Starting as a hotel receptionist at age 19, basketballer turns realty agency owner at 23
Dubai: When Nikita Kuznetsov first came to the UAE in 2008, the Russian expat was only 19 years old. Kuznetsov, who played professional-level basketball when growing up in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk (south Russia), decided to take a flight to Sharjah with just about $300 (Dh1,000) in his pocket.
“I heard about Dubai through a friend who told me it was an exciting place with lots of work opportunities. When I first worked at the reception of a hotel in Sharjah, I didn’t speak any English, but 80 per cent of the guests were Russian at the time and I was the only Russian speaker,” said Kuznetsov.
“My salary was low and I began making friends with the local tour guides. They seemed to have better perks so I joined a tour company and quickly became a tour guide. One day, one of the tour guides joined a real estate company and said that I should join him.”
Kuznetsov was then working round-the-clock trying to find property owners. “It was really tough work, but my English improved over time through all the calls I was making.
“While working at the property company, I decided to focus on expensive luxury properties but was told by many sceptics that it was a waste of time and it was going to be very difficult. But I wanted to prove them wrong,” he said.
It took him 4 to 5 months to close his first deal which turned out to be a very small rental in JLT. “My commission was only Dh750, but it was one of my proudest moments because of the amount of work I put in. As I got better, I started specialising in luxury properties on Palm Jumeirah,” Kuznetsov added.
About four years later, at age 23, he ventured into entrepreneurship with his business partner Evgeny Ratskevich and started a luxury real estate agency Metropolitan Premium Properties in Dubai.
“In November 2012, I decided to open my own company and invited Ratskevich, who I knew from back home through basketball, to partner with me. Ratskevich had previous real estate experience in Russia, so I knew he would be a good fit,” he added.
The first office was in a hotel at Dubai Festival City and could only fit two people. Within one year, the start-up moved to Al Manara Tower in Business Bay and started hiring. “We had some ups and downs at the start, but now the rest is history,” he shared, while touching upon how they once lost about half their workforce, which forced Ratskevich and Kuznetsov to briefly go back to being property agents again.
“By 2017, we were at 30 employees again at the agency and by 2019 we grew to 70. We crossed 100 employees in 2020 and by the end of 2021 we were over 270 people,” he said. The firm currently has over seven offices across the UAE, with 400-plus employees.
Kuznetsov witnessed growth especially after he spotted an opportunity in the market and started focusing on off-plan properties in 2016. This decision enabled them to generate Dh2 billion in sales in the first six months of 2021.
“We also saw average transactions value more than double from $500,000 (Dh1.8 million) to over $1.1 million (Dh4.4 million) last year with off-plan sales increasing five times while sales of secondary units showed a three-fold growth compared to 2020,” said Kuznetsov.
”Right now, there is a lot of interest in Dubai’s real estate market and limited availability. Over the past few years, we have seen a high demand for luxury real estate from foreign investors. We are seeing that 70 per cent of our customers are buying their second homes and 30 per cent for investment purposes.”
Dubai evidently registered record numbers in property sales this year and this level of sales was last seen in 2014, evaluated Kuznetsov, while adding that the Abu Dhabi market was also taking off. However, deciding whether it’s time to buy or sell depends on your personal situation, he said.
“Property prices are reaching all-time highs so you could say it’s a good time to sell, however if you are looking to buy as an end-user there are also a lot of affordable options, just not maybe in prime locations,” added Kuznetsov.
“Since the beginning of the year, we’ve seen lots of European businesses relocate here, employees deciding to work remotely from the UAE and families investing in secondary residences. Prices per square foot are also lower than in other international cities and investors can also achieve, on average, between 5 per cent to 10 per cent higher rental yields than other more established markets.”
While buying a new home can be an exciting experience it also has its pitfalls and if you are not careful you could lose a lot of money and/or get caught up in unnecessary legal complications, cautioned Kuznetsov.
“As real estate prices increase across the board, buyers and sellers are always looking for the best deals. There are a growing number of cases where people attempt to carry out the work by themselves, but this has led to several issues due to a lack of experience or knowledge.” So what’s the fix?
This is when a property broker comes handy, he added – which albeit comes at a cost. “For a buyer, a broker evades hassle of verifying legal status of a property, handling negotiations on your behalf and much of the paperwork involved in a transaction. For a seller, a broker will have a ready database of buyers available which will help them sell their property at times even before it is listed on the market.
“Nevertheless, today it is much easier for residents and overseas investors to buy property seamlessly, with some online transactions taking less than an hour to be completed. While there are not that many challenges to speak of, you could say that getting access to stock is a challenge because so many launches are quickly sold out,” flagged Kuznetsov.
Kuznetsov: “It sounds clichéd, but it’s really about identifying the right opportunity. Timing always plays a part as well. My advice to young entrepreneurs is if they truly believe in their ideas, they should go for it 100 per cent. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – every day is a learning experience in business.”
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