If you’re going to buy a house in Portugal…
1. Do some research
…it’s all out there on the web… here’s a start…
2. Get to know your Câmara
If you are getting particularly interested in one area or one house, then your local Câmara Municipal will be an invaluable resource.
They are fairly informal places, you are welcome to walk right in and talk to people. They’ll give you the time, provided it’s not too busy. If you aren’t in the right department someone will direct you. Make friends. Ask if there’s anyone who speaks English: You never know, even the tiniest Câmara might have a very cute International Relations person like mine does.
Go and see the Conservatoria (Lands Department, sort of) and Finanças people too. Find out what they do and how can they can help you.
You might be tempted to pay a specialist (surveyors or lawyers, for example) to recover information about a property; information that’s freely available at the Camara if you know where to ask. Paying someone else is good for the economy – but if you don’t have cash to burn then get in there and make yourself known.
Something you could ask about, and you should want to see sooner or later, is the PDM. PDM stands for Regulamento do Plano Director Municipal – it’s the planning regulations, including the zonings, for your area.
3. Be there, in the Country.
I cannot say in retrospect I’d do it differently, because technically I wasn’t permitted to be in Portugal at the time (actually I was not permitted in Germany either, but that is another story). And I can’t say I regret living in Berlin, either, because I learnt Portuguese and did a lot of yoga. But…
A big part of my problems in the buying process stemmed from not being in Portugal. I thought that it didn’t matter whether I was calling from Viana do Castelo or Vladivostock, and that via the internet our geography was virtual. Well, as it turned out, neither the lawyer, the builder, the architect, the owner or the agent were fluent in email. They have the technology, they’re just not sure how to work it.
The thing is, Portugal functions better face-to-face. It is an In-Person kind of place. They don’t even really like the telephone, except if it’s new and takes pictures. So be there. In person. In the country.
4. Be Patient
After 9 months living in Berlin I really noticed just how laid back the Portuguese are. Things work at a slower pace; service is a bit slower, queues are long and business sometimes seems inefficient. On the good side you hardly ever meet anyone who’s stressed out, and rudeness is rare. Take advantage of this calmer atmosphere and chill out, soon you’ll be the customer they take the time to chat to.
5. Don’t Rush It!
If the agent has their way, you should be feeling a bit of pressure to make decisions quickly. They’ll probably tell you that there are other punters offering deposits, but you don’t have to rush it. Rustic properties, in general, are very slow selling. A year on the market is normal.
6. Learn the language
It’s not hard, it just takes time.
I have no idea how people get by without the language. Actually, I do – someone I know has a full-time translator, like some sort of cultural bodyguard. But what about having a spontaneous conversation with the neighbours or with a stranger in the street? How does he pick up Portuguese girls? Portugal is not Holland, it is not Sweden. Average João does not speak English, and people who are fluent are not common. There are so many reasons to learn the language, not the least, out of respect.