The changing portuguese real estate market ( Part 3 )

Emerging sources of clients, supply versus demand imbalances and much more.

The chasm between cost and access to accommodation by local people, and the cost of delivering new inventory

In a report by CIA Landlord Insurance in the UK, published in March 2022, Lisbon is ranked as the third least viable city in the world in which to live, if you are renting. This is due to the discrepancy between disposable income for local people, and the cost of housing.

The Portuguese government has no consistent policy to deliver new housing, much less affordable housing, on any scale. Delivery of Build to Rent, previously also known as PRS (private rental sector), inventory, is practically impossible due to, among other factors, the tax burden. At least 35% of the total cost of any new construction is tax (of which the most significant are: VAT of 23% on cost of construction; 1.23% VAT on sales agency commission; around 5-6% IMT; notary costs; fees and contributions, including compensatory payments, by developers to municipalities). This excludes the cost of bureaucracy and delay which are borne by investors as a reduction in returns, and may be transferred to end buyers via price increases.

Why will new build continue to increase in value (and price)?

In addition to the benefits of newer, more efficient, more environmentally considerate technologies and materials, all of which come at a price, there is also the cost related to the process of developing a new project. As comment by a senior executive at a leading real estate consulting firm in Portugal: challenges include “high property taxes, VAT, and the sheer time it takes to get planning permission from city halls and local councils. This, in turn, makes it impossible for developers that normally plan ahead by up to 10 years, to keep to their original costings and budgets, thereby scaring off investors in this particular residential housing segment.”

The Portuguese Property Survey (PIPS), produced by the magazine Confidencial Imobiliário and the APPII, in May of 2022, reported that there had been an “increase in construction costs of 18% over the past year”. This cost will have to be passed on, in part or in full, to the end buyer.

A combination of existing lack of product, low levels of new build, an increase in labour and materials costs, high tax and slow planning cycles, mean that it is impossible to deliver affordable new build. Any new build that is perceived as cheap should immediately raise a red flag.

As most of the underlying causes of cost are structural and not easy to fix quickly, and consequently with new build prices expected to continue to rise, the Portuguese off-plan market presents an excellent opportunity for investors, both institutional and retail (end buyers). Residential developers willing to spend the time can benefit from uplift in land values when successfully taking a project through planning, and end buyers can benefit from higher-than-average ROI and ROC because of capital appreciation during the build cycle. This is sensible foresight based on sustained demand for end product, rather than the speculative type of investment that characterised the years prior to the financial crash of 2008-9.

The need for urgent change across the sector

The current inflationary cycle means that developers are naturally more risk-averse, as are buyers. In a conversation with a large real estate consulting company recently, I was surprised to hear an experienced executive imply that he expected developers to underwrite the risk of a volatile market so as to offer greater buyer protection. He seemed to fail to recognise the substantial risks already undertaken by developers, many of which are difficult to quantify to an end buyer without laying bare the hugely prejudicial environment in which developers operate in Portugal. The opinion also seemed to contradict the so-called “appeal” of Portugal. If a country is indeed such an attractive investment destination, then surely a more balanced approach between developer and buyer risk must be adopted?

The combination of factors (or challenges) outlined above, make it “impossible to create new build projects at affordable prices for Portugal’s lower-middle and middle classes.” As we have been arguing for some time, eon way to inject more affordable product into the Portuguese market, is to approve, develop and sell more expensive product such that a percentage of larger schemes can also deliver an affordable housing component. Many ways exist to do this, such as waiving VAT (or applying a reduced rate of VAT) on the affordable housing component of any development; encouraging developer-buyer shared ownership schemes by waiving IMI and offering reduced VAT on new build; or reducing IMT on new builds that meet certain environmental or other criteria, they have a secondary positive effect on helping to meet other government targets.

It is even possible for the government to link VAT to inflation in an inversely proportional ratio, such that VAT is capped at the moment of project approval, at the prevailing rate, but then falls in line with inflation as and when costs are incurred: the logic is that if costs go up then the government will still earn its tax as per the original estimate – after all, with no value whatsoever being received by the developer in exchange for VAT payments, it seems at best grotesque that the government should benefit while consumers and economic agents suffer. A similar situation exists in respect of fuel duty in Portugal, that could benefit from a similar inflation-linked VAT solution.

