Subscriber OnlyInteriors

We went on a TV property programme: Here’s what happened next

Leonie Corcoran and Shane Leahy appeared on RTÉ’s Cheap European Homes looking for a place in Portugal



I catch his eye in the rear-view mirror. He looks as nervous as I feel, but he reaches across the gear stick and squeezes my leg with a half-smile. It’s meant to be reassuring, but it results in a quick scramble as my microphone battery pack, attached to a strap around my upper thigh, gets dislodged.

I rejig it, battling with my jumpsuit, which was a rookie wardrobe choice, before we take a collective deep breath and start the engine. A few moments earlier a Google Maps pin had been sent to my phone and we start to follow the directions to our unknown destination.


A GoPro camera mounted on the dash is watching us and our mics are recording. My partner Shane and I are navigating our way to the second of three properties we’re viewing for the filming for the RTÉ TV series Cheap European Homes, the brainchild of Maggie Molloy, and the next incarnation of her Cheap Irish Homes show. It is somewhere about a 30-minute drive from the city of Tomar, former seat to the Order of the Knights Templar, which itself, is about a 90-minute drive northeast of Lisbon.

Always good for a press clipping, it was my mum, Mary, who sent me the article about the new show. It said they were seeking people who were thinking of moving to a European country, so we didn’t exactly fit the bill having been based, for a number of months a year, in Portugal since midway through the pandemic.

However, the lure of having someone to actually help us find our first home together and build on-the-ground contacts was too attractive for me to resist. I sent an email to the production company thinking, if nothing else, we might be able to help them out in their reccie tours.

My email was followed up by a call with the lovely casting producer Stephanie, a video introduction, and on October 3rd we heard we were in!

Despite being involved in media for two decades, I had never ventured towards TV, but pals around me in Portugal were quick to usher me past my insecurities as it all became a reality – namely Liz and Emma (thanks ladies!) – and I rippled this on to Shane, using age-old guilt to encourage him over the line (“it’s not about us and we can’t let down the production team”).

For months, he and I had viewed properties across Portugal, narrowing our focus to the western Algarve and Alentejo, where we had built new and valued friendships. We’d fallen for many a picturesque ruin set amid rolling hills, but they invariably ended up in the “won’t pursue” section of my property spreadsheet. The issues arose when trying to ascertain exactly who owned the deed for the house, the land or both.

Many rural properties are passed down through generations, which can lead to a lack of clarity that could see one party legally blocking a sale or turning up in the future with legitimate claim. Even the remote chance of it happening stressed me out, and along with increasing building costs and notoriously long project timelines in Portugal, we were starting to lean towards somewhere we could move into straight away.

At some stage, walls will be painted, ceilings will be possibly knocked and there’ll be other tweaks and changes

We had also recently decided to focus on finding a “home-home”, as opposed to a space where we could build a business enterprise around my coaching clients or clients from Shane’s expanding private tour business. By then, we both thankfully had businesses that were back in growth mode and would require nurturing – in the intervening period, the company I cofounded with a UK-based colleague, The Story Lab, was set to launch and I knew it would need the love that every exciting start-up does. For Shane, business was expanding to offer their private tour service to clients travelling across Europe, with Portugal top of the list.

Buying a home anywhere is a rollercoaster when you’re a novice. In Portugal, the process isn’t too dissimilar to Ireland, with notable differences being longer mortgage terms available, but potentially for only 70 per cent-80 per cent of the total price.

There is also the language factor; regional regulations around land delineations and restoration; unfamiliar water systems; few clear boundary indicators; a lack of insulation in many buildings; etc. And then there are the agents and the numerous “advisory experts”. Property is a serious business in Portugal, as evidenced by the number of shop windows devoted to showcasing real estate, and it can feel like an over-zealous feeding frenzy at times, regardless of budget.

