Once you’ve found your perfect plot of land to build your dream home on – with a sea view, or in the heart of the Alentejo countryside, perhaps – then it’s time to turn your thoughts to how you want that home to look. And, to put that down on paper and into a viable plan, you’ll need an architect.
Finding an architect
After finding suitable land, the next step to building a home in Portugal is finding a suitable architect. As with hiring any professional, you’ll want to ensure you choose somebody who comes recommended. Most importantly, you should make sure your architect is working exclusively for you. Conflicts of interest and loyalties to others are a bad thing!
For this reason, it’s wise to proceed with caution around plots of land that already come with plans for a home. You should, by no means, dismiss these options out of hand. However, there will probably be an assumption that you will work with the architect who’s already been involved. There may potentially be a related building firm involved too.
In these circumstances, it’s important to ensure you only proceed if you can independently verify the quality of past work, and the professionalism of the people involved. This means seeking references from people who don’t stand to personally gain from the transaction.
Architects in Portugal are regulated by an association, the Ordem dos Arquitectos. The organisation has an online search facility where you can check an architect’s credentials. Doing so is an important step, however you’ve come into contact with a specific professional.
You could even reach out on Facebook groups or forums for recommendations.
The best way to choose an architect is to seek personal recommendations. These can come from other professionals you trust, such as your lawyer, or local residents who’ve worked with the architect before. You could even reach out on Facebook groups or forums for recommendations. Ask to see a portfolio of work, or perhaps even arrange to visit completed properties.
Getting planning permission
There are several stages of gaining planning permission for building a home in Portugal. Having the right professionals on your side can make all the difference. This is especially relevant as there is definitely still an element of “not what you know, but who you know” in Portugal.
The key stages
1. Building viability (Viabilidade de Construção)
This certificate is not obligatory, but it would be unwise to proceed with a land purchase without having it. It essentially states that the land is viable for building on. You may well find that the seller already has this in place, especially if a project for the land has already been approved in the past.
2. The architect’s project (Projecto de Arquitectura)
The next stage is for your architect to draw up the initial plans for construction on your land. This will include the description of the proposed work, the technical drawings, and a list of materials to be used.
This plan is reviewed by the camara (town hall), who will check the design and measurements.
3. The detailed project (Projecto de Especialidade)
Once the basics are signed off, the architect will need to submit a far more detailed plan. This takes into account technical issues such as how utilities will be connected, how the building will be insulated, and where internal wiring will run. Other professionals and utility companies will likely have some input into this more detailed plan.
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4. The building licence (Licença de Obras)
The building licence is probably the most exciting document you’ll receive when building a home in Portugal, because it means the work can start. In some cases, you may receive this after the Camara approves the initial Projecto de Arquitectura. However, in some cases it may not come until the Projecto de Especialidade is signed off.
5. The habitation licence (Licença de Habitação)
Once construction on your home is complete, you won’t be legally allowed to move in until you arrange a habitation licence. You will likely find that utility companies won’t activate your water and electricity until you obtain this document.
The cost of an architect in Portugal
Architect costs in Portugal vary, with online estimates ranging from €5,000 – €15,000 plus taxes for a typical project. Some people suggest that you should expect to pay around 10% of the total construction cost. This covers both the production of the plans and documents, and managing the process of obtaining the necessary permissions.
One thing that’s for certain is that some architects will provide large quotes if they think you can afford them and won’t query them. As such, obtaining multiple quotes is wise.
How long does everything take?
How long an individual building project will take in Portugal is an almost impossible question to answer. Some people obtain their planning permission in a few months, but the red tape can drag on for much longer in some cases.
Speak to your trusted professionals to get a sense of how long they think things will take. The chances are they will have recent experience of similar projects, and be able to give you a good estimate. However, it’s best to have low expectations and plenty of patience. Bureaucracy is Portugal is not fast, and impatience and aggression definitely doesn’t speed things up! Simply work within the system, and just accept it as part of the more relaxed pace of life many of us are seeking here in Portugal.
The costs of building a home in Portugal
Estimating building costs in Portugal is almost as difficult as estimating how long things will take. However, plenty of people are happy to throw out figures online.
A “per square meter” cost of around €800 is a fair average, in the middle of a broad range between €500-1500. Obviously a lot depends on the types of materials used. In prestigious areas, such as those around the Algarve’s Golden Triangle, architects and builders will likely assume you desire high-end materials. In these cases, construction costs will be at the higher end of the range.
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Economies (and false economies)
When you’re building a home in Portugal, it can be tempting to look at ways you can economise. One thing people often wonder about is how much they could save by doing some of the work themselves.
It’s important to note that when it comes to technical work such as electrics, it’s best to use local contractors. They will have mandatory professional qualifications that are recognised in Portugal. The Livro de Obras (Book of Works) is checked as part of gaining a habitation license, so shortcuts in these technical areas can cause you serious problems.
If you want to get closely involved in the building project and have past experience, you can perhaps make some savings. One option would be to work on the sourcing of materials to see if you can cut costs there. Broadly, however, in most cases it’s probably best to leave things to the professionals.
If you want to get involved in simple “labour” tasks such as clearing areas, you may save a little money. Or, you could just spend your time on other related tasks, such as making a start on your new garden.