PUBLISHED IN essential magazine EDITION: Nº 133, MAY 2010. REPORT: Belinda Beckett
In 2010 Panorama Properties celebrated its 40th anniversary in Marbella as the resort city’s first international real estate agency – and now, its longest-established too. Belinda Beckett talks to Christopher Clover, owner/MD of this pioneering family firm whose history in its entirety spans 106 years and four generations.
When Christopher Clover graduated from the University of Virginia with an Economics Degree in 1969, there were two career paths he did not wish to follow: “One was teaching. Though I did well at school I felt that teaching wasn’t really my vocation. And, as I had been hearing about little else since I was a young boy, the other was going into the family real estate business.”
Forty years on, seated in Panorama’s elegant Golden Mile headquarters opposite The Marbella Club, photographs dating back to his grandfather’s time and a stack of exclusive property files in his in-tray tell another story. In fact, before he took charge of the family’s new real estate business in Marbella, his first job as a young man with linguistic skills was teaching French at a school in Maryland!
For someone whose career panned out in precisely the way he’d hoped it wouldn’t, Christopher is a contented man. Real estate has become this genial 65-year-old American’s life, and he’s good at it. By applying the values handed down by his father and grandfather the name of Panorama has, over four decades of property peaks and troughs, become synonymous with the sale of fabulous homes and a transparency that is often sadly lacking in the profession. “I have no wish ever to retire”, says Christopher with passion. “Our profession is a source of enjoyment and my greatest pleasure in life is how enriched I am by the wonderful people I meet through it.”
Most fulfilling of all was welcoming his children, Alex and Katinka, onto the team of 25 professionals in sales, rentals, administration and consulting, ensuring continuity of the family tradition. They joined “without parental coercion”, says Chris, “the best moment of my working life!”
The family dynasty was founded in Chicago in 1904 by Christopher’s grandfather, Burtt Byron Clover, and continued by Christopher’s father Bill who opened an office in Virginia in 1952. Although his grandfather died in 1970, aged 94, Christopher remembers two pieces of advice he gave him as a young man which he applies in business today. “One was that the farmer always wants to buy pasture on the other side of the fence”, recalls Chris. “On countless occasions since, when we have listed a property, I have approached neighbours and their friends and often effected a quick sale. My grandfather also used to say that the big house in the street of small houses is harder to sell than the small house in the street of big houses, illustrating the importance of location and its impact on selling prices.”
Bill acquired Panorama International Ltd in 1968, a Washington D.C.-based company specialising in selling second homes abroad to American investors. In 1970, Panorama’s first overseas real estate office opened in Marbella, followed by branches in Mexico City and Mallorca. Marbella’s reputation as an exclusive quality resort with the best weather in Europe was already established and Panorama became the first real estate agency to bring clients here on inspection flights. On one memorable occasion, Chris and his sales team received a charter plane of 120 people comprising 75 ‘buying units’ to whom they made 49 sales that week – mostly of apartments and villas in Nueva Andalucía and Bahia Dorada in Estepona, priced at $ 5,000 to $30,000. “My father showed great foresight in targeting Marbella as the jewel in Europe’s second home market and when he told me he needed my help in our Washington office, in 1971, I couldn’t refuse”, says Chris.
Prior to his arrival here on February 16th, 1973 – his 26th birthday – the business had moved from a small office next to Alameda Park to a much larger office opposite the old Portillo bus station. Recalls Chris: “All the equipment was transported by donkey! Those were the days when you had to ring the operator in Málaga and sometimes wait all day to get an international call through. The main link to the outside world was our cherished telex machine.”
Two years on, the worst recession since the war forced the Washington office to close. Brother Bill took over the Mexico City branch and became a top consultant in property development and financing with whom Christopher still exchanges clients and advice on a regular basis.Christopher and his first wife Kirsten stayed on in Marbella to develop the local business, enjoying focusing on higher-end properties and clients rather than high pressure ‘fly-bys’. “We worked very hard but we were always accompanied by a lot of good luck”, says Christopher. “During the 1970s we were introduced to members of the Saudi Royal Family and sold many of the properties they bought in Marbella at the time.”
Surviving with fortitude the difficult 1989-1993 recession, in 1994 Christopher opened a sales office strategically located, as befitting his high profile clients, at the prestigious Puente Romano Hotel. Head office, with a new rentals division, was opened directly opposite the Hotel Marbella Club in 1996. Today, his plans are equally bullish:
“We are investing a lot of time every week with our team members to improve their communication skills, product and industry knowledge and their professionalism in general”, says Christopher. “We are constantly refining our multiple organisational systems and great Internet site to make them more efficient and transparent. The results becoming evident over time are that I am surrounded today by a team comprised of true champions in our field, who get along together amazingly well – the best I have ever had.”
“We expect the present economic downturn to be a lot shorter than that of ’89 to ‘93, since Marbella is now consolidated with a 12 month season, unrivalled infrastructure and a much broader market, while the Internet and globalisation era has unquestionably made everything evolve more quickly than before”, adds Christopher. To help ride it out, Panorama has reinforced its listings priced at under €700,000 to achieve an incredible 40 per cent increase in sales last year over 2008, although at an average price of 60 per cent less. Despite good market movement in the less expensive properties being sold mainly to bargain seekers, Christopher sees definite indications that the higher-end market of €1.5-5million is returning, and that “the opportunities appearing this year represent a unique time for a buyer to acquire a property in most price ranges at rock bottom prices.” However he does not expect prices to recover to 2006-2007 highs for some time, with the exception of the few truly unique properties that are not reproducible.
Future plans? Christopher would like to open an office in east Marbella in the next two to three years to offer a better service to clients and capitalise on the company’s good name. And of course to keep on doing what he loves best, in his words, “for another 40 years!”
The Panorama story continues.