It’s common for foreigners in many countries, particularly Britain, to use an agent in their own country who works in co-operation with Portuguese agents and developers. Many Portuguese agents also advertise abroad and in expatriate magazines and newspapers in Portugal. Most Portuguese agents in resort areas such as the Algarve have staff who speak English and other foreign languages. If you want to find an agent in a particular town or area, you can look under imobiliárias in the local Portuguese yellow pages (available at main libraries in many countries).
Portuguese estate agents are regulated by law and must be professionally qualified and licensed ( mediador autorizado). You should choose an agent who’s a member of a professional association such as the Associação de Mediadores Imobiliários (AMI), Sociedade de Mediação Imobiliária or the Associação dos Mediadores do Algarve (AMA). Ask to see an agent’s licence, which should be displayed.
You may also be afforded extra protection if the agent is a member of an international organisation, such as the European Federation of Estate Agents. However, although they’re licensed, agents in Portugal aren’t regulated, don’t require professional indemnity insurance and aren’t bound by consumer protection legislation.
The rules for estate agents also apply to foreigners, who cannot sell property in Portugal without a full Portuguese licence (although some Portuguese agents are little more than sleeping partners in foreign-owned companies). However, there are a number of unlicensed, amateur ‘cowboy’ agents operating in Portugal (particularly in resort areas), who should be avoided.
If you pay a deposit to an agent, you must ensure that it’s deposited in a separate (preferably bonded) account. Note that not all Portuguese agents have indemnity insurance and even when they do it’s limited to a relatively small sum.
There are no government controls on agents’ fees in Portugal, where an agent’s commission is usually between 5 and 10 per cent and allowed for in the sale price (so is effectively paid by the vendor).
Foreign agents located abroad often work with Portuguese agents and share the standard commission, so buyers usually pay no more by using them (check, however, that this is the case). Also check whether you need to pay any extra fees in addition to the sale price (apart from the normal fees and taxes associated with buying a property in Portugal).
If possible, you should decide where you want to live, what sort of property you want and your budget before visiting Portugal. Obtain details of as many properties as possible in your chosen area and price range, and make a shortlist of those you wish to view. Usually the details provided by Portuguese estate agents are sparse and few agents provide detailed descriptions of properties. Photographs may not do a property justice. It’s also possible to view properties via the Internet.
There are no national property listings in Portugal, where agents jealously guard their list of properties, although many work with overseas agents in areas that are popular with foreign buyers. Portuguese agents who advertise in foreign journals or who work closely with overseas agents usually provide coloured photographs and a full description, particularly for the more expensive properties.
The best agents provide an abundance of information. Agents vary enormously in their efficiency, enthusiasm and professionalism. If an agent shows little interest in finding out exactly what you want, you should look elsewhere. If you’re using a foreign agent, confirm (and reconfirm) that a particular property is still for sale and the price, before travelling to Portugal to view it.
A Portuguese agent may ask you to sign a document before showing you any properties, which is simply to protect his commission should you obtain details from another source or try to do a deal with the owner behind his back. In Portugal you’re usually shown properties personally by agents and won’t be given the keys (especially to furnished properties) or be expected to deal with tenants or vendors directly.
You should make an appointment to see properties as agents don’t usually like people just turning up. If you cannot make an appointment, you should call and cancel it. If you happen to be on holiday it’s okay to drop in unannounced to have a look at what’s on offer, but don’t expect an agent to show you properties without an appointment. If you view properties during a holiday, it’s best to do so at the beginning so that you can return later to inspect any you particularly like a second or third time. Portuguese agents don’t usually work during lunch hours and most close on Saturdays and Sundays.
You should try to view as many properties as possible during the time available, but allow enough time to view each property thoroughly, to travel between properties and for breaks for sustenance (it’s mandatory to have a good lunch in Portugal).
Although it’s important to see sufficient properties to form an accurate opinion of price and quality, don’t see too many in one day (around six is usually a manageable number), as it’s easy to become confused over the merits of each property.
If you’re shown properties that don’t meet your specifications, tell the agent immediately. You can also help an agent narrow the field by telling him exactly what’s wrong with the properties you reject. It’s wise to make notes of both the good and bad features and take lots of photographs of the properties you like, so that you’re able to compare them later at your leisure (but keep a record of which photos are of which house!). It’s also wise to mark each property on a map so that should you wish to return later on your own, you can find them without getting lost (too often). The more a property appeals to you, the more you should look for faults and negative points; if you still like it after stressing all the negative points, it must have special appeal.
Most agents and developers arrange viewing trips with inexpensive accommodation for prospective buyers, and usually refund the cost if you buy a property. By all means take advantage of inspection flight offers, but don’t allow yourself to be pressurised into buying on a viewing trip. Allow sufficient time to view and compare properties from a number of agents and developers. A long weekend isn’t long enough to have a good look around, unless you know exactly what you want to buy and where, or are planning to view one or two specific properties only.
Most agents offer after-sales services and will help you arrange legal advice, insurance, utilities, interior decorators and builders, and offer a full management and rental service on behalf of non-resident owners. Note, however, that agents often receive commissions for referrals and therefore you may not receive independent advice (you can always ask). Many agents will also handle the legal side of a sale (conveyancing), although this may be risky and it’s best to employ an independent lawyer. You should never allow an agent to do the conveyancing if he’s acting for both the seller and buyer.
This article is an extract from Buying a Home in Portugal.