Saturday, 29 October 2016

We didn't know what we would find after leaving the house untended for ten weeks...

November 2014 The first return trip…We had already booked our return flights in August before we completed the sale, now we invited my father and booked a flight for him to join us. But he had a new girlfriend he was clearly smitten with. So like parents taking a teenager’s friend on holiday so they will be entertained, we decided we would invite Dad’s new friend Wendy who we had not yet met. We collected them on the way to the airport and met Wendy for the first time. Fortunately she was lovely and a pleasure to have along and best of all she kept my dad company.
It was nearly 11pm when we arrived at the house tired and hungry, having stopped at a services hoping for hot food but finding only pastries on offer. During the drive my anxiety about the house having been left untended for ten weeks had grown but pulling up at the gate, it looked exactly as we had left it. We opened the door and went inside. It looked as it had when we left but the open windows had left it feeling chilly and damp and smelling ever so slightly musty. Gerard and I made coffee and found some snacks for our guests then went to make beds up for them and explore room by room. Thankfully all was well and my worries of the last ten weeks were unfounded.
By daylight the next morning, we could see that the humidity had taken a toll and everywhere that human bodies had touched had grown a faint fuzz of mildew. This included door and cupboard handles, light switches and the backs and arms of chairs. Fortunately a wipe with a damp cloth or brushing down with a clothes brush got rid of the problem but it demonstrated why it was not good for the house to be left closed for any length of time.  
Outside the garden, which had been parched in September, was sprouting all manner of weeds up through the brita which is not laid on a semi-permeable membrane. Without irrigation the only big plants doing well were aloes and cacti but little green shoots were everywhere. Over our stay I had a go at weeding but it is such a big area that with photos due to be taken, I needed to ask Andrew, the pool man, to arrange for some weeding to be done to get the garden photo ready. How to best manage the garden has remained an ongoing issue. The weeds make the outside space look unsightly for guests and grow all the time apart from the height of summer when it is too dry and hot. They have continued to sneak up on us and for the last year we have agreed with Andrew that his team will keep on top of them. I supplement this by always doing some weeding when I am here. I am looking forward to being able to landscape one day but this will be expensive and needs some real thought put into planning it and computer controlled irrigation systems are also expensive to install and run.
We had a list of tasks we had to achieve during our stay and chief amongst them was setting property management in place. We had met Karen and Rob in September but it felt unsatisfactory to settle on them without seeing what other options we had so we had set up some interviews with other businesses. Although there are plenty of options on the south coast, the Vale da Telha is quite short on well-established property management businesses that can be found in the internet from the UK.  Our house rental this had to succeed for us and that meant it had to be sustainable ie with a licence, tax affairs in order and reliable property management which would establish and maintain a good reputation. The other people that came to see us that week offered plenty of positives but we thought long and hard and decided on the winning duo of Karen and Rob who we had met in September. As a result we contracted both of them and remain more than happy with their service two years later.
One big factor was trust as we felt we could trust both of them. Don’t underestimate the importance of trust in this relationship as there are so many ways that you can be ripped off. If you don’t trust them at the beginning the business relationship will soon start to flounder under suspicions. While I stress that we trust the people that stand between ourselves and our house, this is not an unconditional trust and I do keep an eye and ask questions. Apart from anything else, I want them to know I am not giving them free rein and that I expect accountability and transparency from them. I would also say here that the trust is a two-way street and as they have got to know us they have been able to see that we are trustworthy people who take seriously our obligations in terms of keeping our house at a high standard. And their reputations also stand or fall on the quality of the houses they manage. Deciding who would look after the house was a big weight off our minds as it meant that there would now be people locally keeping an eye on the house.
Karen came to see us to discuss how we would market the house. We agreed that we would plan to have the house ready for Easter which was at the beginning of April and this would require ‘Start of Business’ paperwork to be registered for then. She suggested rental prices from Peak (1250 euro) down to Winter Season (450 euros) which we were happy to go along with recognising her superior local knowledge. We also discussed the set-up of the house in terms of bedrooms and the requirements of the tourist licence. We had the potential for four bedrooms but at this point we really only had two viable bedrooms. We decided that what we needed to do was to create a corridor down the side of the twin bedroom to access the furthest en suite bedroom and also create a wall with a door in it to block off the kitchenette that formed one corner of the en suite bedroom (which had been a sitting room). On plans this kitchenette area was shown as a storage space and we would take it back to a storage space for linen/towels and cleaning materials which could then be locked for the cleaners. Karen said she would speak to a builder she uses and come back to us with a quote.

Meanwhile she would proceed with meeting the criteria for the tourist licence. One of the criteria was that the gas tank had to be checked and Andrew our pool and garden guy had had to clear a shrub which had grown too big beside it as its roots could grow into the pipework. This was no loss as it was leaching horrible black sticky sap onto the tiles and windows on that corner of the house. This was just one of many tasks she had to oversee. We were starting to realise that our garden had beneath it a maze of pipes and tanks which needed to be considered in any and landscaping and planting schemes we came up with. Many plants, evolved to survive in these hot, dry conditions, have tenacious root systems designed to force their way down through gaps in rocks and make the most of small amounts of water so, gardener, beware! 

Friday, 28 October 2016

Internet Banking – Terror at you finger tips!