Ultimately, if the government is unwilling to sacrifice its tax revenue, then it must offer developers, who are taking most of the risk, incentives for them to build new product.

What is evident is that development models will have to change and for this to occur and the roles of the protagonists will have to be remapped. Some examples of the possible trickle-down effect:

  • The government needs to reduce the tax burden on real estate development, starting with VAT
  • Councils need to start adding more value, beyond simply having the power to approve projects and ask for contributions. The council must deliver value directly to the local community, in exchange for the revenue it receives from developers.  The percentage of monies received from developers that is used for general municipal expenses should be capped, and the remaining amount ring-fenced for direct investment into the local area of the development
  • Developers need to promote and build products with a client type in mind. Generic products with little focus or differentiation will slowly disappear
  • Banks need to undertake project-based risk analysis, not cross-collateralisation. If a project does not stand on its own merit, it should be turned down. This means banks recruiting industry experts who understand sectorial context and end buyer behaviour, rather than just bricks and mortar
  • Buyers will need to change their mind set from the transactional to the context-driven aspirational. Over time, mini “joint ventures” or collaborations with developers should be allowed to develop, creating a shared objective approach
  • End user finance should become increasingly flexible – we are already starting to see some solutions emerge in this area
  • Real estate agencies should improve efficiency, with technology less of a differentiator due to universal access. As a result, real estate companies should be able to reduce their operating costs and consequently drop their levels of commission, contributing to lower transaction costs. They should be able to change their remuneration model, moving away from the commission-only model, to paying (at least in part) base remuneration, improving levels of quality in the sector, greater job security and ultimately more sales (and therefore inward investment). This will be reflected in a greater level of certainty which is of huge importance to alleviating pressure on social care, healthcare and associated sectors
  • The Manpower Group’s May 2022 talent shortage survey demonstrates that Portugal is the world’s second most difficult recruitment market, with 85% of companies reporting difficulties in filling positions. Given that there is an abundance of qualified and indeed talented human resources in Portugal, it is clear that matching supply to demand is as much an issue in the human resource space as it is in the real estate sector.

 

In the Algarve, employers who continue to promote heavily seasonal employment will soon need to factor in the higher accommodation costs during the summer. In particular, those companies attracting non-resident, seasonal resources will soon be forced to contribute to the cost of housing during the competitive peak season, failing which the remuneration may simply not be sufficient to allow seasonal labour to move for the short summer. These shortages are already being experienced in other markets with similar seasonal characteristics to the Algarve.

Conversely, employees and workers need to adapt their thinking to a challenging reality for all protagonists in the real estate sector. Those who are or wish to be real estate agents should be ready to commit to sales targets and to be measured on results. The mentality of real estate sales as a quick and easy way to make money, or for someone to turn to when desperate for a ”filler” job, must disappear. Likewise, for companies looking to work with talented individuals, basic aspects such as paying out of pocket business expenses and the payment of competitive commissions must form the basis for attracting new talent.

 

 

 

 

The changing portuguese real estate market ( Part 2 )

 

Emerging sources of clients, supply versus demand imbalances and much more.

 

The increase in the presence and importance of the North American market

The Portuguese borders agency, SEF, has reported a large growth in US citizens choosing Portugal as their residence. While admittedly from a tiny base, the growth of this market underscores the increase in relative wealth of the average person seeking Portugal as their new home. Even those Americans who only receive Social Security payments, are receiving a pension substantially above the Portuguese average. The Canadian market is equally important, because a number of Canadians of Portuguese descent are seeking a return to their roots, and although the Canadian dollar does not represent the same purchasing power as the US dollar, incomes are substantially above those in Portugal. The USD and CAD have appreciated 20% and 14%, respectively, over the last year.

