Market sees salvation in the Algarve
Susie Watkins Polakova
The only word in Portuguese you need to know right now is deprimido.
If you are unfortunate enough to be trying to sell property, or in any way involved in the Portuguese real estate market, it is probably worth learning this word which, unsurprisingly, means depressed.
Prices in Portugal have been falling across the board, with the drops faster and bigger in the capital, Lisbon, and the country's second city, Porto.
The latest housing market survey from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors points to weakening demand, pushing down prices and slowing activity.
National indicators on confidence and activity within the market have fallen seven points and, for the first time, developers are also reporting prices falling at a much faster rate, matching what the agents themselves are seeing. However, agents are quick to retort that, while the overall picture is dark, there are some small bands of sunshine, most markedly in the coastal areas and, in particular, Portugal's southern coast, the Algarve.
It has long been a favoured spot for English-speaking buyers and prices there, while still declining, are falling more slowly than elsewhere.
Christian De Meillac, Frank Knight's senior negotiator for its Portuguese and Spanish portfolio, says: 'There are pockets of optimism in the central Algarve [mainly focused on large, mature communities such as Vale de Lobo and Quinta do Lago], as well as the western Algarve near to Luz and Logos - again in more established neighbourhoods.'
Maribeth Davis, international sales manager at Hamptons International, agrees: 'While we are aware there has been significant pressure in the middle to low-end properties in the Algarve, it is a very different landscape for the luxury end of the market.
'At a time when prime completed stock is something of a rarity in Portugal, we have found our prices are rising rather than falling.'
One crucial factor that keeps the rich world interested in Portugal is a word that needs no translation, golf.
The country has been voted the best golf destination in the world, not least because its average of 3,000 hours of sunshine every year - more than California - and it means that enthusiasts are practically guaranteed many happy hours, and days, on the greens.
De Meillac says there is a shopping list which most second homeowners have when they come for a real estate browse, especially 'villas with pools, and views of the ocean or with golf course access. What attracts them is the sunshine, golf, beaches, boating, views and a relaxed lifestyle'.
Typical of the kind of resort which ticks all the boxes is Pine Cliffs, a complex in Albufeira, which has won world travel awards for its combination of holidaying and home-owning options and which, according to Hamptons, also offers a good rate of return.
Davis says: 'Buyers tend to look for completed stock in exclusive areas within secure and well-established resorts because it mitigates risk.
'At Pine Cliffs, for example, all apartments are rented by the hotel outside of the 12 weeks per year in which owners are entitled to use the property, with all owners receiving a guaranteed 5 per cent per annum return on investment in the first three years of ownership.
'Thereafter, owners receive their share of the rental pool return along with sustainable capital growth.' Most agents working in the Algarve say summertime is traditionally marked by increased interest in property, as buyers move from enjoying a holiday in the Portuguese sunshine to wanting a permanent second home in the region.
Perhaps it might just be a ripple this year, but everyone is hoping it will be very different in future.
Will any of that interest come from Asia? According to law partner Francisco Barata Salgueiro, who works for Neville de Rougemount, the leading Portuguese-speaking lawyers in the world, there is not much interest to date, but that may change.
He says: 'We have not really seen much interest from property buyers from the East. There is, naturally, the occasional investor from markets such as Hong Kong or [the mainland], but it is directed at specific investments.'
His firm, however, represents a host of Chinese investors who are making what he refers to as 'significant' investments in the former Portuguese colonies, such as Angola.