October 2014 We returned from our first trip with some basic instructions for online banking from the UK. We had put some surplus money into a Savings account at our Portuguese bank as I wanted to ensure that if someone committed fraud and cleared our current account they wouldn’t have access to all our funds! The staff in the bank in Aljezur had patiently taken time to explain how to perform basic functions like moving money from savings to the current account and vice versa.
First things first, I needed to make a payment to Karen to kick start the tourist licence application. But back in the UK what seemed obvious when it was explained was no longer obvious. First find your bank login page. Well, this bit was all in Portuguese and I could make out something about business and personal customers so after several goes I got there and I made sure I saved the page to my favourites. 
In goes the ‘No. Adesao’ and the ‘Codigo Secreto’. At the point of login there is a chance to select English or Portuguese versions. This is fine if you want to access your current account but the savings account does not show up in the English version. So you have to log out ‘Sair’ and log back in to the Portuguese version of the account to reach your savings account ‘Poupancas’. Then try to make sense of the ‘Meu Menu’. Recently this page had changed and I had to work out that I needed to select ‘A Minha Carteira’ ie my wallet. Then to move money you need to select either ‘Mobilizar’ or ‘Reforcar’ depending which way you want it to go and is it the whole amount or only part of it? Today (Hoje) or a later date (Agendar)? The first time I had to work through this and press the ‘Confirmar’ button (pretty obvious, that one) was quite scary as Portuguese bank numbers are long, very long and not obvious with lots of 000's and gaps and I wasn’t sure if the money was going to end up in my current account or somewhere else altogether. I am still getting to grips with NIB, IBAN and Swift numbers and the difference between transferring a payment to another customer of the same bank or someone from a separate bank altogether. I need to add at this point that all these Portuguese words have been learnt through trial and error – mostly error. 
When I needed to set up some standing order payments this was a really test of nerve and steely determination. There were all sorts of options for putting references and sending an SMS available to me. But I could have been sending money to Jose Bloggs for all I knew.
 Using the little credit card key (chave) system of verifying payments was another test for someone used to a rather more sophisticated Pinsentry system.  
One day I got totally stuck as I had had a letter from the bank in Portuguese and I was unable to decipher the formal commercial language that banks use. Usually I get by, by opening another tab on the laptop and having a translate open to check out specific words and phrases but this time I was completely scuppered. I girded my loins to phone the telephone number at the Lisbon head office expecting to have to do a bit of ‘Bom dia, voce fala ingles?’ or to cope with a system offering me all sorts of ‘If you want… press…’ options  - in Portuguese of course. I have to say that I spoke to a human straight away and they spoke excellent English. Would we offer as much to someone phoning from another country to a UK bank? I think not.

It’s getting easier now my Portuguese is improving but internet banking…it’s definitely been one of the challenges.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

There's a lot to think about when you rent out a holiday home

September ’14 … So much to do, so little time. We were due back in 10 short weeks. I can see from my records that one of the first jobs I did on returning home was transfer to Karen the money to proceed with the tourist licence application. I remember returning with a lot of paperwork relating to the house purchase, utilities, receipts etc which needed sorting and filing. My spreadsheet had new tabs with ‘to buy’; ‘to make’ and ‘to do’ lists. I tried to allocate costings to keep a check on the spending but it is often the littlest things that add up to inconceivable amounts especially when multiples of items are bought. For instance we recently bought waste paper bins for the bedrooms which don’t have en suites and were surprised at how the cost of even the most modestly priced ones added up.
The weekend following our return, I was out shopping for curtain material. I have never bought a pair of curtains in my life as I always make my own and now I had five pairs to make in the next two months, ready to be shipped prior to our next visit. The first decision was on colour schemes. I fancied a bright clear blue accent colour for the sitting room but realised that the sofa, chairs and some of the décor I was going to send out were red/ochre/brown and that watching pennies was going to be critical so I really needed to go with what I had. Bedrooms were easier as the master bedroom had perfectly acceptable sheer purple curtains (which just needed a liner sewn in) and the other rooms were a blank canvas. I wanted to create a house that was fresh and white with a strong accent colour in each room which would look good in photos. I also intended to make cotton cushion covers to complement the curtains in each room and dress the beds. In a bargain bin I found the perfect fabric for the hall – a white background with a bold red, espadrille print – in keeping with an Iberian holiday theme, I thought. At the same time I found an offer on hotel quality bath towels in a discount textile shop locally and bought 24. At this point the house became a curtain factory for a few weeks.
Apart from curtain making we were also busy shopping. We had got a clearer idea now of what we would buy in Portugal and what items we would have more choice and competitive pricing for in the UK. I have stayed in many holiday rentals over the years and one of the things I most hate is a sense of petty meanness in terms of equipment. I wanted our house to be the sort of place that when you think, ‘Oh, we need a …..’ you turn around and find it in a drawer or cupboard as if the host has anticipated your every wish. I also wanted a sense of generosity especially with kitchen equipment, as it is a disappointment to find exactly the allocated number of crocks, glasses and cutlery so everything has to be washed up to be used again – you don’t have to do this at home so why should you on holiday? Another pet hate – no big saucepans! Why do hosts think you can cook a meal for six in saucepans that you can’t boil six eggs in never mind pasta! My house was not going to suffer these fundamental flaws. I love TKMaxx for good quality pans at good prices. You won’t necessarily get matching sets though but I wasn’t bothered about that, as long as they were hard wearing and stylish.
A trip to Ikea was also a necessity as we needed chests of drawers and bedside cabinets in all the bedrooms and we needed a cheap solution that would do us for now. From the Algarve the closest Ikeas are in Seville and Lisbon, both just under two and a half hours away and requiring the hire of a van or large (read expensive here) car. We decided the cheapest option was to get Ikea to deliver flat packs to Algarve Freight in Essex to ship to us. We chose perfectly acceptable cheap white drawers and bedside tables and arranged an Ikea delivery prior to our next shipping date at the beginning of November. Roll on the completion of the Ikea in Loule next summer 2017!
As I shopped, I was constantly evaluating what we would spend on to buy quality now and what we would accept would need replacing and would expect to be replacing quickly so would not spend a lot on. This remains an ongoing dilemma.
Meanwhile the amount of boxes we were filling was growing like topsy. The new house allowed a great opportunity for offloading duplicates that we had accrued over the years and we went around clearing cupboards out. We also packed up loads of clothes, especially summer clothes, probably too many as for the number of weeks we are currently able to spend in Portugal but it has given me a great excuse to buy more in the UK! The week before we were due to fly back we drove to Essex to drop off our packed boxes at Algarve Freight in a huge round trip from mid Wales ending up at my brother’s in Somerset for the weekend.

Our boxes were on the way and now we needed to get back to our neglected house.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Our first week was an adventure into the unknown