As Bloomberg reports, “retirees and the wealthy have traditionally been the prime buyers of real estate in Europe. But relatively cheap housing — particularly in smaller cities and towns — and the rise of remote work have made the continent alluring to a wider range of people, including those who are younger and find themselves priced out of the housing market at home. Growing crime rates in some US cities and political divisions have also led Americans to look across the pond for a quieter lifestyle, buoyed by a euro that just dropped to parity with the US dollar for the first time in more than 20 years.”

The effect of the supply and demand imbalance

Essential Business, in an article in July 2022, cites that the “residential segment, which today is highly dependent on real estate development (new build) is Portugal’s weak point at present, with the number of units absorbed by pre-existing products (second-hand) in the market far more expressive when compared to new products, owing to an absence of sufficient new stock in the market. The new build market has flatlined since 2011.”

In an article, also in July 2022, published by the idealista portal, it is reported that there has been a 25% decrease in available inventory over the preceding 12 months. This problem is most acute in the Algarve problems, where supply has diminished 37% year on year.

Although rents have also gone up in value, they have not done so by the same margin as sales prices. For this reason, and despite the perception that rents have become expensive relative to 2010, they are still more competitively priced in 2022 than properties for sale.

 

The changing portuguese real estate market

EMERGING SOURCES OF CLIENTS, SUPPLY VERSUS DEMAND IMBALANCES AND MUCH MORE

 

The growing popularity of Portugal

 

 

Some would say that it is ironic that the international market and investment has done what Portugal and the Portuguese could not find the courage to do themselves, namely value their patrimony fairly. With decades of cheap real estate culminating in the financial crash of 2008-2009, the Portuguese were extremely hesitant in making investments in the real estate market of their own country. Accustomed to seeing the dramatic effects of global crises reflected in extremely difficult local market conditions, the majority of the population remained sceptical when the first signs of a recovery when noted around 2014. As international investment grew, bolstered by programmes such as the Golden visa and the non-habitual resident programme, real estate prices rapidly increased, and by the time most Portuguese had gathered enough courage to act, most had been priced out of the market.

The effect of Portugal’s popularity on real estate prices

According to a report compiled by Idealista, Portugal prices have increased 70% in 10 years (2012-22), much higher than the European average of 45%.

The source of growth

As an example, Savills’ World Cities Prime Residential Index, which includes 30 cities around the world, ranked Lisbon as the 7th city where prices had grown the fastest in the first half of 2022, at 3.7%, versus an index average of 2.4%.

The role of foreign direct investment (FDI) on Portugal’s real estate market

Although the cyclical nature of real estate markets (and indeed economies) is acknowledged, this decade-plus cycle of sustained growth in Portugal, largely independently of a pandemic, a war and of somewhat depressed internal demand, seems to indicate something different. Given that Portugal’s internal market is largely unable to sustain such growth, due to still-low salary levels (and consequently limited disposable income) and small size, it is the international market and foreign investment that has been the main driver of this trend.

Backing up this opinion is a quote in Essential Business in July 2022 that confirms that “in 2012, as Portugal was still in the depths of the Great Recession, 46% of investment in Portugal came from overseas, today that figure has shot up to 85%…the overall investment in real estate development in Portugal, in 2016, was €200 million of which less than 50% came from overseas investors. That figure has shot up to an incredible €375 million in 2021, a year in which the world was still affected by the pandemic.”

The National Institute of statistics reports that investment from EU countries increased by 72.3% in Q1 2022, while foreigners buying from non-EU countries increased by 79.1%. In total, foreigners acquired 2556 properties in the first quarter of 2022.

At a granular level, what we observe is the increase in wealthier investors and buyers, meaning that competition for product is greater, prices tend to increase and demand for the upper and luxury segments of the market including new build, remains fairly buoyant.

One of the reasons for this is the trend described in the Henley global citizens report 2022 which shows that Portugal ranks in the top 10 countries expected to receive new millionaires during this year, approximately 1300. New World Wealth shows that Portugal 4, for example, has been one of the most popular destinations for the flow of HNW capital, capturing some of the 4500 high net worth South Africans that have left the country in the last decade.

Bloomberg UK also quotes a Savills report stating that Lisbon, together with Miami and Dubai, is ranked as the top city for high earning remote based talent, specifically senior staff.