ORIA Real Estate Advisors – setting a new standard on the journey to property acquisition
ORIA Real Estate Advisors sources and secures the best properties available on and off market for its discerning clientele. Their exceptional client service and strategic approach are redefining how purchasing property should be. Essential talks to CEO and Founder, Joana Branquinho, about how she combines market expertise and a human touch to become a long-term trusted partner for her clients.
Text: Chris Graeme Photos: José Ferreira
“I’ve never been on trend. I like to experiment, do things differently, create a truly unique service based on attention to detail and high standards at every level,” says Joana Branquinho, who has just rebranded and relaunched one of Lisbon’s most discreet and exclusive real estate advisories.
If you’ve never heard of ORIA Real Estate Advisors, that’s because it’s completely new. A new look, a new vision and a new confidence.
However, its core values of trust, knowledge, hospitality and service have been at the heart of the way Joana has been doing business for almost a decade. That’s because they are values embedded in her DNA.
You may know TAMEA International from which ORIA has evolved – the respected Lisbon-based relocation and real estate consultancy that has helped clients from at least 50 nationalities from around the world since 2014 –, but you can be forgiven if you haven’t.
The consultancy was always exclusive, off-radar and by word-of-mouth. Its reputation precedes it, and the bulk of its business comes from recommendations. You won’t find its best properties in estate agency windows.
“I like to procure special properties for special people,” says Joana, who is unlike any broker I’ve ever met. On the one hand friendly, energetic, confident and vibrant, simply effervescing with ideas; on the other, assertive, shrewd and business-like. It’s rare to find the personable and the pragmatic so perfectly blended in one person.
Joana says it gives her a buzz to deliver a personal service, knowing how rarely other people in the market can match ORIA’s unique approach.
“I like seeing people happy; I admire exceptional, successful people. They’ve worked hard to get where they are. They are busy, discerning and want the best, and it makes me happy to deliver that,” she says.
And ORIA has no shortage of exceptional clients. Since 2017, Portugal has become a relocation destination of choice for thousands of overseas citizens from all over the world; all special in their own unique ways.
The reasons are legion. The fine weather with over 300 days of sunshine per annum, great cuisine, fine wines, a welcoming and genuine population, and a surprising variety of places and landscapes for a small country with such a big heart.
The number of relocators is staggering, not least among the number of United States citizens who have moved to Portugal in recent years. Recent studies show that over 60,000 expats have decided to live in Portugal, with 11% of them being US citizens.
There are many reasons Americans are moving to Portugal; the number rose 45% in 2022 on the previous year. A more affordable cost of living, high quality of life, excellent real estate, access to public and private healthcare, and security are just some of the most telling reasons.
“We get a lot of referrals for Americans and Canadians, as well as citizens from the Middle East and Europe who we have helped navigate the often confusing and difficult process of moving to Portugal,” says the CEO and founder of ORIA Real Estate Advisors.
In Portugal there is any number of estate agents to sell overseas citizens homes, but what kind of services do they really offer?
Joana explains that when affluent and successful High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI) look to relocate overseas, they don’t just want to be sold a property they want a seamless, 360º service.
This means not only providing them with strategic guidance, but also takking care of everything including visas, paperwork and dealing with Portugal’s often confusing bureaucracy.
The service naturally extends to introducing them to the right accountants and lawyers, as well as recommending private schools for families, healthcare options, a good background of the best neighbourhoods to live, and a knowledge of the country forged over time that only an experienced local can provide.
Asset management meets hospitality
It has taken a decade of experience in property sales, management and hospitality for Joana to distill a wealth of knowledge into a discreet and refined level of service which, on the one hand, is intuitive and human-centric, and on the other is assertive and professional.
“It was quite a learning curve, which took me from veterinary medicine and university lecturing to managing luxury serviced apartments and selling high-end real estate,” says Joana, recalling her journey from graduation to being at the helm of one of Lisbon’s most respected real estate advisories, built upon an unwavering commitment to professional integrity, market expertise and service excellence.
In a way, real estate was deeply embedded in her early family experiences. Her father is a successful lawyer and her mother used to own a pharmacy. Both wisely invested in property as a way of generating income and preserving wealth. Joana, a gregarious and sociable personality, knew she wanted to pursue a career that made people feel good and taken care of, and so took a Masters degree in hospitality.
The entrepreneur’s first contact in this direction appeared through a friend, who was opening a business for managing luxury serviced apartments called The Service, which offered strategic outsourcing for the hospitality industry for which Joana was Operations Manager and Head of Growth between 2015 and 2017.