Sept ’14 Our first week continued… We worked so hard that week but we were so happy. When I look back at my life that week is going to be amongst the absolute top No. 1 happy weeks. We barbecued on the neat little Weber BBQ we found in our shed and we had also found a little faded turquoise plastic dolphin left on one of the outside windowsills. When his flipper is pressed an LCD display panel on his back gives an accurate temperature reading. He has become our sentimental little mascot left by Marta and we always make sure he has been put safely away at the end of a holiday. I check him regularly through the day and tell everyone ‘Dolphin says 25.4 degrees’ or whatever the reading is. The house was full of surprise like that waiting to be discovered. It felt like a grown up Christmas present to ourselves.
Meanwhile the ever growing list dictated that we had loads of shopping to do and we ventured out to Portimao and Lagos a few times. Every time we went to do a job we realised we needed another tool so we would reach points in our work where we could not put something up or away until we had bought the right tool. Often not being able to do something meant we could not do something else so it became imperative to go and buy what we needed to get on. 
During the week we made our first foray to Merlin Leroy – a huge store which supplies every DIY and garden project item you could ever need. Gerard could and does loose himself in there for hours. With the advice from a helpful sales assistant we splashed out on a reasonable quality rechargeable drill which has been used endlessly since then. Without his support we would have been reluctant to pay out for a brand name unknown to us but the drill has delivered the goods. Experiences like that have taught us that, although it would be great as a long term goal to speak Portuguese, if you approach someone who cannot speak English they will always find someone else who can to assist you. Over the two years since then we have learnt where we can go in Aljezur and the Vale da Telha for tools and materials but at that point we were still shopping in the bigger stores further afield. And that was very time consuming as it is a 50 minute drive to Portimao.
We regularly went out to eat meals as we were too tired to cook. Our favourite spot was the Café O Ze down the road in Monte Clerigo because it is ‘our’ café on ‘our’ beach. It was busy compared to March when we were last here. It was a good feeling to be out and about as people who ‘lived’ here rather than as holiday makers.
After two years we are starting to get a feeling for the rhythm of the year here now. How all is dictated by the tourist season and the buzz of summer is replaced by the tranquility of winter, followed by the busy preparation of spring. This reflects nature’s own pattern unfolding in the landscape around us. That September, driving down the slope to the beach, the sheltered picnic area was packed with camper vans with number plates from all over Europe. The little car park, which is always filling with sand blown in from the surrounding dunes, was packed with cars and the cabins behind it were full of surfers with their boards propped up outside. Instead of sitting at the tables facing the car park, out of the wind, as we had in the spring, we sat at the front facing the sea. The weather was glorious, hot but not too hot, with perfect blue skies.
Each night we slept like logs on our new bed. We had wondered how we would feel without air conditioning but the house was cool and silent and outside the night sky was ink blue and starry with planes crossing far above on flight paths to unknown lands.
The only fly in the ointment was the flies… or should I say mozzies. The pesky little blighters came out as soon as twilight settled around us and they were so persistent! I had dreamt of sleeping with the windows open and a gentle breeze on our faces but this would have driven us mad in a mozzie feeding frenzy! Instead we had to be proactive about closing all the windows and doors to the bedrooms before sundown to ensure not one of them got in to whine endlessly about our ears in the dark. Note to self - get fly screens fitted as part of long term plan.
Towards the end of the week George the dog came to greet us and snaffle up the remains of a barbecue – he must have smelt it cooking. We have come to realise he is like Jaws – he can smell food cooking at one part per trillions. I also met one of our retired Portuguese neighbours walking his dog.  One day I was in the garden when an elderly woman on a bike with a very weather worn face stopped outside. She mimed whether I had any jobs like weeding she could do. At first I assumed she was Portuguese and it took me a while to understand what she was saying: ‘Ukrania, Ukrania.’ She mimed tears pouring down her face and through a strange form of Portuguese I realised she was telling me her son and grandson were still there. It was chastening to realise that at an age when the older people in my family are kicking back in retirement, she was establishing a hand to mouth living in a new country. One of the reasons we had chosen Portugal is that it is a ‘safe’ country far separate from other war torn spots but as with the UK, those troubles are impacting everywhere.
We had an early flight on the Sunday so needed to be packed and away by am. We packed up, emptied bins and closed most of the shutters and windows on Saturday evening before going out to eat for one last time. Not all the tilt and turn windows or the shutters closed easily and it was a case of having one of us on the outside and one on the inside to push and cajole them into place with help from a tin of WD40. This job alone took nearly half an hour. We had been told it is best to leave a couple of small windows on tilt for ventilation which we did. We had inherited one dehumidifier from Marta but had no way of leaving it running as we had no one to empty it. We put our food into a lidded plastic box to keep it safe from ants and other wildlife. We bought water, UHT milk, some snack food and pop and stored them in the pantry so we would at least be able to have something to eat and drink without going to the shops when we returned. We always keep a starter stock pile now.
On Sunday we were up early to do the final few jobs and leave. We closed the gate and drove away. It was so strange leaving the house when virtually no one knew who even owned it. There was no one to keep an eye on it in our absence and leaving it untended was worrying but it had to be done and the best thing was to not think too hard about it. I had my list with me and we would be back in mid November with more boxes courtesy of Algarve Freight to continue getting the house ready for next summer.

Back at Faro Airport, I had the feeling I still get, of having joined humanity in all its variation again. The hustle and bustle has become an unwelcome wake-up call signalling the transition from one of our lives to the other…
Finding a home for all our stuff
George says hello

Sunday, 23 October 2016

What is it really like to buy a house in the Algarve?

