Anne Brightman – The New Face of Portugal Luxury Real Estate
Since moving to Portugal a little over four years ago Texas-born entrepreneur Anne Brightman has opened one of the most innovative new luxury estate agencies in Greater Lisbon and is raising the bar in customer service and client expectations.
Text: Chris Graeme. Photos: Joaquim Morgado
The first thing you notice when meeting Anne Brightman, CEO of Estoril’s newest and most dynamic luxury estate agency, Brightman Group, is elegance and sophistication.
This tall, beautiful, and driven Texan is something of an anomaly in the Portuguese real estate market. In just a few short years, her company is gaining status as the premier benchmark in luxury customer service in one of the most competitive markets in Europe. Anne represents the new breed of up-and-coming US entrepreneurs who have chosen Portugal to build a business and invest in.
I walk into the plush three-story Brightman Group Agency next to the famous Estoril Casino and Hotel Palácio. The air is perfumed and the decor, a result of collaboration with the firm Salvador & Lobo, leaves no doubt that you are entering the realm of luxury.
It is a Saturday, yet the office is a hive of activity with a business meeting in full swing on the second floor and agents hard at work in the productivity centre downstairs. I am politely greeted by a well-dressed receptionist who offers me a gourmet coffee served in an antique Japanese porcelain cup, a sure sign that this would not be a business-as-usual meeting.
As I await the interview it feels as though I have stepped into another world outside the borders of Portugal. I take out my pen and paper as we sit at the conference table upstairs overlooking the beautiful Estoril Gardens and Tamariz Beach and I begin by asking her about her origins.
“I was born, raised and educated in Dallas, Texas, known for the TV series Dallas and for the first and only Presidential assassination of the 20th Century. In spite of the fact that Dallas is the 3rd fastest growing economy in the US, it still seems to be what the city is most recognised for!” she wryly states in her soft Texas accent.
My curiosity is piqued, and I ask her, “How did you end up in Portugal? That’s a long
way from Texas”.
“My partner and I had been travelling for a year and a half and came here at the suggestion
of friends. Portugal had never been on my radar but after ten days on vacation in this
beautiful country we left with the keys to a new apartment we had just bought and the
intention of moving back to retire within three months”.
She puts her hand on her head and her eyes roll back in her head as she says, “I think back
on that decision and it’s like I drank some magic potion and lost my mind. I have worked in
Real Estate for years and in several countries.
I’m a sophisticated investor and the fact that my new home was in a country I had only been in for a mere 10 days might have been the craziest decision I ever made. What’s interesting is that I hear this same story repeatedly from other expats and my own clients. It’s like Portugal casts a magical spell on you!”
I can’t imagine doing something like this as we Brits tend to be more conservative than our adventurous American cousins. While the answer is obvious just by looking around, I ask, “How did that decision work out for you?”
She gets very serious and says “We thought we would be back in three months to take possession of our newly remodelled apartment and retire in Portugal. We returned a year later and were forced to stay in a hotel for a month because of an endless series of problems that our Real Estate agent could have resolved but didn’t. However, She wouldn’t return our calls,
didn’t send the blueprints for repairs, didn’t even give us the required documents for
registering the property! We felt completely abandoned in a country we knew nothing about
and felt like fools for having jumped into this mess without researching a bit before.”
We had no idea how to turn on utilities, who to speak to with regarding the leak in the ceiling or where to begin looking for a school for my son. We began the NHR process entirely on our own and discovered that we had to present a series of related documents. We only had the deed transfer and nothing else. The agent had not sent copies of the other essential documents necessary to buy, sell or immigrate to Portugal.
In the US customer service is E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G and it became obvious to me over time that I was looking at an enormous opportunity to bring my experience to this market.”
A chaotic and confusing system
Anne tells me that despite all her experience in the US it did not prepare her for working in the Portuguese market.
“Agents here are not required to have individual licensing or even a course if they work for an agency and I found the system to be quite chaotic, confusing and very cutthroat.”
She looks at me and smiles ironically. “I thrive on challenge and I found this environment to
be an enormously exciting opportunity. I realised I wasn’t as ready to retire as I’d imagined.”
It suddenly dawns on me how different the American and Portuguese approach to the Estate Agency business is and just how different the two markets are. It’s one thing to be a Real Estate professional in a competitive, sophisticated and client-focused market like the US and quite another in Portugal.
