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Portugal’s allure

The European country draws investors to its shores with promising opportunities

By Michelle Olson, CPM®, RPA, CPD, PMP, CSM, CSPO
Stunning scenery and a high quality of living draw many people to Portugal.  / Photo courtesy of Michelle Olson, CPM®, RPA, CPD, PMP, CSM, CSPO
Stunning scenery and a high quality of living draw many people to Portugal. / Photo courtesy of Michelle Olson, CPM®, RPA, CPD, PMP, CSM, CSPO

Portugal has emerged as an attractive destination for immigration, captivating individuals and investors from around the globe with its stunning coastlines, vibrant cities, and warm Mediterranean climate. The welcoming culture and widespread English language skills make it easy for newcomers to integrate into the local community. They stay for the high quality of life, including excellent education, accessible healthcare, and a commitment to sustainability.

The country also shows favorable economic conditions, with growing sectors in real estate, tourism, technology, renewable energy, and healthcare. The draw of Portugal to immigrants from around the world, bolstered by the country’s attractive residency and citizenship programs, has led to investments that create significant opportunities in many lines of business, including real estate management.

Navigating the path to tax advantages

Portugal’s attractive residency and citizenship programs, such as the Golden Visa and the Non-Habitual Resident (NHR) regime, have played a significant role in attracting immigrants. These programs offer favorable tax benefits, residency permits, and potential pathways to citizenship, creating incentives for individuals and families looking to establish themselves in the country.

Introduced in 2012, the Golden Visa program aims to encourage foreign investment and boost the economy by offering residency permits to non-EU citizens who invest in real estate, create jobs, or contribute to scientific research, among other eligible categories. The program has been instrumental in driving foreign investment in Portugal’s real estate market. This investment has revived neglected properties, generating revenue for the country and stimulating economic growth.

The Golden Visa program has been the subject of significant controversy in recent years, with critics pointing to rising costs in the country. In response to the criticism, the Portuguese government has implemented reforms to address some of the concerns surrounding the program. New measures have been introduced to limit the program’s scope, including use limitations and exclusions of some real estate investments to balance economic benefits with social impacts on housing affordability and local communities.

There are many other visa options for non-EU citizens who want to relocate to Portugal but lack sufficient wealth to qualify for the Golden Visa. Each visa has its own specific requirements. Other options include:

  • The popular D7 for individuals or families with savings or passive income
  • D2 for entrepreneurs who also have passive income
  • D8 for digital nomads with proof of regular income from remote work. Income must meet the Portuguese minimum wage, currently €760 per month.
  • Visa options for seasonal work, secondary education study, and family reunion, which allow residents to relocate family members, including spouses, dependent children, grandparents, and grandchildren.

Introduced in 2009, the NHR regime has also been a key driver in attracting immigrants seeking to live in the country. One of the primary benefits is the favorable tax treatment it provides. Under this regime, for a period of 10 years, qualifying individuals can benefit from a flat income tax rate of 20% on Portuguese-sourced income, 10% on foreign-sourced pension income, and tax exemption on almost all other foreign-sourced income, including employment, capital gains, and dividends. The significantly reduced tax burden compared to other countries makes Portugal an attractive destination for those seeking tax efficiency.

Surging demand for developers and multifamily housing

With Portugal’s favorable residency and citizenship programs, the country’s attractiveness as an investment and tourism hotspot has increased in recent years. The need for more real estate developers in Portugal is evident as the country experiences population growth, housing demand, and a focus on sustainable and inclusive communities. Real estate developers can play a pivotal role in catering to the growing demand for multifamily housing, vacation homes and resorts, and commercial properties from domestic and international investors.

Like many other countries, Portugal has grappled with a housing crisis that has profoundly affected its citizens and the broader economy. There’s been a significant increase in housing prices, particularly in major cities. This initially stemmed from rapid urbanization, coupled with insufficient construction and investment in affordable housing, resulting in a supply-demand imbalance.

Since then, the problem has evolved. The surge in tourism has fueled demand for short-term properties. Attracted by higher returns, property owners shifted their focus from long-term rentals to the more lucrative short-term rental market. This has led to a radical reduction in available long-term housing, displacing local residents, distorting housing market dynamics, and worsening the affordability crisis. Striking a balance between the short-term rental market and the need for affordable, stable long-term housing solutions is crucial.

