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Meet Alex Balkin, Executive Director of Savills French Riviera

Savills French Riviera is a real estate firm with a formidable track record, responsible for brokering some of the world’s most illustrious properties. At the helm is Alex Balkin – a polyglot Executive Director driven by a people-first philosophy and an unshakeable passion for the region.

We sat down to ask him about his all-time favourite properties, today’s Riviera market and how the digital revolution continues to shape the real estate industry.

1. With a varied career history in business, what inspired your transition into the luxury real estate industry, particularly in the French Riviera?

I worked for 5 years as a paralegal business consultant in France, specialising in assisting Scandinavian clients. Much of my work is related to their real estate projects in France, especially on the French Riviera. I identified an opportunity to transform my experience into a boutique agency, providing a combination of unparalleled advisory services with a real passion for real estate. Helping people’s dreams come true was a truly exhilarating feeling – one that still drives me today.

2. You have a rich multicultural background, born and raised in Denmark, educated in New York and fluent in multiple languages from French to Persian. How important is this international background to your work?

Not only important; indispensable. Working with people from all over the world requires cross-cultural skills, behavioural agility, humility, curiosity and empathy. It all starts with listening while disconnecting from one's original mindset and focusing completely on what the client expects.

3. Purchasing property in the French Riviera is the fulfilment of a lifelong dream for many buyers across the world. In your view, what has made the region so consistently sought-after?

In terms of natural beauty, the French Riviera is unmatched: crystal-clear waters, perennial sun, charming old towns, and stunning fresh produce. From the 1850s, this led Riviera aficionados to build and buy here – first aristocrats and their entourage, then captains of industry, soon followed by the Hollywood glitterati. Now the Riviera really has it all: weather, leisure, sports, food, entertainment, easy access, and great infrastructure. The record is indisputable, and there is no doubt that the Riviera will remain a great store of long-term wealth for years to come.

4. Among the numerous remarkable properties Savills has sold, could you tell us about the most iconic one and what made it so special?

Our most remarkable sale to date was Villa Les Cèdres, a 14-hectare seafront estate once owned by King Leopold of Belgium. In 1904, the king gave the property an extraordinary renovation in line with its Belle Epoque heyday: regal sitting rooms, a wood-panelled library, grand 19th-century portraits and extensive botanic gardens. The estate was sold by Savills French Riviera in 2019 at a price in the top 5 of any private residence sold in the world, ever.

5. One of our current favourite Savills properties is Villa Bagatelle, a breathtaking historic villa overlooking the bay of Cannes. What are some of your favourite features of the estate?

Villa Bagatelle is an amazing estate offering a truly sensational view of the bay of Cannes. The owner has shown exceptional vision in developing an already renowned property and has achieved the feat of making 3000 square metres feel like a home. I love how the neoclassical manor style blends seamlessly with exquisite modern design and Scandinavian vintage furniture, creating a truly timeless feel.

6. How do you approach finding the ideal buyer for such a stunning and historic estate?

The Savills Private Office has unparalleled direct access to clients able and willing to acquire such exceptional properties. By experience, such iconic estates are sold by private introduction only.

7. Can you elaborate on the unique characteristics and appeal of each region in the French Riviera, and the types of buyers who are particularly drawn to them? For instance, does there remain a strong US interest in Cap Ferrat, or are we witnessing an influx of UK purchasers?

Traditionally, for instance, Cannes is the summer playground of wealthy families from the Middle East, and they own large estates in the area. Saint-Tropez is the ultimate hotspot, of course, for UNHWIs from all over the world and a villa there is a true trophy asset for many. The three peninsulas, Cap Martin, Cap Ferrat and Cap d'Antibes historically have attracted royalty and tycoons for more than 150 years, and continue to hold sway as three of the most desirable locations in the world.

Post-Brexit, we are seeing fewer Brits buy here, especially as many UK owners here are financed with floating-rate loans. Americans, however, are very present – especially in the very high end.

8. You began your journey with Savills in 2007-8, right on the cusp of a revolution in digital marketing and social media. I’m curious to know how the rise of digital and social media marketing has impacted the real estate industry, and how Savills is proactively adapting to embrace these shifts.

This development is as incontrovertible as it is fascinating. 99% of all millennials start their property search online, and mastery of social media strategies has become key to succeeding in this industry. Luxury real estate is a case in point, because the marketing targets a perceived need rather than a housing requirement, and the selling points often relate far more to lifestyle than to market references. 'Nudging', cognitive biases and digital nimbleness have become indispensable. Savills is admittedly a historical brand, but we are extremely proactive in our digital marketing, whilst providing clients with the gravitas, research, and market insights that are expected from us.

9. Do you have any predictions for how the industry will continue to evolve?

Social media will continue to prevail, as will the necessity to imagine new ways of indirectly influencing buyer and seller behaviour, and at Savills, we remain convinced that cutting-edge social and digital tools will only make a major difference insofar as they are accompanied by a counterpoint of professionalism and deep knowledge of the market and its components.

10. Are there any up-and-coming areas or hidden gems in the South of France that buyers should keep an eye on?

Many areas have the potential for increased future appeal, and often they are located right next to prime areas. By experience, these areas tend to grow when their select neighbours are in high demand, and when the market is in a lurch, they often plummet, as was the case after the financial crisis of 2008.

11. What trends are you noticing in buyer requirements this year? Any particular features or facilities that are in high demand?

Knowledge. Insight. Research. Global reach. Local expertise. Buying a property is for most a decision of major lifetime importance, and as much as Instagram is perfect for whetting an appetite, true property agent skills are simply too essential to ignore.

12. What is the most unique or elaborate feature you have ever seen in a property listed by Savills?

I vividly remember an exceptional property in the Nice hinterland, where the very eclectic owners of this ancient mill had tastefully and skillfully encased in glass the water that flows through the property, inside the majestic living room, creating a unique feature, technically, architecturally, and visually.

13. There are many real estate firms on the market, what makes Savills unique?

Savills is not only 650 offices worldwide, it is a unique property services company that covers all aspects of real estate: brokerage, lettings, development, consultancy, investment, management and much more. Our commitment to acting honestly and in the best interests of our clients is fundamental to everything we do and is what Savills stands for as a service provider, employer and corporate citizen. I believe that more than others, we listen to our clients and truly have their best interests at heart. A significant part of our business comes from recommendations, and I see this as a testimony to our values.


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