What this woman has achieved in less than half a decade is no small feat and I’m curious to know how she managed to navigate such a different environment and get to where she is today. I
think about the enormous number of agents in this country and it seems like an
impossible mission for a newcomer to march in and create a Luxury Brand that competes with established names like Sotheby’s International Realty Portugal, Fine & Country, and Porta da Frente.
She is thoughtful for a moment and when she speaks it’s with a certain depth, “We will
never know our full potential until we push ourselves to find it. We have the potential to be
anything we want and I love the saying ‘if you can dream it, you can achieve it’.
“When I was 20, I began selling Time Share Real Estate to pay for University. I sold
Time Share before anyone had ever heard of it! After graduating I moved to Brasil and got
my Real Estate license (CRECI) and when I eventually moved back to the US I opened my
investment company and was active in multifamily property acquisitions. However nothing I had done previously had prepared me for this market. It was a very different world, so I set out to learn everything I could”.
Coaches and mentors
“It took me two years of training with some of the best coaches in Portugal. A mentor that
particularly stands out is Joâo Paleta from KW Abaco. He is one of the most dynamic
trainers I’ve ever worked with. I took his BOLD course and it enabled me to formulate my
business plan and move forward faster than I ever imagined. Another coach and mentor was
Maria Antonia Gonçalves from C21 who was responsible for helping me to create a clear
vision and act. The Real Estate educator, public speaker and author, Massimo Forte,
was instrumental in my training and his books are a must read for any serious agent in this
market. He was the first coach I chose to train Brightman Group recruits.”
“Over time I discovered that there are lots of good agents working in Portugal but a very
important piece of the puzzle was to figure out who they were and what companies I could
I ask her “What is it that differentiates your agency in a market with thousands of other Real Estate companies?” Her answer comes immediately. “ Our mantra is The Client is KING!”
From the beginning of our conversation Anne has stressed that her goal has been to build a company that is client driven and a benchmark in luxury customer service.
“Given the option when flying, pretty much every person in the world would choose the First Class seat. It’s more comfortable, the environment is better, and the experience is top-notch. That’s the experience we want to create for our clients.”
“What I have achieved in Portugal would have been difficult to repeat in the US as customer service is the driving force that runs real estate in America, especially in the luxury segment.
Catering to clients’ specific wants and whims is second nature for me. I have been in sales most of my life and this insight was my competitive advantage in Portugal.”
“It’s my goal that our Brand becomes synonymous with luxury and there are so many different facets involved in developing this. Years ago, I had an Image Consulting company and I primarily worked with luxury brands. The work I did in this field had a significant impact on how I visualise our branding and is reflected in the level of tailor-made service we offer each client.
Today we have two dedicated brand ambassadors who are responsible for strategic partnerships with relocation companies, law offices, tax consultants, luxury car and jet services, and other amenities that facilitate the lives of our clients, especially ex pats moving from abroad.”
Brightman Group Team
As I sit speaking with Anne, I cannot help but notice the people buzzing around the office, – an attractive, polite, well-dressed, well-spoken team of people working on SATURDAY. This is an anomaly in a country where weekends are generally sacred for those not forced to work.
When I ask Anne to tell me about her Team a big smile lights up her face.
“They’re my Superstars and the main reason why this company has grown quickly and is recognised for benchmark customer care. My team is highly trained, educated, multi-national and dedicated to their clients. Most importantly they are all team players. Instead of fierce competition so common between agents, there is exceptional collaboration. Anne points to the World Basketball Champion Michael Jordan who sums up Brightman Group’s philosophy ‘Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships’.
“I think that defines our company culture. Everyone in the company fits this unique profile and when one member celebrates a victory all of us share in it. We have a very multi-cultural team and many of the agents have been through the immigration process themselves and understand their clients’ needs on a personal level. Most of our buyers are international and we frequently try to match our clients with agents from similar backgrounds. Many of our sellers are Portuguese and it’s very important that we understand and respect their culture too”.
“ Every agent that joins the BG Team is selected because they fit our core values. We have a unique culture and it’s the heart of who we are and what we stand for. Our goal is to be recognised as the leaders of luxury real estate and our strategy is simple. We have extraordinary agents who offer extraordinary service and everyone in the company works to support this endeavour. We continue to recruit new talent, but we are absolutely not about quantity and everything to do with quality.