Collaboration between government entities, developers, and stakeholders to unlock opportunities that accelerate the development process is vital to addressing this housing crisis. Prices are skyrocketing, but wages haven’t kept pace with rising living costs, creating an affordability gap that prevents many people from entering the housing market. Instead, they keep renting, and the need for an adequate supply of multifamily properties continues.

Different population segments have varying housing needs, and real estate developers can address these requirements by incentivized and fast-tracked urban regeneration projects. These investments breathe new life into neglected or underutilized areas for the development of either affordable housing communities or upscale high-income properties. The ability to cater to diverse market segments makes housing options available for all income levels, easing strains on the housing market while fostering social cohesion and sustainable communities.

Challenges and potential in the real estate market

In Portugal, apartment buildings and condominiums are the prevalent forms of residential properties. Historically, most residents own and live in their own properties rather than renting, with an ongoing trend of relocation from urban areas to the suburbs. This shift in residential preferences reflects a desire for a better quality of life and affordability as urban areas experience rising property prices.

There’s been another shift, as well. An increasing number of people have opted for rental accommodation in recent years. The rising demand for rental properties is particularly high among younger generations in urban areas. Factors such as changing lifestyles, affordability concerns, and the desire for flexibility have contributed to this trend. As a result, the rental market has expanded, attracting investors and leading to the development of rental properties to meet the evolving demands of residents.

The residential sector presents opportunities for both rental income and capital appreciation, but the commercial real estate market is also thriving, with office spaces, retail outlets, and industrial properties in high demand. Urban regeneration projects and the tech sector’s growth have further fueled the demand for commercial spaces, making them attractive investment prospects. Developers in Portugal often pursue mixed-use projects that combine residential, commercial, and retail spaces to diversify revenue streams and enhance overall profitability.

Government support of real estate investment

The Portuguese government has introduced several measures to support real estate investment, including multifamily housing. These measures include tax incentives, such as reduced property transfer taxes, favorable depreciation rules, and the country’s visa programs. Additionally, government efforts to streamline administrative procedures and promote sustainable urban development create a supportive environment for multifamily housing investments.

The 2019 establishment of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) in Portugal has also brought positive changes to the real estate market. The new REIT regime offers both domestic and foreign investors greater accessibility, diversification, liquidity, and transparency. The regime requires that REITs be managed by professional services, increasing demand for professional real estate management. This professionalization of real estate management has elevated industry standards and improved the overall quality of management services in Portugal.

An evolving property management landscape

As Portugal continues to attract investors and the real estate market expands, property owners increasingly seek professional real estate management services to optimize their investments and maximize their returns. The property management sector comprises multinational firms, boutique agencies, and individual property managers. With emerging trends like digitalization, sustainability, and short-term rental management, the sector is evolving to meet the demands of property owners and tenants/residents. However, property management in Portugal faces some challenges that hinder its effectiveness, and the need for better education has become evident.

One significant challenge that Portuguese property managers face is the absence of standardized professional qualifications and regulatory frameworks. Unlike in some other countries, there’s no specific licensing or certification requirement for property managers in Portugal. This lack of industry standards can lead to inconsistencies in service quality, knowledge gaps, and inadequate training, impacting the overall effectiveness of property managers. Other struggles include limited resources, inadequate vendor networks, and difficulty coordinating the execution of property maintenance, which leads to resident dissatisfaction and potential property devaluation.

In Portugal, property management companies have expanded their services beyond managing just long and short-term rental properties to serve as administrators for condominium associations. This integrated approach leverages their expertise in property management and brings numerous benefits to condominium communities.

Portugal offers many opportunities for both short-term gains and long-term returns. As the country continues to prosper and attract international attention, the real estate investment industry is poised for sustained growth and success. Regions like the Algarve, cities like Lisbon and Porto, and the university towns of Coimbra and Braga offer strong rental demand. The combination of steady rental growth, low vacancy rates, government support, and ongoing urban regeneration projects enhances the potential for attractive returns on investment, allowing investors to enjoy the rewards of a thriving rental market in Portugal.

Journal of Property Management

Michelle Olson, CPM®, RPA, CPD, PMP, CSM, CSPO, is a member of IREM’s Governing Council and DEI Advisory Council. She spent more than 15 years living in the Los Angeles area and now enjoys the flexibility of splitting her time between the U.S. and Portugal. Olson is vice president of operations at Virtually, a management consulting firm that partners with clients to lead cross-functional project teams and offers various subscription-based virtual services.

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