House Hunting in Portugal: A Light-Filled Villa for $847,000

The Four Percent


This three-bedroom, three-bath contemporary house is just outside Marco de Canaveses, a mountainous city of about 50,000 residents in northwest Portugal, an hour east of the coastal hub of Porto.

“This house was very personally constructed,” said Luisa Correia, the listing agent at Sotheby’s International Realty’s Porto office. “The owner is an engineer and his son is an architect, so they were very much in sync with this house.”

Built in 2003, the 5,661-square-foot house sits on a terraced hill overlooking the Douro River, the waterway once used for the transport of port wine. The one-acre lot, which is secluded by trees and natural hilly contours, was originally occupied by a granite-block farmhouse, the ruins of which were incorporated into the construction.

“The concept kept the traditional, local character and at the same time introduced a very modern perspective,” said Pedro Pinto, the home’s designer, noting that the site echoes the agricultural stone terracing system known as “socalcos.” “The house’s complete integration into the natural environment considered the pre-existing trees, rock formations, morphology of the ground, its geology and human occupation.”

The entry level includes the kitchen and a mezzanine dining room, and connects to an annex containing the bedrooms, which feature Jatoba Brazilian cherry-wood flooring and oak wall panels, all chosen from sustainable sources. Ample storage closets line the hallway. The master bedroom includes an en suite bath with a hydromassage tub.

The kitchen has a large, stainless-steel, cantilevered counter housing a dual gas and electric cooktop, and extends into a dining surface that seats six. Integrated appliances are by Bosch, and the cherry-wood cabinetry was designed by the Danish company HTH. Local craftsmen worked on finishes, such as the granite floors and an adjacent outdoor dining patio built with stones from the previous structure.

A bathroom, laundry and pantry off the kitchen lead to the four-car garage. Some furnishings may be negotiated separately.

The lower level, reached by an open staircase, includes the expansive living room, with a double-height ceiling, two glass walls and a pellet-fueled fireplace. Sliding glass doors lead to an elevated wood deck overlooking the valley. Stairs lead down to the terraced garden, which is planted with fruit trees, flowers and natural fauna.

A planted garden covers 80 percent of the rooftop surface and assists with energy efficiency.

Marco de Canaveses is known for its undulating topography, with some areas in the Aboboreira and Montedeiras mountains reaching nearly 2,000 feet above sea level. The coastal city of Porto — home to port wine, which is named for the city — is 45 minutes west, as is Francisco de Sá Carneiro International Airport.

Porto’s metropolitan-area population of about 1.3 million makes it Portugal’s second-largest city, behind Lisbon, the capital. With its historic river, Atlantic Ocean coastline, UNESCO-recognized city center and modern airport, Porto (called “Oporto” locally) attracts significant international investment, said Gustavo Soares, managing director of Engel & Völkers Porto.

“In the last decade there was a strong public and private investment in the old town,” he said, resulting in a “complete changing of the city.”

Mr. Soares pointed to new luxury hotel projects and renovations of houses in the city center for use as Airbnb rentals. Investment, he said, has “evolved throughout the city, especially closer to the river and the sea.”

Adrian Bridge, CEO of the Fladgate Partnership, a port-wine producer, said foreign companies view Porto as an “open and safe place to do business,” noting that the city has boosted its profile in recent years by luring high-tech businesses such as Vestas, a wind-turbine company, and evolving from traditional textile industries to high-tech fabrics.

“We look at California slightly when we look at dynamic places with new technology,” he said. “Why not have that here?”

Mr. Bridge has played a part in the city’s renaissance: In 2010, the Fladgate Partnership built the five-star Yeatman Hotel, and the company now has plans to open a 323,000-square-foot World of Wine tourist attraction in its warehouses in the Vila Nova de Gaia neighborhood.

In Porto’s historic center, Mr. Soares pointed to a three-year trend of 20 percent year-over-year price increases in the premium housing segment, which he said begins at 300,000 euros ($325,000) and averages 650,000 euros ($705,000). Houses in the upscale seaside neighborhood of Foz do Douro can fetch up to 3 million euros ($3.26 million).

Last year, the institute reported, the country’s north region, which includes Porto, was responsible for 39.3 percent of the total building permits and 42.9 percent of licenses for new family housing construction.

The institute noted these figures do not reflect the current conditions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and it expects that “analyzed trends will change substantially.”

Mr. Soares said the pandemic is “testing Portugal as a country and the health of our institutions,” but expressed optimism.

“Of course in the last month things have been down, but I think the crisis has normalized the market,” he said, noting that escalating asking prices required a market correction. “I think that the market was needing this.”

Ricardo Costa, an agent with Christie’s International Real Estate in Porto, said “the mechanisms for recovery already exist,” citing Portugal’s participation in the Golden Visa program, which grants residency permits to non-European Union residents who buy property valued at 500,000 euros ($543,000) or more.

“With this crisis I think things will change,” Mr. Costa said. “I think people will look to have more space and spend time outside. We already have seen this shift in the inquiries.”

Pedro Soares, an agent with 100 Domus in Porto, said Portugal’s location in southwestern Europe attracts a wide swath of buyers: “It’s appealing for its strategic location that easily allows it to establish connections with Africa, Europe and the American continent.”

Porto has long been popular with British and French buyers, as reflected in its prestigious international schools. The city also attracts Brazilians, thanks to a shared language (though different dialects), and increasingly more buyers come from Asia and Israel, said Gustavo Soares of Engel & Völkers.

Mr. Costa noted that Americans make up about 15 percent of his sales in value, and “about one quarter of our sales” in volume. He noted that most of his clients are looking for three- or four-bedroom condominiums in the 1 million to 1.5 million euro range ($1.1 million to $1.6 million) — “something with style that is affordable luxury.”

There are no restrictions on foreign buyers in Portugal. Notaries or specialized attorneys can assist with the transaction. Either party can hire the agent, but both must appear on the day of the public deed, said Eugénia Bessa, a notary in Porto.

The fees are based on the “complexity of the work to be performed by the notary and the amount of the transaction,” she said, adding that on average, the process can cost between 1,000 to 2,500 euros ($1,090 and $2,720).

Portuguese; euro (1 euro = $1.09)

Leonor Monteiro, a real estate attorney in Porto, said there is no transfer tax for properties purchased as a primary residence for less than 92,407 euros ($100,000). Above that price, the taxes increase on a scale to 7.5 percent. Taxes are slightly higher for properties purchased as a second residence. The value-added tax is 23 percent on the notary fees.

The real estate agent fees, typically 6 percent, are paid by the seller.

The annual property tax on this house is 270 euros ($293).


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