Sept 2014 continued…. We needed other people to support our dream but using the internet to find villa/pool businesses locally with good websites was not proving easy. On the Vale da Telha word of mouth is still king. However I had found a local property management company on line and that week Rob came out to see us. By chance it turned out that Rob and Karen work closely together with Karen managing rentals and Rob providing property management ie cleaning, maintenance, guest welcoming and rental support. This means if the gas runs out, the drains block or the fridge breaks down he is on hand to manage it. If the baby won’t stop crying or the hangover is too bad he will probably help you with that too as he is there to deliver what the customer wants. He viewed the house and worked out what it would require in terms of servicing so that he was able to provide a breakdown of his prices. He said that for rentals we would be required to provide three sets of bedding and towels. A quick calculation told me this was going to be a major expense and that buying cheap was not a saving in the long run. In my opinion there is nothing worse than getting in between bobbly cotton sheets that have been slept in by other people and washed too many times. Ugh!
Finally we met Andrew who runs a pool management and landscaping business. Our pool needed TLC so we shook hands on it on the spot. I knew he was going to be the right person to help me turn my garden dream around and the first thing he did was lend me some gardening books, which would get me on the right track for the hot, dry, climate close to the sea. We would not be able to fulfill our dream of citrus trees here, he told me, but olives and almonds could thrive. It is noticeable that up here in the National Park there is a micro-climate and as soon as you go down the valley to Aljezur it changes and becomes more fertile. Gardens are a bit like hairstyles – enhance what nature has given you rather than fight against it. I would need to learn about specialist gardening if I was to avoid irrigating the whole plot and buying a lot expensive plants that might not survive or thrive.
We agreed that Andrew would service our pool for a fixed monthly fee. Although the fee does not change, the frequency of servicing varies from twice weekly in high season to twice monthly in the winter months. Later that week Andrew’s team came to clean the pool for the first time and when they had gone we had our first swim. Brrrrr! It was a bit chilly but unless it is like a warm bath I find everything chilly and since that time I think I have only been in once. Stuart had been right in his estimation that we would not use the pool ourselves. It still amazes me that swimming pools that spend the whole summer soaking up the sun can be bone chilling to get into. One day we will look at how we can improve the temperature of the pool. What we did enjoy, despite, the hard graft was sitting out and eating meals on our beautiful, sheltered patio looking out at the uncultivated area that lies beyond our fence.
I have struggled to find a term to describe the scrubland that surrounds our house but internet research has led me to the correct word – ‘garrigue’. This silver-leafed, low lying, fragrant habitat where plants have evolved to make the most of a dry climate is typical of specific coastal latitudes of the world. We don’t have a suitable word in English as it does not exist in cooler Britain where the nearest equivalent would be moorland covered in gorse, heather and whinberries. Where garrigue exists in California it is known as the ‘chaparral’ whereas in France a similar habitat is called ‘maquis’ and ‘matorral’ is the word used in Spain and Chile; ‘fynbos’ in South Africa and ‘mallee’ in Australia. If you are reading this and recognise one of these terms you will understand the type of ecosystem I am describing. Having checked, I see the Portuguese term is ‘matagal’ which is far better than calling it scrub, a word that does not do justice to a habitat that while looking like a khaki uniform from the distance, is actually full of interesting and diverse plant life.
In the evenings I got in the habit of walking around the house, my personal version of walking the parish bounds, and discovered that from the side nearest the sea I could just see the ocean through the trees across the road. And I could hear the waves against the cliffs in the distance breaking along them in a continuous swell. For someone born by the sea but harbored inland for too long, it was a magical sound. And now when the swell is up, I can sometimes hear it from by the pool but I still have to walk around the house to listen to its rhythm each evening which is enhanced in the gathering twilight.
I have realised that I am most at home on the western Celtic edges of Europe where the wild Atlantic meets the rugged shore line. Here was another windy, untamed place like those I love in Wales, Ireland, Cornwall, Brittany and Northern Spain. Now archaeology is showing early Europeans may have spread up from this area of Portugal through the Iberian Peninsula and into Europe so the sense of connectedness to places like this may be older than any of us realise.

It was obvious that people living here now had one real interest – the surf – but they also knew about hard times as Portugal and Vale da Telha in particular was just starting to emerge from a deep recession. One of the things that we have become aware of is that not only are unemployment rates high, especially for the young, but wages are very low by UK standards and if you want to live in the sun and enjoy the surf, you have to be prepared to work very hard to earn the money to afford that lifestyle. Gerard and I had made the decision that we could not move permanently to Portugal until we retire as we need to maximise our pensions in the UK, where we both work full time, to build the biggest pot possible to support our retirement. We felt we could have set a business up in the Algarve but if this was not successful we may have jeopardised our retirement plans. What we have noticed is that if you want to be successful chances are you will be working very hard right through the summer months as most business opportunities are based around servicing the tourism sector. Also if you want to work, bear in mind that most Portuguese people in the Algarve speak English so if you do not speak Portuguese you are at a disadvantage. 
Unpacking boxes

Enjoying a meal on our patio

A first dip in the swimming pool

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Counting the days...

When I was a child my father worked in Nigeria and I went to boarding school in the UK. School terms could be long at up to 13 weeks and in those days boarding school was an institutional place with no home comforts. Nigeria had lots of political issues but for a for me it represented home, family, sunshine, warmth, relaxation, tasty food, swimming pools and beaches. What not to crave after cold dormitories and endless school food? 45 years later it is still hard to think about that desperate longing and home sickness. 

One of my coping strategies was 'counting the days'. As the end of term approached all my friends and I would create little charts to cross the days until we went home. Our school term always ended on a Sunday morning but the British Caledonian flight to Lagos was on a Friday evening from Gatwick so I always got a day and a half head start on everyone else. On Saturday morning I would step off the plane into the tropical heat and chaos of Lagos Airport and be totally overwhelmed by exhaustion and emotion. So no matter how determined I was that I would not cry, I always ended up breaking down at some point. In fact I was well into my teens before I learnt the self control to manage my emotions throughout that first day. In the afternoon we would go to the communal pool. As I write this I can remember diving into the cool water and crying hot tears hidden from view underwater at the sheer joy of finally being home again. I had learnt that my strong emotions were not acceptable and needed to be hidden like a guilty secret. Like many 'boarding school' survivors, I have gone through life as a self-contained and self-reliant adult. And I still count days religiously as it is a habit that is hard to break... 

It is a habit I apply to our home in the Vale da Telha. Now when we leave our Portuguese house the first week is always the hardest as we adapt to going back to work and the routines and responsibilities of our life in the UK. One of my most immediate losses is the sunlight, especially in winter. We usually have a return flight booked so we know how long until we are back again and I start to count the weeks. And then as I get closer I count the days. I have to remind myself of the harshness of my childhood life  and how easy life is now in comparison, whether in Portugal or the UK. Now I have autonomy and control of my life and choose what I wear, what I do and when, what I eat and I live in an extremely comfortable house with my loved ones (which include my dogs). But I still miss my other house desperately and waiting to go back again is hard. So counting is once again necessary.

Right now it is 15 weeks since we were in Portugal in the first week of July and it is three weeks until we are back again. Well, in fact it is 20 days. Not that I'm counting - three weeks this morning I will be there with the smell of fresh coffee wafting around as I walk about inspecting the house for signs of wear and tear which will have occurred since we were last there. The house has been full almost every single day since our last visit and is booked right up until 5 days before we arrive so it has been very busy and some items will have been broken or will have disappeared - it is inevitable. Gerard will be cursing at the inconsiderateness of guests and I will remind him that they have paid us thousands of euros to stay and that this is part and parcel of renting the house out. We have to accept this collateral damage is part of the deal and get on with making good again. I will make another shopping list, of course, and get scrubbing those corners that get missed in the handover clean...

One of my other little coping strategy is a bit of mindfulness. I have found that if I really focus on something around the house while I am there eg the look and texture of a tile by the pool, I can recall this in the UK and it will allow me to recall the other sensory memories of the patio much more clearly so I can feel closer to the house when I am away from it. Try it, it's better than a photo.

Buying the house has meant we have swapped longing for a house for longing to be there. But this new longing to be there is better than longing to buy a (theoretical) house. So tomorrow it will be 19 days... and counting!

