Development Services: A Look Inside with Dennis Maruhn

The Engel & Völkers Development Services platform supports the distinct needs of builders, developers and investor-partners around the world. This dedicated division is staffed by teams of local experts on five continents who collectively represent over 400 projects from townhome communities to mixed use high-rise buildings.

November 1, 2023

Whether it is through strategic advice, sharing lessons learned from previous new development projects or referrals between feeder markets, our designated shops and advisors benefit from a strong collaborative network of local experts and new development peers across the globe. In this interview, we want to highlight market insights from one of the most active members of our new development team, Dennis Maruhn, Managing Director of the Berlin, Germany shop. 

E&V Development Services: What is your current role at E&V and how did you come to find yourself in the role you’re in today?

Dennis: The first part of the question is relatively easy to answer. With my business partner Hendrik Treff, I have led our fantastic Development Services team here in Berlin for five years. My focus so far has been more on sales processes. Supporting the sales team, reporting, numbers and targets, etc., was my area of expertise. However, in the last few months, I’ve also been on the acquisition side every now and then and am slowly learning to appreciate that part of our work, too.

My professional path to where I am today began in 2009 when I graduated in business administration and started as an absolute newcomer in the real estate industry in Berlin. For the first years, I worked for a small company that wanted to invest capital in Berlin. I managed purchases of residential and commercial properties (this is where I had my first contact with our common brand, as we bought the first two properties through E&V), refurbishing and modernizing them until we finally sold them. Sometimes as a global deal, sometimes divided into condos. 

After four years, I decided to move to a company that took care of sales of apartments. Here, I quickly took over the management of the sales team and built up a key account team, which was responsible for reporting to the developer during the sales process, and special request management. The company was taken over by JLL at that time, so I was able to get a taste of corporate air for a good two years. 

In my other jobs, I was always able to make many decisions myself, but when E&V offered me the position of Managing Director of Development Services almost five years ago, I couldn’t say no. To this day, I have not regretted my decision and look forward to hopefully many more years with Engel & Völkers.

E&V Development Services: You’ve had quite a storied career in new development real estate projects; what are your thoughts on the new development market today? What changes have you seen, and what are some of the most interesting trends you’re seeing in terms of financing, buyer preferences, sustainability, international interest in Berlin, etc.?

Dennis: In all my time, I have never experienced a market like the one we currently have. Due to the war in Ukraine, the increase in inflation, and the resulting adjustment of interest rates, the turnover figures in Germany in the new construction segment have collapsed by around 70%. In the resale, we have already seen falling prices to compensate for the higher interest rates. In new construction, where developers are dealing with sharply escalated construction costs due to the points mentioned, we see little flexibility in terms of prices.  It can be negotiated, but the price reductions are not as high as in the sales of existing units.

As a result, many customers can no longer afford apartments, and we are currently only seeing purchases in areas where it is a matter of “wanting to have” rather than “having to have”. Equity has become very important for financing.

The three important criteria of location, location, location are now joined by the quality offered, the willingness to satisfy the special wishes of the buyer, but also, from an ESG point of view, the energy value of a house. Many projects currently on sale date back to times when ESG was not yet such an important issue. Modern gas heating systems were installed, which are not the first choice of buyers today.

In the medium to long term, the issues will all be regulated again. Berlin, in particular, is the city with the largest influx of people in Germany. In addition, an unprecedented housing shortage will cause rents to rise again to extreme levels. Thus, the market slowly approaches yield-technically the current financing costs of approximately 5.5%.

E&V Development Services: Some topics that we are most interested in as a company are related to sustainable real estate developments and their considerations for energy efficiency, water conservation, environmentalism, etc. Germany and Berlin, in particular, have some of the most progressive practices when it comes to this subject area. Can you tell us what you’ve seen in terms of best practices for developers?

Dennis: This is a topic that I follow with great interest. Ultimately, the goal of sustainability in the real estate industry should be to create an almost self-sufficient house. There are various exciting fields that we can see in houses currently in the planning stage.

One big field is electricity for heating systems. For example, solar collectors can be installed on the roof to generate this to run modern air source heat pumps. The energy generated by sunlight is stored and accessible even when the sun is not shining. The next is the use of water. All water used for rinsing, showering, and brushing teeth is filtered to be used again. In addition, rainwater is collected in special systems and for garden irrigation, reducing water waste.

Geothermal energy is playing an increasingly important role, especially in more rural areas. With the use of special drilling procedures, the energy of the earth core is used around several households.

