Land Hunting in These Annoyingly Uncertain Times

Buying Land in Portugal

With 2020 being a completely ridiculous year, my plans have basically been thrown in the bin and I’ve spent most of April to June flipping and flopping about what to do with myself – both for the rest of this year and going into the next several years. Even for me, the queen of non-commitment, it’s been an extreme display of indecisiveness. While I realise how fortunate I am to be healthy and to have options, I had become a ridiculous person, changing my mind weekly about what to do with myself. I pity the friends who had to listen to my ever-changing, hair-brained schemes.

Some Main Contenders

Here are a few of the fine, flip-flopping ideas I’ve had since April…

  • Buy a piece of land in Portugal – This has always been my original plan but it seems to come and go as other whims take my interest. I’d had the Azores in mind at the beginning of this year and that’s why I planned to spend the summer there. With that out the window, I started to think more seriously about buying in this area in Central Portugal. Up until recently, I’d done a lot more thinking than actually taking any action and looking seriously.
  • Make a Rwanda tourist map – When I arrived in Portugal in mid-March my plan was to spend most of 2020 working on a new map of Rwanda to sell as part of my Africa Guide Maps series. Unfortunately, working on a Rwanda map doesn’t make much sense when global tourism is totally shut down and nobody will be able to afford ads on my maps to get the project off the ground. Not to mention that nobody will need to buy maps of a place they can’t get to. So that plan has been nixed in favour of tinkering around with some other mapping stuff and teaching myself some new nerdy, software-related things.
  • Go back to school – With my income at zero for the foreseeable future I found myself in student mode and decided to do a bunch of self-learning in the realms of GIS and online mapping. I started a course in this stuff way back in 2017 but only finished two out of the three modules. My idea was to finish the third section of the certificate and then roll that into an expensive, 2-year Masters programme with the eventual idea of working in GIS in the humanitarian sector. That meant the land idea would be on hold for the foreseeable future. Having my livelihood disappear overnight had me a bit nervous and I felt like doing a Masters would a good way to have a few more work options up my sleeve for the future. I sort of freaked out a bit at my lack of higher education beyond an undergrad degree, but I’m over that now. Education, edushmation. It’s always something I can return to later when the cash is flowing again.
  • Learn French – This is possibly my most ridiculous idea since I live in Portugal and don’t yet speak that language. In April and May I spent about six weeks diving back in to learning French. The idea was that having a second language is important for doing humanitarian work and I already speak some French, so it would be the easiest language for me to learn. Despite not being able to communicate with the local cafe owner in Portuguese, I spent my days studying French. Rather absurd, yes, but lots of people in Portugal speak French as a second language so that help be justify my strange decision.
  • Cycle trip to Brittany – Actually this is probably my weirdest idea. With learning French in mind, I felt like going on a trip to France would be a good idea once things started to open up again. Brittany has always been on my radar and I’ve wanted to go on a long distance bike trip for years, so the idea was to hop on a train through Spain (in the rain?) with my bike and gear and pedal my way north to Brittany. But really… spending money on travel during these uncertain times is probably my dumbest idea yet and France isn’t going anywhere so that’s been put on hold.
  • Work exchanging as a natural builder – This is where I’m at right now and it’s been great. I’ve been able to save my dwindling pennies by continuing a work exchange setup at my friend’s place that began last summer. I work in exchange for food and accommodation but it’s all super flexible and I just work whenever I feel like it. Plus, I get to work on building a cob wall and I get to do it on my own. This might sound torturous to most, but I love the time it gives me to tinker and experiment and really get to learn what I’m doing. I’ll write another post on this experience but it’s working amazingly well so far and I’m very grateful to have the opportunity and to be trusted with the project.

Buying Land in Portugal

Back to the Original Idea

So… ya. As you can see, I’m sort of all over the place. Complaining about having lots of options would make me a horribly ungrateful arsehole, and I realise how lucky I am. But, for me, having options seems to lead to a sort of paralysis of action and I end up not really doing anything I intended. Fortunately, I’m loving being back in Central Portugal and I seem to have come full-circle back to my original plan of buying land here.

