Benjamin Fitoussi – Integrity is the backbone of a successful business
Benjamin Fitoussi was born and raised in the Principality of Monaco, but it was a challenging career move that introduced him to the fascinating world of high-end real estate. He was hooked, and went on to give birth to one of Monaco’s premium real estate agencies – BENJAMINPRATT REAL ESTATE.
French national, Benjamin Fitoussi’s life story is quite interesting. The Principality of Monaco is the land of birth and childhood of this bright 42-year old entrepreneur; however, due to French-Monégasque regulations, he was never granted Monégasque nationality. Yet, the Principality of Monaco lives in the nucleus of the DNA of his heart and soul.
“I have precious childhood memories” – starts Benjamin. – “I went to a school located on the Rock, exactly where the current building of the National Council of Monaco (Conseil National) stands. I have always loved the Rock, and as a child I thought it was magic! However, back then, the school system was different. Most of the students were Monégasque, French and Italian; there were not many foreign students from other international countries. Today, this has changed and the fabric of the educational system is much more international.”
Similar to most Monégasques, later on, Benjamin also expanded his views with studies abroad. After spending two years in Nice, he finished his studies in a Business School in Bordeaux. Interestingly, this school was owned by the same company that later on acquired the International University of Monaco (IUM).
During his studies, he was on an exchange program at Berkley University in California, (east of San Francisco), and later on in 2009, decided to take up an internship in the garment industry in Chennai (previously Madras), India.
“I spent eight months in India which was a great experience for me. A very different culture and definitely a different quality of life compared to Monaco.”
Did you have any challenges in India?
“From the moment I landed, it was a challenge! Problem solving became my first encounter… I arrived in India at four o’clock in the morning without any hotel arrangements. My employer told me then and there that if I desired to be his intern, I would have to learn to solve problems. Thus, I had to start from scratch and organise everything myself.”
How did you find the culture and people of India?
“The people in India are very lovely. Their lifestyle contrasts tremendously with Monaco in terms of quality of life. The average person barely makes a living, reaching not even the remotest of our standards; yet they are always ready to share.”
Why did you decide to come back to Europe?
“I had the opportunity to experience a high standard of living in India because everything was so cheap. Yet, life in India was not easy. The daily grind of noise, pollution, and traffic jams – and often all at the same time – became quite draining in the long-run. Nonetheless, living in India was a marvelous experience for me, but in the end, it was time for me to come back.”
Returning to the South of France, Benjamin accepted a job offer in St Tropez, working for Ivana Marie Trump, the ex-wife of Donald Trump, who served as the 45th president of the United States from 2017 to 2021.
“I have always gravitated towards flexibility in what I do. Somehow, I have never felt comfortable working in a normal office with regulated office hours. Working with Ivana Trump provided me the golden opportunity to learn the ins and outs of high-end real estate, while I assisted her in property transactions.”
Later on, Benjamin had an ambitious plan to organise a major event and exhibition in the Principality of Monaco. The project was planned at the Grimaldi Forum, called the Monte Carlo World Security and Safety Market, however this event was cancelled due to the global financial crisis of 2008.
Why did you decide to leave your position with Ivana Trump and come back to Monaco?
“There are two reasons: first, it became hard for me to overlook the instinct to be my own boss, to be independent. Secondly, my philosophy is that the place where you grew up is the one that you know the best.”
Due to his previous work experience, people always asked Benjamin about high-end off-market properties. It was the obvious choice for Benjamin to establish his real-estate agency, BENJAMINPRATT FRANCE, which he opened in November 2010. It was a personal desire and a dream come true.
One should wonder about the name of your business since your family name is Fitoussi and not Pratt. Why did you decide to use this name for your company?
“When you’re searching for the name of a company, you don’t need something complicated. Let’s face it, my family name, Fitoussi is not the easiest for foreigners to grasp. The goal was to have a unique name that is understandable by everyone, both locally and internationally.”
How did you come up with Pratt?
“I remember calling a friend in Paris, who worked as a Communication & PR manager in boutique hotels. She told me to keep the Benjamin because it’s personal, and asked me to put a letter or something behind it,” – remembers Benjamin. – “One night while in the hallway of my house, the name Pratt suddenly popped into my mind. I queried a few people I knew and the feedback was great. Eureka! I had found it – BENJAMINPRATT.”
You started your business with your associate, Andrea Schmitt in Cap d’Ail. Why not in Monaco?
“I didn’t inherit a big business since my family was quite humble. I had to build up everything from zero. Since my mother had a small agency in Cap d’Ail, it was the obvious choice to set up our business there.”
Benjamin and his associate, Andrea built up their business gradually. By August 2018, they were able to acquire a real estate license in the Principality of Monaco as well, and BenjaminPratt Monaco was finally established. This was the obvious avenue to develop and evolve their business since part of their clientele was from the Principality of Monaco.
What is your business secret?
“It is a simple fact: we have one core focus – real estate sales. We don’t engage in rentals and management deals. Based on my experience, if you want to truly manage real estate sales properly, it takes a lot of time, especially nowadays.”
