In mid-June this year, some of Lebanon’s newest real estate projects will be judged by a pool of experts in the sector, including architects, academics, consultants and entrepreneurs. While transparency is not among the main qualities of Lebanon’s property market, judges in the Real Estate Awards Lebanon, launched for the first time by the Real Estate Syndicate of Lebanon (REAL), will have the challenge of fairly evaluating the most outstanding development projects in the country. The contest is open to all Lebanese property projects in different categories, including high and low rise buildings, design and architecture, landscape design, gated communities, eco-friendly and sustainable projects, social responsibility, specialized developments, commercial and mixed-use schemes, office projects and real estate communication campaigns. The winners in every category will receive a trophy and will be able to use the competition logo in their marketing.
Executive spoke with Walid Moussa, secretary of the syndicate’s board of trustees and organizer of the contest, to find out what measures REAL takes to ensure fair judging and avoid conflicts of interest.
The way judges are selected is particularly relevant in a country like Lebanon, whose real estate market is not big in size and business connections link together major and small players. How will you make sure that these dynamics will not affect the judging?
Based on our rules, if any judge has a direct or indirect interest in the project that is being graded, he or she will be removed from the board for that particular case. The jury members also sign a paper where they declare whether they have a direct or indirect interest in any of the projects.
In some cases, though, interests may not be immediately recognizable. What happens if a judge lies or fails to declare them? Would you invalidate the contest?
This will not happen. I am sure. Lebanon is a small country and we would know. We did everything to keep these awards impartial, even at the level of sponsorship. The sponsors of real estate projects taking part in the awards cannot act as sponsors of the event.
Are there any official procedures to check on the judges’ ruling in case participants feel that their projects have not been given a fair score? How can they complain?
No, there is no official procedure but they can complain to us. If anything wrong is found we will make sure that we check and that the results are fair.
Are there any projects managed or marketed by PBM which are taking part in the awards? [Walid Moussa is the Chairman and CEO of PBM Properties]
No, there aren’t.
How did you select your judges? Do they all come from the Lebanese real estate industry?
We did some research and spoke with people in the market. We started by identifying what we would need in every category, knowing that we wanted the best people. So, for example, for projects in the leading landscape design we needed the best landscape designers in the country. We called the most renowned ones and the first ones who accepted were in. Some people we called had to say no because they didn’t have the time so we had to call somebody else. This is how we selected them. We did the same for architects, marketing experts and so on. Also, because we wanted to give [the event] international relevance, we appointed two foreign judges. One of them is Farook Mahmood, chairman of the International Consortium of Real Estate Associations [a partner of the international property association FIABCI, of which REAL is a member]. The other is Claudine Speltz, president of the European Council of Real Estate Professions.
What criteria will the jury consider when rating the projects? Is there a specific list?
Every category of projects has over 30 criteria of judgment, which may vary, but each category has some specific ones. If we are talking about eco-friendly and sustainable projects, for example, sustainability and green features as well as all issues related to sustainable construction will be taken into account. But we can say that the concept — the idea behind a project — is particularly important in all categories.
Can Executive see the scoring sheets to get an idea of how projects will be rated?
No, I can’t show you the sheets. Projects will get scores based on the criteria, but the scoring sheets are confidential.
These are the first Real Estate Awards to be held in Lebanon. Did you base the format of the contest on any particular example outside the country?
I am a jury member in the international real estate awards organized by FIABCI. The way they do it is they pick a judge from each country. My main inspiration came from them, but I have also attended other international real estate contests such as that of [the international property trade fair] MIPIM in Cannes and the international property awards Arabia in Dubai. I was inspired by them as well.
How did you apply international standards to the peculiarities of Lebanon’s real estate market? Did you have to make any changes?
We started working on this project in June last year to make it suitable for Lebanon’s real estate developments. We customized it to fit the country’s market. We did a lot of consulting with brokers and architects, especially to develop the criteria and the different categories. We created a category for heritage projects, for example. Nothing in real estate is specific to any particular country but heritage is very significant in Lebanon’s property market. To me, this is the most relevant category. It is important to us because we want to encourage developers to engage in renovation.
What is the motivation for these awards?
The idea is that of lifting up the standards in Lebanon’s real estate market so that people can work better and we can improve the quality of our properties. This is not a private project — it is organized by a syndicate — so its purpose is not making a profit but encouraging developers to find better concepts and to make the best choices. We want to push developers to reach quality in construction design and projects.
How many projects have registered in the contest?
I prefer not to say. All I can tell is that they are more than 30 but I don’t want to say how many because some people may think that they are not enough. All the categories are full though, even if there was not a limit in the number of submissions.
Did you select the projects before they could enter the competition?
No, there was no pre-selection. All the projects that met the submission criteria could sign up.
How much will the event cost the syndicate?
The total cost is around $200,000. We are now working with the sponsors to see how much we can raise.
Will the awards be held on a yearly basis or were they conceived as a one-off event?
It depends on how everything goes. For sure they will not be held every year but we may have them every two or three years. Before we decide, we need to see how many participants we have and what the feedback is.