Obviously this will depend on whether it’s an old house in need of complete restoration, a property that has been partly or totally modernised, or a modern home. One of the problems with a property that has been restored is that you don’t know how well the job has been done, particularly if the owner did it himself. If work has been carried out by local builders, you should ask to see the bills.
Some simple checks you can do yourself include testing the electrical system, plumbing, mains water, hot water boiler and central heating. Don’t take someone else’s word that these are functional, but check them for yourself. If a property doesn’t have electricity or mains water, check the nearest connection point and the cost of extending the service to the property, as it can be very expensive in remote rural areas. If a property has a well or septic tank, you should also have them tested.
An old property may show visible signs of damage and decay, such as bulging or cracked walls, rising damp, missing roof slates (you can check with binoculars) and rotten woodwork. Some areas are prone to flooding, storms and subsidence, and it’s wise to check an old property after a heavy rainfall, when any leaks should come to light. If you find or suspect problems, you should have the property checked by a builder or have a full structural survey carried out by a surveyor. You may also wish to have a property checked for termites, which are found in many areas of Portugal.
A Portuguese buyer wouldn’t make an offer on an old property before at least having it checked by a builder, who will also be able to tell you whether the price is too high, given any work that needs to be done. However, it’s unusual to have a survey ( inspeção) on a property in Portugal, particularly a property built in the last 10 or 20 years. Nevertheless, some homes built in the 1970s and 1980s are sub-standard and were built with inferior materials, and even relatively new buildings can have serious faults. It’s important to check who the developer or builder was, as a major company with a good reputation is unlikely to have cut corners. A property over five years old won’t usually be covered by a builder’s warranty, although warranties are transferable if a property is sold during the warranty period.
If you’re buying a detached villa, farmhouse or village house, especially one built on the side of a hill, it’s always recommended to have a survey carried out. Common problems include rusting water pipes and leaky plumbing; inadequate sewage disposal; poor wiring; humidity and rising damp (no damp course); uneven flooring or no concrete base; collapsing façades; subsidence; and cracked internal and external walls. Some of these problems are even evident in developments less than five years old. A good yardstick to use is that if you would have a survey done if you were buying a similar property in your home country, then you should have one done in Portugal.
You could ask the vendor to have a survey done at his expense, which, provided it gives the property a clean bill of health, will help him sell it even if you decide not to buy. You can make a satisfactory survey a condition of a contract, although this isn’t usual in Portugal and a vendor may refuse or insist that you carry out a survey at your expense before signing the contract. If a vendor refuses to allow you to do a survey before signing a contract, you should look elsewhere.
Some foreign lenders require a survey before approving a loan, although this usually consists of a perfunctory valuation to ensure that a property is worth the purchase price. You can employ a foreign (e.g. British) surveyor practising in Portugal, who will write a report in English. However, a Portuguese surveyor ( agrimensor) may have a more intimate knowledge of local properties and building methods. If you employ a foreign surveyor, you must ensure that he’s experienced in the idiosyncrasies of Portuguese properties and that he has professional indemnity insurance covering Portugal (which means you can happily sue him if he does a bad job!).
Discuss with the surveyor exactly what will be included, and most importantly, what will be excluded from the survey (you may need to pay extra to include certain checks and tests). A full structural survey should include the condition of all buildings, particularly the foundations, roofs, walls and woodwork; plumbing, electricity and heating systems; and anything else you want inspected such as a swimming pool and its equipment, e.g. filter system or heating.
A survey can be limited to a few items or even a single system only, such as the wiring or plumbing in an old house. You should receive a written report on the structural condition of a property, including anything that could become a problem in the future. Some surveyors will allow you to accompany them and provide a video film of their findings in addition to a written report. For a property costing up to €150,000 a valuation costs around €325, a homebuyer’s survey and valuation €550 and a full structural survey some €800, which is a relatively small price to pay for the peace of mind it affords.
Before buying a home on its own plot of land you should walk the boundaries and look for fences, driveways, roads, and the overhanging eaves of buildings that might be encroaching upon the property. If you’re uncertain about the boundaries you should have the land surveyed, which is wise in any case when buying a property with a large plot of land.
When buying a rural property in Portugal, you may be able to negotiate the amount of land you want included in the purchase. If a property is part of a larger plot of land owned by the vendor or the boundaries must be redrawn, you will need to hire a surveyor to measure the land and draw up a new plan. You should also have your lawyer check the local municipal plans to find out what the land can be used for and whether there are any existing rights of way. The town hall will provide a certificate ( parecer camarário) specifying what can be built on a plot of land.