I’d always been apprehensive about buying something here without first exploring the rest of the country but I like this area and my gut says – yay! Plenty of others have explored all around Portugal and settled here so I’ll trust that they’re here for good reason and spare myself the travels and the time. The Azores was out there drifting in the back of my mind but I really think I’ve fallen in love with this area and the community here so it seems like I’ve finally decided that buying land in Central Portugal is what I’ll do. As indecisive as I can be, once I finally decide I really decide and tend to follow through. So I guess I’m sticking around in Central Portugal and buying land, after all!

Land Checklist

I’d assume that everyone who is looking for land has a list of their must-haves and wants and, as I get more and more serious about buying a place, I’ve started to put some thought into really nailing down what it is I want from that elusive perfect piece of property. Finding something that checks all of the boxes isn’t easy, but knowing what the boxes are is an essential starting point.

Buying Land in Portugal in Uncertain Times

The Must-Haves

  • Water
  • Good access
  • Sunny
  • Ruin in any state
  • Away from a main road
  • Space to host friends and family (existing building or a place to build something)
  • Under a hectare

The Nice-to-Haves

  • Private but not isolated
  • Paperwork that allows building and habitation
  • Shops within cycling distance
  • Swimming pool, lake, or river withing cycling distance
  • Established fruit trees
  • Pond
  • Space to build a workshop
  • Space to camp
  • Close to friends
  • Close to a village
  • Friendly neighbours
  • Combination of good soil and opportunities for regeneration
  • South-facing
  • Enough space for building opportunities to keep me busy
  • Flat-ish (or at least not mega hilly)
  • Under half a hectare

Fears and Apprehensions

While this is all super exciting, I’m also finding things a bit scary at the same time. I seem to have a lot of fears associated with buying land in Portugal, but nothing I can’t work through!

