The Fever that Plagues the Deep Interior Soul of Portugal

I just got off the phone with a local guy who had offered me a piece of land in my area for 5k. I shared the details of it with another local Portuguese friend of mine, Jose, who became interested in it but wanted to find out more about access and since I knew the contact and had the connection with him, he thought it would be best if I did the communication on his behalf (and since my Portuguese is quite good now). Jose is a gem of a guy, interested in starting his own off-grid / reforesting project. I want to help him find his own peace, and so I’ve been keeping my ears open for him (because being a foreigner you are always being offered land by the locals). I’m sure you’d be able to imagine my frustration and disappointment when the owner told me he’d put it with Remax and that they’d sold it for 20k. That’s quite a jump in price!! I felt very angry and disgusted at first, but then sad for Jose, who’s been looking for land for a long time, but has been confronting this problem that keeps rearing it’s ugly head – owners asking for ridiculous prices, or rather more accurately – well out of a local person’s price range, usually due to the fact that they’d heard from so and so that they could get so much for it because so and so told them that there are people out there willing to paying that kind of money for it. However I’m only seeing it in properties below 50-100k as properties above this price range stay in the market for looong time.

I’ve been spending a good deal of my time trying to help young people find land around here. I do it because I want to see these abandoned areas around here repopulated. If it were a commercial venture it wouldn’t pay off for me. I do it mostly on a donation basis, which really doesn’t pay off, but nonetheless I do it because people ask me, not because I market myself. It’s very disheartening when I see my efforts thwarted, especially by greedy agents who are basically in it for the money. They made a hell of a mark up from the original price on that one (300%) and I’m quite certain that the real estate agent gets 3k for a sale of around 20k, and the higher they sell for the more in their pocket. I know as a fact that Remax, for example gets between 3-4k on a 30k sale. They rely on the fact that they have a wide reach by way of their advertising network, but other than that, when it comes to taking responsibility for any real facilitation work or fact checking they’ll do what they can to pass the buck, and will often try and convince you to use their in-house lawyers for efficiency (bad idea, and illegal – it’s called conflict of interest).

With regards to land price speculation, I’m starting to hear of many other cases already, and it’s not just real estate agents. It seems to me that land price speculation is now in full swing in Central Portugal as has been happening in Algarve. It’s beginning to turn my stomach. It saddens me that someone like Jose, a young Portuguese local gets the bad end of the stick because of this situation. It’s really not fair, and this will come to a head if it continues like this. Everyone who knows anything about what’s happening with land prices in rural Portugal will tell you that there is this phenomenon of price speculation that’s occurred since foreigners began to present themselves as potential buyers. It’s like some kind of gold fever, where suddenly what was once abandoned, neglected and held little value now becomes a potential winning lottery ticket. In effect though what is happening is that agents and sellers are profiting from the uninformed and naive. I guess that it wouldn’t be far from the truth to say that what is being created is a false economy of sorts. I’ve met several people already who’ve bought land, developed it, and then decided to move on, but unable to recoup what they’ve invested into the property. Many never imagined the cost and effort it would take to get a property up to scratch.

As a (once) naive foreigner, I accept my share of the blame. I payed an over the odds price without really knowing the real odds, however even what I paid 7 years ago is half of what people are paying nowadays. In one sense, I can understand, and in another I feel like it’s a shame, this view that foreigners coming into Portugal have more money. It’s true in some cases, but not true in all cases and so in general it prejudices those who don’t fit that bill. A lot of people that I’ve met recently who are considering coming to live a rural life in Portugal actually don’t have a lot of money and come searching for land here because of the fact that it’s still affordable here. It would be a real shame if these people were pushed out of the market and forced to go elsewhere. Not only that, but it would be very unfair, especially to those youth of Portugal who are inspired by regenerative agriculture and want to start a new life in this field. God knows that Portugal needs more young people like this on the ground!

I think it’s important to ask what are land prices founded on here and how should the value of land really be determined? If it’s determined by supply and demand then surely land would be a lot cheaper, because there is an abundance of abandoned land in Portugal. Just drive around and you’ll see ‘for sale’ signs everywhere, and even where there are no signs there is a 50/50 chance (if not more) that it’s for sale. If you’re a foreigner here in outback rural Portugal, it’s not uncommon to be approached and asked if you want to buy ‘uma quinta bonita’. It seems that every man and his dog wants to sell you their farm.

