Kristina Szekely: A Marbella Real Estate Pioneer
At Spain Life Exclusive, we had the privilege to sit down with Kristina Szekely, an enterprising woman born in Hungary, raised in Sweden, and settled in Spain, drawn by the radiant Spanish sun in Marbella. This iconic real estate entrepreneur, upon arriving in Spain, not only made this coastal city her home but also left an indelible mark on Marbella’s landscape and its surroundings.
Kristina didn’t just find a new home on the coast but also unearthed a unique opportunity. She established her real estate firm, setting the stage for a legendary career in the luxury sector. At that time, Marbella hadn’t fully explored the potential of the luxury real estate market. Kristina was the one who changed this narrative by inaugurating her first office in the city. After expanding with the Puente Romano branch, she moved to Puerto Banus, where she is now, and on the main street of Marbella. Her efforts not only transformed the real estate industry but also raised the bar for excellence and exclusivity on the Costa del Sol.
What motivated you to settle in Marbella?
I arrived here many years ago, quite young. My mother was widowed, my sister fell in love in Torremolinos, she got married, and moved to Toledo with this nice man. That’s how my life began here. It’s been an incredibly attractive life! We’re talking about over 40 years. I’m someone who travels extensively, and after comparing different places, I still believe there’s no better place to live than Marbella. It’s the most international place I know, but in a small setting. Comparing it with New York, Palm Beach, London, Miami or Sardinia—this is a small yet complete place. Starting with the climate… It’s the end of December, and we’re experiencing temperatures of 20 degrees during the day. Although I work a lot, I always feel like I’m on vacation. I engage in sports, take walks, and relish the gastronomic offerings. Since COVID, many young people have settled in Marbella, working remotely and enjoying this splendid place. I’m one of them!
What were your initial steps into real estate?
Back then, there were only restaurants and a few travel agencies. However, the real estate sector was quite small. I didn’t want to delve into gastronomy, so considering the limited choices and my ability to speak multiple languages—thanks to the excellent language teaching in Sweden—I ventured into this segment. I understood German from a young age. Later, in school, I learned German, French, and English. I picked up Spanish and Italian while here in Marbella. Today, I speak 7 languages. When I speak Swedish, I can understand a bit of Danish, Norwegian, and Portuguese as they are neighboring languages. I always learn some Arabic and Russian words, even though I don’t speak the languages. Today, everyone speaks English and Spanish, unlike in the past. I had that language advantage before. I recommend students to learn Chinese because there are 1.4 billion Chinese people, and it’s very important for the future!
When did you establish your first business on the Costa del Sol?
Initially, there weren’t many foreigners in the area. I was young, with all the allure that implies, and I had the advantage of speaking several languages that people in Marbella didn’t speak. At that time, it was a very small town. That’s when I decided to start my own business, and I’ve continued in the same vein since then. At one point, I had a team of 200 people. Now, we’re down to 30.
What was your business association with Sothebys like?
I started with Sothebys, purchasing a franchise. They had 500 offices in the U.S., and I believed I could acquire clients given it was a highly recognized real estate agency. However, they took a long time to expand outside North America, so I didn’t reap the benefits I thought I would. I do have to acknowledge that through Sothebys, I’ve traveled extensively, attended conferences, which allowed me to visit different countries and compare prices. All of that was crucial because I work with people coming from other countries. Traveling is vital. When I acquired the franchise and introduced it in Spain 20 years ago, I was very active, and even today, I still believe it’s a very good brand. However, I started to differentiate myself by using my own name. Often, it instills confidence in the buyer since it’s not an anonymous company; it’s my personal touch leading the project.
What were your aspirations when you began in real estate?
To conquer the world! Those were my plans. Currently. I focus on residences and commercial properties, although we also receive offers from clients seeking hotels and plots for construction. I’m very versatile; I simply love real estate. Beyond the monetary value, I find satisfaction in fulfilling the needs of others through my firm. Presently, we predominantly work in the area where our offices are located—in Sotogrande and inside Puerto Banús and main street Marbella —spanning between Malaga and Sotogrande.
What are your plans moving forward? It’s hard to picture you not working!
I never tire of working! I like the process of starting a relationship, getting to know the person, and discerning what I believe would work best for them. I believe it’s not money that drives the world, but people. Money exists, but what truly matters is the individual. When you establish a connection with them, you start to understand their needs. I think journalists and real estate agents have a lot in common (laughs). I’ve been in this business for so long that sometimes I assist the children and even grandchildren of my initial clients.
Besides business, what do you enjoy in Marbella?
I lead a very active life. We’re fortunate to have a wonderful promenade. I often take walks with my phone, and my day usually ends with it too (laughs again). When you know the property owner, they offer you spectacular properties, which brings you joy as you’re given a unique product that you know will sell. I maintain excellent relationships with these clients, often getting to know entire families. Human relationships interest me greatly. I engage a lot when I travel. Once, I was invited to the TV show ‘Callejeros,’ which talked about New York, including the real estate sector. So, I leveraged my experience and connections, and it turned out to be a very fun program. I remember being with Sothebys and coordinating the showcase of a remarkable house where the pool’s structure could be raised to become a dance floor. Lowering it transformed it back into a pool. The program was a success and was aired numerous times. Those experiences bring me immense pleasure!
“I never tire of working! I believe it’s not money that drives the world, but people. Money exists, but what truly matters is the individual.”
Antonio Montiel and José Luis Bravo
What else brings joy to your life in Marbella?
There are numerous dinners and charitable events here. I’m part of the Association of Women Entrepreneurs (AMPREM), where I’ve been the president for 10 years. This keeps me engaged as well. Yesterday, we had our Christmas lunch. I’m always involved in activities I enjoy. I also participate in exchanges with the Association of Women Entrepreneurs (ASEME). I’ve also been the first woman to participate in the Rotary Club. It’s crucial to collaborate with women from various sectors, including university students aspiring to study and become entrepreneurs, needing resources. Establishing connections and offering assistance are aspects that captivate me immensely.
Tell us about Antonio, who we know was significant in your life…
Antonio Cienfuegos, my husband, always tried to encourage me to work less… we were different in that aspect. He loved the good life but didn’t possess the same drive as me for business. He was the first to seek tropical plants and plant avocado trees. He wanted to live well without working excessively. When he was diagnosed with cancer and couldn’t smoke anymore, he started painting. He breathed through a tracheotomy that restricted his ability to speak normally, but he immersed himself in painting, held exhibitions, and felt wonderful whenever someone appreciated his artwork. Those people encouraged him, lifted his spirits, and made him very happy. He was marvelous! It’s a pity he’s no longer with us, but he left behind a legacy that’s hard to forget.
Kristina Szekely, a visionary Hungarian businesswoman, has made an indelible mark on Marbella’s competitive real estate world. Her agency, a benchmark in exclusive properties, offers everything from luxurious apartments to stunning villas in sought-after locations like Marbella, Sotogrande, and international destinations such as Mexico, Morocco, or the United States, handling properties valued from 300,000 euros upwards, without limits.
What sets her apart is her multilingual and personalized approach, skillfully navigating the world of luxury for her select clients. Her prowess in marketing and public relations is undeniable, but her strongest commitment lies in safeguarding the privacy of those who trust in her—a distinctive hallmark of her professionalism.