Essential Business

Ladies in Portuguese property — their take on what’s trending for 2022 and beyond

 In News, Real Estate, Trends, Urban Rehabilitation

To many the real estate market may remarkably look as robust as it did in the pre-pandemic years. However, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) it is not.

Some markets and sectors may have changed forever. Some buildings and other assets are obsolete, and property managers now have to imagine how they can be repurposed. Other economic hurdles include supply chain bottlenecks that slow or halt production. Labour and product shortages also bring fears of inflation, a major economic risk. So what can real estate developers, buyers, purchasers and investors expect? What are the emerging trends in Portugal for 2020 and beyond?
In the ‘American Club Real Estate MeetUP Chapter III – Outstanding Women in Real Estate’ last week, three of Lisbon’s top ladies in property, entrepreneur Chitra Stern, real estate executive Patrícia Liz, CEO of Savills Portugal, and leading light at the Portugal Chapter of Women in Real Estate, Patrícia Barão gave their takes on Portugal’s real estate market today, particularly in the residential field. The event was moderated by Anne Brightman, the CEO of Estoril Coast’s most dynamic new luxury estate agency, Brightman Group.

The dilemma of the developers

Chitra Stern, CEO of Martinhal Family Hotels & Resorts (Elegant Group) who developed the award-winning Ageas Portugal headquarters building in Parque das Nações, as the well as the United Lisbon International School which opened in September 2020, addressed the challenges faced in the post-pandemic real estate market, particularly the construction industry faced with rising costs of materials, supply chain problems and specialised manpower. The entrepreneur explained how it affected new developments in Portugal.

“It’s a complex time for construction and development, with high energy prices and supply chain disruptions, with a shortage of labour not just in construction, but also in the hotels sector”, she said.

Hoping that the Ukraine war would soon be over as the Elegant Group hasn’t started work on the wider Education Hub project that she and husband Roman Stern have on the boundary of Parque das Nações in Lisbon, Chitra says that developers are having to “rethink how construction is done” and “what materials they will use in this new era that developers are having to face”.

Chitra Stern thinks the current set of circumstances might force developers to think about different kinds of construction, sourcing materials locally. “We had to face the Great Recession and 2011 bailout crises, which taken together in Portugal lasted from 2007-2014, and now we’re facing several crises at the same time”, he said, adding: “I think we have to be creative and think out of the box”.

“There are so many challenges now, but thankfully we have demand; lots of overseas people want to be move here, particularly Americans. The Golden Visa is still applicable outside Lisbon, Porto and parts of the Algarve, as well as still being valid for commercial property. All this interest and demand also comes from the factors Portugal has as a relocation destination”, she added — cost of living, fine food and wine, international schools, good private and public health networks, excellent motorways, welcoming people, and the list goes on …. (See her TED Talk on Youtube “Why Portugal is Trending”. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHgcaVDeDGo)

“It is no secret that the prices of certain products for high quality developments and new build are increasing. Even in 2020, at the start of the pandemic, prices were predicted to increase in Lisbon because of the lack of supply, but demand has increased”, explains Chitra Stern.

Chitra Stern points out that not everyone necessarily wants to live in Lisbon, with Americans and Brazilians often looking to buy outside the large cities.

Anne Brightman, CEO of the Brightman Group, said that she was seeing a lot of demand for the interior of Portugal. Chitra Stern pointed out that Portugal is a small country, a quarter of the size of the State of California, yet thanks to Portugal’s excellent road and internet connectivity “it is very easy to get around”. “The Brazilians laugh at us when we say that we’ve got traffic. It’s all relative. What is interior to us, is just down the road for them”.

Patrícia Liz believes that continued demand for Portugal and residential housing from relocaters, coupled with the Golden Visa are “creating opportunities outside the capital in the medium-sized cities”. “The Golden Visa was a very important measure to help us get out of the consequences of the sub-prime crisis, but at the end of the day it was not responsible for the large percentage of deals that we made”.