One of the most fundamental problems here is probably this – there is so much land out there that is available. It’s just not online or available as such. It’s a question of finding the owners or the owners finding you. I believe that if all the abandoned lands were to ‘come online’, supply would far outweigh demand and put a balance on this speculative nonsense. There is a niche here that needs to be filled, and is actually part of a project that I’m working on which I hope can also create a social economy for people on the ground. There is also a rumor that government will soon reclaim abandoned land that people are not taking responsibility for and subsequently make available to people wanting to reoccupy with farming initiatives, initially renting it out very cheaply, with a potential option to buy. The outcome of this? Perhaps it will depend on who gets in first. I can imagine large corporations moving in with mono-crop mindset, but then I can also see a lot more community minded culture moving in as well that can bring new and creative ideas into their areas. Of course that will remain to be seen and perhaps if this is to be mitigated then what needs to be set up are groups and platforms that can help to facilitate land into the hands of good stewards.

There is the argument that land prices usually reflect the economic wealth/health of a country, yet Portugal is one of the poorer countries in Europe, and one that is suffering the most in this economic crisis (regardless of the propaganda that the mainstream media may want to push). Most foreigners that have come to live here are living a simple life, and simply getting by.  So if Portugal is financially poor and in a severe debt crisis then by (naive) foreigners coming here and contributing to land price speculation they’re essentially creating a bubble of sorts and the prices that are then fomented are not a true reflection of the way things are but merely smoke and mirrors, It’s all well and good that we’re helping to make the sellers more wealthy and contributing towards paying off the nation’s unpayable debt (by way of taxes and stamp duties), but if the foreigners do that then aren’t we also making it more difficult for the native Portuguese youth who want to move out to the land and start their own projects? People like Jose? The youth of Portugal can’t even afford to buy or rent in the current economic climate and this kind of speculation only exasperates the situation for what they often term as the ‘novos rurais’ movement – Portuguese youth wanting to start a life in farming. Sure, there is people out there who are making lots of money out of this and great for them, but in the same respect there will be people out there that are going to lose substantial amounts of money when real estate prices find their balance, and they they will. Global liquidity is drying up (most people are running on credit) and there is a global financial slowdown happening. Something doesn’t smell right. Perhaps it’s the stench of illusion and greed.

I have nothing against people with lots of money, or ‘ex-pats’ (whatever that means), or retirees wanting to spend their final days in the sun, but there are people coming over treating land like as an investment and in the context of the way things are right now in the world I believe that this is very wrong. It just marginalizes the have nots and what Portugal really needs right now is people on the ground – custodians who are willing to protect and take care of the land. This is where my interest lies – in seeing these areas reoccupied by sincere and dedicated people wishing to live and work on the land, be the guardian of it, work to regenerate it and help to foster respectful attitudes towards nature (flora and fauna).

It is these young folk that will have to face the future that is coming to Portugal (and Europe). People ‘flipping’ land have no concern for this, so who is taking responsibility for this? The government certainly isn’t. Since the Serra da Estrela ranges were wiped out in the 2017 fires, I’ve not seen any regeneration efforts or even replanting efforts of native trees by government – only harvesting and clearing of burnt pines by private owners who filled the area with monocrop pine plantations in the first place. I can assure you that there is very little that is natural about Parque ‘Natural’ de Serra da Estrela. Real estate agents are not interested in this issue. They are only in it for the money and I don’t believe they have any care for Portugal, it’s rural land, nor it’s incumbent communities. It’s just a job for them, something to bring home the bacon, yet they’ll sell Portugal like as if it’s a dream, unfortunately, right now, it’s not a dream. I can tell you that because I’ve been living here now for 8 years. Most of the people in rural Portugal can’t even afford their own land – like Jose, who I was trying to help this morning. It’s a fact that More than 20% of Portuguese people live under the poverty line and things like land price speculation only makes land more inaccessible to people like Jose, who’s in the throes of starting a family. Land that they may need to grow food for their families and communities in the future years as things get more ‘screwed up’ as a result of this psychotically driven cancerous and fraudulent economy that we’re forced to live in. I can understand at least some of the reasons as to why this is happening – many foreigners are aware of the situation and are feeling the call to move out of ‘babylon’, realizing that moving into rural communities will be the healthier places to be when SHTF. Perhaps that’s why ‘ex-pats’ are freaking out about Brexit and perhaps this is partly what is fueling the fire of speculation – people coming over with no patience? One thing you need if you’re going to live in Portugal is patience. That I can assure anyone.