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Up until now the blog has been about buying a house...Now the focus will change to developing a holiday rental

Sept 2014 The first week contd …. On Tuesday our boxes from the UK were delivered by Algarve Freight and we were able to unpack them and start giving our possessions a home. I felt torn between wanting to create my own nest here and knowing that by spring the house would be let to holiday makers who would not want a house cluttered by personal possessions. It was a wonderful feeling, though, to put our things out around the house for now even if some of them would be locked away again in six months’ time.
As the week went on my famous lists were growing. I had already started a list of items we would need to provide for rentals. Now our list was expanding into jobs that needed to be done in Portugal and in the UK, people to contact etc. During the two years we have had the house it is unknown for us to return from a trip to Portugal without jobs to follow up when we get home although these are not as numerous as when we first started. Anyone who thinks you can just turn up at a second home and holiday is barking up the wrong tree. The first thing you notice is a light bulb that needs changing or a spider’s web that needs knocking down. My ‘thing’ is that the grout in the en suite shower gets a good clean with bleach and a toothbrush to whiten it again within a day or two of my return.
It would have been great to shut ourselves away that week and not see anyone but just get on with sorting out and enjoying the house. But we had focus on the plan to get the house ready to rent out in six months’ time. 
The first thing we needed was a tourist rental licence as we needed to do this legitimately - the penalties of getting caught without a licence were not worth the risk when this had to succeed as part of our retirement plan. Stuart had given the names of a few locals to us to get our plan started. The first person who came to see us on Wednesday morning was Karen who he had assured us was very efficient and understood the systems with regards to the Town Hall and the regulations we needed to fulfill. Karen viewed the house and gave us a price for obtaining a tourist licence based on her fees and various criteria that had to be fulfilled including gas and electricity certification, taxes, provision of plans and safety items like a fire extinguisher and blanket and a first aid kit. We agreed she would obtain this for us and that we would transfer the costs of over 900 euros to her. I have no doubt we could have done it ourselves if we had the time but every step would have been an extremely time consuming challenge whereas she knew exactly what had to be done and how to do it.

We spoke to her about the bedroom layout which was not ideal as one bedroom had to be accessed through another and there was no access to a bath/shower without one room going through the other either. We were also wondering if we would be able to rent out the modest study at the far end of the house as a fourth bedroom. Everything, it transpired, is dependent on the Town Hall (Camara). Karen also filled us in on how she manages the holiday home rentals for clients. She has built up a very successful portfolio and has an excellent feel for the local market which means when one house is full she is able to redirect people to another suitable house. She also deals with all internet enquiries and bookings. She showed us a breakdown of annual costs for a property like ours and we were gobsmacked. The tax regime was changing but up until that year we would have been lucky to walk away with a few hundred euros profit and that was before servicing any interest payments. At that moment I wondered if we had made a bad decision….

Monday, 17 October 2016

It''s ours! This is the bit you don't get to see on telly

1st Sept It’s ours now! …. Ten minutes later we pulled up in front of our new house. We knew we had to capture this momentous event and hunted about for the camera. We took turns to take photos of ourselves going through the gate and unlocking the front door. After rooting about for the right key on the key fob, we let ourselves in. It was six months almost to the day since we had first visited the house and now it was ours!
This is the part you don’t get to see on property programmes and this is the amazing, overwhelming, wonderful part. We went over to the French doors to the pool and threw them open to the let the sun flood into the house. Then we simply went about from room to room opening drawers and cupboards and checking what furniture was left. In truth, Marta had taken very little other than her clothes and personal items, her kitchen items and electricals like the TV. We needn’t have bought a mop and bucket as there was one there. Although the kitchen had been emptied, there was some crockery, glassware and cutlery in the kitchenette which was set up for rentals so between what had been left and what we had bought we had enough to get by for a few days (apart from bedding) until our boxes arrived. It was a very happy day but we had so much to do before we left in six days’ time that we knew we needed to get on.
That afternoon we drove over to Budens to ‘Linen etc’, a bedding supplier we had come across when we visited in March through an advert in a local English speaking magazine left in our Luz apartment. We needed bedding to sleep on that night as a priority and I wanted it to be reasonable quality from the start to use for rentals. We measured the bed in the master bed room before we set off and discovered it was super king sized (read super expensive re bedding).
That week everything was a discovery. We didn’t know where the rubbish was disposed of or have a clue about owning a pool. What were we supposed to do with it now we had it? There was no visitor’s guide for the house. We had to work it out for ourselves. Where is the fuse box? There were three. And the gas taps to turn supply to the boiler and hob? How about the gas tank and septic tank (fossa)? It turned out that what looked like a wood fire in the sitting room was in fact a glass-fronted gas fire. I tried to use the fan oven to cook an evening meal but it would not come on so we had to go out to eat. It later turned out, that unlike my fan oven at home, the oven and fan symbols both had to be selected for it to work.
The house is constructed very differently from our house in the UK and is in effect a concrete box in which even the ceiling is concrete so once built some alterations are impossible to make. Like houses all over southern Europe, it lacks a damp proof course so unless one is prepared to seek expensive remedies, eco-friendly or otherwise, it is necessary to keep painting the areas just above the skirting where damp paint regularly flakes away. Different areas of our house are affected to different extents.
One of the things we noticed was that although the house was just seven years old, the treble whammy of sun, salt and humidity from being so close to the sea, had taken a heavy toll both internally and externally. The house was exactly the same age as a kitchen and bathroom extension we had built in the UK but fixtures and fittings looked far older. Every little bit of steel or chrome starts to pockmark with rust spots and outside the sun rots and fades all sorts of materials. Keeping a house looking fresh in this location was going to be an ongoing task.
We spent a lot of time working out what furniture we could move around to make the layout work better for us. We had already decided to change the way the main room was set up and swapped the dining and sitting areas around. We carried a sofa and chairs from the furthest bedroom/sitting room out through the French doors and across the patio to create a more social seating area in the main room. We moved around rugs, occasional tables and shelving units. Almost everything had a new home. The main items the house was lacking were bedroom furniture in the form of bedside tables and chests of drawers so we needed to source those. The retractable tape became our constant friend and was forever being mislaid as we measured everything. Would this fit here or if we were to buy one of those what size would it need to be to fit that spot? We took lots of photos as an aide memoir for all the rooms so we could buy for them in the UK. We measured all the windows and French doors and I worked out in needed to make five pairs of curtains before I returned.

We gathered up endless ornamental old tat and put it in boxes we mentally marked ‘car boot’. The garden was full of little pottery animals which all got collected up to be dumped as we are not really cutey frog and gnome people. We discovered the size of the house meant that by the time we had walked back and forth between one end and the other we had walked a good distance and over the course of a busy day that amounted to a serious amount of exercise. Every night we went to bed thoroughly exhausted but so happy, happy, happy…
and we let ourselves in!
Finally, it's ours...