What do you mean by the word “nowadays”?
“Well, the way people do business has changed a lot in the past decades. Today, we live in a completely digital world where technology forces us to evolve. The medias are bombarded with publicity, resulting in more competition and often more and more demanding clients. It is for this reason that we decided to focus on one core activity, which is real estate sales.”
How would you describe the balance of work between you and your associate, Andrea?
“Andrea is the creative engine of the company, while I am everything related to clients and administrative matters.”
How did you meet?
“Andrea and I met in Monaco through a mutual friend. She was about to leave Monaco and start a coffee business in London; fortunately for me, she decided to stay,” – remembers Benjamin. “In the beginning, my thoughts centered on adding services such as concierge to the real estate concept. Andrea therefore prepared the concept of the business. As things took off, we later decided to drop the concierge idea to focus solely on high-end real estate sales.”
Was it easy to finalise the strategic approach?
“When you develop a new business model, you have to think about what can or cannot work. Many things have changed rapidly on the Côte d’Azur. Real estate agencies, banks, restaurants, hotels, etc. abound everywhere. However, in the end, it is all about quality, dedication, and consistency. It goes without saying that it was not easy without sufficient financial backing from the family, but if you are honest and persistent enough, there is no reason why it shouldn’t work.”
You mentioned that you only focus on the sales transaction, but relocation can be more complex.
“Our core is real estate sales, but it is a complex process. It is more than just creating a fancy image; there is no magic wand! You need to know your clients and understand their needs. For instance, if someone wishes to relocate, then we help them in the administrative issues to provide an as smooth as possible transition. However, at one point we have to draw the line, which is the end of the sales transaction. If someone needs further assistance, we are more than happy to recommend professionals we trust, such as caretakers and maintenance companies. The truth is, that even the smallest request can take time, and when you accept them, it is difficult to set limits. We always do a full service, but we are very explicit as to the boundaries of our responsibilities.”
In your opinion what is the primary reason that people choose Monaco?
“I think the main reason is safety. There are other places that offer fantastic sea views and larger spaces. However, none can top the security that Monaco offers, which is exceptional.”
How did you experience the real estate market during the pandemic?
“It is interesting to see that for many real estate agencies, 2020 was one of their best years. The pandemic spurred many people to not allow their money sit in banks, but rather invest it. We even got professional investors who made a bulk investment in 4-5 properties at the same time. The good thing is that the mortgage rate is at an all-time low. Several of our clients pay under 1% interest rate, offering them a better opportunity to keep and use their liquidity in a smarter way.
The market was particularly active in France. Indeed, many Monaco residents decided to invest and relocate some of their assets in France, and others decided to make the jump and buy a secondary residence close to Monaco as they wanted to experience enjoyable family moments. Discriminating international clients have also taken the opportunity to buy huge properties such as large land properties to build Trophy Assets. We sold 2 exceptional such land properties in Eze and Cap d’Ail for respectively 3M€ and 7M€.”
Who is your typical client?
”We don’t have a typical client: we work with individuals who are looking for a main residence in Monaco or a secondary residence in France, as well as family companies and investment corporations sourcing assets to compensate the evolution of market/economy, diversify their portfolios, and/or mutualism of their exposure on markets.”
What are your strengths? What differentiates BenjaminPratt Real Estate from the others?
“Our foundation is built on three pillars:
- We never pressure anyone to purchase just to close a deal and make a commission.
- We aim for a satisfied customer because that’s our best publicity.
- Life is not about money; it’s about people.
Our reputation of professionalism and honesty is what attracts our clients. A detailed information package provides them with high-definition photos and video supports, and we always guide them through the entire transaction. The aim is to make sure that we are true to our values. I still like to believe that our clients choose us because of our performance and our integrity.”
What is the main difference between the real estate markets in France and Monaco?
“The definition of wealthy is significantly different in France and Monaco. In France, you can purchase a villa for 3 million Euro, while the same amount only allows you a simple one-bedroom apartment in Monaco. It is a question of proportion that creates different attitudes. In France, people often buy, while in Monaco many newcomers decide to rent for their first years. After they are comfortable, they buy as a second step.”
What is the typical property people look for in Monaco?
“Demand in Monaco and France is often linked and we are mostly dealing with the combination of both markets. In the Principality of Monaco, people are mainly searching for their principal residence. On the other hand in France, many people are purchasing their secondary residencies. Most of these properties are villas or penthouses.”
What is the average profit that people can make on renting?
“Most of the wealthy families in Monaco invest in real estate because they want to diversify their portfolio, and owning property is a good way to do that. In Monaco, you rarely make more than 2%, but it’s also true that the Monaco market keeps the property values very high. France is much more of a profitability because you can identify an annual return of 7-10% on real estate rentals. Investing in Monaco and France are two different, but complementary investment philosophies/strategies.”
What was your biggest real estate success so far?
