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Our Forever Home
Yes, We Have Said That Before
If you are a regular reader you know that we have been in search of the place (city and building) that will become our forever home. We think we may have found it. Like many of you, we are in search of paradise.
Like many of you, our first consideration was what city/town. And, if you have spent time in Cascais, you might find it has a lot of draws: great weather, lots of fun activities, superior infrastructure, tons of amenities. But you may have also set a budget. We had, and we thought our criteria were pretty simple:
2 full bathrooms;
Space to entertain;
Outdoor space (ideally yard or courtyard) for Onix, with room to grow some veggies;
In the center of town (to grab a coffee, to chat with shop owners on our regular dog walking route, to feel the hustle and bustle of a town);
Under €700,000 (as I write this, that’s about $750,000).
If you search really hard, you can find an apartment for that amount…but it won’t have a yard (may not even have a balcony). We even looked at non-traditional sites (an 80-square meter former restaurant for half a million that would have required at least €200,000 in renovations…but no outdoor space, too small, and lots of stairs). If you are willing to take the train or bus to Cascais, you can find a property. São Joao do Estoril, Parede, or Oeiras are just 10 minutes by train to Cascais and 20 minutes by train to Lisbon. But even there, you will need to search a lot.
But at the same time, there was the draw of small-town life, first sparked by our trip through the villages of Scotland. And Denise continued to insist that Cascais, “really isn’t Portugal.” As a Swedish woman, we golfed with yesterday said, “This is not Portugal…this is Cascais… a playground for non-Portuguese.” Yeah, but what a playground.
And so we extended our search south; largely because several of our friends had recently settled in the Eastern Algarve. We made several exploratory trips and returned again and again to Vila Real de Santo Antonio. We liked:
The size: population 11,000 - 12,000,
Its proximity to Spain,
Number of available golf courses,
Town square, and wider/flatter streets,
Bike paths to Castro Mirim, along the river, and through the “pine barrens” to the beach,
Real estate is more affordable, leaving money to buy a small boat.
Tavira has better restaurants…but is just 25 minutes by train (we prefer public transportation after dinner that includes a bottle of wine). And yes, it is a long drive from Lisbon but you can take public transportation and spend a few days in the city to get your culture “fix”. And since traveling in Europe was a big part of why we moved, its proximity to Spain was a draw. Finally, though there is a tourist season it is not Albufeira. (If you get my drift…)
God Help Me, I Need a Project
And truth be told, I need a project. I love the thought of taking a building and turning it into a home. It was this, rather than profit, that called me to “flipping” homes when we lived in Florida. (Note: I never gave up my day job…but I was in outside sales with very flexible hours…insert wink emoji here.) Now I was younger then and had my own knees. I won’t be able to do a lot of the work that I did on those properties…but I can still get out my graph paper (and bother the architect ) and provide project management (i.e. terrorize the builder).1
On July 11th we found a building in VRSA. It is one block from the town square and 1.5 blocks from the river. The current building is approximately 170 square meters on a plot that is 185 square meters. We believe it was built in the early 1900s…but finding an exact date is difficult. It was once a fisherman’s association/union hall. It was being sold with planning permission to make it into a two-story, nearly 3000 square foot, 4 bedroom+library, 3.5 bath home. We don’t need anything that large.
We put down a 12.5% deposit and signed a Promissory Note in early August. It took that long for the lawyer to do his due diligence and to negotiate the terms that allow us to get our money back if the city does not approve our revised plans for a one-story, 170 square meters home by December 31st. Because everyone was on vacation in August, the revised plans were not submitted until September. We were assured it would take only 3 weeks…at least that is what the seller said. Our lawyer suggested 3 months.
Last Friday, we received a call from our realtor. He is friends with the new mayor, who as a favor looked into the status. We were assured, verbally, that the plans have been approved and we should receive the official document “in the next few days”. (Still waiting…) A few days would be very, very quick. Our architect said with this approval she can start working on the final drawings. First, we will need a seismic survey to determine how much reinforcement will be required and if we can save the roof. We would have done the survey anyway, but the city started requiring it for any construction approved after July 2021. She expects that it will take 3 months for the city to approve the detailed drawings and issue the building permit. (Oye!) So if all goes as planned, we will purchase the building in November and perhaps begin construction in March. (We assume December is just like August.)
Editor’s Note: At 10:00 this morning we received the approval documentation via email. I guess we are moving…
Since making this decision I have become absolutely obsessed with a few BBC shows that I have found on YouTube. (The House that 100 Pounds Built, Restoration Home, The Restoration Man.) I watch at least one episode in bed every night. (Yes, I know blue light is harmful to sleep … I told you, I am obsessed.) And I don’t mean to offend anyone, but there are some pretty eccentric (aka crazy) Brits! They all underestimate how much it will cost. Typically they haven’t even secured those funds yet. They underestimate the build time…doesn’t matter if it is January or October, they all say '“We’ll be in this Christmas’. A family of five cram into a caravan in Wales in the middle of winter. They take on jobs better left to professionals. (Okay, I once rewired a room in our house…but I read a how-to book and watched several YouTube videos first.) And even I know that renovating a 100+-year-old building in Portugal will be a bit different than a 50-year-old house in the states.