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Completion Day arrives

1st September 2014 The deal is finally done… We pulled up in front of our house minutes after 9am. The house looked as wonderful as when we had last seen it. All those worries about it not being as we remembered were immediately forgotten. Stuart from Marcela was already there and Marta was sitting in her usual spot by the pool for one last time. We shook hands and Stuart asked us to check the house and make sure it was as it had been when we last saw it. The first thing we noticed was that the pool had been cleaned and was now crystal clear and aquamarine. We went around the house, inside and out, scanning for problems but could see none. The house was in a good state of repair and more décor, curtains, rugs etc had been left than we had expected. The black chandelier had been removed leaving a rather ornate plaster rose. When we had checked the house through and were happy, we all set off in different cars to Aljezur to go to the solicitors. It felt surreal, like we were a wedding party going into town.
Business was conducted in quite a different way to which it is in the UK where exchange of contract and completion are conducted at arms’ length for both seller and purchaser. Everyone, including Stuart the estate agent, sat down around a table with Julia the solicitor and it became clear she was acting for both parties. I don’t remember many of the formalities of signing the contract which passed ownership to us other than a lot of translating of what it said. Portugal is a country which enjoys dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s so there was a bit of bureaucracy to go through. Generally you cannot do anything without it involving your fiscal number (Numero de Contribuinte). Gerard and I are joint owners of the property and as husband and wife the under Portuguese inheritance laws the other half of the property will automatically go to the other spouse unless we state otherwise in our wills. The deal concluded with us being given a bundle of keys and Marta being told what money she would be receiving minus selling costs which included solicitor’s fees and estate agent’s fees. Julia set up the IMI tax (Council Tax/Rates) which is paid twice a year in April and October with Gerard and I each receiving a letter for half the amount. She also arranged for utility bills to be transferred to us including water through Aljezur town council and electricity from EDP – a final meter reading had been taken. We asked for the MEO phone contract to be cancelled. This support getting our utilities set up was very welcome and I would not have expected it from a solicitor in the UK.
I am sure a lot more happened that morning but it was all a bit of a blur as all I wanted to do was to go back to our new house. Marta told us we will have a visitor in the form of George, a dog who calls by regularly. That’s fine as we love dogs and live with three of them.
Perhaps sensing our greenness, Stuart, estate agent and lender of great box sets, who had been a very supportive through the whole process, gave us some final, wise words of wisdom which have stayed with us –
  • ·        never drill into the floor as you do not know where the pipework is
  • ·        Be careful about workmen on the roof as it is very easy to break tiles

We asked him where the best place for DIY shopping was and he suggested Merlin Leroy at Guia.

By about 11.15am the deal was done, hands were shook again and we were making our way back across the road to our parked hire car crammed full with household shopping. It was time to claim what was now rightfully ours…

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Having a busy day - IRS 2015 to pay

On Friday 7th October we had an email from the Autoridade Tributaria e Aduaneira to say that Gerard had not paid his IRS tax bill for 2015. Karen who manages our bookings had passed it through her accountant and we had been informed of the amount in July but I had assumed that it had been paid from the account she holds in our name. (This is the first year it has had to be paid so we are unsure of the processes.)
Wrong, assume nothing. We should have received a letter with the tax demand and instructions to pay. So now the deadline has passed on 21st September and we have had a warning email. All the correspondence (not unreasonably) from the tax office is in Portuguese but I knew the deadline had been mentioned because 'prazo' is in my vocabulary. Note to self - pay more attention of emails from the tax office in future.
Anyway, apparently Karen can not phone on our behalf as she is not our legal representative so I have just phoned the Financas (tax office) in Aljezur. I hate doing this because I am always worried I will get someone who does not speak English but it has never happened so I don't know why I worry about it. 
Anyway after checking the email and address details the woman who answered the phone said she would forward an email with payment details in the next half hour which we should pay today. Can I do online banking from a Portuguese bank account - yes, I can. 
She has informed me we are not in the period when we will incur interest charges - yet. Phew! 
The learning curve continues...

Monday, 10 October 2016

Here and Now.. Brexit

11th October Here and Now - Brexit. It feels like the impact of Brexit is slowly moving from theoretical to reality. We are traveling from Wales to the Republic of Ireland on Thursday for a family wedding. I usually use Travelex to exchange currency online and pick up in the departure lounge at the airport. I have just checked and today I will get 1.08 euro per £. 
Last night the News was reporting that some people leaving it until the last minute were getting less less than a euro per pound. I need to get some euros but in discussion with Gerard, I have decided to take our Portuguese bank Electron card and use that for cash in Ireland. We have spent lots of money on our house from the UK so the fact we now have a surplus in Portugal will allow us to pay ourselves back a bit. Money exchange problems solved!
I also mentioned to Gerard that potentially he would qualify for an Irish passport as his dad was Irish. It is time to start thinking about our own contingency plans if Brexit goes badly for our plan to move to Portugal.

At the end of August 2014 we returned to complete the purchase of our house...

31st August 2014… It felt strange to be waiting to board at the airport amongst people setting off for their summer holidays. At Faro we picked up our hire car and headed to Portimao where we had earmarked shops where we would buy some basics. As I write this the Algarve is keenly awaiting the opening of IKEA in Loule in the summer of 2017 as one of the things that we have noticed is lack of choice and sometimes quite high prices when shopping for basics especially household basics. One of the items where we most notice this are small electrical items like kettles, toasters and irons. That Sunday we made sure we had a kettle so at the least we would be able to make a cup of tea which is really is essential if you are British and moving house.
We have always used Worten for electrical purchases as they have a good range and we have registered for a customer service card which means that all guarantee details are held on it so we do not have to keep individual paperwork/receipts. Next day home delivery is included for larger items so ideal if you are in an economy sized hire car. Recently we took the kettle back as the lid had broken. On the plus side, the purchase details and 2-year guarantee were easily retrieved by the sales assistant. On the minus side the kettle had to be sent away to see if it could be repaired which it clearly couldn’t so we had to buy a new one while we wait for news of the repair/replacement.
That Sunday we also went to the big Continente superstore and bought some household basics. Coffee, juice, milk, beer and wine were all essentials. Ajax, bleach, washing up liquid, cloths, tea towels, a mop and bucket were crammed into the car. The sun was shining and it felt so good to be back in Portugal but also anxiety inducing. We had not seen the house for six months. What if it was not as good as we remembered it? What if there were some huge flaws we had not spotted? (During the last six months I had kept focussed by looking back at the photos of the house and reminding myself how beautiful it was.) What if all those people we had relied on were involved in some big conspiracy to defraud us of all our money? What if, what if, what if?

