Kim Vrânceanu, Bucharest Properties, an American living the “Romanian dream”

The American Kim Vrânceanu first visited Romania more than 25 years ago while working on a project centered on orphanages. She remembers the sadness of the city and the armed guards at the airport. But this didn’t discourage her at all. She came quite often to Romania, but she never imagined she would someday move to live here. Years later, Kim married a Romanian, hence the name: Vrânceanu. Her husband had a real-estate business in Romania and going back and forth from Boston to Romania was exhausting. So, they decided to move to Romania for “3-5 years”. This was happening in 2008. She now has her own real-estate business, Bucharest Properties, which has developed the Vitan Estates project – 160 apartments only for rent – a kind of “Melrose Place” or “Friends” type of living. Yet, she finds time to volunteer. Kim Vrânceanu doesn’t have plans to move back to the United States. In the end, she is an American living the “Romanian dream”.

Kim Vrânceanu, Bucharest Properties. Photo credit: personal archive

Cristina Dobreanu: How did an American arrive in Bucharest?

Kim Vrânceanu: I came in 2008 with my husband who had a business established in Romania. So, I left my work in the United Stated and just plunged in (she smiles).

What was the first image of Romania you had when you landed in Bucharest?

I landed at Otopeni Airport in 1990, for the first time. And it was pretty shocking. At the airport, there were a lot of armed guards and it was really surprising.

And how was the city?

The city in 1990 felt really old. It also felt sad.

Did you come back with your family?

No. Back then, I was working on a project to help the orphanages in Romania. It was a non-profit organization that I was working with.

So you knew Romania before deciding to move here. And since 1990 until the moment you decided to move here, have you revisited Romania?

Yes. Often.

And have you ever imagined that one day you would be living here?

Never! I never thought I would be part of the city. In 2007 we started talking about it because my husband was going back and forth for about two years and it was very stressful for him. And so, he said: “Let’s move to Romania!”

Was it hard for him to convince you?

It wasn’t hard to convince me, but as soon as we arrived, the crisis happened and then I thought …wow! But I had a lot of faith in my husband.

What did your family say when you announced them you were going to move to Romania?

They understood it was a good move for our family. They have visited us here. When we left, we said we’re going to be back in 3 to 5 years.

When are you going back?

I don’t know! There’s no plan. There are still a lot of opportunities here.

So, you came here, the crisis came, your husband was working in real estate, an industry very affected by the crisis…

But, the project he was working on was very successful. He did an amazing job to manage through the crisis.

Have you ever thought of moving back to the United States?

No. Once I was here, I was committed. This was our new home.

What was the hardest thing for you while adapting to a new place?

The hardest thing was missing my family in the United States. But I was with my husband and my daughter here. And it became home very quickly. There are a few things I miss in the United States, but mostly family.

And what else?

Some of the conveniences in the United States. But since 2008, there have been so many advances that living here it’s very easy now.

How is Bucharest of the 1990s different from the 2017 Bucharest?

There are big changes! I think that most significant changes started in 2007 when Romania joined the EU, and you could see a lot of infrastructure changes, growth, a lot of building.

You are working now in the real-estate industry and here you started from scratch a whole building.

My husband has been involved in the real-estate development and we started his project for renting – Vitan Estates. This was a new idea and we learned on the job basically. It was a very successful program with 100% occupancy and people seem to be very happy.

The biggest difference between Americans and Romanians is…

It’s a hard question! I think that Americans have a basic sense of optimism and a basic sense of trust. It’s not that Romanians don’t have it, but you don’t give trust automatically. You develop it once you are in a relationship with people in Romania. Are Romanians more skeptical? Maybe. Americans have this openness, it is our cultural personality.

And the biggest resemblance…

I think Americans tend to be friendly and Romanians are very friendly.

What was the happiest moment spent here?

We got married here! That was a very happy moment. It was in Bucharest.

What would you recommend an American to visit in Romania?

People should go up to the mountains, to Brașov. The Carpathians are lovely. They should go to the Delta, where nature is fascinating. We also discovered a bear sanctuary in Zărnești recently, it’s fantastic! All the bears are recovered from terrible situations. And, Transfăgărășan is also amazing, so as Transalpina. Moreover, they could visit the Bigăr waterfall near Timișoara, it’s amazing! It’s smaller than I expected, but it’s beautiful. We also went to Alba Iulia. There are so many beautiful places here in Romania! You just have to explore and sometimes you just have to get to the off beaten path to see these amazing things. Romania is special.

What do you do here during the weekends?

We go especially in the mountains. We just go up to relax and hike.

Nowadays everything is about perceptions. How do you feel about Romania and Romanians after you moved here?

I feel like I’m home here, like I have a lot of friends here. I found the beauty of Romania and the historic beauty, the landscapes. I like the way Romanians treat family here. The family seems just what it is supposed to be: an important part of life. And it’s not that it isn’t important in the United States, but it’s different here and it’s really beautiful.

What have you learned from the Romanians?

There’s always a way to do something. To be persistent.

The thing that drives you crazy here is…

Driving! Driving! Driving! The unpredictability of the drivers here. Sometimes you have to anticipate a lot.

What are the curiosities of your American friends about Romania?

There is an interest, they want to know what do you see when you come to Romania, as a tourist. And they are all surprised when we get here: “Wow, what a beautiful country! We didn’t know”.

So, actually, you have to try it before you judge it.

Yes, especially because many people don’t know very much about Romania. They know about Dracula, about Nadia Comaneci, about communism and that’s about all for Americans. And when they come and they discover the mountains, the sea, the Delta, the cities, the beauty of the landscape and the people, they like it.

Who is your personal hero?

My personal hero used to be Eleanor Roosevelt because she was a strong woman in the United States. And now I’ve met a person in Romania and her name is Monica Boseff. And she is the head of an organization called the Open Door Foundation. She works with women who have been trafficked for sexual purposes and she is the most ardent fighter for the rehabilitation of these women. And she puts her heart and her soul into her work for every single victim of trafficking who comes to her foundation. And I admire her courage.

Do you still have social projects here?

I volunteer in that organization. It’s a wonderful organization and they do a wonderful work. I am a board member of the American International School of Bucharest.

You are a woman, an expat, and you have your own business here. Do you consider yourself a leader?

I do consider myself a leader. I am fortunate to be among a group of expat business leaders who are bringing innovative businesses in Romania, helping Romania to realign itself with countries that are making a positive impact on the world.

What is your motto?

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts” – Winston Churchill.

If Romania were empty what would you build?

Romania is a beautiful and diverse country, from the mountains to the Delta, to the fertile plains, to the Black Sea. If I were to be tasked with an empty land that is Romania, preserving and protecting its natural resources and environment would be my priority through a combination of environmental sustainability and sustainable development. Development would start from that point.  I would invest in systemic innovation and development in the areas of human health, agriculture, alternative energy sources, resource conservation, industry and the built environment.

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