Foreign Investors Awaken Portuguese Real Estate
Government Has Issued About 1,100 ‘Golden Visas’
Like many real-estate projects that broke ground on the eve of the global financial crisis, Oeiras Golf & Residence outside of Lisbon struggled for years.
Only 60 of the planned 500 units in the residential development surrounded by a golf course were completed and sales of those condominiums were slow.
But for the past year, conditions have gotten rosier. All the completed units either have been sold or are under contract and construction is expected to restart on 16 villas and 60 additional apartments.
The improved outlook for Oeiras Golf & Residence is being driven by a Portuguese government program launched in October 2012 that rewards foreign investors with five-year work and residency permits—which also are valid for many other European Union countries.
Many of the investors in the so-called Golden Visa V -0.44% program have focused on real estate. The Portuguese government has issued about 1,100 golden visas resulting in real-estate investments totaling about €650 million as of the end of May, says Joaquim Chambel, managing director at property consultancy Colliers International in Portugal.
Investors in the program have bought the vast majority of Oeiras Golf & Residence properties and are asking for more, says Aniceto Viegas, executive board member at Espírito Santo Property Portugal SA, the developer of the complex.
The program has been criticized by some who are concerned that increased demand from foreign buyers might put upward pressure on prices and make units harder to afford for local buyers.
But others believe the injection of capital from abroad is positive for the economy. Analysts expect the volume of real-estate transactions via the Golden Visa program to reach €1 billion by the end of the year. It is “widely accepted that 2014 will be the best of the last six years,” for residential real estate, Mr. Chambel says.
Almost 80% of Golden Visa investors have been Chinese buyers, according to AICEP, a Portuguese government agency that tries to attract foreign investment. Many of them are people who have been selling properties in Beijing or Shanghai to invest overseas, says Jorge Woo, owner of consultancy company Woobridge.
To be sure, renewed investor interest in Portugal real estate also reflects the slow recovery of the euro zone from its financial crisis. Values of prime office buildings and shopping centers are rising, says Eric van Leuven, of Cushman & Wakefield’s Lisbon office.
In the first three quarters of 2013, 16,463 residential units were sold in Lisbon, compared with 9,651 in the same period in 2012, according to private data-collecting entity SIR. As demand has returned, developers have started to come back to life. For example, in the past year, developer Habitat Vitae Investimentos Imobiliaros S.A. sold all the units in its six Lisbon buildings, mostly to foreigners, says Miguel Ribeiro Aguiar, head of the firm’s real-estate investments.
With enough capital for a new project for the first time since the crisis, Habitat Vitae now is turning a former post office in the center of Lisbon into a residential building. Due to be completed by 2016, the Lisbon 8 Building has 103 units that are being marketed in China, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai, Mr. Aguiar says.
For the first time since the financial crisis, he adds, “there has been a lot of new development,” says Fernando Ferreira, director of capital markets for Portugal at JLL.
Other European countries including Spain, Cyprus, Malta and Greece, recently have started their own versions of the Golden Visa program. But so far, Portugal’s program has been one of the most successful.
Since the beginning of 2014, about 70 golden visas have been issued in Spain, according to Yuan-wen Wang, a consultant at Sotheby’s International Realty in Barcelona. Analysts predict the pace eventually will accelerate. But at this point, the Spanish program has been slowed partly by complex rules for foreigners opening bank accounts, Mr. Wang says.
The rules of the Portuguese program have been relatively simple, analysts say. Most golden-visa investors choose to obtain the five-year residency permit by buying real-estate properties, which must have a value above €500,000.
Alternatively, they can deposit €1 million of financial assets in a Portuguese bank or start a company that creates at least 10 jobs in the country. To maintain the visa, investors are required to stay in Portugal for a minimum of just seven days during the first year of their investment, and 14 days in the following two years.
In fact, most of these investors don’t end up moving to Portugal, says Nuno Durão, a partner of real-estate brokerage company IRGLUX, who says he worked on at least 100 golden visas. The typical golden-visa investor, Mr. Durão says, is “somebody who wants to have an insurance [policy] in Europe, the possibility to do business and to travel within the European Union.”
Source: Wall Street Journal
Fotografia: Rute Raposo Fotografia