Hotel Terrace with lovely tiles in the evening sun- Lagos
With our shopping done and the hire car stuffed full, we set out for Lagos where we had booked a hotel for the night. The town was full of tourists strolling about, so different from March when we had last been here, sitting under the orange trees eating lunch in a little square and listening to buskers. The hotel in the town centre was horribly dated inside with 1970’s orange and brown tiles but it was cheap and would do for one night. We went up on to the hotel’s roof terrace to enjoy the golden evening light, with views over the glowing red roof tiles and white washed buildings, to the Ribeira de Bensafrim and the Meia Praia beyond. It reminded us of what we had loved about this town when we had first been here last December. Was it really such a short time ago? So much had happened. That evening the town was really buzzing through the pedestrianized areas when we went out to eat but we needed to be up early as we were due at our house by 9am... 

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Getting Ready for the Big (Completion) Day

August 2015 Getting Ready for the Big Day….We needed to send a consignment with items and clothes that we had been setting aside at home and also some basics we started to buy. We wanted to put our mark on the house by having our possessions, books, clothes etc around us and not being restricted to wearing what can be packed in a cabin bag. We needed some strong cardboard boxes which we purchased from a local removal firm.
It took a bit of searching around by phone and internet to find the type of company that transports small consignments to the Algarve as this is a specialist field. In the end I located Algarve Freight based in Essex who send van loads weekly and provide a door-to-door collection and delivery service. I needed to arrange a collection on the right day to coincide with a delivery to us while we were in Portugal. In 2014 it cost £150 for the first sqm and £90 sqm thereafter, with an extra cost for delivery in Portugal as we could have collected from their warehouse. A square metre is surprisingly large when made up of cardboard boxes but it is also surprising how soon you start to fill more boxes than you expected! At this point we were spending the weekends shopping for our Portuguese home and my famous lists were shapeshiftng by the day.
We also required property and contents insurance for our new home to include rentals so quotes needed to be obtained. We took the decision that although it may be more expensive, we wanted a policy in English as dealing with claims in English can be mind boggling enough never mind a foreign language. We ended up taking a policy out through Saga which met our needs and have now renewed it for the third year.
Meanwhile we needed to get ourselves to Portugal and flights bought at the last minute in August are not the cheapest. Car hire and a hotel for the first night were also booked.
We also booked a flight to revisit the house in mid-November to continue with plans to prepare it for the 2015 rental season. We were starting to realise that trips to Portugal would need to be carefully balanced against annual leave allowances at work. We both work and have holiday allowances of six weeks which sounds a lot but using it judiciously to get the maximum benefit has become a careful balancing act each year.
On the Wednesday 27th August our boxes were collected by Algarve Freight and before the weekend we had confirmation from Julia that the money had transferred safely so Purchase Tax (IMT) and Stamp Duty could be paid prior to completion of the sale.
When the offer was first been accepted it had still felt like we needed to be careful and not pin all our hopes on the house as something could still go wrong but over the six weeks since then it had moved from a possibility to a certainty. The house was going to be ours but we had been too busy to spend much time celebrating this fact. Now I was bound by worries that when we got there again some massive problem would turn the dream to dust slipping through our fingers. What form this would take I could not have given voice to so being busy allowed me to avoid dwelling too much.

Just before the weekend it was arranged we would meet Stuart from Marcela at the house at 9am on Monday morning to check all was as it should be before going to the solicitor’s office to complete the sale. All we had to do now was get ourselves out to Portugal to sign on the dotted line. On Sunday 31st August we were up very early to fly to Faro.…

Friday, 7 October 2016

Using a Currency Exchange Specialist

August 2014 – The Money Bit ….To pay the deposit we had required a currency exchange specialist. This was a completely new area for us and it is really important as if money is transferred through a bank you will pay through the nose for it. By using a specialist you get a spot rate with surprisingly modest commission costs on top. I found two currency exchange specialists but in the end found it was virtually impossible to compare costs as prices are literally on the spot and change by the minute. As the rate had recently gone up and we didn’t want any shocks halfway through the buying process, we decided to forward purchase the remainder of currency for the purchase at the point when we fixed the price for the 10% deposit to be paid with the promissory note. This meant that if something went wrong and the purchase did not go ahead we would be liable for the potential shortfall between the forward purchase price and the current price if we had to renege on the currency deal. The positive was that the cost of the house would not rise between offer and completion if the currency rate moved unfavourably. 
Transferring the money to Portugal was the most frightening part of the whole process, especially the remainder of the purchase price – a lot of money! All the money was ready in our current account and on the right day they forwarded a contract note which had to be completed with hand-written, long-winded IBAN and Swift codes directing the money to the Portuguese solicitor’s account. There was then 24 hours to forward the money by bank transfer to the currency exchange company in the UK – another set of account and sort code numbers. I have never checked numbers so carefully in my life as I was so worried about transposing them and finding the money had gone astray! Knowing the money was in the electronic ether and waiting for confirmation it had been received was extremely nerve wracking. A second sum had been sent to our bank account which we hoped would fund our set up costs. Oh, how optimistic we were!

During the process of buying the house, we had watched exchange rates for the euro to £ swing around. When we were first looking the exchange rate was about 1.21 for a long time them as we prepared to offer it started to edge up and as we approached the point of needing to move our money it went up from 1.25 to 1.26. We were delighted by this swing in our favour but since we bought it has spent a long period at just under 1.40. Over this summer, since the Brexit vote however it has been falling and has gone as low as 1.13 recently. What I will say is that now our Portugal money is in Portugal and the exchange rate does not affect us hugely. This will change when we need to take our pensions out there. And while we would have saved on the exchange rate by waiting to buy, house prices are now edging up and when I scan the internet now I do not see the choice of properties hanging about unsold in VdaT at prices we could afford so I still reassure myself by thinking that we bought at the right time.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Purchasing our house - the Legal Process

