If you’re building your own home in Portugal (or planning to), it’s likely you already know that it’s a complex process. By the time you’ve found the land, drawn up the plans and obtained the necessary permissions, you’re halfway through the prep. But once all that’s done, you need to get started on the next stage: finding a builder in Portugal.
This article covers all the key things you need to know. It will help you ensure you choose the right people, and that everything progresses as smoothly as possible.
Firms or individual contractors?
One thing many people ponder about finding a builder in Portugal is whether to use a development firm, or to seek out individual contractors.
Broadly speaking, unless you have considerable knowledge of the local industry and the ability to speak fluent Portuguese, you’re better to put things in the hands of a dedicated firm. The Portuguese construction industry is heavily regulated. As such, there’s a lot of documentation involved in completing a building project. (More on that below).
If you’ve subcontracted work like this out before, or have personal construction experience, it could be worth considering your options. However, it’s probably best to undertake or manage smaller jobs that aren’t part of the main infrastructure of the property. “Muddying the waters” with the tasks in your Schedule of Works (Livro de Obras) could cause issues with accountability. It could even mean problems with having the project signed off, and the granting of your habitation license.
How to find a builder
There are several ways of finding a builder in Portugal. The architect who drew up your plans will probably have a recommendation for you. This this may seem like the simple “path of least resistance.” However, you should still do the same level of due diligence and inspection of past work that you would do with anyone else.
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Other alternatives include seeking personal recommendations, or even taking down the details of building firms from other developments in progress in the local area. (The firms usually display details on a board). Ideally you’ll want to find three or more firms to give you quotes for the work, so that you can compare what’s on offer.
Finding a builder in Portugal: checking credentials and past work
The first thing to check is that a building firm is registered as a legitimate limited company in Portugal (LDA). Next you should ensure that the company is part of the country’s construction institute (IMPIC). You can search for building firms and check their credentials here.
Once you’ve verified that each firm ticks the basic legal boxes, it’s time to have a look at their past work. A great suggestion on a local forum is to ask to see three projects: one in progress, one recently completed, and another completed several years previously. This will give a good idea of the consistency of each company’s work. Any hesitation to show past work should ring serious alarm bells!
Ask to see three projects: one in progress, one recently completed, and another completed several years previously
You can also extend your reference checking by looking in detail at each company’s website. Look for testimonials and details of past projects. The best firms usually proudly show off their historical work.
Once you’ve identified suitable developers, you can share your architect’s plans and ask for detailed quotes. These should include the project phases and the details of materials and subcontractors each firm will use. Project milestones and payment dates should be clear. What’s in the quote will go on to form a very detailed contract and building plan, the Caderno de Encargos.
Check what’s included
When you compare your builders’ quotes, it’s very important to know you’re comparing “like for like.” For example, one firm may include the costs of liaising with local authorities and utility firms, while another may not.
Similarly, check the materials each company plans to use, seeking advice – if necessary – from your architect or another independent person. Huge cost variations in builders’ quotes could be down to cost savings on cheaper materials or “hidden extras.” It may well take some “back and forth” to ensure you’re making realistic comparisons, but it will definitely save you both money and stress in the long term.
Once you’ve taken on your chosen building firm, you will work with them to produce a detailed plan and contract, called the Caderno de Encargos. You’ll probably want your architect to oversea this.
The Caderno de Encargos is a comprehensive document. It can help to protect your interests throughout the duration of the project. It should include details of phases and milestones, agreed payment and completion dates, and penalties for non-completion. It’s worth keeping in mind that the timings of building projects in Portugal, especially when it comes to legal sign-off, often slip. It’s therefore highly unlikely that the project will finish on the exact date you hoped for!
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The Caderno de Encargos is also very important as a way to ensure you don’t deviate from the original architect’s plans. Doing so could mean you aren’t building in compliance with your planning permission. This could then cause issues in obtaining your habitation license.
While this huge contract and plan may seem like yet another piece of Portuguese red tape, it is there to protect all parties. Covering everything from legal jurisdictions to who’s responsible for clearing away debris, it’s intended to put everything (quite literally) in black and white. It’s worth giving every detail of it your full attention.
One plus side of building your own home in Portugal is that you’re reasonably well-protected if you need to follow anything up after the project is complete. Your chosen firm must legally guarantee against structural defects for five years.
Your chosen firm must legally guarantee against structural defects for five years.
For smaller, cosmetic issues (those generally in the category of “snagging”), the mandatory guarantee is for one year. As such, make sure you keep track of such issues and report them in time.
Building costs in Portugal
Estimating the cost of building a property in Portugal is something of a “how long is a piece of string?” question. However, plenty of people do try to arrive at an average, based on a cost per square metre.
€800 per square meter for a home built to modern standards is a good starting point. However, it’s possible to spend double that on truly high-end materials. At the other end of the scale, you may obtain a quote as low as €500 per square metre if your builder finds some ways to economise.
The best time to build
One last practical issue to consider when finding a builder in Portugal is the best time to build. You need to think about both time of year and the time of day.
Portugal has a (generally) dry and sunny climate, so there’s no time of year that’s completely “off limits.” (That said, in central and northern Portugal, you are more exposed to extreme weather and seasonal differences). Another thing to consider, in areas like the Algarve that are known for tourism, is that many building firms are often very busy with commercial work in the months running up to the peak summer season. Ensure you discuss these things, and that your contract protects you from your builder disappearing off to do other work!
Finally, keep in mind that Portugal has strict noise regulations around building work. These can vary from area to area, but broadly you should only be creating construction noise between 7/8am and 7/8pm. This includes noise from internal works – something important to keep in mind. Fines can be considerable, so make sure you’re aware of the laws, and that your chosen builders conform to them.