The salesmen may sell you the dream of how beautiful Portugal is, how fresh the air is and how wonderful it is to live in Portugal – so pure. Yet with all the beautiful things that Portugal has going for it, it has plenty of problems. Even the not so bright or not so well informed locals know enough to be able to figure that out. They don’t go around muttering ‘está todo fodido’ for no reason. Someone selling you the good life in Portugal is unlikely to enlighten you on such things as climactic factors that make life a challenge here, like the long dry summers where water resources need to be managed carefully for summer crops, and more so if you are to consider having storage to mitigate for the fire risks that plague the rural country side, not to mention the amount of work that is needed to be fire safe every year and what you’re obliged to do by law to mitigate fire risks (or risk a heavy fine – up to 10,000 euros). They won’t tell you how degraded the soil has become from generations of conventional intensive farming methods. They won’t tell you that most of Portugal’s forest is nothing more than a green desert – mono-crop plantations planted for profit, and they won’t tell you that Portugal’s rate of deforestation is one of the highest in the world. It’s not just the rural areas that are decertifying. So is the demographics. We need more people here who want to help build community and work towards land regeneration so land should NOT be made inaccessible and treated like as if it is gold – it will require work and commitment and if anyone is prepared to commit themselves to a life in rural Portugal (which is not easy) then they will be doing the local community a favour by the simple fact that they are helping to keep it alive. For this reason they should not be paying over the odds for land. Anyone who’s dealt with negotiating directly with a seller will have most likely had the experience of what the mentality is like here, when dealing with negotiations. It can be very difficult and complicated. It all requires patience and effort and stern resolve. Always work with someone you know and trust when negotiating. Preferably a local who knows the score.

So how do I feel about people like real estate agents supporting land price speculation on land that should be sold at fractions of what they advertise for and hoarding properties to speculate the price of land upwards (sometimes real estate agents will hold these properties in the books for years) in the hope that they’ll find a naive foreigner willing to buy and prejudicing their own people in benefit of lining their own pockets? Well, quite personally I think that if they had any respect for their land they would work on making land more accessible to the people wanting to move back to the abandoned rural areas of Portugal, not making it more inaccessible – it’s the only way that Portugal is going to survive the coming crisis. We are heading into very uncertain times and what we need now to get us through the difficulties will be more people on the land, increasing food security and building strong communities. Nothing that real estate agents have any clue about. There is no shortage of land available in Portugal – in fact it’s still becoming more and more abandoned as the elderly populations of villages pass on! So if these people had any care about their land then they would make it more accessible to their younger generations and to those sincerely wanting to make a new life in rural Portugal.

I think it’s important to call out a bluff when you see one – Anyone wanting to buy land in Portugal should probably consider the fact that property prices are dropping in US, Canada, Australia, UK and China (to mention but a few) and Europe is heading into a financial catastrophe the likes of which this generation has never witnessed before, and it feels very unjust that this situation is making it harder for the young people with dreams. NOW IS THE TIME THAT THE OPPORTUNITIES NEED TO BE MADE AVAILABLE FOR THOSE WANTING TO MAKE THE MOVE – THEY SHOULD NOT BE PREJUDICED – A FAIR LAND VALUE SYSTEM NEEDS TO BE ESTABLISHED so that those wanting to create a new culture of respect for the earth have even a chance at remediating the damage that has been done already.

Personally I’m really sick of the secretiveness, greed and discrimination that I’ve seen here when it comes to property prices and one way to address it is to speak about it and bring it out into the open – This needs an open discussion. There is a saying here in Portugal – ‘O segredo e o alma de negocio’ (The secret is the soul of business) – I don’t know where this came from, but it seems like very old school fascist thinking. Well, the secret is that Portugal is still becoming more and more abandoned and there is so much abandoned land available and it is in need of more people here. The good hearted Portuguese locals all know this and want to see more people repopulating their villages and taking care of their lands.

And so the ‘secret’ that is not disclosed is what is the fair price of land? What if they were selling within the confines of Portugal? Essentially what is lacking is a full disclosure of information regarding ALL the facts! One thing for sure is that the future will not be in secrets, it will be in Open Source Everything where there will be no place for secrets.

Everything expressed above is simply my views, opinions and observations. None of it should be taken as fact and your own due diligence is necessary for you to reach your own truth.

If you are a local person interested in helping people find land around you at fair prices then please get in touch with me. I’m facilitating a nationwide ‘network of trust’, to help those who are courageous enough to venture into the deep dark interior of Portugal to bring new life.

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