“We started from scratch with a blank page in a cafe in Príncipe Real and it was a good and super challenging experience which, although I didn’t know it at the time, would go on to lay the foundations for managing ORIA,” she says, describing the intense but rewarding experience of building a company as somewhere between “overwhelming, exhilarating and fascinating”.
“You have to remember that 10 years ago, Portugal was in the grip of the Great Recession and Sovereign Debt Crisis, before the wave of international investors and relocators who subsequently flooded into the country and really put Portugal on the map as the place in Europe to be,” she recalls.
“There were just two of us in the beginning and we did everything: laundry, housekeeping, transfers, tours, designing and delivering welcome packages and breakfast boxes. At that time, the concept of serviced apartments was relatively new in Portugal.
“We were the first company to operate such premium services for serviced apartment buildings, and we had some important clients such as the Almaria Group, Residentas serviced apartments and Hello Lisbon group,” Joana continues, adding that the business ballooned to such an extent that the phone would often ring in the middle of the night.
At the same time, the future CEO of ORIA was already making her first personal investments in real estate, following in her family’s footsteps with true passion. She began working in a real estate brokerage, which led her to become the Assistant Director of Decisões e Soluções in one of their branches in Lisbon.
“I met the owners while we were considering a potential partnership between them and The Service for our breakfast boxes service. I confided that I was doing some investments in real estate which I really loved doing. Shortly after, I was invited to work for Decisões e Soluções, which was just opening a franchise shop in Lisbon.
“I learned a lot during the first months from their training induction programme that was very professional and insightful, but the thing about franchises is that you are limited in terms of creativity and strategy, because you have to replicate and follow the brand and its guidelines.
“It was a good experience and great team, but I had a clear vision of the kind of refined, high-end services that I wanted to deliver, and this didn’t quite fit the ideas I had for providing a completely customer-orientated service,” Joana recalls.
It was around this time in 2017 that Joana would meet a contact who would offer that possibility and change her life. The chance meeting would not only cement her career in real estate, but catapult it to new heights and responsibilities.
The person who would change everything was the successful British entrepreneur Tariq El-Asad, the founder of the real estate consultancy TAMEA International who she refers to as “one of the smartest and most efficient men I have ever met”.
Joana remembers how she ended up working for TAMEA International. “Tariq had a French investor interested in one of my buildings for sale. We held some meetings and the client was very impressed with my level of service and told Tariq: ‘You should hire her!’”
Following the meetings, Tariq sent her a message. Joana laughs: “I really thought I was about to sell the building, but it wasn’t about that at all! Tariq was actually pitching me to join the company and persuaded me to help develop the entire concept of a luxury real estate advisory which would take care of the clients’ needs from start to finish.”
Joana was swiftly appointed Commercial and Operations Director. It was the start of five successful years at TAMEA International dealing with referrals, building connections, building the team, and selling lovely properties in prime locations in Lisbon, Estoril, Cascais, Sintra and further afield.
It was the height of the property boom and the company became immensely successful, with Joana quickly establishing a 10-12 strong team of professionals who understood what providing quality service was all about.
“We wanted the kind of high-standard quality service that you would find in Miami or Beverly Hills, but at that time was rare in Portugal,” she reflects, adding that there were only a handful of companies at the time, mostly dealing with Portugal’s successful Golden Visa programme, that offered full concierge service.
The objective was to provide a quality bespoke service that was different, where people could land in Lisbon and immediately learn about the market and feel secure that they were in good hands.
“An excellent service approach means listening carefully to the clients, attending to all their needs and resolving them quickly,” explains Joana.
Joana Branquinho and her talented team created a personalised 360º service, elevating the company’s real estate expertise and providing clients with a trusted network of multidisciplinary partners, who ensure a hassle-free process considering all aspects of investing in a property or relocating to Portugal. Naturally, word got around and the company grew.
A downtown upmarket move
TAMEA International started operating out of Second Home in 2017, the most desirable co-working space in Lisbon’s Cais do Sodré district, which, despite its light and leafy office space, was principally the home of a number of young and dynamic startup companies, but also companies like Mercedes that occupied almost half of the entire space back then.
The first step towards consolidating its position in the market in which TAMEA was operating was to move premises to an above-street level office on Lisbon’s most fashionable and upmarket thoroughfare, Avenida da Liberdade, which has a long open-air terrace running the length of the office, boasting views over Lisbon’s rooftops.
“We didn’t want to change too much as we already had a great team, great clientele, and the right quality and style of service, but the move was something organic that we needed as a growing company,” she reflects.