“No question about it, it was the new embassy building of the Republic of Kazakhstan in Paris. Back in 2014, we spent 16 months working nearly exclusively for this client. Due to the international and political prominence of the protagonists, the whole project was very complicated, but it was more than worth it, and was a great achievement.”
Why is this deal special for you?
“First of all, this was not just any building, it was one of the twelve buildings around the legendary Arc de Triomphe.”
The Arc de Triomphe is one of Paris’ most famous monuments, standing at the western end of the Champs-Élysées, at the centre of Place Charles de Gaulle. Very few know that the Arc de Triomphe was built on Napoleon’s initiative to honour those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.
Construction started in 1806 but stopped when the monarchy was reinstated. Work on the monument eventually began again under King Louis-Philippe and was finished in 1836. On the Arc, you will find many bas-reliefs, which show scenes of Napoleonic battles, such as Napoleon crossing the bridge at Arcole and the Battle of Abukir.
Around the Arc de Triomphe, there are twelve unique properties and before 2014 only two of them were embassies. One is the Embassy of Belgium and the other building is the Embassy of Qatar.
“You know, I am not a believer in luck. I mostly feel that when you have your heart on pursuing something great, the universe conspires with you to bring it to fruition. We got the information that one of the twelve buildings, privately owned by a foreign Qatari Minister, was for sale off-market. We knew that this remarkable building would be one of their most beautiful emblems dedicated to the international influence of the country.”
Probably there were many security-related concerns with such an old construction.
“When you sell such a building, first of all, you have to deal with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For an embassy, security remains the number one issue! The delegated team from Kazakhstan had to review all the plans, the related documents, even the metro layouts. It was not only about security, but the legalities related to extra territoriality were a major concern. When you purchase a property in France, you own everything underneath it and because of the underground metro, it was a huge issue. In the end, there were more than 5,000 pages attached to the contract, including all the technical questions in the finest details.”
What were the main challenges?
“There were plenty. One of the most challenging thing was the differences in business mentality. We had our entire trust in the ambassador of Kazakhstan, but we also had to deal with some Qatari representatives. After seven months, on the very morning when we were planning to sign the preliminary contract, I received a call from a representative, stating that they wanted to change some conditions. Goodness, this could have been a deal breaker! This was a highly volatile situation particularly since the previous conditions had already been approved by the Kazakh Government. In the end, we overcame the obstacles and sold the property for the incredible amount of 42 million Euro.”
Which is relatively a lot of money, right?
“Yes and no! 42 million Euro is a lot of money for a building, but not for THAT building in particular. Its true situation is exceptional and priceless. For a reason I can’t disclose, the Republic of Kazakhstan was thinking of selling the building back.”
How did you react?
“Let’s be honest, many real estate agencies would have seen this as the opportunity of a lifetime to get the commission twice on the same building in a very short time. We, however, wanted them to keep the building. Paramount to us and our ethics, this was a historical landmark in our company’s achievement and a moment that is indelibly written on our hearts. And fortunately, they kept it. There is also an artwork at the embassy created by my associate Andrea, which provides another level of emotional attachment.”
Benjamin’s associate, Andrea is the creative soul of the company and also in charge of all the marketing activities. For them, creativity is a unique element to differentiate their business and stand out from the crowd. It is an elemental part of their corporate philosophy. Their attention to the creative details is exceptional, even the Christmas cards are made by Andrea herself.
That must be a great value for Andrea as well.
“Yes, truth be told, she made it even more memorable for us” – giggles Benjamin. – “The artwork is a digital work about Kazakhstan, in which Andrea decided to hide our faces therein, so we are now an indelible part of a historical moment. We have also built up a very satisfactory and long-lasting relationship with the embassy and we often join them in celebrating their national holiday.”
You made a big gamble to work for 16 months only for this one client. If you look back now, what was the biggest added value for BenjaminPratt Real Estate?
“Respect. We started as an unknown company. However, once you close a deal of this magnitude, people start to take you seriously. Thereafter, we received access to more and more exclusive, off-market properties because we had a proven track record of being able to work with high-end properties and high-net-worth clientele. Immediately, the phone started ringing!”
How do you relax during stressful days?
”From my childhood, I have loved all kinds of water activities like scuba-diving, spearfishing, boating, free diving…but especially fishing. It is relaxing and most rewarding when you can have the catch of the day for dinner!”
What would your advice be to fellow real estate professionals?
“People are fascinated by our industry because they often focus on the monetary gain. However, money is just the end of any business. When starting a business, hard work and ethics in the right place are the thrust, then eventually you will find your way to make a living. In my opinion, the key is to transport the philosophy of life into the business. Let me reiterate, life is not about money; it’s about people.”
Part of your success is to be approachable and human with your clients.
“I love to interact with our clients and they often give us their feedback. We have many testimonials, and it so happens that people leave comments just to encourage us to continue our work the way we do. I am quite competitive and believe that every business owner has to live for the challenges as well. Certainly, it’s important to accept that sometimes you win and other times you lose, and when you read encouraging comments, it comforts you that you are on the right track: doing the right thing in the right way.”