And adds: “We feel the cost of construction will stay high as a result of supply chain and energy cost issues, but for how long we don’t know, with price adjustments on property at time of sale inevitable to absorb these costs.”

Comporta

One of the latest areas of development that reflects the kind of countryside living that has trended since the pandemic is Comporta, a Global Development Programme 70 km south of Lisbon in the Alentejo region which will create high-quality sustainable tourist destination in an area of outstanding natural beauty and strong historical and cultural features.

The main development company involved in the project is Vanguard Properties which is currently working on Muda Reserve, an innovative residential project that offers the very best of Alentejo rural life just a stone’s throw from the sea. Built from the ground up in a natural environment of rare beauty, it takes inspiration from a traditional Alentejo village, while providing all the comfort and security of modern life.

Patrícia Barão, Head of Residential at real estate consultancy JLL Portugal, who is also Vice President of the Portuguese Association or Real Estate Agencies and Professionals (APEMIP), and a founding member of the Portugal Chapter of Women in Real Estate, is now spearheading the property and plot sales at the Herdade de Comporta luxury residential Eco-development, and discussed the massive but ecologically sustainable growth in the Comporta area of the Alentejo.

Involved in the project since the beginning, the question Patrícia Barão addressed was could Portugal’s residential tourism market, with resorts like Comporta, sustain the growth it has experienced in such a short period of time? She thinks that as affluent buyers seek to live away from crowded cities in search of a more rural lifestyle, it will.

While dismissing comparisons with the Hamptons in New York State’s East End Long Island in the US, Patrícia Barão pointed out that the Eco-development is being projected on former agricultural land covering 12,500 hectares. While the infrastructure is well advanced, the plots have not yet been sold and properties have yet to be built. The project, however, will be formally launched to investors in the summer of 2022.

“It has beautiful landscapes, 60 km of coastline from Tróia to Sines with lovey beaches and a feel-good atmosphere”, she said of the over-all location.

“I think Comporta’s essence is the simplicity of beauty. It has been so successful because people want to go back to being close to the basics of being close to nature and its simplicity,” she opines.

Patrícia Barão says that Comporta is “nothing to do with luxury” (although you won’t find any properties there for under €1 million since the average price per square metre ranges from €6,000 to €20,000).

All of the low-density buildings nestle into the contours of the landscape, and none are more than two storeys.

“If you want luxury you go to Quinta do Lago and Quinta da Marinha. Instead, Comporta offers a simple way of living: there are lovely houses made of wood — woodframe + CLT (concrete is kept to a minimum), some with thatched roofs, and the outdoors connecting with the interiors of the house, bringing nature from the outside to the inside”, she says.

However, there is no supply at present, although “we are selling some old refurbished houses in the Comporta area”, Patrícia adds.

Patrícia Barão points out that even during the pandemic the Portuguese residential real estate market remained buoyant as relocaters opted to live away from crowded big cities. For example, JLL sold properties to 47 different nationalities in 2021, while the total number of units sold nation-wide was 180,000 representing €26Bn of investment.

Trends in the residential market

Patrícia Liz of Savills says the current trends in the residential real estate market are “very positive.”

Looking at the main cities Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve region the dynamic is buoyant, with new projects to be launched over the next three to four years. In central Lisbon, for example, Savills has more than 120 projects slated for launch.

“If we look at East and West Lisbon, including projects on the periphery, we have over 200 projects planned taken together with active sales now”, she said, adding that Porto is also very dynamic, with Portugal’s second city enjoying a boom not only in terms of residential projects, but also industrial and commercial ones since many national and foreign companies want to open up offices in Porto, such as Amazon, Google and Farfetch. Since in Q1 of 2022, IT and Services and Software created 5,000 new jobs in Portugal, a good percentage of them in Porto.

In fact, according to Expresso citing Predibisa, the office sector in Porto grew 300% in 2020 (during the pandemic), particularly in the Boavista, Matosinhos (which is growing exponentially in terms of residential sales) and Baixa areas. In the Urban Rehabilitation segment, the same boom that was seen in Lisbon has now been occurring in Porto over the past seven years.

