A few years later, the Portuguese capital became one of the most attractive places for property investment and, from his residence in Rio de Janeiro, Roman began channelling Brazilian investment into Portugal, while his team in London promoted the country to the rest of the world. This paved the way for Athena Advisers to establish itself in Portugal, leveraging their extensive expertise gained from operating in the French Alps, Côte d'Azur, Paris and Barcelona.
As Athena Advisers celebrates its 20th anniversary, both Roman Carel and David Moura-George, the managing director of the consultancy in Portugal, reflect on their remarkable journey.
How have you impacted real estate over these 20 years and how have you impacted your clients in the process?
Roman: We have been involved in what we call resort sales, which happen quite far in advance of the launch of the development. There is the planning phase, the fundraising phase, the architectural design and concept phase, and eventually when everything is ready you begin the marketing and sales strategy.
We carefully evaluate the investment potential of a location too, which is a key part of destination-making. Working alongside the developer, we simultaneously market the development and the destination.
Today, the world aspires to a different standard of living and we have helped deliver this upmarket transformation, from Lisbon to the Azores. We were on the scene very early, pitching to embassies across the world the lifestyle investment that Portugal offers.
Therefore, our success goes beyond our actions; it encompasses the messages we have conveyed to and about the market. The industry has placed its trust in us, recognising us not only as a sales agent but as a team with a well-defined strategy and vision. We achieve record-breaking sales figures, listen intently to our people, anticipate emerging lifestyle trends, build destinations that provide prosperous futures and are proactive in articulating this to our network of investors.
We have a passion for both the products and the destinations we represent. Lifestyle is a very important element for us to integrate into our investments. By including this, we’ve built a reputation amongst developers where we have been systematically the best sales team in every development we have launched and were involved in the planning of.
How does Athena differentiate itself from its competition?
Roman: It's people who make the difference.
We have people in our business who can sell in Paris, Turkey or Brazil. A Golden Visa or a petrol station. There are few businesses that have people who can be so versatile. And our advisers are not just experts in sales - they advise on investment, rental and personal aspects. Besides, we are the only agency in Portugal that actually markets in three languages. I’m not talking about just speaking the languages, I’m talking about actively marketing to and engaging with these markets, and that’s very different.
This is the kind of people we want because this is what being an adviser means and at the core of everything, it’s to help. You have to love people very much to excel in this area. We are authentically ourselves because our passion for people drives us, not the business.
You often say that a property is more than a financial opportunity, it is a space for day-to-day living: a place for creating memories, moments and rituals. How does Athena embody this concept?
Roman: Our homes are our place of sanctuary, of freedom from the external world. It is where we rise and where we sleep. The first experience should be one of comfort and aesthetic beauty. It is our well-being.
We believe that the home is an experience and that experience is elevated if it supports, rather than hinders, long-term financial wealth. We explain to our clients that this is the core of our approach, which is why we encourage developers to work more creatively on aesthetics.
Lisbon is so attractive because every street corner has buildings with rounded corners, creating a welcoming atmosphere. It’s not angular, it's not modern, it’s feminine and there’s something magical about this aesthetic. If I can send a message to the authorities, it would be to return urban planning to the centre of every discussion, because urban aesthetics is the best signature of the country for the next fifty years.
Athena Advisers has been operating in Portugal for 11 years. How rapidly is the company expanding in this market?
David: In Portugal, we have followed a very consistent path. We have generated one billion euros in property sales in Portugal to date, this includes both residential and commercial sales, and we sold 80 million euros of property in 2022 alone. We have also steadily expanded our team. While our primary advantage remains our interconnected network of offices, we have now established an independent structure in Portugal separate from our London headquarters. This structure enables us to offer a comprehensive range of services locally, from sales to marketing.
As a result, our team is more closely aligned, allowing for in-depth discussions on the Portuguese market and better preparedness to achieve our objectives. Specifically, we aim to expand our presence in the resale sector while maintaining our focus on sales development plans and our relationships with developers. Additionally, we strive to continue growing in the commercial real estate sector and foster stronger connections with domestic buyers. Whereas nearly 100% of our turnover in 2022 came from international clients, our goal for this year is to have 20% of our sales originating from the Portuguese market.
The company primarily focuses on attracting international buyers. What makes Portugal such an attractive country for foreigners?
David: Portugal has indeed become one of the most attractive countries for foreigners and this appeal will continue to grow due to its strong foundations. The Portuguese know how to welcome like no one else, communication is rarely an issue as most of us speak English and we have a wonderful country with over 300 days of sunshine a year, excellent beaches and world-class surf spots. In addition to this, we have a well-balanced cost of living, high levels of safety and good health and education systems. Though there are complaints regarding public sector offerings, we have a robust private sector with healthcare and education services that outperform others, such as those found in the United States.
I think Portugal has a very interesting combination of factors that will continue to appeal to a large number of people.
Over the course of 11 years, what transformations have occurred in the Portuguese real estate market and the profile of foreign buyers?
David: The market has witnessed several cycles in terms of end customers. When the Golden Visa was launched, we saw a large influx of Asian investors and then we had a surge of Brazilian buyers. Portuguese real estate has been consistently popular with English and French buyers. In the last year and a half, demand from American buyers has increased with Californians leading the way due to the high cost of living associated with living in this state. In addition, the instability and insecurity of the US along with its polarised political environment and growing concerns regarding weapons have had a role in this surge.
At Athena Advisers, we closely monitor these shifting demand trends and buyer preferences, enabling us to provide optimal service to our customers. We also relay this valuable feedback to real estate developers.
We work with very high-end properties priced between €3,000,000 to €5,000,000 that primarily cater to Americans. However, Athena Advisers' greatest differentiating factor lies in the relationships we cultivate with our clients. Last year, all of my sales were generated through referrals, i.e. clients who referred another client. This is fantastic and shows that we are on the right track.
Our approach to service is centred around accompanying the customer at every step, even if sometimes they don't ultimately purchase a property from us. We are committed to providing support because it aligns with our values. We don’t want to be a listing company, we curate our properties meticulously, focusing only on products that are special to us and to our clients.
Looking ahead to the next 20 years, what are your expectations for Athena Advisers?
Roman: I think most people will become more sophisticated in their investment approaches, and we will reinvent ourselves in order to stay at the top of our game. We have already created innovative approaches to real estate, such as the hospitality concept, and we intend to further push the definition of what a real estate agency can be.
As more people are working remotely, office life will become more outdoors. With Artificial Intelligence taking on many of the tasks we used to handle, we will be able to focus on creating enriching living experiences.
David: There is a fundamental principle that underlies Athena Advisers, one that we are all very much aligned with: the commitment to doing things differently. The company culture, our way of being, the energy alignment, the mutual support and our tribe, are aspects that the founders and myself have wholeheartedly advocated for. I believe that this will not change over the next 20 years as it is our DNA.
And however much the market changes in the coming years, at Athena Advisers we want to continue to be involved with flagship, high-quality projects. I believe there will be an increasing focus on sustainability and architecture, creating visually attractive spaces that can leave a lasting legacy, i.e. well-planned, well-designed and well-developed projects. That's where we aspire to continue making our mark.