Many people are looking into buying a plot of land and constructing a house of their own design on the Azores. For us, being a company operating in the Central Group we have had quite a few clients who have done this. It can be a long process and not always a smooth one hence the need for us to give some tips for those who want to embark on this journey.
The first thing to do is to find suitable land in a location to your liking. When you have found a plot the first thing to do is to check if the planning and zoning allows construction or that there are limitations. People often only look at the classification of the land but this is a mistake. First of all these classifications are coming from the tax system and were introduced long ago to establish the taxation on land. Rural, urban or agriculture land is obviously different when it comes to the area you are allowed to construct on it but the zoning and plan for the island is more important. You can have a piece of agricultural land but in the PDM (the document with all land use planning) your plot can have an urban zoning overlay and thus you would be able to construct on it. However, there are also areas where the land looks perfectly ok for construction but the area has been classified of an area for water infiltration or is deemed potentially erosion sensitive. If the PDM has such overlay you can forget about doing any construction on the site.
So you found the land and there are no zoning issues. Where do you go from there? First and foremost if the borders are unclear you need to sort it out with the neighbors. The best way is to make a detailed topographic map with proper coordinates on it. On this you mark the boundaries and you have the neighbors sign for approval. It costs some money but the map you need later anyway for the initial application to construct. It can be useful to do this before the sale. Sellers usually do not pay for these kind of procedures but it might be better paying a few hundred Euros and do this due diligence before you commit to buying a plot of land of which the borders are unclear. Some plots are much easier, a road on one side, stone walls along the perimeter. The risk of any border issues is very low and you can skip the signing on a map.
You purchase the plot and proceed to get your permissions. this is where you need to work with an architect or land engineer, someone well versed in the laws and regulations who can represent you and fight for your rights. Red tape is unfortunately quite common in Portugal and the Azores are having similar issues with civil servants not knowing the law and procedures to follow or just go on a power trip and interpreting your plan in a way so that it does not comply with the rules and regulations. However an architect can make sure the plan presented for preliminary approval