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José ‘o agente imobiliário‘ pulls up to the gate of the property just outside Parades de Coura, in the beautiful Portuguese countryside, and quickly points out the cute chapel at the end of the dead-end street. He asks me to listen to the birdsong and the little creek burbling undisturbed by traffic or other noises. The property is looking good, so I ask José to show me inside.

It is 5:30 am in Canada, and I have just woken up, while Jose’s day is nearly half-over. The video tour is thorough, informative and hides nothing. He tramps through underbrush to show me the stream at the back of the property and explains how the Ecovia trail runs alongside, then crosses, the turbulent water. In fact, he gives me quite the tour! Not once but twice, going back a second time to film the property inside and out, complete with commentary which he sends to me via Whatsapp.

Against my better judgement, I am buying a Portuguese property without actually being able to go there, due to Covid restrictions here in Canada. Agents have already conducted several video tours for me, with questionable success, managing to show me houses without exposing their faults, which have included mould, water damage, broken floor tiles, leaky roofs, dark interiors, terrible views, barking dogs, crowing roosters and bramble-filled, snake pits masquerading as gardens, all things easily spotted during an in-person visit.

AGENT ONE The first agent I asked to perform a video tour for me visited a rural country house and literally RAN through it, giving me two minutes of footage inside and outside the property, without a single word of commentary. Tom Jennings, of TJ Property Inspections visited the property and his thorough report included water testing, video footage, measurements and a repair estimate, plus a video conference to discuss his findings.

AGENT TWO Toured a lovely townhouse in need of much renovation, with my Portuguese friend in tow. He called me and I viewed the house remotely, with my friend commenting in the background. Agent Two gave me a hard sell, trying to force me into making a quick bid far exceeding the asking price, stating that there was a bidding war going on and that I needed to buy NOW…Just to be sure, I sent the details to Tom Jennings. He felt the property was overpriced and that renovations would be expensive. My friend concurred. But Agent Two did not give up, attempting to pressure me into buying a cave-like house in a tiny village far from the coast; I had to tell him firmly that I was not interested. His next move was to offer to be my agent and search for properties for me, splitting the commission with the selling agent.

AGENT THREE Showed me a dilapidated house in a beautiful coastal village, also visited by my loyal friend. The result of Tom’s investigation here was a horrifying state of disrepair. The overpriced house had badly slanting floors, termites, rot, mould, a rotten view of the sea, a vicious neighbouring dog, and an overgrown and inaccessible garden. Without Tom’s common-sense advice, I might have bought the property on the recommendation of others, leading to vast overspending on the purchase price and subsequent renovations.


Navigating through purchase of a home in Portugal without seeing it can result in disappointment and needless expenditure. Extreme care and due diligence are necessary: there are no perfect properties and expectations may not be met even in ideal circumstances.


If you have a friend who can visit a property for you, ask them to go. There is a limit to how many times this favour can be requested without annoying others, so choose your properties carefully. Make sure you debrief your friend afterwards, perhaps with a video conference. Take your friend out to dinner, or send them a gift voucher to compensate for their time.

Generally, it is a good idea to hire an expert to inspect the property for you, particularly if it is an older house.

Use a real estate agent you trust. Get recommendations from friends and other experts in the field.

Know the area in which you want to buy, and what prices are like.

If renovations are needed, talk to architects, contractors and the local Câmara before purchasing to find out what local regulations may affect your plans. Get a rough idea of availability of workers and services as well as prices in the area. Ask for local recommendations of trusted tradespeople.


Have a lawyer lined up to draw up the legal paperwork for you and to investigate all deeds and other associated legalities of the transaction for you. Don’t try to handle this yourself! Agent three tried to tell me that I need only write him a cheque for two or three thousand Euros in order to put a deposit on the house, which would be refunded should I decide not to buy it. This is not true. All such transactions should be handled by a lawyer.


Home inspections are pretty much de rigueur in many jurisdictions (particularly Canada), and can be used to force sellers to make repairs as a condition of purchase. That is not the case in Portugal, where property inspections are uncommon, though an inspector’s report could be used to help reduce the final purchase price.

“If all the property details are clarified in one or more video tours”, says agent José, “there is no need urgent for the buyer to have a professional inspection of the house. A professional property inspector can be a big help but can also frighten a buyer away. The inspector may find a simple crack and give a big explanation about it and propose a lot of repair options, when most of the time, it’s a simple fix worth 50-100€. If the house is 30 years old, and the pipes are original, then I know that I will spend money and time replacing them, but if the pipes were new, the asking price of the house would be different also. If you buy a newly-constructed house, you have a five-year warranty. If it is a used house, then there is no warranty because the contract stipulates that you are aware of what you are buying and its conditions”


José has had several clients who contacted him while living abroad but only two of them closed a property purchase without seeing in person, one of them for a 1.2M€ apartment in Cascais. Another couple rented a 2.000€/month apartment, also in Cascais, having never visited Portugal. José explained the town’s history, told them about the area, and sent them videos. José advises prospective virtual buyers to always use a real estate agency and to check it out first. “90% of realtors have professional social media profiles, so you can search them to see if they are real professionals.”

“If a real estate agent keeps constant contact with you, that means that he is focused on your goals and cares about you. He will always try to find the best solutions for you. What I do is try to understand your position. You don’t have the knowledge that I have of the country, the area, the property and the procedures, so I will always try to clarify it for you.”

Such a relationship takes time to build, says José “Trust your feelings. If you start to gain a relationship of trust with the agent and you believe it’s worth it, then keep it. Because I can tell you that there are not too many willing to spend their time with clients that are miles and miles away.”

