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Swimming in Mayonnaise
Renovation Twists and Turns
WARNING: If you are thinking about renovating/building a property in Portugal and you are not a very even-tempered, calm, uncomplaining, long-suffering, UBER-chill person, stop reading now! It’s fine with me if you skip today’s post and meet me back here on Tuesday.
Swimming in Mayonnaise
I met our architect, Ana, at the camâra (city hall), on Wednesday (18 May). As she approached I asked her if there was an expression in Portuguese for the feeling one would have if they were swimming in mayonnaise. She laughed, and said, “Sim… frustrante”. Frankly, “frustrating” doesn’t come close. Prior to the last four months, I never actually thought about swimming in mayonnaise. No, this is not some newfangled beauty regiment taking the Continent by storm. Instead, it is exactly how I have felt!
The thick white goo covers my eyes, so I am never quite sure where I am. I raise my arm to propel myself forward, but I don’t move an inch. As hard as I kick, I continue to sink deeper.
Denise, somehow, seems oblivious to the entire process. “It will get done" … “The world is not ending” … “I really don’t understand why you let it upset you so much.” I assume she thinks her words will make me feel better … somehow it makes me feel worse.
Okay, I have bitched and complained enough. Let’s get to three reasons why we still have not started demolition.
#1 - The Building is 13 Square Meters Bigger
Way back in January, Ana submitted the “final” architectural plans to the city. At that time she mentioned to me that the building was actually 13 square meters larger than was on the original documents. Yippee! She explained that I needed to contact my attorney and have him submit the appropriate paperwork to correct the “registration”. The registration must be correct to request your building permit. I immediately contacted the attorney who had represented us in the purchase and he said, “Yep, we know all about it. We are on it. Just have your architect send us the document with the correct measurements and we can take care of it. It will only take a day or two.” As we were still waiting for the technical/engineering projects we had 4-6 weeks to get this done.
I really can’t tell you who (besides me) dropped the ball. Ana points at our attorney, he at her…and I should have known better and have been bugging both of them several times a week. Long story short, the new registration did not get submitted to the city until 15 March. As the engineering projects were also on their way to the city, and we expected that approval to take two weeks … I figured all was well.
Honestly, I am not exactly sure what happened over the next 9 weeks. When I ask my attorney for an explanation he shakes his head and says he has done this dozen of times and has never seen such a “goat rodeo” (my expression…not his, I don’t even know if they have goat rodeos in Portugal). After being shuffled from department to department within the city, the document found itself in Finanças (the national taxing authority). After some time there and literally dozen of phone calls to his office, our attorney drove from Faro to VRSA for a face-to-face meeting. I attended, though I only understood every fifth word.
The good news is that Finanças agreed to give us the corrected registration. The bad news is that they are claiming when we bought the building we paid the transfer tax on a home rather than a commercial building and that we now owe them approximately €9,000 more. The city had approved the transformation to a house before we bought the property. The deed says house. But Finanças says they don’t care. We are appealing. My hope is they swim in mayonnaise until we complete the demolition or the renovation.
#2 - A New Builder
You may recall that we had spent a lot of time with a builder in Tavira named Vasvi. Vasvi is a great guy and his wife makes one heck of a delicious cake. When we got his quote I was a bit taken aback … but you pay for quality right? We immediately agreed to the price and contacted his suppliers to begin the process of picking out finishes. I also asked that he send his contract. It was in reviewing the agreement that we encountered two issues. The first was the percentage of funds he wanted to secure the contract and complete demolition. According to his payment terms, he would have had 50% of our funds after demolition. He negotiated a bit on this issue … but frankly not a whole lot.
The second issue related to the VAT … the taxes paid on building supplies. We had been told that we would be able to pay only 6% tax, rather than the customary 23%, because we were renovating a property in the historic zone. But Vasvi’s contract said 23% and he was unwilling to even discuss this. “What if my attorney shows you the national decree?” Nope! “The city said they would provide me with a document to provide to your suppliers.” Nope!
On our renovation, that 17% difference will amount to at least €40,000.
Our realtor told us to look elsewhere. And so we did. About one week after I had hit the wall with Vasvi, I met with Jóse1 … a local builder with lots of experience in the historic zone. He turned around an estimate and contract within a week. He said he could start in May … but don’t expect it to be one day shorter than twelve months. His price was about 5% less, he understood and accepted the lower tax rate, and his payment terms were more backend loaded. Our one challenge is he does not speak a word of English … so I am feverishly studying a Quizlet deck of Portuguese construction terms.
#3 - 10 Days Later
The corrected registration (#1 above) was provided to the city on a Friday. My lawyer said, “All done, you can apply for your building permit.” Oddly enough, this was the same day I signed the agreement with Jóse. On Monday, I called my architect and asked when we could meet in VRSA to apply for the building permit. She again mentioned the registration. “It’s okay,” I explained. “That was completed on Friday.” She called the city to confirm and explained it still wasn’t resolved.
Yes, the city had received the paperwork.
Yes, they acknowledged having received it.
Yes, it appeared to all be in order.
But I had to wait to receive an email from them saying that they had accepted it.
When Denise heard my scream I swear she ran to the kitchen door blocking my entrance to the drawer with the sharp knives! I continued to call Ana every day. To pacify me she called the city every day … even though she said it likely would not do any good. However, finally, on the 17th they got tired of her calls and sent me an email within minutes. We met the following day with a ream of paper. The clerk reviewed the documents and agreed everything was in order. Now I sit and wait for another email. This one will tell me to go to the tax office and pay for the building permit. Pray this is the last step!
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Editor’s Update: I typically write posts 10-14 days ahead so that an unexpected event does not delay publication. Am I, Type A? Yes! Anywho…it is Friday, 27 May as I write this. I was walking in town this morning when I noticed that there was no one waiting in the building department. What the heck …. why not see where things stand? The attendant I had met before greeted me and explained we were missing one document from the Health & Safety officer. I immediately got Patrícia on the phone, she emailed the document and I was told to go across the hall to pay the €1,066.25 fee. I returned with the receipt and was told I could return on Monday morning for the permit. If all goes as planned, men should be smashing things as you read this.
Next Week: you basic €100 lunch, and perhaps there are goat rodeos in Portugal.
Happy accident: a friend we golf with had suggested we contact a builder she had had a great experience with. But at the time we were way down the road with Vasvi. When we decided to take another look, we contacted her asking for the builder’s number. Yep … the same Jóse.