How to find property in Portugal

Criteria to keep in mind before choosing the house

Portugal may be a fairly small country; it's only thirteenth in size in the EU, at 91,568 square kilometres, less than a fifth the size of France or Spain. But it's still sizable enough and diverse enough that you'll want to do some research first to work out exactly where you want to buy - in one of the cities, on the coast, or inland? In the sun-soaked south or the verdant (but sometimes rainy) north?

It's not just about geography. It's also about the choice of a very different lifestyle, depending on whether you pick the bright lights and tourist trams of Lisbon, the beaches and resorts of the Algarve, or the slow pace of life in a mountain village. Do your research - even if that means renting a place for a few months to take the temperature of local life.

You'll want to think about transport links, too - notoriously slow on the Silver Coast north of Lisbon, much faster on the Algarve. If you're looking for a holiday home you might want to be reasonably close to an airport: Lisbon and Porto are the major hubs, though Faro also has an international airport.

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Steps to find your dream home

1. Use Properstar

Once you've chosen an area (and especially if not yet), start looking seriously at properties. Use a comprehensive property search on Properstar with a large number of local agents bringing you a good selection of properties for sale.

Using various styles of search can help you refine your ideas; you could search by budget to see what you can get for your money, but you could also search by the size of property, or amenities such as a swimming pool or balcony.

2. Contact agents

Once you have seen a number of places that fit your criteria and your budget, it's time to contact agents. Remember not just to enquire about a single property, but also ask if there are other possibilities that fit your requirements. If you're clear in explaining your priorities, a good agent may be able to suggest properties that fit the bill, and might also show you properties that are just coming on the market. You are free to contact multiple agents and select one of them. The agent's fee is normally paid by the seller.

Agents will usually take you to see the property by appointment - there's no culture of 'open house' events.

3. Prepare to view

An agent may ask you to sign an agreement with them before being shown properties. There's nothing wrong with agreeing that if you purchase a property you see with them, you'll do it through the agency, but be sure that you understand exactly what you're signing. And remember, too, to check that the agency is registered with the Associação de Mediadores Imobiliarios.

On the Algarve and in some other tourism-orientated locations you'll find agents who are orientated towards dealing with foreign purchasers, with English-speaking personnel.

Properties in popular locations

Buying without an agent

Woman sitting on stairsQuite a lot of property in Portugal is sold without going anywhere near an agent. Owners simply put up a sign saying 'Vende-se' ('for sale'). If you know exactly the area you want, perhaps having stayed there on holiday several times, this might be a good way to find a home, but it's realistically only going to work if you speak at least basic Portuguese or have a local friend who's happy to help out. You'll also want to be very confident that your estimate of the property's value is accurate - again, that's only likely to be the case if you've known Portugal and the particular area for some time.

Remember to allow adequate time to see houses properly, and even perhaps time for a second visit to one of them if you're close to making an offer. Even in quite compact areas or single towns, don't budget for more than six properties a day or you're likely either to run out of time, or to be skimping on your inspection. In rural areas with a drive down twisty lanes between houses, you'll probably manage even fewer.

This may sound like hard work, and it is. But it's worth getting it right - whether you're aiming to buy a rental investment or to buy a dream home, you want to make sure your eventual purchase ticks all the boxes. And you know, after a hard day visiting houses, as you relax with a glass of wine by the waterside, or a hearty Portuguese meal in a backstreet cafe, you might have to admit that it's been quite fun, after all!