BY | PROPERTY MARKET
Amsterdam’s FRIS Real People has been around for nearly a century. Yet its age doesn’t show, in any negative sense, with the company thriving like never before. What’s the secret of this success? We sat down with Hans Peter Fris, managing director of FRIS Real People, as his business card states, and the grandson of the founder, Wouter Fris. Wouter started what was then a mortgage and insurance business in the 1920s, in Zaandam. Enterprising as he was, he saw more opportunities in nearby Amsterdam and settled on the Prinsengracht, moving later to the Weteringschans.
Grandson Hans Peter is equally enterprising. He talks enthusiastically about, among other things, his ambition to become the most customer-oriented real estate company in the Netherlands – and annoyances like the lack of realism and willingness among politicians to solve the housing problem. As seems common in good family businesses, Hans Peter started his real estate career, after studying commerce and economics, outside his own family’s business. Namely at Zadelhoff, in The Hague. Here he learnt the tricks of the trade. And from there he took two more career steps, joining Helm & Wesep Makelaars, and then Hulshof Makelaars, before entering the family business with his father and uncle as a certified estate agent in 1995. Though on condition that he would be in charge.
Said Hans Peter, ‘The business plan prepared years before had been shelved by my father with the words, “Fine, now let’s go and look at houses again”. It was absolutely his right to do so. But it was also the reason for me, at that time, to first go and work elsewhere. Now it was retrieved, updated and formed the blueprint for the course FRIS would take in the decades that followed’. He started with nine employees – a number that grew to 23 over the next five years. Hans Peter relates, ‘It was important that we didn’t just grow for growth’s sake, but for the sake of increased professionalisation. I wanted to grow the business to include some support staff functions, in addition to the core business of estate agency, property management and insurance. And we succeeded in that. FRIS, now with around 90 employees, currently manages around 2.5 mln m2 of commercial property and around 5,500 residential properties. Not only in the Amsterdam region, but now throughout the Netherlands. Our residential estate agents transact hundreds of homes per year’. From the outset, Hans Peter’s focus in the profession was entrepreneurial. He had observed a great lack of this among young brokers, who were mainly transaction-oriented and, in his view, were not sufficiently concerned with the big picture. Says Hans Peter Fris, ‘Overall, there’s not a lot of strategic thinking in the real estate agency business. Selling homes was what it was all about. I wanted to be relevant to a broader requirement, so I needed a certain business size, which would then allow me to free up time to develop this relevancy’.
“To be flexible, deliver high-quality services, and be ready for any challenge.”
From property to people
Hans Peter Fris wanted to guard against becoming a middle-of-the-road firm – he wanted to be different. ‘And I didn’t want to do that on the basis of price. The world of real estate agencies was just coming into being, so positioning on price didn’t make much sense. I wanted to differentiate on quality. I wanted to be the best, to create added value. In the end, it isn’t about the property, it’s about the people, the client. As I often say – from property to people. My aim is to become the most customer-focused real estate company in the Netherlands. That focus means that you don’t just look at the estate agency transaction aspect, but also at property management. And that you consider your customers as hotel guests.’ This idea led FRIS to set up its own marketing and research department, now the research and consultancy department, around 2005. The research enabled FRIS, using hard data, to make better predictions about what customers wanted, about what you should build, and for whom. As Hans Peter says, ‘This made us an interesting player for both developers and investors. And for the estate agents who work(ed) for us, because they want to be on the road, with clients, and not sitting behind a computer collecting data’.
From a transactional to a knowledge organisation
So FRIS evolved from a transactional to a knowledge-based organisation. And, as Hans Peter Fris says, he recognised very early on that the internet would come to have a major effect on the traditional real estate agency business. Turning an opaque market into a transparent one. He explained, ‘You used to have to go to an estate agent to find out what was for sale. That role is no longer necessary, with the internet. Estate agents can and must now differentiate themselves with a deeper knowledge of the market. And be able to answer questions about price and product trends in a particular area, neighbourhood and period of time. And whether you should overbid on a specific property and, if so, by how much. Today, with our data mining, we can answer these questions at the touch of a button’.
Role of government
The answer to the question of what to build for whom is not only determined by developers and builders. On the contrary. The government plays a decisive role in this. And in this regard, Hans Peter Fris particularly criticises the role of local authorities, whose multitude of requirements makes it impossible for the average developer/builder to put up a decent, quality product. This is also a function, in particular, of the extreme land prices that a municipality such as Amsterdam, for example, asks. This, according to Hans Peter Fris, combined with regulatory zeal, ensures that building production is at far too low a level. He expands, ‘The government and the market are diametrically opposed. Back in 2005, we had already developed a dynamic land price model whereby, as a municipality, you adjusted your land price according to the type of housing you wanted to be constructed. But the municipality was not interested in this, at all. You could say that politicians demand too much from property developers, while showing unwillingness to solve problems together. We need to build, build, build. Which the market players want, but the government frustrates these plans instead of facilitating them’.
FRIS Young Professionals
In conclusion, the topic of FRIS Young Professionals. This is a club of young, ambitious employees who organise meetings with some regularity, to raise their level of knowledge. And who normally take an annual trip abroad. With a visit to a local real estate player as a fixed feature. Hans Peter relates, ‘After visits by FRIS Young Professionals to Dusseldorf and London, I received enthusiastic phone calls from the real estate businesses they had visited, saying what an incredibly nice group of young people they were. And whether it wasn’t time for a personal meeting, to see if we could do something for each other. The Dusseldorf visit, for instance, resulted in us becoming the Dutch bridgehead for German investors. Now that’s the kind of thing that I really like!’
FRIS is a particularly progressive business, in all areas. FRIS Residential Real Estate Agency is increasingly playing an advisory and selling role in new construction projects. For example, recently partnering with De Woonexpert, which, with its national coverage, has now become the largest new-build estate agent in the Netherlands and sets itself apart with tools such as optimisation advice, dynamic sales pricing methodology and razor-sharp sales processes. These arguably generate more revenue for the developer/contractor and also sell faster. FRIS Residential Real Estate Management has become a forerunner in ‘property management 2.0’ through the combination of its self-developed Meet Amy app, EyeMove, BIM operating models and REMS. Fris Investment Care (commercial property management) has a very competitive offering in-house, working with Yardi to make tools available such as commercial cafe (in which each tenant has its own login to access necessary info), vendor cafe (for suppliers, with direct uploading of invoices, quotes, etc.) and real-time services cost settlement. In the investment department, Fris Commercial Property Agents works with an in-house-developed matching system, that matches investment supply and demand to pre-specified KPIs.