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Expert opinion: why and where to invest post-Covid-19?

In a recent Zoom webinar, titled ‘Why and where to invest in residential real estate post-Covid-19’, representatives from three different luxury overseas resorts -  Porto Montenegro, One&Only Kéa Island (Greece) and Ombria Resort in the Algarve – discussed the future for virtual viewings, whether investors are now reassessing their priorities and the importance of brand longevity.

The webinar was impressively moderated by property journalist Zoe Dare Hall and included João Richard Costa, director of sales and marketing at sustainable inner Algarve development Ombria Resort, Brennon Nicholas, sales and marketing director at marina resort Porto Montenegro, and Katerina Katopis, director at Dolphin Capital, part-owners of One & Only Kea Island in Greece’s famous Cyclades archipelago.

All three countries - Montenegro, Greece and Portugal - have dealt with the pandemic well, with their respective governments implementing strict guidelines which were successfully adhered to.


Here, we take a look at what was said during the webinar.

Zoe Dare Hall (ZDH) - Virtual viewings have come into their own during lockdown – will they be a useful tool after Covid? Are actual viewings happening again? And how do you sell the dream, experience and lifestyle of a luxury resort even with all the trappings of Covid around?

Brennon Nicholas – We were very aware of messaging and marketing during the lockdown, being sensitive at all times. We kept a presence, but were careful. Our virtual viewings were limited, but well-received. There were a number of enquiries for people asking for video footage of certain parts of an apartment.

More and more people wanted to interact online. Webinars were popular, meetings on Zoom were popular. Interaction online was much greater, for obvious reasons. We had actual sales during the lockdown period, too. People interacted online, interacted with the sales manager, and converted.

João Richard Costa – even before coronavirus, because we are selling properties off-plan exclusively, because they are under construction, we already had tools to allow people to view virtually. Since lockdown, we’ve improved these tools, to allow owners to see what views they will have.

That helped our sales managers interact with potential buyers. We did see a reduction in March, but from mid-April we saw a big increase. And May was almost like a normal month in terms of enquiries. We got some sales done during the lockdown period, too, including clients with reservations and new clients. We’ve done some sales for people who haven’t even visited. They were happy to move forward on the basis of virtual tours and videos.

Katarina Katopis – we only broke ground a year ago today. We’re under construction, it’s off-plan, so we can’t do a virtual tour because we don’t have a villa ready. We did a targeted social media campaign, especially in the UK and Switzerland. We found there was an increase in enquiries, and we had serious enquiries.

People had time to interact with us - emails, Zoom calls, etc. We have lots of site visits scheduled, advanced discussions with people. The lockdown worked to our advantage. It had positive results. Let’s see how these will transform into sales, but I think we will see them.

Positive publicity from Greece’s handling of the pandemic helped us, because they felt safe, they liked the reaction of the government. If they were to buy a second home, they would feel happy about doing that in a country which dealt with the crisis well.

ZDH – what have you seen in terms of people reassessing their priorities? Perhaps they want somewhere bigger with a garden, or a home office. Are you seeing any adjustments to suit these priorities?

Katerina Katopis – our villas are large and have home offices and lots of space. People want to spend more time with their family and work from home. Safety is a very important issue.

We offer two products – one has a guaranteed return, so people see it as an investment. Before, people stayed two to three weeks, now people want to stay longer. People are learning to work from home.

ZDH – are you seeing a similar thing in Montenegro?

Brennon Nicholas – what we’ve found as a project and a destination, we’ve got a lot more people who have completely reassessed their values during lockdown. A number of people have approached me because Montenegro offers seclusion, security and privacy. Many of our buyers are much younger than you might consider. People are coming here and setting up businesses, so they can stay for six months or longer.

We’ve adapted to provide business centres. People have realised: we can work remotely and safely from the destination, we don’t need to be in the city. They’ve gravitated to a much quieter, safer environment, but with the infrastructure still in place.

ZDH - do you have to encourage people to leave behind the beaches?

João Richard Costa – because we are inland Algarve, we are seeing people reassess their priorities and values. They want to live somewhere with green space, with a connection to nature, which are safe for their families moving forward.

We are all lucky to be in areas with low density in terms of population. We offer villas that have separate space for people to work from. We all have great internet connections. People like to be connected to nature and online.