August 2014 The Purchasing Process …Meanwhile the legal process was initiated by giving our solicitor in Aljezur our instructions. The first step was the signing of the Promissory Note accompanied by a 10% deposit. This happened in a flurry of emails and scanned documents within a week of the offer being accepted. There was no going back now. The completion date was set for 1st September and it was already 22nd July.
An Inventory was prepared and forwarded to us to check. We tried to link items on it to the photos we had taken but were not too much the wiser. We did know we would have the beds, dining table and chairs, garden furniture, washing machine and tumble dryer as well as loads of other items.
Buying Costs - We negotiated a breakdown of the inventory against the cost of the property so that the price of the house was flexibly reduced with regards to Purchase Tax (IMTImposto Municipal sobre Transmissoes) which accounted for approximately 2.5% of our property’s price as the first 92.4k is tax free. Our solicitor Julia emailed a precise breakdown of the buying costs. Stamp Duty was another cost at 0.8%. There were also charges of a couple of hundred euros each for Deeds and Property Registration and Solicitor’s Fees were charged at 1% of the purchase price (which I believe is the reasonable end of the scale of what can be charged). In total this amounted to about 4.5% of the total value of what we were paying for the house and contents which was considerably less than we had expected through initial research. I need to state here that this was what we were paying but we were buying a house for under 200k which is a modest price by Algarve standards.
As the mortgage was on our home in the UK, we were buying for cash in Portugal. I had read that there is no professional body for chartered surveying in Portugal so we took the decision that the house appeared sound with no obvious cracks, damp patches, subsidence etc and as a result we would not have a survey done. We took the view that the house was only seven years old, single storey, looked well-built and large enough that a problem was unlikely to affect more than one area of it. No doubt the cautious and all surveyors reading this will be exclaiming at our foolhardiness at this point but there it is!

Julia forwarded plans registered at the time the house was built and asked us to confirm this was indeed what we were buying which it more or less was (there had been a couple of internal walls changed which we have reinstated). She carried out searches with the Camara (town hall) and checked the house had been fully registered for habitation when the building was completed which, again, it had. This is often not the case and people also get into problems when anything extra has been built including outbuildings, pools etc as the property is not then legal to sell. She checked that the property was to be registered in our joint names and as a holiday home. 
There are scare stories about things going wrong when people buy abroad where they are unfamiliar with legal process and language but our experience was that everything went very smoothly unlike the UK where it often seems to be a case of solicitors demonstrating they have earned their fees and covered their backs. As a result the process gets dragged out over longer and longer periods by endless questions that are almost impossible to answer like ' Have you ever had a dispute with your neighbours?' How do you define 'a dispute'? These churn up even more grey areas for conveyancers to dig into. 

While the legal checks were being completed we were busy in the UK….

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

We finally make an offer on the house of our dreams...

July ’14 Offer and Acceptance…the UK house sale had been completed at the end of June and the money transferred to our bank account a few days later in the first week of July. On Thursday 17th July a mortgage offer was received and suddenly we were in a position to make an offer.  School holidays were due to begin the following day so we had missed our window for 2014 rentals but this turned out to be a good thing as it gave us a lot more (necessary) time.
That day I enjoyed a riverside picnic with friends in Hay-on-Wye on a day off and when I got home the mortgage offer was there. We had been holding our breath for this moment since the beginning of March and even though Gerard was at work I knew he expected me to get into action. I phoned Marcela in Aljezur and placed our offer. We wanted the furniture included. Stuart said he would contact Marta immediately and with a little bit of negotiating we agreed a price which was acceptable to both of us and did not included the bible and stand. Phew! Glad about that.  We also wanted the house taken off the market immediately. I knew the score as I had seen this moment many times on ‘Place in the Sun’. Good job I had been paying attention. This took a bit more negotiating as apparently keen potential buyers were coming from Germany for a viewing in the next couple of days.
By the end of the afternoon it was settled and as Gerard came in the door I told him we had just bought a house. Not just any house, the white house! We could not believe we were going to own that beautiful casa.

Stuart had said Marta, our German vendor, wanted to move out by the end of August so this gave us just six weeks to complete. After such a long wait everything was going to come together quickly. Where to begin? There was such a lot that needed to be achieved in six short weeks….

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Share our decision making process with us as we wrestled with whether to buy a house in Portugal or not?

May ’14  Hearts and Minds continued….In April one of our daughters gave us the wonderful news that she was expecting our first grandchild. However this meant the decision to live abroad was going to affect our opportunities to see our future grandchildren daily which was something we would be able to do in the UK where we currently live minutes apart. This has been one of the harder aspects of decision making. I hope that by the time we move permanently to Portugal any grandchildren are growing up and able to make the most of regular holidays and it will be important for us to be able to fly back and forwards regularly too. This is why access to a budget airline airport has been so important. However, these days’ apps like Skype and Facetime mean that it easy to keep in touch and feel like someone is almost in the room. 
It is so different to my childhood abroad where phone calls to grandparents were booked for Christmas day and the operator would phone us to tell us the call was waiting. Then we would speak for a few brief minutes down an echoing phone line with a time delay which made for extremely stilted conversation.
The wobbles we were feeling were not helped by the comments we were receiving from family and friends. Some, like my sister, who had taken a risk in setting up a successful campsite business, were supportive but others were less so. Some may have reflected personal cautious attitudes to risk, or were genuinely concerned for us but others came across as doom-mongering naysayers. And I think it may have been unsettling to some people as it made them question their own life choices.
It probably helped to cement my own thoughts that I repeated mantras like ‘People rarely regret what they do in life but often regret what they don’t do’and ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained’. I do believe that in life some people make opportunities, some take them and some let them pass by. I know I am too risk-averse to be a ‘maker’ and I hate it when people tell me they have big plans and fail to act on them so I’d like to think I am an opportunity taker. Meanwhile the loss of a family loved one of our own generation had been a real kick up the bum to live life to the full. I also had to admit that the idea of spending my retirement in the UK made me feel depressed whereas the lifestyle I could see in Portugal made me excited as I contemplated the opportunity to be active: walking, gardening and generally living outside. I have also noticed that among the older generations in my own family, those who spend a good part of the winter abroad in the sun are generally fitter and healthier far longer. We acknowledged that the warmth and sea air would be good for Gerard’s health. He had started off more circumspect than me about the idea of moving abroad but he was coming around and now he could see what we could afford he was increasingly enthusiastic. However we had to admit that at that point the Portuguese economy was not in the best place which was a concern as if we needed to sell we might struggle to find a buyer. But we did believe that we were buying at the bottom of the market which was the best place to be. So all these thoughts ranged back and forward as we waited for everything to resolve itself.
In the end, when the decision to go ahead was made, it became important to block the negative thoughts trying to butt into my head and focus on the positive ones. What I am saying here, is that it was not a case of us going for it without any doubts, but that we had to deal with a lot of conflicting thoughts and feelings which raced backwards and forwards over months and in the end we decided to take a chance.

Then suddenly in mid-July the waiting was over as everything fell into place in a couple of days….