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Finding a property can sometimes be the easiest part of a move to Portugal!

Jamie and Constance on beach in Foz

European couple, Jack and Hannah, moved from Germany to Portugal two years ago.  Two years before that, they bought a property in central Algarve, between Portimão on the coast and Monchique in the mountains.  Their dream is to set up an eco-resort in Portugal, but it’s been a rocky road so far.

The couple were looking for a better way of life, and had set their sights on future retirement in the south of France. When things went well for them business-wise, they decided they didn’t need to wait until retirement to move. They found a property in the south of France, but just before finalizing the deal, it was snapped up by someone else.  Their search continued, but they quickly realized that the south of France was becoming too expensive.

Friends of theirs kept recommending Portugal as a place with a better way of life and properties that were more affordable.  It had never been on their radar previously, but they decided to take a look.

Searching for a business property in Portugal

Jack had very clear search parameters for their dream eco-resort.  The property would have to be within an hour of an airport, close to the coast, and close to a town or city where there were things to do and see.  Having narrowed down their search online, they arrived in Portugal to look at a couple of properties, and immediately fell in love with Portugal - the people, the weather - and the first property they went to see.

“The property needed some TLC, and even though the site is close to the city, you almost never see anyone, other than the occasional cyclist.  When you want to go to the cinema or to a nice restaurant, the city is just 10 minutes away by car.  It was the perfect location!”

Getting planning permission in Portugal

They decided to buy the property and seek out permission to do some building work to realize their dream of starting an eco-resort.

“Finding the property was probably the easiest part of the process!”

The couple had read a lot about buying a property in Portugal, and researched into the kind of problems that might come up.  They knew they wanted to build on the site, so before completing the sale, they submitted a request to the local town hall for a PIP, which is like a pre-planning permission, confirming the right to make changes to a property.

Jack explains,

“A PIP is definitely hands down the best way to buy property if you want to develop. You get full pre-planning permission and the council are legally obligated to let you build what was planned. It costs a bit more and you have to negotiate with the buyer, but it is the best way to do it.”  

They had been advised that the PIP process would take 1-3 months, but it took 1 year. By this time, the buyer was pressuring the couple to complete the sale, so they could move on with their purchase.  Along with the delay, they discovered the architects had made a small mistake in relation to the car park and disabled access for the swimming pool. However, both their lawyer and the architect advised that it shouldn’t be a problem, as they were such minor changes.

Rather than go through another year-long process, with the risk of losing the sale completely, they went ahead with the sale with a view to getting the changes made later on during the final building permission process.

The couple moved to Portugal full time two years ago, and submitted said final building permission to the local council. The council took 18 months to finish their review and give feedback.  Unfortunately, during that time, there had been bad wildfires, resulting in changes to zoning laws. Despite the plans being submitted before the new laws were in place, the council rejected their building permission, stating they could not build anything on the property.  Had the council not delayed so long in their review, things could have been different.

It was a serious setback, and the couple have still not obtained the planning permission they need, despite receiving positive feedback and being invited to resubmit plans.

How to avoid planning permission issues in Portugal.

Jack and Hannah’s advice for buying property for development:

  1. Wait until you have the PIP signed before you buy a property. It is legally binding.
  2. Make sure you have a lawyer, who is an expert in planning law.  The laws can change quite often, so it’s important to have an advisor who understands the implications of the changes.
  3. Know that the permissions process can take more time than advised. When someone gives you an estimate for delivery, triple it! 
  4. Don’t send emails and expect a swift response. The way to do business and progress with legal processes in Portugal is face-to-face. Make sure you have someone who can help you with this - ideally a local who speaks the language and already has a working relationship with those giving the permissions.

Living off-grid in Portugal

Although Jack and Hannah have not yet been able to move forward with the eco-resort, they have made some progress on the site. They’ve been living in a tiny off-grid home that runs on solar for energy. They've dug boreholes for their water needs and have terraces on which they’re planting fruit trees, and a small vegetable garden.

They also set up a co-working space in the nearby city of Portimao, and have bought an apartment as an investment, while they continue through the planning permission process.

Why live in the Algarve?

Despite the issues, Jack and Hannah have stayed in Portugal, because they love it so much:

  1. The Portuguese people are amazing. They’re generous and willing to give you their time and attention and help you out when you need it. Although they can be modest, they’re also curious, and we’ve loved making friends in the Algarve.
  2. In the Algarve, you get 300 days of sunshine a year, plus mild winters.  What’s not to love about that!
  3. Where we live, we’re also lucky to have what feels like an endless amount of beaches. The Algarve coastline is absolutely stunning, and there’s always a quiet beach to be found, even in the height of the tourist season.
  4. So much fresh seafood!
  5. The pace of life is a lot slower. Although at first, that was frustrating in some ways, we now recognize that people are enjoying life, and that’s what’s really important.

You can find out more about their journey on their YouTube channel Life Reimagined.

Jenny Teasdale
October 30, 2022

Jenny Teasdale

Blog Author