Building and renovating houses in Portugal

Building and renovating houses in Portugal

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Two real estate experts provide tips on building and renovating your dream property in Portugal.

You’ve made the main decision to live in a foreign country, and having chosen Portugal, we think you’ve made an excellent choice (in our impartial opinion!).  In our architectural and building practice we have worked for several foreign clients, and assisted them on the problems and difficulties they usually face when building or renovating a house.  We share our advice and experience here.

In the first instance, before you take the step of buying, it is of course advisable that you find help from someone, ideally a friend, who has been through the same process and can advise you.  You may also want to hire a dependable real estate agent.

Once you’ve obtained such advice, here are some further in-depth points to consider.

Tips for renovating property in Portugal

Think carefully about the location: if you’ve found a nice property or ruin/old house and you want to build/renovate, it is absolutely crucial to familiarise yourself with the legal implications of that region.  Make sure you’ll be permitted to build, or, if it is your intention, to increase the house size or build a swimming pool, etc.  Don’t end up with a piece of rural land where you can do nothing but plant vegetables!  Most places can be checked fairly easily through a contact in the local town council or checking out the official documents (valid building licences or official plans/maps that prove the location is in a buildable area).

Occasionally previous owners have already developed projects that have been approved by local authorities, in which case you should verify that they are valid and official. Approved projects are usually valid for a year (although the period can be prolonged).

If you decide to build/renovate yourself, you will have to obtain the relevant council permit.

Small interior works and certain outside works that don’t change the exterior shape and look of a structure don’t require a paid licence, but you will always need a declaration of legality from the authorities.

For other major works, you should hire an architect to develop a project to present to local authorities.  To choose this crucial partner in the whole process you should rely on other people’s experiences and, of course, on your own impressions!  Visit other completed projects to see what and who suits you best.  During this phase, make sure that the project you are developing accurately represents what you want.  This prevents making alterations in future works, which can lead to costs spinning out of control.

Buying property in Portugal

Typically, the architectural project is approved first, but to obtain a building licence, be aware that you must order several other technical and engineering projects (structural, electrical, hydraulics, communications, etc.) which also need to be approved by local authorities and independent organisations.

This process can be somewhat complicated and (in most cases) slow, depending on a variety of factors: complexity of the project, number of local authorities involved, etc.  In some councils, the details required can be incredible and the whole process can become very difficult at one point or another for everybody involved.  Don’t lose hope--this is not abnormal.

It is difficult to give an estimate of the total time needed, because it depends on which council is responsible for where you are developing your house (and on a thousand other things), but be prepared to wait for several months, even though the process can also be surprisingly quick sometimes!

Make sure that your architect keeps you informed of all the steps involved in the process.  After approval, you must pay a variable amount for the building licence, which in some councils is still very low.

Casa do Cruzeiro

In the meantime, you can start contacting construction firms to get a total budget for the works in question. You can also decide to order separate quotes for individual parts of the project (which can lower costs), but in this case you must absolutely know someone whom you trust completely to assist you.

Always get at least three budgets (again from recommended and trusted firms whose previous projects you’ve seen), and make sure that all aspects of the construction are included and previewed--technical aspects and building methods as well as materials and finishes. Don’t always go for the cheapest quote, because this choice can turn out to be the most expensive in the long run. Choose the firm that gives you the most confidence through previous works and information from friends.

During construction try to be present as much as you can, because this will help you to control all aspects of the process much better.

Payments should be agreed on beforehand, and although a first payment is usual at the beginning of construction, don’t make any more payments after that until the work is done.  Be very careful with extra works--sometimes construction firms rely on that to make some profit after giving cheap estimates!

After construction, all is not quite yet over!  You must obtain the necessary water, electricity, communications and gas supplies and also pay for the respective connections.

Finally, don’t forget that you have to register your new house and, of course, pay the respective tax!

Despite the long list of things to think about, don’t be alarmed!  These are just general warnings that should be taken into account no matter where you are.  The whole process can run very smoothly and you’ll have your brand new dream home, just like you imagined, in our beautiful country!

Gaifem Ramos Lda / Expatica

Carlos Araújo and João Carlos Ramos are English-speaking partners in the real estate and construction firm Gaifem Ramos Lda which operates in Northern Portugal in the area of Caminha. They build land allotments, one family houses, and do reconstruction of ruins and old houses, specialising in holiday homes. To find out more, check out their website at www.gaifemramos.pt.

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3 Comments To This Article

  • Karen posted:

    on 3rd April 2016, 16:59:02 - Reply

    We have been told that a property we are interested in which is 79 years old and has been renovated doesn't need to have registered drawings for the extensions and improvements as it was all done before this was a legal requirement. So we have been shown an article of paper which just tells us sizes of the house and sizes of the land with a total overall size - should we ask for this to be updated ?

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

  • Vincent posted:

    on 27th January 2015, 17:40:52 - Reply

    Hi Paul,

    My name is Vincent. i am working as a real estate agent in the Algarve and sold many plot for construction. many of the owners build their own house but i guided them in the complete process.

    1.It is advisable to have a architect. The reason is that the legislation in Portugal is completely different. It will cost a lot of time to adjust the drawings and submit them again and again. Even you have experience as an architect, discuss the drawing with an Portuguese architect.

    2.To get the last document (licen�a habita��o) which makes it legal to live, the property will be inspected. If they detect differences with the proofed drawing, that can be a big issue.

    For a more detailed information or other questions, feel free to contact me vds@sortami.com

  • paul posted:

    on 15th December 2014, 07:02:46 - Reply

    Thanks-All very useful information but what happens if one has limited finance and wants to self re-build from a ruin?:
    1.Must one have architect-drawn plans (What kind of cost?)
    2.If self- building what inspections would be mandatory?