“Because our advisory is discreet and often referral-based, and knowing the kind of clients who we attract, we wanted to create a space that was far from a typical agency. One thing was for sure, we did not wanted a ‘showy’ office with big broad windows full of property listings that screamed ‘here we are!’.
“Instead, we sought a sophisticated place that was centrally located on Lisbon’s most prestigious street, but hidden from view because people in the sector know who we are and how to contact us. We’ve never wanted to attract passing business. Most of our work is through referrals, very often dealing with off-market properties,” Joana points out.
Joana says that on the one hand, the Covid-19 pandemic was difficult in terms of business in 2020; it was the year of the transition to the new office and they had just taken on new staff, but on the other hand, it gave her the opportunity to consider the company’s core values and focus on training the team. Joana also had the chance to spend more time with her young family.
“By the end of Covid-19 I had two small children, aged one and three. It’s really challenging combining being a businesswoman and being a mother of young kids. You’re constantly having to divide your time, but at times that’s not so easy. It’s a daily challenge, especially if you want to be present and enjoy time with them. Kids grow up really fast and I didn’t want to miss out on those years,” she ponders.
Tariq, who had been such a good partner over the years, has since moved on to focus on other businesses. He currently owns the Fantastic Frank Lisbon Real Estate Agency, and the GoldenVisaFundsPortugal platform, as well as having other projects in the pipeline.
ORIA Real Estate Advisors
With the growth and consolidation of the company, Joana Branquinho decided that TAMEA International needed a makeover, with a new image that was cleaner, crisper and reflected the company’s values, aspirations and vision for what a high-end real estate advisory should represent.
“After the management buyout in May 2022, we had some very intense and busy months, and I really didn’t have time to crystallise my ideas into what I thought we should stand for, including a rebranding that reflected who we are and where we were going,” she explains.
“Although I was always in charge of making the most important decisions at TAMEA International, the transition to sole owner and CEO was scary and overwhelming to begin with, but I was lucky to have a really dedicated and reliable team on my side and that’s so important. I wanted to create a sustainable business where employees feel well, valued and motivated,” Joana continues.
By the end of 2022, Joana and her team had done a numbers crunch and set out a strategy for the near future. The full rebranding began to take shape. Crafting a new company brand and logo from scratch, while still retaining the essence of the former company’s ethos, was always going to be a huge responsibility and challenge, but Joana felt that it was a natural and important step to take.
The advisory, which evolved under the name ORIA, has now gained a quietly confident and sophisticated identity, which perfectly aligns with its unique core values and emphasises the bespoke, customer-centred service.
“The name ORIA was inspired by the Latin word for golden, ‘aureum’, and the Portuguese word for gold, ‘ouro’, which we felt perfectly summarised the brand’s level of service,” says Sylvia Cardim de Melo, Founder & Creative Strategist at Strawberry Brand Studio who spearheaded the rebranding process.
And explains: “The starting point for the brand’s new logo was, believe it or not, the human brain. ORIA perfectly blends an analytical approach with a human touch; the left part of the brain with the right, and we wanted to ensure that idea was conveyed through the entire brand identity.”
As to ORIAS’s core values, these are very much based on Joana’s own ideas of what a Rolls Royce service should be in real estate advisory that she has carefully distilled over the years.
The essential tenets are:
Providing strategic advice that can be trusted
“You will never catch us pushing listings. We are not in the business to sell properties for our convenience or just to make money. Real estate advisory should be an honourable profession with a high level of service in a competitive industry, something that was missing in the Portuguese real estate industry for many years. Our job is to impart our knowledge to our clients and help them make informed decisions based on their needs, not just sell them a property. We spend a considerable time with our clients, getting to know them and understanding their lifestyle, interests and needs. We really care about what they buy.”
• Imparting local knowledge
“Most clients, when they fly into Lisbon, do not have an intimate and reliable knowledge of the city and neighbourhoods, let alone the intricacies of the Portuguese housing market. We have to be their eyes and ears, navigating them through a different physical, cultural, social and legal landscape from the one they may be used to back home, even if they are sophisticated and well-travelled people. You may have all the framed industry-accredited certificates in the world on your wall, but only experience and local knowledge can provide the basis for a truly excellent service.”
• Seeing the big picture
“Many clients come to us with an idea of what they’re looking for, but on-the-ground realities are sometimes different. Here, a professional team with market expertise and exceptional listening skills is important in guiding the client to find the solution that accommodates their needs, whilst keeping the local reality in mind. It’s not just about treating the client respectfully. It’s about bringing peace of mind. At the end of the day, the client, who are for us essentially offshore citizens, want to ensure that the property they purchase is a good investment, and that if we rent it out for them, it is in good hands and retains their investment over time.”
