It’s taken a year in the planning, but the Portugal scouting trip commences now. Right here. Right now.
A year ago, I would already have a trip to Portugal stamped in my passport. And almost exactly a year ago, I would be planning a climb up Mount Pico in the Azores. Neither happened.
Now, on the fourth attempt, it is closer than ever. So close that within the next 24 hours I will be en route to the airport. And I can’t wait.
The last week has though been rather hectic.
I was still waiting for contact from the jury team to call me to court for my jury service. I had notification that I wasn’t required on Tuesday. I then received the text message ending my jury service. All done. Finished. And I never needed to visit a court.
With Monday being a Bank Holiday in the UK, but not in Portugal, it was an ideal day to kickstart making appointments for the scouting trip.
First on the list was the bank. Getting a bank account opened was, for me, a non-negotiable activity that I needed to do. If it meant I viewed fewer houses, then so be it.
Previously I had contacted a Portuguese bank to arrange an appointment. I’d not heard back so I resubmitted my enquiry. Within a couple of hours, a Portuguese phone number is calling me.
I managed to understand it was the bank calling to arrange a convenient time. While we managed to get through the call through a combination of English and Portuguese, I sought confirmation by email.
I did well. My scribble matched the email – date, time and the address. Amazing. I also wrote down what I need to take with me. Again, all correct. Muito bom.
The other appointment I wanted to get scheduled was my Covid test for my return. That was pretty easy too and all booked in. I am not sure I’ve approached it most economically, but I’m confident I will have my test in hand to travel back.
So with the key appointments confirmed, it was onto scheduling house viewings. I had a master list of houses to view. It was a long list, but I’d prioritised them and had clustered them into geographical areas.
Yes, I know I’m a little pedantic in my planning. Ok, very pedantic.
I started with the priority areas and properties and made contact after contact with the agents. Gradually, I got responses. I had to chase a few, but I’ve actually had a 100% response from all the agents I contacted.
This is contrary to some experiences that I’ve heard from other house hunters. What made the difference? I’m not sure, but I gave a brief summary of my position and referenced something in the particulars of the house that was relevant to me. This ensured that I wasn’t just someone hitting the ‘I want to view’ button. I also wrote every email in English and duplicated it in Portuguese (through the support of a couple of apps). Overkill? Not sure. But I’ll detail my approach in selecting and viewing properties.
One thing I have learnt when house hunting is not to go with too much of a defined list. More of a “like to have” as opposed to a “must have”. See each property with open eyes, not blinkered by a list.
Over the last six months, I have continued to hone the area I was considering. When I undertook my virtual tour, I focused on towns that wrapped the Serra da Estrela mountains. While one of my bases is relatively close to the mountains, I have moved further west for most of the properties I’m viewing.
The starting point for my search is where the Portugal districts of Castelo Branco, Leiria and Coimbra meet. Pretty much the bullseye of Portugal. From here, I am heading towards various towns although still taking in quite a large area. This is to ensure I cover the various topography that Portugal provides. From riverside to hillside, and plateau to plain. And considering the edge of town, small villages and more remote areas.
The type of houses I am viewing is also quite broad. Let’s think of it as a children’s abacus where you can slide the beads along from one end to the other.
At one end I’m viewing a small house that currently has one bedroom (which is less than my minimum, non-negotiable), but with an additional bedroom just needing a final fit.
Push the beads to the other end, and I’m viewing two adjacent properties, giving six bedrooms in total. This would give great flexibility with a potential rental option as well as a home to live in.
The condition of the properties is also on the slider too. All properties are in a liveable condition (although the definition of liveable varies!). Some need minimal work, others need a lot. Some have new roofs, some have leaky roofs.
I’m not fazed by the condition of any of the houses, but everything is relative. More work brings better negotiating, but higher renovation costs. Less work tends to have a higher purchase price, but cheaper cosmetic upgrading.
I definitely don’t want a ruin though. And fully off-grid isn’t top of the list.
A key reason to move to Portugal is to become more self-sufficient. Therefore, having land is important.
All the properties I am viewing, except for one house, have land which ranges from half a football pitch to 4 football pitches (3,000 m² to 22,000 m²). Quite a difference.
But land comes in all shapes and sizes. The smaller areas of land are suitable for growing vegetables as well as a combination of fruit trees, grapevines and/or olive trees. The larger the area typically increases either the grapevines or olives, but more often, it includes some forest area or water area.
Some of the land provides a real variety of landscapes, but not necessarily practical. While this isn’t an issue, the need to clear all of your land annually of overgrown vegetation and regularly cut trees to reduce the fire risk is an additional burden. And can be costly.
I mentioned that one house I am viewing has no land. This is to test how important the land really is. There is an option to purchase a small plot of land in the village, but it’s detached from the house so no garden or land adjacent to the house.
In my attempt to test the extremes, I am also viewing a house that has a small plot of land (5,000 m²) but the option to purchase a further 8 hectares. Interesting.
Finally, one important point regarding the land is decent access to irrigation – whether it is from a well, borehole, stream, spring, reservoir or rivers edge.
One (almost) non-negotiable, is access to decent broadband or mobile signal is. Broadband in Portugal is, like most places, patchy. There is an increased dependency on mobile or satellite broadband in rural places. Most towns have free wifi in public spaces and places and almost all libraries have high-speed internet access.
Outside the preference to ensure connectivity, few added extras will swing a decision one way or another.
One observation is that over the last week, a lot more houses have come onto the market. This is largely due to most of Portugal shutting down during August, so there has been a flurry of activity at the beginning of September to get properties up for sale.
This has meant a couple of new additions to my list of prospective properties. And, with a few windows available for viewings, there is a chance that I will be able to increase the number of properties I will be able to view on my scouting trip.
Currently, I am scheduled to view eleven properties and I have a full day set aside with an estate agent for more viewings.
So, I’m confident I’ve done as much planning as I can for my scouting visit. I have a few forms that need completing and printing for travel and a double-check of the information I need for the bank.
I suppose I better put some clothes and other travel bits into a bag.
Obrigado por ler.
Featured image by kind permission of Erol Ahmed
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Thank you, Marc