Fine & Country partners in the Estoril Coast’s glamorous urban renaissance

 In Real Estate

For luxury estate agents Fine & Country business is booming. With a turnover of 120 properties in 2018 worth €100 million in sales volume at an average ticket of €800,000, Managing Partners Charles Roberts and Nuno Durão are positive for sustainable property sales in the Lisbon, Estoril and Cascais areas thanks to the region’s glorious renaissance

It is a far cry from the height of the ­financial and economic crisis which hit Portugal’s property market hard by 2011. Then Fine & Country’s sales plummeted to €10 million.
“Our business just fell off a cliff. I don’t know where we would be now if it hadn’t been for the Golden Visa programme. We happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Charles Roberts recalls of the residency by investment programme introduced in 2012 which helped kick-start Portugal’s ailing pro­perty market.

Property and lifestyle experts
Fine & Country was set up to market and sell high-value properties selling to a national and international market. It is a company with a multinational team and worldwide network of 300 ­offices; an established brand with a good reputation.
Furthermore, Charles Roberts, Nuno Durão and his team have an in-depth ­understanding of the local market in ­Lisbon, Cascais and Estoril. They’re not just selling bricks and mortar; they are selling a way of life.
Charles Roberts and Nuno Durão began their relationship with Fine & Country seven years ago when they ­secured the licence agreement to ope­rate Fine & Country in the Cascais and Estoril.
The partners now have a licence that takes them from north of Porto to Grandola, including Greater Lisbon with offices in the centre of Porto, three in Lisbon (Lapa, Chiado and Duque de Loulé), Comporta, which is selling ­successfully to French and Belgians, and the Head Office in Estoril and an office in Cascais.
Fine & Country currently has a staff of 34 mostly Portuguese agents of which 22 are sales staff or managers expected to sell and all speak a second language besides Portuguese.
“Our estate agents have to have a certain manner and level of sophistication as all our clients are high-end and these can sometimes be difficult,” Charles Roberts points out.
Today, Fine & Country works with around 150 independent agents and business introducers around the world who have local knowledge of issuing markets as varied as São Paulo in Brazil, Dubai and South Africa and who orga­nise events in venues locally.
“Our core philosophy for targeting overseas markets is that if we want to focus on Istanbul, for example, we find someone there that knows the culture, language and mentality. We are prepared to healthily reward these agents for finding a client who becomes a buyer,” ­explains Charles Roberts.

The Golden Visa lifeline
Pre-2008 the European market was the mainstay of Fine & Country’s activities in Lisbon, Cascais, and Estoril. With the economic crisis post-2008 that ­market disappeared overnight only ­recovering from 2013.
The Portuguese government’s Golden Visa scheme (Authorisation for Residency through Investment) changed the situation. Fine & Country found itself well placed to take advantage of the non-European overseas market demand.
“Being a flexible company we were able to adjust to the new circumstances and that initially was driven by a primarily Chinese market,” says Charles Roberts.
“The Chinese sent their potential clients to us through agencies who were demanding extremely big commissions of almost 20% plus VAT,” he adds.
During the crisis years developers were in such dire straights they would swallow high commissions if that meant they could dig themselves out of the hole.
In 2013/14 when the Chinese market was strong, Fine & Country was over-­dependent not only on the Golden Visa market, but the Chinese market specifically since it counted for over 85% of the estate agents total Golden Visa market.
However, after 2014 the Chinese market dropped as other residency by ­investment schemes like Cyprus gained popularity and offered the Chinese broker agencies higher commission percentages.
“Luckily for Fine & Country the gap in the market was filled by clients from Turkey, South Africa and the Middle East facing security problems in those regions. With different nationalities this made it more comfortable from our point of view as we no longer had all our eggs in the Chinese basket,” says Charles Roberts adding that Chinese clients now represent around 2-3% of sales.

Turkey and Brazil
Turkey became a big market gene­rating 40% of Fine & Country Greater Lisbon sales through the Golden Visa programme.
In fact Chinese investment across the board in Golden Visas dropped 24% last year to €194 million while Turkish investment over the past three years has doubled to €64 million.
Today, Charles Roberts says that while Turkey is still an important market, it has dropped down to 10-15% of its total Golden Visa business.
There was interest too from the Brazilian market in Fine and Country as economic and political instability increased there. Roberts says that these and others are generally very wealthy cash buyers spending €600,000-€1.3+ million and who don’t require mortgages.
Other Golden Visa clients include South Africans (often constrained by the exchange rate which means they can often only afford €500,000 properties of which there is little supply left), Ukrai­nians, Bangladeshi, Middle Eastern, ­including some Middle Eastern ruling families and one or two Russians (but these prefer Spain because of visa ­requirements in Portugal).

Return of traditional markets
From 2014 the traditional European market for buying a second home started to return with the French taking advantage of the Non-Habitual Resident tax regime (NHR).
Charles Roberts says the French market has “grown massively,” representing up to 30% of their business turnover despite the fact that the French had “no historical link with the Portuguese market at all” until the Arab Spring and subsequent instability from Isis in North African French speaking countries.
“Suddenly, with terrorism in Paris and other French cities, combined with the instability in countries like Tunisia and Morocco, wealthy French began looking at Portugal as a safer alternative,” recalls Charles Roberts.
That trend was aided by former ­President François Hollande hiking ­income tax to 72% for HNWIs. The British, however, are not really their ­customers in the Greater Lisbon region, opting more for Fine & Country branches in the Algarve.
What Fine & Country had not seen is a resurgence in the Portuguese market largely because of a lack of credit in the system so even a quality one-bed apartment in Estoril is beyond the reach of the average middle-age Portuguese on a reasonably good salary by local standards.

Low-cost airlines as a driver
When referring to Estoril and ­Cascais Charles Roberts stresses that Fine & Country can’t ignore Lisbon which is a “very powerful market for us”. That demand has partly been driven by low-cost flights which might seem surprising given the calibre of client able to afford their properties. “Wealthy people still like cheap flights, especially when their children and their children’s friends are concerned” he notes. When the ­children of wealthy residents want to come and holiday with friends in their parent’s luxury second home they tend to use the low-cost airlines,” he notes.
Roberts says that cheap flights have done one of two things: made Portugal more accessible and brought in tourists, some of whom fall in love with the ­country and decide they want to have a second home or retire here.

Cascais and Estoril – totally different markets
One thing is finding clients; the other is having product to sell to them in the Cascais and Estoril area.
Part of Fine & Country’s business is talking to developers and discovering what’s going on at Cascais Council in terms of new developments. It works with architects and developers with good connections with Cascais Council so it can be in a position to market and sell new product when it comes on line.
To this end, Fine & Country has also forged links with the Cascais Council funded entity Living in Cascais “You would think given the proximity of Cascais and Estoril that the client profiles would be similar. Surprisingly they are not,” says Roberts adding, “in Cascias we get a lot more walk-in trade than in Estoril where its train commuters.”

Looking to the future
As a company Fine & Country is very positive about the foreseeable future of real estate in the Cascais and Estoril area.
Cascais Council is spearheading ­ambitious urban development and rege­neration plans including luxury and leisure developments slated for the area.
One key driver adding prestige and importance is the new business school Nova SBE which opened in the Cascais town of Carcavelos last year.
“Today, at Fine & Country we are well positioned to work with the future residential real estate plan that will come into play in the Cascais area. We have the experience, the local knowledge and an excellent reputation in the market,” concludes Charles Roberts.