Recognizing patterns in the real estate market

Anja Graf sees entrepreneurial freedom as the key to her success. If she smells a good business deal, she acts immediately. It’s a strategy that has paid off: Visionapartments, a company that began with a single unit on Zurich’s Letzigraben street, now has 2,000 apartments and a network of partners.

Evelyne Oechslin

Anja Graf, why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

Anja Graf The traditional career path didn’t work for me. While still in high school, I realized that it would take a very long time for me to graduate from college and gain a foothold in the professional world. And after that I would have to decide whether I wanted to have children. I chose an unconventional path instead, betting everything on starting my own business. That allowed me to start pursuing a career at an early age.


How would you describe your style as an entrepreneur?

Graf I like to take a hands-on approach. I painted my first apartments myself. I’m currently living in Bucharest, because I have some major projects in Romania that I want to work on. I should also mention that I don’t let myself get discouraged. Looking for financing for my first company, I went to nine different banks. Credit Suisse was the only one that believed in me, and gave me a loan when I was just 20 years old.

How would you describe the sector Visionapartments is involved in?

Graf It is now very broad, encompassing the entire value chain. We purchase land and real estate, and we invest in construction projects as well as serving as turnkey contractors. Everything is handled in-house, from real estate management to technology, through cleaning to financing and sales. In addition, we have an innovative design department that furnishes the apartments to the standards of a five-star hotel. We also help people find apartments; some locations are operated by partners.


Today you have 850 locations around the world, having started out in 1999 with a single apartment. What have been the most important milestones in your company’s evolution?

Graf For the first ten years we concentrated on the real estate market in Zurich, gradually acquiring additional properties. In 2009 I hired a business manager in Zurich and moved to Poland. For four years I focused specifically on the Polish market, and I opened a support center. Before that, we were just a group of friends who rented out apartments. Expansion forced us to become more professional, so that was an important milestone. The center in Poland is still the company’s backbone. From then on things happened quickly, and we moved into additional markets.


What is your expansion strategy?

Graf We have a combination of investments in solid markets, such as Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. Swiss banks offer excellent financing conditions, and we still achieve the best returns here. We take a very opportunistic approach in other markets. We invest in places where properties have not yet appreciated and we can buy at favorable rates.


What are the most important factors in your company’s success?

Graf The fact that real estate is becoming increasingly expensive has helped us enormously and is certainly the main reason for our success. Over time, I started to recognize patterns and anticipate which markets it was worth buying in. A major advantage for Visionapartments is that we have remained a family company. We have excellent management, but no board of directors that has to approve investments. This allows us to act relatively quickly.

“Over time I started to recognize certain patterns and could see in which markets it made sense to buy.”

How do you stay innovative?

Graf I like to surround myself with younger people and listen to what they’re thinking about. In our fast-paced world, that gives me a sense of what the next trends might be. Furthermore, I do a lot of traveling, which I enjoy. I can see first-hand how things are done in other countries and consider borrowing certain ideas.


What are the next steps for Visionapartments – where will the journey take you?

Graf We recently purchased Acomodeo, a kind of Airbnb for businesspeople. We would like to expand this platform. The challenge, though, is that its apartments are not stand-ardized, and some lack digital infrastructure.


Another new project is “Vision City,” which I would describe as a small city within a building – a single place where certain everyday services are provided. This is an exciting idea, par-ticularly for seniors. I can also imagine that in Romania, where I’m currently living, these buildings might include schools, making high-quality education available outside of city centers.

About the company

Number of employees: 290 full-time positions
Founded in: 1999
Headquarters: Lucerne
Area of activity: Visionapartments offers tailored temporary living solutions in over 850 business locations worldwide.
Noted: Switzerland is the company’s innovation center, Poland its backbone, and Romania its developing market.