ZDH: Touching briefly on Golden Visa schemes, and NHR, how much are these drivers for people?

Katerina Katopis - not their prime objective in our case. Our properties cost from £1 million upwards, so it’s a lifestyle choice, not a chance to be a resident. We have other projects for the Golden Visa scheme.

João Richard Costa – we have a bit of both. As with Katerina, it’s not the main driver. 10-20% are buying for Golden Visa reasons. Mainly from the Far East, Middle East, and even South Africa and Brazil.

People benefit from tax incentives by moving to Portugal using the NHR (Non-Habitual Residency) scheme. A lot more people are looking to move here, with their first residence in the Algarve and a second residence in London, Paris or Berlin.

ZDH – what reassurances do your developments offer that the resorts will still be there five years from now?

João Richard Costa – we’re owned by a family office in Helsinki, focused on long-term investments. Ombria Resort has several phases and is a ten-year or more project, with each phase taking three to four years. The site is huge – 150 hectares, with lots of land to develop on. The investment strategy is for the long-term.

Katerina Katopis – Kerzner International, which owns the One & Only brand, is owned by the Investment Corp of Dubai (ICD), the emirate’s sovereign wealth fund. This gives people reassurance, and people trust the brand. Dolphin Capital, co-investor here, also has a good track record of trusted branded residences. It is important that people know who is behind the project and that they trust them. We are in it for the long-term, to create a sense of community.

ZDH – Montenegro, by contrast, is a more emerging market than Portugal and Greece?

Brennon Nicholas – we’ve sold, delivered and finished high-end blocks of marine property. Our marina has a good reputation – one of the most recognised and biggest in the region. We are 100% owned by the corporation of Dubai.

Lots of credibility there. It’s not a greenfield or start-up site. There is a big retail element, with big brands nearby. Credibility is there.

Our product range is vast, from €150,000 euros up to €5 million. It’s a long-term investment with no exit strategy. Porto Montenegro is a flagship project.

ZDH – a key concern for buyers is renting out their property and flexibility. What do you offer?

Katerina Katopis - people don’t have to rent it out, but they can do if they want. If they opt into the guaranteed rent scheme, they can only use it six weeks a year. But for the larger villas they can use it whenever they want. They don’t even have to let. It’s good to offer clients that flexibility.

João Richard Costa – we also offer a lot of flexibility to buyers depending on what they’re interested in. One is the least flexible – where buyers have to rent out. They can use it 17 days a year, but they get guaranteed rent. The second option is for people to live here as much as they want to. They can rent it out or they don’t have to rent it out. They can let it through Viceroy Residences. They can rent it or live there permanently.

Third option is the large villas, tailored to their own needs and wishes. They can rent it out or not. They can rent it out themselves, via Airbnb, or they sign a rental contract with us, rented on an ad-hoc basis.

Brennon Nicholas – a bit of a contentious issue. We are a destination that logically is pretty seasonal, so we don’t offer guarantees. We don’t do mandatory rentals. You can opt in or opt out with the branded residences. If you choose to buy into one of the products we have that we manage, that’s an in-house management option, with a different rental structure and return. They offer income, flexibility, etc.

With the new product, that’s a Kerzner operation, slightly different. Optional rental. Very flexible operation. Clients like it. It offers them diversity, the opportunity to decide to spend a weekend or a few weeks in summer there.

ZDH – think of the one thing that really sums up your development. An image, a view, an experience?

Katerina Katopis – I’m a sea person. We are on the most beautiful bay with azure seas, next to Athens, which is its main selling point.

Brennon Nicholas – having lived and worked all over the place, one of the big attractions for me is walking into the marina every morning, whether it’s sunny or raining, with the yachts and super-yachts. I’m a water and sea person, too. The bay is absolutely stunning. It’s not a built-up environment. It’s very, very unspoilt, and will touchwood remain so for many years. It’s a very tastefully and carefully developed marina.

João Richard Costa – Ombria is located in an area which people don’t see in Algarve tourist brochures. Very hilly, very natural, with properties on higher parts of the land. The sense I get, early morning, and all you hear is the birds singing and the river flowing, is hard to describe. The smells of the inland Algarve. It’s an amazing experience to be connected to nature in that place.


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