Discover more from Expat in Portugal
Everything you read suggests that the Portuguese are bogged down in paperwork and bureaucracy. We are always warned that it will take months to accomplish something that should only take a day. Well, I will admit the Portuguese love paper… but I have a somewhat different view on how long things take.
Let me take you on a little journey down memory lane:
Denise and I first toured the property we ultimately bought in July 2021.
We signed a contingent Promissory Note in August. The agreement required us to submit a plan to the city by the end of September that would generally allow for the renovations we sought (i.e. to convert the hall into a single-story house. It also required the câmara (city council) to provide approval for those plans by 31 December 2021.
We received the approval of our proposal 6 weeks later. While this was longer than we were told by the seller to expect, it was shorter than our attorney expected. (Note, he was the one that insisted we include the 31 December date.) And given the fact there was an election impacting the mayor and other public officials in the town, it was pretty quick.
Our lawyer (using our Power of Attorney) closed on the building on the 19th of November.
We then worked with an architect to create the final plan. She submitted this to the city on 14 January. The submission was about 1” thick. (NB: architects in Portugal define the physical space. They do not provide structural engineering, electrical plans, etc. For these things, you must contract with one or more technical engineers.)
While we were waiting for the architectural approval from the city we asked our technical engineers to begin work. We received the approval of the architectural plans on 4 February (2.5 weeks after they were submitted).
All of the engineering plans were submitted on 11 March. I wasn’t provided a hard copy of this submission, only an electronic one that was so large that it required zipping and “dwg-ing” to send to me. I am certain at least another inch or two of paper was submitted to the city.
On 21 March, just 10 days after the submission of the technical plans, we got another email. Our technical plans were approved.
These sorts of emails are frustrating. First, in VRSA, you get an email that basically says you are getting an email. I have received several of these emails but for some reason always feel compelled to run them through my translator. Attached to the email is a PDF. I haven’t figured out how to copy and paste the text of the PDF into a translator app, so instead, I take a photo of the page and then have PT Translator read the photo. But even after it has translated the page, you are left with a question. What does this mean?
I had been told that once the city approved our plans we would be required to begin construction within 12 months. I could kinda make out “12 meses para solicitor a respective licença de contruçao” (12 months to apply for the respective building permit). This had to be it. I yelled to Denise, “We got it…well, I think we got it.” But there were four pages related to water and sewer attached. Why?
I called Ana, our architect. I sent her the PDF. She started reading, but said, “Hmmm…give me a few minutes to call you back.” When she called back she said, “You are approved. It took them many words, and I have no idea why they had that whole section about water, but you are approved.”
Not so Fast
“So all I have to do is take this paper and my Multibanco card to the câmara to get my building permit?”, I asked.
She replied with the Portuguese equivalent of “Not so fast Chemosabe!”
It turns out there are a few more steps. There is something called the Blue Book, that costs 12€. There is the Health & Safety Plan that has to be written and costs 120€. There are the licenses and insurances from the builder, the architect, the engineers, the person that will oversee the Health & Safety Plan (her name is Patricia), and the person that will oversee the builder (in our case Ana, our architect). Certain that I would miss something, I asked Ana to pull together everything. Once all this paper is pulled together, Ana and I will go to the city and I will pay for the building license. Do I know how much that will be? Nope, I don’t have a clue.
I do know that for every month throughout construction I will have to pay 150€ to Patricia so that she can make 2 visits each month to the construction site. Her job is to ensure that hard hats are on heads and hard-toed boots are on feet. She also has to submit a report to the city each month. Does the builder have insurance? I believe he does. Does he want his workers to get hurt? I think not. Regardless, this oversite is required.
Ana, will also visit the site about twice a month to ensure that everything is being built and finished the way we like. This is caused Fiscalization of the Construction and is also required. Her fee is 250€/mo. While we have built and renovated many homes, it appears I am not permitted to oversee the build myself.
As our builder has estimated that the build will take 12 months1 … when you add the 23% tax to both of their fees, we will end up paying nearly 6000€ in fees just to oversee the builder. Of course, if the build takes longer these fees will increase.
So What Have We Learned?
Well, I have learned that there are some steps in the process and some laws pertaining to oversite that make absolutely no sense to me. I have also learned that while there are a lot of steps, the city’s approval process has not been an obstacle. The last two approvals were each completed in under 3 weeks. There are many cities in the US where one can’t get approval that quickly. So, while I suspect that there are places in Portugal where approval is more protracted; so far, Vila Real de Santo Antonio has done a good job.
We just received a bid from our contractor. It came pretty much in line with what we expected, though several items were not included. Building material costs are changing nearly every day and he is having difficulty determining the cost of windows and doors. However, he did comment that he hoped to complete the build more quickly (perhaps 8-10 months). Insert fingers crossed emoji!
Next Week: back to the hospital and a little town call Alcoutim.