We’ve just celebrated our third anniversary, it being three years since we embarked on our latest venture. We were warned by several friends that we could be in for a rocky ride. We didn’t expect it to be plain sailing, but neither did we expect three years later to be still having basic communication problems! And who do we have to thank: Loulé Camara? Our Architect? Our own naivety? Obviously I’m not referring to our marriage, (although we did get wed three years ago) I’m referring to our planning application for a bathroom extension.
We’ve been very happy since we moved to Portugal and have particularly enjoyed developing our garden. We wish we could say the same for our house. The main issue is that we have a very small bathroom: no proper shower and not even a full bath. Having lived in the Sudan, ‘Her Outdoors’ thinks what we have is luxurious, however not everyone likes the ‘Bohemian’ lifestyle. When family and friends stay, we want them to feel comfortable, hence our need for a modest bathroom extension and outdoor shower near the pool.
We employed an Architect to start the planning process in January 2016, thinking it would take probably a year to submit the plans and complete the build. However, three years on, we’ve only recently had our building project rejected, mainly because our annex is not connected to the main building. It seems that even with the best scenario, it’s likely to take at least another 12 months before we can start building.
So why has it taken so long you ask (well you might not ask, but I’ll tell you anyway!). One factor in the process taking so long is because we are trying to follow the ‘correct process’; find an architect, draw up plans, submit an application, find a builder etc. The ‘incorrect way’ is to find a builder, build, then employ an architect to draw up what has already been built. The final stage is to submit the project and argue the toss with the Camara, or get fines/penalties. Many don’t even bother with the final step. Submitting a project that is, fines or penalties are non negotiable! Getting planning approval is essential in obtaining an ‘Habitation Licence‘ which is vital if you want to sell your property.
Perhaps our biggest mistake was that we never met our architect. Because of the language difficulties, it seemed easier to communicate online. We did approach a number of Architects and went with a ‘local’ architect who had a good command of English besides being competitively priced! Or so we thought. During the course of the process we have discovered that he is currently based in the UK and that the business address he uses on official documents is from N Portugal. One of our prime requirements when seeking an architect was a local person, with experience of dealing with Loulé Camara as they are notoriously difficult to deal with!
We knew when we bought the property that the pool wasn’t legal, but this is a common occurrence in Portugal. We were assured that the legalisation process would be relatively straightforward and negotiated a reduction on the price to cover costs. However, when submitting our building plans we discovered that the annex is also not legal and therefore we had to re-submit plans. We have subsequently discovered that some roadside walls surrounding the property have not been included in the project plans. So, more plans to submit!
Apart from realising how gullible we are, we’ve learned quite a lot from the process of buying a property and embarking on building plans. We now know the limitations of building in ‘RAN’ or semi-agriculture zones. We’ve learned that it takes over a month to get an appointment at the Council and that if the Camera official decides to take a holiday then the appointment is cancelled. We know that if we did it again we’d definitely approach it differently:
- Get the full history of the property before you buy.
- Check that the habitation licence reflects the property you are buying.
- Don’t rely on your Lawyer to check all is in place.
- Meet the architect before starting the process.
- Check out the Architect’s credentials, past projects and experience of working with the local Camara.
- Insist on regular communications and receiving copies of any letters etc from the Camara.
- Attend any meetings with the architect and Camara officials where possible.
- Make fee payments based on progress.
Now, where’s that bottle so we can celebrate… or rather commiserate with each other!