Parallel universes that sometimes meet

With four thousand, Poland after the UK, has the second highest number of real estate valuers in Europe. Germany, a larger country, has significantly fewer: between one and two thousand. But of that mass of Poles who professionally value property, only about fifty work for international real estate consultants; the vast majority of the others work for themselves. Neither group it would seem, however, gets in the other's way

Miles away, both in distance and surroundings from the big international real estate firms, Jolanta Łopacińska and Irena Sobiech work from a humble office out in the Warsaw suburb of Ursynów, under their firm's name TERRA. The air conditioning and conference rooms the international firms take for granted in their Class A buildings are a world apart. Yet the two women have been valuing property in Warsaw for the past nine years and possess a bearing which suggests they'll be doing business for some time to come. And neither do their clients consist simply of Polish firms. Among others, Globe Trade Centre is an international company they've valued property for.

Freedom and duty
"A valuer should do their job without being under pressure," says Jolanta Łopacińska. "If I was to be employed by a large firm, I might find that someone above me was trying to get me to do something I didn't feel it was right to do."
Back in the city centre however, speaking at her company's shiny new office at Saski Crescent, Małgorzota Żółtowska, valuer at Jones Lang LaSalle, rejects the notion that freelance valuers can offer more objectivity by virtue of their independent status.
"It's not an issue at all, " she says. "I am as objective as I can be. It has to be remembered that when you work for a large firm, you are not only acting for yourself, but for the company as a whole."

Close to the client
Monika Sobkiewicz has been a self-employed valuer for two years, since she left her job at Maxon Nieruchomości, a decision she has never regretted given the freedom and success she has enjoyed since. Her background means she can claim to have a privileged perspective on the contrasting approaches freelance and employed valuers adopt towards their work.
"I think I have a closer relationship with my clients," she says. "Valuers at large companies have to be very serious, whereas I can adopt a more informal approach which means I can often gain access to more vital information."

Accessing information ...
Valuers working for the large international firms would however beg to differ, insisting that it is they, with the resources and backing of a multi-million dollar operation, who are first in the know.
"You have huge advantages if you work for a large company," says Małgorzota Żółtowska. "I have access to so much more information than a freelancer would and people are more likely to talk to you if you represent such a well known firm. You can get a better sense of where the market is going from developers and tenants and it's easier to increase your experience. We also have a large research department, which is a big help."
"Self-employed valuers aren't in a position to monitor the market so deeply," says Roman Fortuna of CB Richard Ellis, "so sometimes they come to us with enquiries."
Monika Sobkiewicz admits that the most difficult part of her work is getting hold of raw data and relies to quite a significant extent on the reports firms such as Jones Lang LaSalle publish about trends in the market. Despite the value of her informal relationships with her clients, the finer detail she requires to do her job isn't always easy to hand.

...and sharing it
"It's important to understand that self-employed valuers operate on a different market to those working for international real estate consultants," says Roman Fortuna. "We deal with multi-national corporate clients with very large properties and the freelance valuers are strong in the local markets."
What this results in, according to Fortuna, is that both sets of valuer actually help each other out when they need particular information about a corner of the market another might have deeper knowledge of.
"I would see freelance valuers as friends," says Fotuna. "If I need some very specific information quickly, in say ten to fifteen minutes, I can call a freelancer who specializes in land valuation in Grodzisk-Mazowiecki, (just outside Warsaw), for example. I know the range of land values there but if I need something now, on the spot, about the prices I might get in this area, though I might already have some idea, I can make that call to confirm it."
Jolanta Łopacińska and Irena Sobiech echo these comments and explain that they too will contact their fellow professionals, who work for large firms, if they need to top up their knowledge.
"Sometimes we have to value flats, perhaps in Opole, and it isn't always possible for us to have all the relevant information about this district," says Jolanta Łopacińska. "I will have to go there and do the valuation but it's sometimes very useful to find out the broader market situation in that area." So she might well pick up the phone and get on to someone working at an international company.

Room for everyone?
As with other professionals in real estate in Poland, valuers of both types have been feeling the pinch of recession of late.
"In the five years I have been working for JLL, our prices have decreased by about 20 per cent," says Małgorzota Żółtowska. She adds that valuers with the cheapest offers are currently getting the work. "I'm losing projects because of the price. I've just found out that a direct competitor, (another international firm) won out because they offered half of what we did. The cheapest is not necessarily the best but this is the reality we're faced with."
Monika Sobkiewicz also admits to the drop in prices and points to a growing tendency among the banks who until now have used valuers' services, to carry out valuations themselves in order to cut costs.
"We want to provide the cheapest offer for our clients so we use internal appraisers," says Grzegorz Chmielak of HypoVereinsbank in Warsaw, "though we also work with external valuers. For mortgage banks it's necessary for property to be valuated from the outside but universal banks have an internal policy and don't always need the services of valuers."
Times might be shakier for the four thousand who value property in Poland but whether working from home, a cramped office or a cool interior in the CBD they are struggling along and surviving, and hoping as with so many thousands and millions more, that Poland's impending EU membership will smoothen their career paths.