Building and Architects

Insights into what is involved in buying, selling & living in Portugal

The majority of people coming to the Algarve to purchase a property will firstly consider buying an existing property. This seems the easiest and fastest way as the advantage is there:

  • Less hassle
  • One knows what one gets
  • Gardens laid on and mature
  • Ready to move in
  • Building new takes a lot of time
  • Who do I trust and use if I build new

There are however for certain people also disadvantages:

  • Although the building may be sound it may not be very modern
  • One does not like the tiles, kitchen, fittings and or lay out
  • Right house on the wrong location or reverse
  • No damp proof precautions taken
  • No thermo insulation in roof and floor
  • No double glazed window (standard now)
  • No proper heating system which is certainly required

If these disadvantages are becoming really an issue and one really wants to come to live in Portugal permanently one may expect and demand comfort and good quality building especially as prices are not as cheap anymore as they were in the past.

Quite a few people therefore decide to have their own house designed by a local architect and the house to be built by a local builder. The finished product today is certainly very nice and of good or very good quality as one now takes more care of one of the major problems here in the Algarve, being humidity.

What is the normal procedure and how long does it take?

  1. Land has been chosen after one has made sure the right building permission can be obtained. In certain cases it is advisable that you request a prejudgement of the local town council if what you intend to do is allowed to be build.

  2. Selecting the right architect. When you have decided that you want to have your own house build and after having selected the right plot of land or farm house you will need an architect to make your dream come through. This in fact is a very important decision as a working relation with an architect is something like a love affair; it has to click. You both have to work out and create the house of your dreams. Choose a professional architect on the basis of examples of his previous work or on the recommendation of others who have used him. Make sure that you choose an architect who can communicate with you directly in a language you understand as it is the details that matter. Request a detailed quotation for all the sketches, calculations, finished plans and supervisory work you will require from the architect from start to finish. All in all designing a house, to have it submitted and to have it approved may take longer than you anticipate. Also when you are not here in the country see that you have good contact with and access to your architect. If you have E-mail yourself it would be an advantage to choose an architect who has the same facility. Obviously nowadays nearly everybody has this. This way it speeds up communication when you are abroad. Alternatively you may decide that you want to appoint a project-manager who will supervise and overlook the whole project from beginning till end.

  3. Maybe a topographical survey is necessary before the architect starts designing

  4. Architect makes sketch

  5. This will be discussed with the client

  6. Final design has been reached

  7. Architect starts drawing up final plans to submit to local town hall

  8. Approval takes between 2 - 3 months (sometimes a bit longer sometimes a bit shorter)

  9. Client or architect is notified of approval

  10. Within 6 months the architect and other people have to submit specialised projects, like iron calculation, projects for drainage, water, electricity, thermo insulation etc. In certain cases if you decide to build in what we call an Urbanização it may be possible to submit the 2 together at the same time.

  11. Again submission of these projects follows unless already submitted.

  12. This will take again 2 -3 months

  13. Client again is notified and will normally get 1 year from day of notification to take out the building license. In fact depending of the work a license can be applied for between 3 months and 2 years.

  14. This license is normally valid for 1 year but could be for a lesser or longer period and can be normally extended 1 time for the same period as was issued.

  15. Only once taking out the building license the physical building can start although in certain circumstances one may be allowed to start with some ground work prior to approval.

  16. If during the building process major alterations are integrated alteration plans have to be submitted and one has to go again through the whole planning consent procedure as described from 8 - 14

Recently new legislation came into effect which will now speed up the above-mentioned procedure in certain cases. It applies to plots located in urbanizations (loteamento). Under this new ruling all plans can be submitted at the same time and the local time council now should approve them an license them within 21 (working) days. This of course is a great gain in time.

The next step or this could be done before if to select a builder and it has to be said and known that the cheapest is not always the best. One this hurdle has been taken and a sound building contract is signed leaving as little doubt as possible to be argued at the end of the day we can start building. In the contract stage payments are described. Normally I make 10 stage payments when I do project management for my clients.

The normal construction method is basically as follows:

  1. Land being prepared

  2. Foundation and footings to be dug out

  3. Cast iron pillars to be posted

  4. Concrete slab being poured

  5. Foundation being brought to level either by filling it up with earth or by means of a suspended floor (more expensive)

  6. Concrete structure to be made whereby pillars, concrete beams and roof construction are becoming one integral part. This as we live in an earthquake sensitive zone.

  7. Between the pillars a double cavity brick wall is erected. Sometimes insulation is put in between but probably the best way in to have air to ventilate the cavity.

  8. Roof of concrete is poured

  9. Damp proof course is installed and tiles come on top.

  10. Doors and windows are fitted. Most builders now use double glazing and the material of the frame can be in aluminium. PVC or wood.

  11. Walls in and outside are plastered and at the end painted.

All in all this is a very labour intensive and a time consuming operation and one really has to allow 9 - 12 months for the building to be completed and finished despite what a builder promises you. This on top of the time it takes to get the project approved and it will be clear to you that building a house will take in total between 1,5 and 2 years. Still on what we call this traditional building method some negative aspect can be noted.

During the building it is of course the builder who is important to you. With him you have to get the final result of your dream house.

However another very important person, although you may not meet him at all of very seldom is the Technico Responsável. This normally is an Engineer who is responsible that the building is built accordance the plans approved. It is very best that this person is an independent person not linked to the builder.

By law he has to visit the site at least every fortnight and has to write the progress in a book with is called the “livro de obras”. This is a log book provided when you (the builder) takes out the license.

This book should be all the time available on site as also an inspector of the toen council (fiscal de obras) may come around to check if everything is going according to plan. He also may if he feels that necessary make remarks and observations in the book.

Might a client have the idea to build his own house he will come across a situation that this is virtually impossible. Despite the fact that you are a qualified builder in your own country does not mean that you are able and allowed to build your own house in Portugal. Only minor repair jobs and alteration you can do yourself. Is the job above a certain estimated value (Approx. Î 12.500) than a building license only can be taken out by a qualified and registered building company with an official license and registered in the council the house is to be constructed. In fact recently even for smaller jobs somebody qualified should sign documents.

On top of that the T.R. will normally not be willing to sign any of the necessary documents unless he has 100% guarantee that the house was build according to standards as applicable in Portugal by somebody familiar with these requirements.

After the building has been completed all involved parties (builder-owner-engineer) have to sign a new type of log book (F.T.H. = Ficha Technica de Habitação) of which one copy will be filed in the archives with the town council and the other one should stay with the property owner. This documents will now become part of one of the documents when you sell your property.

Only when the logbook has been dully filled in and some other requirements have been fulfilled will the Câmara inspect the house and if everything found in order will issue a habitation or occupation license.

This is a very vital document. Without that you should not live in the house although many people do, but definitely you will not be able to sell.

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