- Service that excels
“One of the things we’ve learnt from our clients who had been to other brokers was that our service stood out. Listening to people and trying to match what they want with a home from a prime and varied portfolio is absolutely key for us. We always present the clients with the best alternatives to the market to suit their needs. Too many brokers these days attempt to persuade clients to buy a property that they’ve had lingering on their books, rather than understanding what the client wants and catering to their needs. It’s not about us; it’s always about the client and they come first. We offer properties that can be part of the portfolio of other real estate agencies, but we also offer an exclusive and off-market range of select properties
“We spend at least one hour in a first call or meeting with a client to understand their lifestyle, their personal needs, their expectations, and what they like to do. Then we conduct extensive research to see what’s available in the market, online and offline. Because we speak with more than 20 brokers or individuals for different requests every day, we are able to get the network of properties that others usually don’t get.”
The ORIA team also uses software that track all opportunities in the market, going far beyond portals like Idealista or Supercasa that are well-known amongst many international clients already. In addition, ORIA works with all the prestigious names in the market; such as Quintela e Penalva, Christie’s Porta da Frente, Castelhana, Remax and JLL, but also small local brokerages, freelancers, private contacts interior designers and architects.
“People often approach us and offer off-market properties and opportunities before they advertise them online, asking if we have a client who might be interested. The relationships we’ve built up over the years have grown quite organically. That’s because our contacts know the discretion and quality of service that we offer. We filter for our clients so they don’t have to waste time speaking to different brokers and visiting properties that are not suitable for them. Moreover, we advise them on taking the best decision and provide guidance on the negotiation and post-sales period with utilities, furniture, design, or possible remodelling ideas that are beneficial for the property,” explains Joana.
The end of the Golden Visa – what now?
Joana says that the Portugal Golden Visa programme, or Authorisation for Residency through Investment (ARI), as it is technically known, has always represented anywhere between 25-30% of ORIA’s business.
However, with the announcement in February this year that the Golden Visa is to be abolished by the Government, is she worried this will hit a large portion of her business?
As Joana points out: “We have done a lot of business through the real estate investment option, whether to buy as a primary or secondary residence, commercial properties or hotel investments. Even outside Lisbon, Golden Visa purchases have increased and we are now established as one of the most relevant companies that have good results with Golden Visa investors.”
Joana adds that they had already been expecting changes in the programme for a while, but actually the impact of that in the prices of real estate in the main cities seems to be marginal.
“Lisbon has not been eligible for the Golden Visa’s property option for more than a year, yet demand and prices have continued to rise. We are on trend, and people want to move here, or at least spend a few months,” she concludes.
Nevertheless, Portugal also has a wide range of citizenship solutions to suit people from all walks of life and ages, such as the D7 visa, which is perfect for non-EU nationals who want to move to Portugal.
The D7 Visa, also known as the Retirement Visa or Passive Income Visa, was introduced in 2007 by the Portuguese Government, allowing non-EU/EEA/Swiss citizens to apply for temporary residency in Portugal. It is used to obtain a permanent residency permit and, eventually, citizenship.
For young entrepreneurs and business owners, particularly startup founders, there is the Tech Visa and the recent Digital Nomad Visa. The Non-Habitual Residents (NHR) tax regime is also an attractive option for EU citizens.
The NHR essentially grants qualifying individuals the possibility of becoming tax residents in Portugal whilst legally avoiding or minimising income tax on certain categories of income and capital gains for a period of 10 years.
The NHR tax regime came into force in Portugal in 2009, and is proving very successful at attracting individuals of independent means, pensioners and certain skilled professionals to establish residency in Portugal for tax purposes, while being subject to minimum stay of six months in a year, in Portugal.
Luxury rental & property management services
Many overseas citizens set on relocating want to get a feel for their new adopted country and take their time searching out the perfect property to meet their needs.
This is why ORIA provides a full bespoke luxury rental service, too. Its extensive yet select portfolio features a collection of carefully curated and exclusive properties for rental in Lisbon’s finest locations.
“Many of our best clients today that invest, started with a rental apartment. In a high-demand market, it is difficult to find a suitable prime rental option, which is why it is important to have first pick of the best opportunities when they arise, as these do not stay on the market long,” Joana says.
For property owners, ORIA is dedicated to maximising their investment by securing excellent tenants, maintaining the property in perfect condition, while ensuring compliance with Portuguese legislation.