The COVID impact
As we continue to talk it occurs to me that Brightman Group opened shortly before one of the most economically devastating pandemics the world has ever seen, and I ask her how this has affected her business.
“When COVID hit it was a blow, but it was also an opportunity to reevaluate and restructure. In the end I’m grateful for the fact that things slowed down and we had an opportunity to rethink our position in areas like marketing strategies, branding, visual identity, and strategic planning ”, Anne reflects. “From this havoc our Brightman Group Exclusive Real Estate boutique emerged.”
As to the Golden Visa and NHR programmes, Anne points out that there has been a lot of debate regarding this subject.
“The arguments both for and against the future of these incentives have been droning on for some some time .
“The Golden Visa and NHR (Non Habitual Residents) programmes have spurred tremendous growth in Portugal’s populated areas, and brought in around €6Bn in foreign investment during the last decade. It has literally changed the face of Portugal, regenerating inner city neighbourhoods like Marvila, and has contributed towards creating new master planned communities like André Jordan’s developments in the Algarve and Belas Clube de Campo in Sintra.
This influx of foreign capital has been a primary factor in rehabilitation of historic Lisbon inner city areas such as the case of Anthony Lanier’s refurbishment of the Principe Real neighbourhood”, she explains.
Anne believes that overseas investment in the real estate sector is fundamental for growth. Her attitude becomes quite serious as she states, “The idea that these incentives could have devastating long term results for the Portuguese population has been debated repeatedly. At the heart of this issue is the fact that many low-income citizens are being displaced and can no longer afford to live in the inner cities and that the rising cost of living is making major cities inaccessible to the very people that were born and raised here.
“It is a legitimate and valid point that displacement has occurred and it is especially devastating to young families and pensioners who have been left without resources or family assistance. I agree that something must be done, but I do not believe that the solution is to put the brakes on development and growth at this crucial moment when Covid has devastated Portugal’s GDP (down 7% in 2020) when real estate has been one of the principal mainstays of the economy”. (Portugal received nearly €3Bn in overseas investment in all segments of real estate in 2020)
This is a government issue that must be solved through social development programmes that incentivise and promote suburban and rural growth and offer work programmes and subsidies to the vulnerable sectors of the population”, explains Anne.
Looking to the future
Anne says she is optimistic about the future, but stresses that there are many things that need to change in the Portuguese market to make it more functional and transparent.
“Unquestionably there should be individual training and licensing for every agent and transparency in selling prices. It would also greatly facilitate business flow if notaries were to work with digital documents and signatures, which some are starting to do.”
She points out that clients are beginning to purchase virtually and the whole process should be streamlined and secure.
Following the restructuring and with the right team in place everything looks bright for Brightman Group as it starts a new and exciting phase.
“Our strategy this year was to open a dedicated commercial department that would focus on developments and commercial properties such as shopping centres, building rehabs and hotels. The Luxury Residential market and Golden Visa clients are still our core business, but we have achieved remarkable results in the commercial arena in a very short period of time and I’m very happy with the direction we are moving towards.”
Brightman Group is also in the process of creating a new marketing strategy that will reflect both the Commercial and Residential divisions. Anne states that this is an essential component to success and these new campaigns will launch by year end.
As our interview draws to a close I ask Anne Brightman, CEO and founder of the Brightman Group, if she has any kernel of advice for those thinking of going into the Real Estate business in Portugal?
“Study the market and know what you are doing. Focus on customer service. To be successful you need to be smart, strong, and determined. And do not start if you aren’t willing to put in long hours, because being a professional agent is not a not a part time job!”
The Brightman Team are: Louise Key (UK), Bea Silvia Hazan Menasce (France), Mayssa Diab (Lebanon, Roseli Freitas (Brazil), Ernesto Portugal (Portugal), Humberto Ellwanger (Brazil), Mimsy Madrid (Mexico), Beatriz Pereira (Brazil),and Tamara Saudi (Jordan Germany), João Bessone (Portugal), João Miguel Louro (Portugal), Roseli Freitas (Brazil) and Carolina Fidalgo (Brazil).