Taking on the real estate industry in Portugal is quite the challenge in its own right. Tackling the way business is done here, in what some see as an anti-enterprise culture, yet another. So, allow me on this occasion to introduce you to a young Portuguese woman who is daringly doing both.
Mission-driven, and clearly not faint-hearted, Ana Caramujo is one of the most outstanding young Portuguese people I’ve met in the land laughingly referred to as one of 10 million real estate agents where everyone has a house for sale.
She’s certainly one of those ‘pão, pão, queijo, queijo’ people – direct, down-to-earth and outcome-focused to put it formally. In real life, she’s calling a spade a spade, telling it as she sees it, and putting her money and her energy where her mouth is.
When I met her a few years ago, I tentatively pussy-footed around what I saw as some of the shortcomings of home-buying and selling in Portugal and an industry that was clearly causing anxiety and concern in the minds and wallets of would-be and new arrivals.
Aware, I’m sure, of my hesitancy around being the critical expat, and funnily enough trading under the brand-name Savvy Cat, she got her claws out instantly about Portuguese real estate, saying: “There’s a huge gap in the Portuguese market when it comes to foreign investors; they often get taken advantage of!”
Worse still, as it occurred to her during the pandemic, “prices are quite low, they (foreigners) get offered things way above normal market rates, which makes things prohibitive for locals too”.
At that point, I knew I was dealing with no ordinary real estate pro in Portugal. In these polar times of firmly-held, opposing views, you’ll find those strongly siding with incoming investors and others shouting loudly, and no doubt rightly, about the impact on ordinary Portuguese people.
One of Ana’s greatest and most inspiring qualities, her sense of fairness, clearly addressed both sides of this equation. I realised quickly that, for her, doing business ethically extended not only to how she supports clients as a buyer’s agent, but also for the Portuguese people and society too.
Having watched this raw and daring vision take shape in the last couple of years and evolve into a company that covers all of Portugal with an expanding team that numbered 10 staff the last time I spoke with Ana at my weekly Silver Coast meetup.
On that theme of team, “we believe service quality is created by offering stable and positive working conditions for employees, so part of Savvy Cat’s mission is to offer good working conditions for locals, once again looking to create balance and sustainability in the gentrification and migration trends,” says fast-moving Caramujo, which, meaning snail in Portuguese, is clearly the opposite of how she rolls!
A “crazy cat lady” by her own admission, Ana is clearly still trading and expanding on those values I admired when we first met.
“Savvy Cat was created to provide expats good and safe deals, in the right place for them, that benefits the future residents, by saving money, and the locals, by not inflating prices,” she maintains – a recipe I am sure that is not easy to bake but makes for the best cake in the long-run.
I am delighted to see it remains her hope to help change the market for the better, and to co-create an environment in Portugal where service-focused, sustainable businesses can thrive.
Criticising the culture into which we come is at its worst a rudeness, at best an art-form. Personally, I tend to refrain rather than engage in this aspect of my life as a foreigner. But who would disagree that the real estate industry in Portugal has ‘some areas for improvement’? And who, frankly, in their right mind would say Portugal is an easy place to run a business with a pro-enterprise government and culture?
In my awkwardness when it comes to these matters, it certainly helps to have Portuguese friends and colleagues, who, like Ana, are happy to call it out. And might I say, not out of mischief or lazy negativity, but a genuine holistic concern for the immigrant, the local, and the country we are all keen to call home.
By Carl Munson