Behind the slick, modern façade of Ibiza property agency Villa Contact Ibiza – set prominently on Las Ramblas in Santa Eulalia – is the touching story of a local Ibiza family, spanning over 30 years in the industry and making a difference to the lives of countless Ibiza home owners and investors.
Villa Contact was founded in 1983 by Barcelona-born, island legend Montse Amat de Gray. A desire to see the world saw her study languages and tourism, before she headed overseas to work in the ‘60s. While working as a tour guide in Es Canar in Ibiza in 1968, Montse met her British (future!) husband Bunny – who was a water-ski instructor at Club Punta Arabi. After the summer romance Bunny courted her with regular visits to Barcelona, and eventually she decided to join him in London, with business travel around Europe, extended stays in The Hague, Holland and Dusseldorf, Germany. Together, the duo decided to move back to Ibiza in 1973, where they had three children, firstborn Robbie followed by twins Clea and Tom.
Despite their expat status, the family became true pillars of Ibiza society and Villa Contact was one of the first agencies of its kind in Ibiza, earning a reputation as the place buyers and sellers could feel at home, speak their native language and receive that all important genuine advice from a true local – an ethos that remains in place to this day.
For Robbie, Clea and Tom, the Ibiza property industry was merely a part of daily life throughout childhood and beyond. “There wasn’t a day that went by without a conversation in the car or at the dinner table about clients, a property, lawyers or architects,” says Tom. “We always helped out with the business too,” adds Clea. “We’d come back to the island for school holidays when we were teenagers and we’d help out with rentals, go on property visits and viewings with our Mum – we knew the business really well. It’s always been very family oriented.”
It’s no surprise then, that Montse’s solid work ethic rubbed off on the children, who went on to work in different aspects of property all around the world for many years – Robbie in commercial property for Knight Frank in China, Clea in corporate property PR in London and Tom in sales in New York and Hong Kong. In 2011, when Montse passed away suddenly of a heart attack, the trio were drawn back to Ibiza and made a conscious decision to keep the family business running.
“We all had backgrounds in international property,” explains Clea. “Ibiza is our home, we speak the language(s), we know the island inside out, and it made perfect sense. Our Mum had been hinting at the idea of us taking over for some time, but we all thought we’d spend a few more years overseas. Obviously the catalyst was the death of our mother, and that first year was very, very tough, but I think deep down we’d all known for a long period that we’d return home to do this.”
“We had all gone off and done our own thing,” Robbie agrees. “It had always been in the back of my mind that I might come back and get involved in the family business in the future, and when our Mum passed away, it was decision time.” It was at this point that Robbie’s partner, Suzanne Griep, also joined the Villa Contact family. Suzanne had been working in residential relocations at Savills in China, where she and Robbie met and fell in love, and as the newest member of the family, she relocated to Ibiza and was welcomed with open arms.
“I think when you start to reach your mid-30’s as we were, your priorities change,” says Tom. “Getting back to your roots starts to become a priority. Ibiza is a totally different place to London or Hong Kong, but reconnecting with our motherland, doing things together as a family and getting involved in the business was really important to us.”
The hard-working team are a testament to Montse’s legacy, and are constantly, and happily, reminded of their mother via their daily work life. “There isn’t a week that goes by without someone calling us, or dropping into the office to tell us a story about something Mum did for them in the past – she was really considered a fairy godmother to many people. She was one of the first agents here in Ibiza, before Ibiza was really on the map – at that time, in the ‘70s, our parents really were the new frontier.”
Today, Robbie, Clea, Tom and Suzanne represent the new frontier of Ibiza, bringing fresh new energy to the existing business, at a time when the industry is booming. “We’re very lucky to have this strong family history,” says Clea. “Over the years our reputation on the island has just grown by word of mouth – it’s very important to us that we carry on a legacy our Mum spent over 20 years building. It gives us a lovely motivation on a personal level. I consider us to be really lucky – I wouldn’t want to work with anyone else.”
“It’s got its challenges at times,” says Robbie (“They’re siblings, so they don’t hold back – meetings can get pretty loud!” interjects Suzanne). “But there’s a permanence here – this family business has been going a long, long time and we want it to continue into the future… forever! We’re not just trying to quickly sell houses… we’re following in our mother’s footsteps – people would buy a home through her, then rent it out, then sell it again. It’s a real human approach.”
When asked how their own family lunches and dinners have changed over the years, the three simply laugh and admit not much has changed. “We don’t switch off at 5pm,” says Tom. “You can be exhausted as you like, but in the end, we’re always talking about properties, renovations – it’s at the forefront of our minds.”
‘We’ve always got three people behind us with the same goal and same motivation – and we get on amazingly well. We spend so much time together outside of work, it’s a bit like, here’s the family Gray again! We go home to see our dad for dinner, and I’m sure he wishes we’d talk about something else… like Wimbledon or anything else. We’re becoming our parents after all these years, surprise, surprise!”