Real estate is a bitch. Earlier this year I thought it might be good to have a swing at this business and make my hobby of house-perving into a money earner. House perving is an art. I have a friend who has drawn up architectural plans and with full landscaping designs based on what he would do if his random-house-favourite in Bondi happened to fall into his hands one day. No doubt the neighbours think he´s been sizing up the place for a robbery, for the last four years, or perhaps they have concluded, correctly, that he is simply a house pervert.
Anyway, back when I was looking for a house in 2007 I would meet lots of other people looking for a house … in cafés, at the markets, at the pousada juventude in Lousã… Central Portugal was teeming with foreigners on holiday-house-perves. Now I meet none. This is not the only reason my brief foray into real estate has not been a success. Firstly, I broke the golden rule of being a pseudo estate agent: I became emotionally involved with the clients. They became my friends. I liked their houses, I liked their dogs, I liked them. And we all know that a normal real estate person doesn´t do any gratuitous caring because in order to actually sell houses one must devote 110% of one´s soul to selling.
So back to being a fully-committed-builder-blogger it is for me…
But if you happen to thinking of following me in this crazy pastry-filled lazy life, and buying a house in Portugal, then I would like to share with you these three little house-gems I found. Three different ideas, three different concelhos, three different prices but with one thing in common. Three very nice honest owners who just want to move on.
Let´s start with this little beauty in Mosteiro, Pedrogão Grande. I discovered the cutsey little village of Mosteiro when I first moved here during my rampant Sunday drives. It´s tucked away in the middle of a quiet little forest, a short detour from the best bread kept secret of Vila Facaia. It´s a picturesque medium sized village with two cafés and and rather decent restaurant located at a flat grassed river beach with a charming bridge and plenty of shade. This village even has a bandstand (my dad just loved bandstands), and I strongly suspect it has recycling bins (which, believe-you-me is a clear sign of civilisation. I envy people who live in villages with recycling bins).
The house is for sale for €43k. For this price I can´t quite work out how Sergio is making any money out of it because it is a recently renovated stone cottage. OK maybe he inherited it and spent €39,000 doing it up. But let´s not look a gift horse in the mouth.´Tis indeed a charm-packed little two storey one bedder, with renovated bathroom and kitchen, heating in the ground floor kitchen, small walled patio for the barbie, pushbike, plants and winter woodpile. In other words, a low maintenance, with all the facilities, nothing more to spend, weekender and summer holiday house… about two minutes walk from the river pool with café, icecream and rather tempting looking restaurant.
The owner, Sergio, is a local schoolteacher and antiques collector. We met at the Figueiró Vinhos Velharias fair. So the house is filled with really nice furniture and interesting bits. This makes the place even more special, because it´s unusual for Portuguese who most often like their things new and shiny. The antiques work so nicely with the stone interior… well if it were me I´d be negotiating a price with contents included. Too easy.
The next one is the paradise I really wanted when I was looking but didn´t have the money for. It´s €55k, a 120m2 ruin on one hectare (10,000 m2 or almost 2 and a half acres, thank you sophie :)), and if you can´t imagine that, well it´s about a 20 minute walk around the circumference and pretty much what you see in the pic above minus the background mountains). It´s located in a gobsmackingly beautiful valley about 5 minutes outside of Figueiró Dos Vinhos. Your nearest neighbours, about 1km away, would be the rather groovy dutch couple who run Quinta da Fonte, a nice eco-holiday type arrangement, which might give you some ideas about what to do with your place. One hectare of land has potential. You could plant more olives (there are already about 50), more fruit, or plants trees for timber. You could have sheep, horses (although the terrain is quite steep in places) or 5000 chickens. With no neighbours, you could do what you liked. The ruin itself begs for a spacious, passive solar, low impact, simple stone design. The water supply is ridiculously good, with a small river running through the property, two wells and about another 4 tanks. The last time I visited, Figueiró council were running “company” water along the road anyway. The electricity is about a 25m connection.
So peaceful, so beautiful… I think it´s a very precious little spot. You´d want to have at least another €70k to get the house done … but after that, it would be Gins and Tonic on the balcony overlooking the garden in perfect serenity for ever.