“Ask everything you want to know; ask to see in detail everything you want to see. I always try to show as many details as possible in these calls. But if someone doesn’t do that, ask for it! At that moment, during that call, that agent is your eyes, so you need to see the same thing that he does. Both need time available for these calls, which cannot be done in five minutes.”


If purchasers want to buy, José advises the contract be in two languages, so the buyers can understand what they are signing. Check all the information matches what has been said to you. Trust the contract, not what has been said verbally. “This is the big step, where you are making a contract, giving money, and saying that you agree with it, so if something is suspicious, don’t sign; ask for clarification.”


“Most foreigners that I work with are recommendations from previous clients and friends” says José . “Contact a real estate agency in the area where you are looking to buy a property. By the type of answer you’ll get, you’ll be able to feel if it’s worth maintaining a relationship or not”.

“Social media helps with this. You can get a lot of ideas and feelings online, looking through the real estate agents’ profiles. At first glance, most of them say the same thing, but once you approach them, you’ll see that you’ll get different kinds of answers. Then you’ll see which one fits you better.”

Searching adverts on portals like Pure Portugal can also be a helpful way of putting you in contact with estate agents, you can see the properties you like the look of, send a contact form and be directly connected with the seller, enabling you to see what their response seems like, you will then have their contact details to be able to go on and check them out online and seek references and reviews.


“Our contract is always with the seller” says José “but we only make money if we can also please the buyers, so as professionals we should always get the best agreement for both parties. In this matter, we should always be impartial and try to find the best match for both. If the buyer is happy he will bring me more business and the same with the seller. So, a trustworthy agent will never choose one side to the detriment of
the other.”

“Also, if the agent is only worried about selling you the most expensive property, even if you say that you prefer another one, then he is only focused on money, and not on you.”


“We often ask for a partnership between agents,” says José “Imagine this: you contact me and you want a specific product that I don’t have, but I know that another agency has on their roster. I contact the other agency, ask for a partnership, and in the end, we split the commission. Fine, totally normal. But, if you go directly to the other agency, talk to an agent, and after this you come to me asking for help, for a virtual visit or whatever, because you want the property that the other agency is selling, but you want to close the deal with me because you trust me, wrong! Big mistake! If you reach the other agent directly, they are going to tell me that you are registered in their database, and they are not going to share any commission with me.”


“If you find a good trusty real estate agent, don’t try to do his job and later ask him for help” says José . “Even if you see a property listed with another agency, let him know which one it is and he will make the contact for you”

ASK THE EXPERT: TOM JENNINGS – Property Inspector, TJ Property Inspections

PP: Are all real estate agents trustworthy?
TJ: Sometimes not! There are good and bad in all trades, bad agents have a main trick which involves square meterage on residences. I looked at one recently advertised at 63m2, and the internal measurement was actually 28m2! Other tricks include using old photos of properties which might be as much as 15 years out of date, or using unusual photographic angles to make the residence look larger.

PP: How do you find one that is trustworthy and will work in the buyer’s interest, not only the seller’s?               
TJ: Finding a real estate agents who can act as a buyer’s agent for you is a good idea. You can ask an agent to work for you and they will split the commission with the seller’s agent if you purchase a house.

PP: What should an agent do to give the buyer a really good video tour?
TJ: Ask the agent to film in every corner, to get up on the roof, and to talk all the way through the video about the good points and bad points of the residence. The agent should have some tools on hand, such as laser distance measurers, to be able to give a full description of what is going on. Ask them to look underneath sinks, and at drainage systems. Get them to knock on things and open fuse boxes. The more they can show and discuss, the better for the client.

PP: Is it vital that a buyer personally inspect a house before buying it?
TJ: Yes, it is vital. Everyone has a different idea of the perfect setting for a house. I do not like doing inspections for people who have not seen a house. The house could be nice but the area could be rubbish. Most people decide when they are outside the house if they are going to buy it or not, rather than when they are inside. A house can be repaired, but a poor area cannot.

PP: Should a professional inspector view the house before the prospective buyer closes the deal?
TJ: An inspection is the only way to be totally sure of the condition of the property.

PP: Does a professional inspector add value to the buyer’s decision to purchase? If so, how? If not, why not?
TJ: A professional inspector adds value to the buyer’s decision. His or her report tells the buyer the structural condition of the house, and if a cost analysis is included, this tells the buyer how much it will cost to bring the house to a good standard.

This analysis goes over every element of the building:
– how much does it cost to have the electrics and plumbing upgraded?
– if there are structural faults can they be repaired and what is the cost?
– what is the condition of the roof?
– is it good for one year, five years, ten years?
– how much does it cost to replace?

PP: How many people have you been in contact with you who want to purchase a house virtually, in other words, who live abroad and want to buy a house without seeing it?
TJ: Dozens of people have been in contact with me about buying a house virtually. Many people have looked at one, two or three houses with me.

PP: What steps would you advise them to take?
TJ: People who do buy a house virtually are leaving themselves open to exploitation by dodgy agents. They are being told they are getting a great deal when they are not. The only way anybody should be buying a property is to come to Portugal, to look at a house, and once they are 100% sure they want to buy a house, ask me to come and do a full structural and elemental inspection of the property. I know hundreds of realtors, I know what is good and what is bad. Contact me, keep me in the loop, get me to help you find a buyer’s agent. Send me links, I can be beneficial through the buying process right to the final moment.

With many thanks to Leslie Smith for making this article for us!

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