“The transformation we are seeing in Porto is amazing, and I think it’s now more dynamic than Lisbon. There is also a growing interest in Campanha as the metro from the airport has been expanded to that district”, says Patrícia Liz.

Regarding up and coming residential districts of Lisbon which are set for a property boom, these include West Lisbon and the Marvila and East Lisbon riverside areas. In the city centre mixed-use development is slated to go ahead on a large site at Entrecampos where the old city fairground used to be. (40,000 m2 of offices, 30,000 m2 of residential, and commercial areas “which will transform the city centre in that area”). Other Lisbon areas that have been trending include Campo Pequeno and João XXI and this will continue with the move of several government ministries to that area.

Sustainable Building

The European Green Deal 2030 directive means that Portugal has just seven years to ensure its renovated and new buildings achieve EU energy efficiency standards.

While making properties cheaper to run in the long term, regulations will make adapting and building homes horrifically expensive in the short term as costs of raw construction materials, building materials and emission and energy efficient technology puts up the prices of homes for rich and poor alike. But in a country like Portugal, were the average take-home salary is just above €1,000 after tax, how are middle class families going to be able to cope with mortgages, let alone rents which are high in city centres? Indeed, will developers even want to bother when profit margins are so low after taxes?

Our three ladies in property have some interesting perspectives. Chitra Stern admits existential pressures on costs for middle class housing is a problem, and that the financing model is vital. “We looked at some projects, but the financing has to work, the banks have to be able to offer long-term financing in order for developers to build affordable middle class housing projects”.

Chitra Stern points out that there is a lot of property and land owned by the government (and quite a lot owned by the church in both Lisbon and Porto) with the secretary of tourism announcing the REVIVE project — a joint initiative of the Ministries of Economy, Culture and Finance which aims to “promote and streamline the processes of rehabilitation and valorisation of vacant public property, making it suitable for tourism-oriented economic activity, enhance the attractiveness of regional destinations, deconcentrate demand and develop various regions of the country, generating wealth and jobs, thus contributing to the economic and social cohesion of national territory”.

“Similar policy shifts have to happen in my opinion on housing. Portugal is not a dense country in terms of housing development like Switzerland. There is a lot of land available in Portugal,” she adds saying it was a mistake the stop the Golden Visa scheme in Lisbon and Porto. “There is so much more that can be rejuvenated and revived in Lisbon through regeneration programmes”.

Patrícia Barão admits it is going to be very difficult for developers and investors to invest in affordable housing, because although the VAT on buildings for refurbishment is only 6%, new build has a 23% VAT which makes it financially unviable taking into account external inflationary pressures on raw materials and manpower. “This something that the government really needs to change”.

“To build affordable houses the public system will have to get involved because the majority of the land belongs to the municipalities, so the prices need to be subsidised for affordable housing. You cannot buy a plot of land for €2,000m2, pay €2,000m2 to build, plus all the soft and hard costs bringing the final cost to €5,000-€6,000m2. That is not affordable for middle class families”, she said.

Patrícia Liz of Savills concluded by saying that it had to be a joint effort from the government, the city councils and the support of various institutions to build affordable housing. On the other hand, “we see the trend is for people to buy outside the large cities and this might start a tendency to build outside Lisbon and Porto”.

“The Golden Visa is helping this movement in cities like Braga, for example, which is close to Porto (1 hour) and we see Braga developing a lot. It started with companies and investors and now residential”, she said.

“I think other cities in Portugal will follow suit, particularly when people realise that they can work remotely from home. We have colleagues who live in other cities like Coimbra and only need to come into Lisbon to our office once a week”, she concluded.

Picture: L-R: Patrícia Barão (JLL), Chitra Stern (Elegant Group), Anne Brightman (Brightman Group) and Patrícia Liz (Savills Portugal). 

 


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