  • Committing to a place – I’ve got no problem committing to and diving into a huge project… I look forward to that sort of a thing. But the idea tying myself so securely to one place makes me feel somewhat uneasy. Since graduating university back in 2001, I’ve basically been wandering around the world doing fun things. I’ve lived in various places for long periods of time, but I never felt tied down and, because I work for myself and live cheaply, I always had the time and money to travel. But buying land here in Portugal will suck the ol’ bank account dry and, once I start planting things and possibly getting animals, I’ll really be tied down to the place. It’s a slightly scary proposition because it’s not something I’ve done before and a lot of my options to do other things will disappear as soon as I commit to being here. But this is something I’ve wanted for a long time – to feel more rooted in a community and to really be somewhere. So, while it’ll be something new and way out of my comfort zone, I’m looking forward to seeing what this new lifestyle might bring. But… it’s still scary.
  • Lack of income – When I think about buying land here in Portugal the main thing on my mind is money. I have savings to buy land and a car, set a few things up, and to live very cheaply for at least six months, but that’s about it. Normally I wouldn’t be too worried since I have a website and maps business that brings in a modest amount each month that I can manage online, so if money gets low, I can just cut my spending and wait for some new sales. But Covid-19 has thrown a massive spanner into the works and I’m not sure when things might get going again. It’s one thing to not have any money saved, it’s a whole other things to not have an income. I obviously didn’t ever expect the world to shut down, so I don’t really have a contingency plan. In the past, if my business were to collapse for some reason, my plan was always just to get a real job… but jobs are few and far between these days. So I’m sort of left in a limbo where I might not earn anything for at least six months or, likely, even longer. It seems like a stupid time to spend most of my savings and this is my main worry. On the other hand, in this weird new world, perhaps having a piece of land is the smartest move to make. I don’t know, but I tend to follow my gut even when it’s risky, and I’ve been a lucky bugger so far. So it might be an interesting and stressful ride, but I think I’m going to push past the fear and just go for it.
  • Where to start – This will be a fun challenge and one that I’ll take my time with… but where do I even start? What do I do first? What should my priorities be? It’s all a bit overwhelming when I stop and think about it. I think the lack of money will force me to go really slowly and spend a lot of time thinking things through, and that’s how I prefer to do things anyway. I’m sure the picture will become clear with time. I have plenty of friends in the area I can bug with all of my questions, but it’s still a daunting task turning a piece of land with a ruin into something habitable and beautiful.
  • Driving – This is probably weird to most people but I think my main block on buying land is needing to buy a car and then needing to drive that car. I’ve only owned a car once in my life in New Zealand for a whopping four months. Otherwise, for the past 20 years I’ve lived in places where I didn’t need a car to get around. My parents have a giant SUV-type-thing that I don’t want to drive and so I’ve basically not really driven for 20 years and I’m super out of practice. I know I’ll get back into the swing of things fairly quickly, especially if I can find a small car, but it’s all a bit daunting. The idea of buying a car and petrol and insuring and maintaining it is also financially worrisome. I just need to get over it because life without a car here would be pretty difficult, especially with a piece of land to manage and build on.
  • Language – Sadly, learning languages isn’t something I’d say I’m good at by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve spent well over a decade learning French on and off, really giving it a good go at times and I still speak like a three-year-old, at best. It’s important to me to learn Portuguese to a reasonably high standard and this is a task that seems like it might be a bit beyond me. I’m having fun with some apps, I’ve got an audio course that I really like, and I even bought myself a little lesson book – but I feel like I’m just sort of playing around. As soon as I get a car I’ll sort out language lessons. The local council run a free, six-month course for immigrants that I’ll eventually attend but that’s all called-off due to Covid. My plan is to see about one-on-one lessons which probably isn’t something I can afford for the long term, but my hope would be to get to a place where I can at least communicate the basics and then grow from there.
  • Fear of isolation – This is something I’ve been apprehensive about ever I’ve had since I had the idea to buy land way back in 2016, but I can safely say it’s not something I’m worried about anymore. But since the fear of being isolated was with me for so long, I figured I’d mention it. I’ve moved to plenty of places in my life and I love the excitement of it and I’ve always managed to find wonderful friends and interesting things to do. But moving to the countryside in Portugal is a lot different to setting down roots in a city and I’ve always been a bit apprehensive about being isolated and lonely. I’d had visions of buying some piece of land in the back of beyond, meeting nobody, and eventually accumulating 34 cats and being that lady. I’m totally ok being on my own – most of my hobbies are solo affairs and I’m rarely bored – but I like the option to be social when I feel like it. After spending three years here coming and going, I’ve met plenty of people in this area who live on their own and love it. I also seem to have found friends who work really hard on their land but make sure to take time out to do social things as well, so there always seems to be something interesting happening or a dinner to go to. So if I end up moving to this area, I certainly won’t be afraid of being lonely.

I Think I’ve Found Land!

Buying Land in Portugal in Uncertain Times

And the big news… after three years of coming and going to Portugal I think I’ve finally found a place that checks most of my boxes at a price I can afford in a location I love! It’s a commitment and it’s terrifying but my instincts are telling me to go for it and it feels like the right spot. I found the land on the Pure Portugal website and I’ve agreed a price of €13,750 (bargained down a bit from €14,500) with the sellers. The next step is for them to mail a key to their land manager so I can see inside the building and to have him show me around the land’s borders.

So we’ve agreed in principle and I’m just waiting around for a key to whiz its way here in the mail. Hopefully it’ll arrive this week and by next week, I’ll have a deposit down and feel more comfortable that it’s locked in. The owners are out of the country now but they’re super responsive and they want to complete the sale in September, which is perfect for me.

It’s all rather exciting! I’ll write another post about the land once it’s more of a done deal. Otherwise I’ll just sit tight, think (fret) about buying a car, and wait for keys to come in the mail.