial expert to good effect in the real estate market. They started off relatively modestly, buying and developing small residential properties with potential and then selling them off at a profit. With each property they developed, the company grew in stature and confidence.

“The company started to take on ever larger projects, recognizing that it needed to draw on a greater pool of specialist knowledge and also financial backers with deeper pockets,” says Marketing Director Elias Zürcher. “Thanks to our strong track record, we were able to put together attractive property portfolios for investors, and this led to strong growth.”

Growth was so strong that in 2010 it was decided to seek capital on the open market, and Fortimo was floated on the Swiss stock exchange. After three and a half years, the brothers bought back the shares to return Fortimo into family hands.

“We have been happy with the decision as it has allowed us to return to our roots as a family company with flat hierarchies and fast decision-making processes,” explains Mr. Zürcher. The past three years have seen Fortimo diversify its activities and build up its own portfolio of properties which it manages itself.

“We have gone from being a property developer to a full-service real estate manager,” says Mr. Zürcher. “These properties guarantee us a steady income and help us to plan for the future.”

The Swiss market is extremely competitive, and property prices are high. Switzerland has a relatively high population density in its urban areas and strong demand for high-quality residential property. Spotting plots with potential is not easy but is a skill that Fortimo has honed over the years.

“Costs are high, but there is extreme pressure to keep rental rates affordable,” says Mr. Zürcher. “You have to be opportunistic and take advantage of what the market has to offer.”

Fortimo’s customer profile has also changed over the years. Instead of serving institutional investors and shareholders, the company now targets house buyers and renters. The typical customers are middle-aged Swiss people with money to spend on an investment or somewhere to live.

In order to maintain its strong rate of growth, Fortimo is looking for innovative new areas in which to invest. In recognition of the effect demographic change is having on the Swiss population and the housing needs of the future, the company is increasingly looking at projects aimed at senior citizens.

“Sheltered accommodation is a major issue for the coming years as a growing number of people reach an age at which they seek to downsize into more manageable accommodation,” says Mr. Zürcher. “We have already acquired a suitable property for development as retirement flats and will be tailoring services at an older clientele.”

Another area with great potential is Switzerland’s tourist industry. Here Fortimo has made its first foray into the sector with a successful application to build a new hotel in the Alpine resort of Lenzerheide. The ground-breaking ceremony on the new 224-bed Hotel Revier is expected to take place later this summer.

Another project that is already up and running in Lenzerheide is the Privà Alpine Lodge, a collection of 90 chalet-style apartments grouped in ten separate buildings and three two-apartment chalets. They offer a holiday experience with a difference accompanied by services embodied by the Privà Living brand.

This concept has also been rolled out in Dubai in an apartment building that straddles the divide between hotel and rented accommodation. The concept allows guests to enjoy the same services as a hotel in a much longer term lease.

“We have to think as entrepreneurs and innovate in order to succeed,” says Mr. Zürcher. “We want to continue to diversify our portfolio and ensure that we have a constant stream of new projects in the pipeline.”

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