Buying a home in Portugal is one of the most significant purchases you will ever make, and it is wise to invest in the services of an independent, English-speaking Portuguese solicitor, who will oversee the whole purchase process, and advise you on tax and inheritance issues. This is even more important if you aren’t a fluent Portuguese speaker, as they will be able to guide you through every detail of the transaction so that you fully understand the contract and any/all supporting documentation.
Navigating these dealings in a foreign country like Portugal, where you may not even understand the language and customs, can make matters just that bit more intimidating.
Here are three tips for dealing with legal matters in Portugal.
1. Always employ your OWN lawyer
The golden rule of any business dealings in Portugal (or anywhere else, for that matter) is to always ensure that you have a lawyer working entirely in your interests.
The key example is when buying a property. Estate agents may try to make things easier for you by recommending their own “partner” lawyer. This doesn’t necessarily indicate that anything underhand is going on, but it does mean the lawyer in question has conflicting loyalties.
Seek a recommendation and approach a lawyer yourself – that way you know that they are working for you and nobody else.
2. Ensure costs are clear from the start
Business dealings can be strangely casual in Portugal – it’s all part of the culture. If you’re used to a more “Northern European” way of doing things, this vagueness can be hard to get used to.
One thing you mustn’t allow room for doubt on is what you’re going to be paying for services – find out up front and get a quote in writing.
On the flip side of the coin, don’t be surprised if your lawyer takes ages to bill you after completing work. The relaxed attitude tends to affect both ends of the transaction!
3. Think about all the things a lawyer can help with
It may well prove useful to retain the services of your lawyer after your primary business (probably buying a home) is complete. They can help with all kinds of other matters, from residency issues to buying, insuring and taxing a vehicle, if you’re struggling with the language.
A small sum expended on having your lawyer check over things you’re signing is always money well spent!
Don’t confuse a solicitor, employed by you alone to protect your interests, with a notary. While Portuguese notaries are legally trained and compulsory for any property transaction in Portugal, they are employed by the government, and so officially do not act for either the buyer or vendor. The role of a notary is to oversee and rubber-stamp the paperwork in a property transaction, check all necessary taxes are paid and register the property with the Portuguese Land Registry.
Your independent solicitor will ensure your contract and property are exactly how you (their client) want them. It’s a good idea to have an idea which solicitor you might use when you start house-hunting. You will need to sign a contract or pay a deposit very soon after having an offer accepted - to protect your interests, your solicitor should check any paperwork or payment terms.
You may wish to have a survey carried out on the property before buying it your solicitor can organise this and if the outcome doesn’t put you off the property, any defects detected will enable you to negotiate with the seller over price or request they are rectified before the sale.
Your solicitor will review the sale agreement, verify titles and carry out other checks to ensure that you’re protected. Independent solicitor fees will vary but, as previously stated, will typically be 1-3 per cent of the purchase price, depending on both the property and firm - and there may be a minimum charge.