“This department is not our core business, but we felt it was a natural evolution of a service for our clients that wanted to continue working with us.
“We currently have over 30 properties under management and this year we are launching a luxury property and concierge service for clients who wish to have their properties ready for them whenever they land in our country for their holiday or work travels.
“Upon arrival, everything needs to be perfect, with flowers, air-conditioned at the optimal temperature, and the kitchen stocked with essential groceries. From introducing clients to exclusive private clubs to arranging for a chef to cook for them at home, to booking a table at one of the finest restaurants in town, we really want to offer something different and to make our clients’ lives easier and enjoyable in our beautiful city,” explains Joana.
A wide catchment
If the Covid-19 pandemic revealed one thing regarding the property market, it was that not everyone wants to be in the centre of a busy city of over 500,000 people.
There is a palpable interest in buying properties in the Greater Lisbon area, in places that have a lower population density, and properties that are more spacious and offer secluded gardens on tree-lined streets.
Although ORIA’s main catchment area is the Greater Lisbon Municipal Area, which also embraces the charming coastal towns of Estoril and Cascais, the advisory’s local expertise is not limited to the capital, extending from up-and-coming exclusive places such as Caparica, Ericeira, Comporta, Melides or other prominent destinations in Portugal.
Making some pondered observations on the Lisbon real estate market, Joana believes that in the general catchment area, there are still very special developments offering different properties to suit all tastes, from chic centrally located urban apartments to townhouses close to the beach, or secluded design villas surrounded by fragrant pine forests and endless kilometres of golden sandy beaches set below undulating dunes.
A safe and secure destination
But with all the talk, both nationally and internationally, that Portugal may be on the brink of a market contraction with a consequent adjustment in prices, does she worry Portugal’s steady stream of overseas relocators will dry up?
“The market will continue to grow at variable rates depending on the location and type of assets. This is mainly die to the limited supply of land and properties available on the market.
We have the lowest number of properties for sale of the last 15 years and the highest increase in demand to buy them”. mainly because of the lack of offer in the market and Portugal’s widespread popularity overseas. Portugal is trendy, but it’s so much more than that. People really feel good here and they don’t want to go back,” she reflects.
“For all kinds of reasons, from safety and security to fine cuisine and wines, we are finally on the map, whereas a few years ago we were still relatively undiscovered.
Portugal is also has good air, road and rail connections and is just two hours and thirty minutes from most European cities like London and Paris. has good transportation connections, It will continue to attract discerning buyers who seek a calm and lovely place to live far from the madding crowds.”
In Lisbon itself, Joana Branquinho says there are still exciting opportunities in new and relatively new neighbourhoods that are being developed at present.
The neighbourhoods, or ‘bairros’, of Intendente, Graça and Arroios are growing, the area of East Lisbon considering Marvila or Beato is consolidating along the River Tagus Estuary, while Alta de Lisboa to the north of the city is flourishing with some “very interesting investments”. Caparica and the charming seaside surfing town of Ericeira are also booming with very attractive opportunities.
“We have our eyes peeled and nose to the ground to spot where the opportunities lie. On both sides of the river and beyond, the choice is very diverse. Cascais is a strong market for us, particularly the exclusive and sought-after residential communities of Quinta da Marinha, Malveira and Guincho.
“The west coast also has very interesting investment and retail opportunities, and although our focus is the Greater Lisbon area, we have contacts up and down the country, from Porto in the north to Monchique in the Algarve. We know our markets upside down and inside out,” says Joana,.
Word of mouth
Joana Branquinho is certain about one thing when it comes to marketing and publicity. It has to be very discreet, focused and targeted.
“Although our team has been growing – it currently has 15 professionals –, our aim is not to massively expand. You will not see shop-style estate agencies cropping up all over Lisbon and the Estoril Coast.”
It is precisely for this reason that you won’t find an ORIA stand at the big international property fairs like Expo Real, MIMIP or Barcelona Meeting Point. However, ORIA does get involved in targeted roadshows in key markets like the United States, Brazil and Dubai.
“Big property fairs are not likely to be life-changing for us, but specific roadshows are the way ahead, focusing on specific directions with specific partners that are aligned with our core values,” says Joana.
“We run a discreet high-end service, one that doesn’t need any bells and whistles on it to draw attention. Over 70% of our business comes from recommendations and referrals. The quality and one-on-one personal service at all levels is our calling card. It’s nearly all word of mouth and repeat business. That’s what we like the most, to work with a curated list of private clients on a dynamic that builds long term relationships,” concludes Joana Branquinho, CEO and founder of ORIA Real Estate Advisors.