Portugal is a great place to live, with friendly people, good climate, good food, wine and superb countryside. It is also the fourth most peaceful country in the world.
In deciding where to live and what type of property to purchase, we tend to take into account cost, whether to live in a town or in the countryside; whether to purchase a new property, live in a traditional ‘quinta’ or simply purchase land and build from scratch.
These are aspects that estate agents can help you with when selecting a property. Other aspects, not so frequently asked, are those concerning safety and security – after all, your investment is important as well as your wellbeing and quality of life.
Portugal is one of the safest places to live in Europe, but it is important to take safety and security into account when choosing a home. As we get older, this becomes more important.
How many people do you know are downsizing, not necessarily because the place they live in is too large, but simply because the cost of upkeep is too high, or they are no longer physically able to maintain it.
Safe Communities Portugal has undertaken research into this and has produced a checklist, “Moving to Portugal – deciding where to live”. Before any suggestions that this may put people off coming here, I suggest just the reverse – by following this, it will help people decide what the best property is for them, taking into account the factors identified.
The choice of location is really important. If choosing a rural property, consider matters such as the distance from police, ambulance and fire services, and how long they will take to reach you in an emergency. Do they know the location of the house? It seems obvious, but many rural properties are not served by roads that have names or numbers.
Although English is widely spoken in the Algarve, it may be less so in some other places, especially in remote locations. If you speak Portuguese or can learn it, great. But, if not, this is an important factor to consider, especially in emergency situations.
Although you may have a car, what happens if it breaks down and you need to get somewhere quickly? Are there public transportation services available?
Communication is vitally important – so check the availability of the internet with various service providers to ensure they adequately cover the area with a reasonable download speed; particularly relevant if you need assistance.
Consider the property’s likely resilience to the extreme weather that we can experience here in Portugal. Many people may view a lovely house whilst on a summer holiday, but when it comes to winter, it may be in an area liable to flooding. Research is important.
Although the crime level is one of the lowest in Europe, some areas may have some local crime problems. A good way to check is to ask people in the area or visit the local bar and speak to residents. On the other hand, do not give away too much about your personal circumstances to strangers.
Some areas near the coast may be very crowded with properties fully occupied during the summer but mostly unoccupied during the winter season. Thieves prefer to target such areas. Check if the area is served by the GNR Safe Residents Programme, which ensures a fast response to crime emergencies.
Getting to know neighbours is perhaps the most important way to ensure that you have trouble-free relationships in the future. Of course, neighbours can change, but, in rural villages, they and their families may have been there for generations. Do they appear friendly and accommodating to foreigners? Most problems we come across are due to the breakdown of relationships with neighbours. This can be because of barking dogs, noise pollution, failure to clean land to prevent the spread of fires and so on. For those living in more urban areas, it is wise to check if the neighbour rents the property to tourists, which could present problems with loud music parties, for example.
Choosing a property
When viewing a new property, there are a few things to check as far as safety and security are concerned.
If it has a security alarm system, check that it works and upon taking over the property change the password. If it does not have one, consider the need.
Most importantly, check if the property has previously been broken into, as this sort of information may not be volunteered by the agent concerned. Ask neighbours.
A matter often overlooked is the sustainability of water supply. Does it have a cisterna, borehole or town water? What happens if the borehole fails? Is there a local water supplier? Is there a sewage system?
Fires in rural areas are an ever-increasing problem. Laws are in place to ensure that at least 50 metres around your home is properly managed to reduce the spread of fires to your home. Check that you are physically able to do this, or if not that you have the resources to pay others to help.
Lastly, when you move in, some simple measures to take include changing locks on external doors, especially if it has previously been rented. If I were to do a survey now, I would guess that the percentage of people who do this is low. But if you are spending €300,000 on a property, an extra €300 to change the locks is a good investment.
Taking time to research and consider this issue will help avoid problems later on and ensure that you choose a location and home which is right for you.
By David Thomas
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David Thomas is a former Assistant Commissioner of the Hong Kong Police, consultant to INTERPOL and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. In October 2011 he founded Safe Communities Algarve an on-line platform www.safecommunitiesalgarve.com here in the Algarve to help the authorities and the community prevent crime. It is now registered as Associação SCP Safe Communities Portugal, the first national association of its type in Portugal, with a new website www.safecommunitiesportugal.com launched in May 2015. He can be contacted at [email protected], or on 913045093 or at www.facebook.com/scalgarve