In addition to the topic of self-sufficiency, tCO2 binding in building materials is a large field in which a lot of research and development is taking place. In this context, we were on a site visit a few weeks ago, where we were shown a house that is being built using wood hybrid construction.

This is a small insight, but it is clear to all of us that there will have to be even more far-reaching developments in this area in the coming years and that we can only make a difference by thinking globally.

E&V Development Services: What do you think international buyers would want to know, and what advice would you give buyers new to the Berlin Market? And what makes Berlin a great place to live (from local to international buyers)?

Dennis: International investors are not significantly different from domestic investors. In the end, most of them want to invest their assets safely. This is still, or perhaps especially due to the price negotiations being more exciting than it has been in recent years. Many international buyers ask whether it is possible to resell the properties quickly when the prices have changed positively. It has to be said quite clearly that this is possible, but there is no flipping market in Germany as there is in Dubai, for example. Prices have developed rather leisurely in recent years, and you benefit more if you have held the property for 10 years. From then on you don’t have to pay taxes on sales profits.

However, many international buyers buy small apartments for their children who want to study in Germany. Education costs are very favorable in international comparison, while education is still highly regarded.

For both groups of buyers and, of course, those who want to afford a second residence in Berlin, I would recommend seeking advice about the real estate market from a reputable brokerage house such as ours and to engage a lawyer to handle the purchase process on behalf of the buyers.

What makes Berlin so worth living in? As a “non-Berliner,” I can only say I have seen few cities as diverse as Berlin. We don’t have tall buildings like NYC, but we do have a park in every district that is so diverse it’s worth a visit. I love going out to eat all over the world and that in one city. What makes Berlin unique are things like the summers when the sidewalks are annexed by the bars and restaurants, the green spaces on the Spree River, the Zoo, the Kudamm, Alexanderplatz with its TV tower, the many sporting events, and, of course, all the concerts, musicals, and long parties in the clubs. It is a vibrant metropolis with mostly very fun-loving people who make it bearable to live here even in the gray, cold winter time!

E&V Development Services: You visited our NYC headquarters this past month. Did you have any impressions or takeaways of the new development market from your visit?

Dennis: It was a great pleasure to see my colleagues in moments like these that you learn about the potential of this Engel & Völkers network. What inspired me was how my colleagues in NYC are dealing with the current situation. We are all in a crisis right now, driven by inflation and interest rates that have risen too fast. And what does Stuart Siegel say? “We have to make the best of it.” “Every crisis brings opportunities.” In Germany, these are often just empty phrases. Stuart said these words with such positive seriousness that I immediately felt caught up. It is an attitude to life, and exactly this attitude, “everything will be positive!” is what I am currently trying to implement in my daily actions. You have to think positively for positive things to happen!

E&V Development Services: What project are you working on and what are the attributes of the projects you’re working on that make the product so appealing?

Dennis: I really can’t commit to just one project here. We currently have three to four outstanding projects with an international appeal that may be of interest due to deals pushed by developers.

MONOS & PHOENIX. Both are located in the enchanting center of Berlin-Charlottenburg and were developed by the renowned real estate PRIMUS Immobilien. All units are close to completion. MONOS is a stunning new luxury building – PHOENIX has been thoroughly refurbished to the highest possible standards and even offers underground parking.

GRANDAIRE. The so-called “Masterpieces” are six spacious penthouses on the top floors 19 and 20 of this Berlin-Mitte high tower. From their floor to ceiling windows and balconies, spectacular views over the entire Mitte district are given – including e.g. the TV Tower and Brandenburger Tor.

AM TACHELES. After approximately 4.5 years of construction, the first apartments in this new urban quarter with five unique residential buildings are now ready to move in. Ideally situated in the heart of Berlin-Mitte they are characterized by renowned architects, like Herzog & De Meuron or Grüntuch Ernst. Each flat comes with communal amenities like a health club, gym, pool & spa as well as an owners club membership, concierge service and underground parking spaces. In all four projects, we still have a few remaining gems on offer.

E&V Development Services: Any closing thoughts are advice for buyers/advisors?

DennisThe current real estate market has been shaken up in recent weeks and months, especially in the area of new construction projects. Anyone who can afford to buy an apartment and listens to guidance from a reputable broker will not make a mistake if they act now, especially in a city like Berlin. Rarely have you had so much time to examine an offer and successfully adjust the purchase price downward in price negotiations. 

In any case, however, you should contact an informed broker who can explain the market to you transparently and help you with financing, leasing, legal advice, etc. through his/ her fantastic network. If you are thinking of investing in Berlin, please contact my colleagues in the US who will get back to me and my team as soon as possible. We look forward to global networking and global deals!