Option number three is actually three and four because there are two of them. They´re in Castaneira de Pêra, which is a little disneyland town created by the Mayor of Big Things. Castaneira is home to a Big Fake Grass Rat, Four Big Ugly Things on Roundabouts (on the bright side there are several Nice Big Old Mansions one Megalith Pink Magnolia) and one Very Big Pool. My very cool niece, when visiting, named the pool succintly: “Mega Pool”.
Mega Pool, aka Praia das Rocas attracts hordes of sweaty punters from all about who are perfectly happy to queue for an hour before opening time in order to secure their resort style deckchair and table by the “beach” for the day. By “beach” I mean graduated sandy-coloured painted concrete and a wave machine – ´the biggest waves inland of the sea´, would you believe? The thousands come prepared with buckets & spades, lilos, eskies, hats & blow up crocodiles and they make a day of it. Actually they make a whole summer of it, as Castaneira´s cafés heave with the aprés-pool crowd.
But where the hell do they all stay? There are some tiny cabanas at the pool, so that sorts out about 16 people, there is one nice old house which sleeps about 10, two small but nice hotels and a medium sized camping ground. The masses I speak of come literally in their thousands… and here´s where Joe´s houses come into the picture.
A few years ago Joe, a civil engineer, built these two houses with his family´s future in mind. With one son a chef and Joe and his wife Mariza heading towards early retirement, he had the idea that at least someone in the family would fancy having a B&B, and Joe having seen the development of Castaneira since Praia das Rocas, saw the potential in it. He built two houses, both with two attic bedrooms with ensuite plus three more middle-floor bedrooms plus a ground floor apartment. The lounge, kitchen, dining and garages are all big and they have massive backyards with room for a pool. Both houses have been ducted for central heating, the living rooms already have closed fireplaces and the kitchens have chimneys. Natural light pours into the houses from all sides, there is double glazing and security shutters. The front door has a intercom system accessible on each level of the house. The houses are fully wired for all manner of telecoms, there is an outdoor dining area off the kitchen, plus the ground level barbecue area, smashing town views from most rooms, at least one bathroom on each level, landscaped gardens and, and, and… Gee it looks like the only thing Joe didn´t think of when building these places was to make them wheelchair accessible because as soon as they were 95% complete some jerk crashed his car into Joe´s and landed Joe in a wheelchair. Permanently. Paraplegic-Like. So now he can´t even get through the front door of his own houses, much less down the stairs. Shit and a half, I say to that.
Então, slight change of plans for the Ramos family then.
The 95% finished bit is a good thing. It´s just the interiors that are unfinished. There are no kitchens (plumbing of course is there, but you´d choose the look and arrangement) Ditto for the attic en-suites – plumbing, no fixtures. One house has floating timber floors and the other has unfinished concrete. The final final job will be yours. The ground floor apartment space in not enclosed. All the wiring and plumbing, and a bathroom, is in, but right now they look like outdoor entertainment/basement spaces. So hence, these are new-builds that leave room for your taste, and I like that. New places are all very convenient and clean but I inevitably want to rip out their ugly pine kitchens and start again. Just thanks that Joe has taste in bathroom appliances, because those I rather like: a bit luxy but not pretentious.
So let´s talk business here. One house is €175k and the other is €210k. Say you spend another €5k making them ready for business. During the summer you could have at least a monthly income of €1200 (based on a modest guess of 5 nights out of 7 of the two attic rooms @ €30ea /night). OK so the summer is only 2 months – but then there´s the apartment downstairs which can be rented out full time or you live in the apartment and rent out the 5 bedroom house upstairs. What I´m talking about is the potential of immediate income. I haven´t done all the research but what I see are full cafés and thousands of people and not thousands of places to stay. I would also say again loud and clear that you should not attempt doing business in Portugal without speaking the language. Your main clientele will still be Portuguese, not English-speaking foreigners. My gut tells me this is a goer, and let me tell you Mr Joe is no idiot either.
Fontainha and Mosteiro are listed with Chavetejo Imobiliaria LDA who are based in Tomar. The office number is + 351 249 32 77 00 but you know, every time I call it I get the answering machine and that really pisses me off. So what I suggest is that you call the mobiles of Derek +351 918 479 978 or Nicky +351 918 484 547. The best time to catch them is at 7:30am, after their two hour yoga session and just before 8am mass in Tomar.