So, we were at a time in 2022 when life was good, but progress on the property front had stalled and it was taking its toll on many a long-distance chat. Enter our road trip north, and a few days of filming with the most professional and friendly crew you could hope for. They were patient as we drifted off designated on-camera speaking spots; juggled sunglasses as we squinted in blinding sun that made your eyes water; and over-used the same adjectives when faced with a conundrum on how to describe an unexpected sight (ie an old semierect hospital bed in the first livingroom, 12 Virgin Mary statues in another and garden of concrete – all which we described as “interesting”).

We rewarded them, we hoped, with Shane gamely getting into the world’s tiniest bath with a huge spider, and me unintentionally letting the emotion of being in front of a camera and having lovely people on hand to bring on my tears.

Despite some promise with the third option on the show, the properties we viewed in Tomar didn’t fit our brief – countryside yet accessible to a town, garden space, privacy, possible potential for some type of additional renovation, etc – and the budget we had provided in our application was higher than what was chosen to share in the finished programme (about €300,000). The location was off-the-mark for us. But, the filming experience helped us refine our search and, perhaps, most importantly it helped bring Shane and I back on to the same page.

Neither of us had picked any of the three properties so we could view them with mirth or interest without any emotional attachment and without an agent breathing down our necks. We could honestly share what we thought of them ... well, as honesty as you can with a camera standing between you and dodgy foundations! And we did something completely out of our comfort zones together and had a laugh while doing it.

And in the end, the filming did lead us to the home we signed for in March this year, just ahead of my 40th birthday. We came up with the game plan to narrow our search to “the home for us right now”, removing the “forever ever home” burden.

We reverted to the list on the fridge, that we’d written back in Cork four years previously, and decided to use it as our guide. Two days later, we celebrated not only surviving the filming gauntlet, but actually enjoying it, with lunch at Club Nautico Xaranga, a relaxed restaurant on the banks of the River Arade, close to the city of Silves, the ancient capital of Algarve. Expertly run by Ana and Ivan, their chalkboard menu never fails to impress and the vibe is just magic.

After regaling them with our TV tales, we hiked the local trails and the next day, while Shane waited for a delayed flight, he clicked into the Idealista app (Portugal’s property portal), drew a circle around Club Nautico to refine a search area and promptly sent me a link for what is now our home.

It was a two-bedroom traditional Algarvian home, with a converted garage and a pool, overlooking the Odelouca River and close to the historic town of Silves. As I left after my first viewing, I sent Shane a video and message I read again recently – “I think we might have found it.”

What sold it to us was its view west over the Monchique mountains, ensuring stunning sunsets; easy access to local towns; the attention given to water and energy conservation; and its end-of-road location – the road literally ends at the house, continuing only into a field that has a rural designation meaning it cannot be built on, which rolls down to a quiet laneway and the tidal river beyond.

By the time we tuned in to watch the show with friends from Lagos, Cork and Limerick, who were kindly hosted a viewing party while family watched in Ireland, we cracked open a bottle of bubbles to toast that, despite significantly adding to our budget, we had managed to pay our deposit and were on the home straight. I might have shed another tear that night, but I can’t remember if it was relief at having made our big step, or hilarity at seeing ourselves on screen.

As I type, house sparrows are zipping into their nests in the covering above our outdoor cooking and living area, which is looking close to collapse with all the nests, but we’re thrilled that they are sharing our space. The garden has dried with the heat of the summer after a spring of bursting wild flowers, and we’re getting used to the reality of plus-30 degrees on an almost daily basis.

Around the house, there are countless books, records and art collected from around the world and brought over via camper van, along with favourite kitchen equipment, endless adaptors, two new beds, furniture kindly left by the previous owners and the starting equipment for a darkroom, a dream I’ve had for years. At some stage, walls will be painted, ceilings will be possibly knocked and there’ll be other tweaks and changes.

For now, I’ll happily work outside with a bougainvillea and a fig tree creeping into my Zoom background and the sparrows, bee-eaters, swallows and warblers (thank you Merlin app), providing the soundtrack. Later, I’ll join Shane and Mutti to kayak from the local pontoon on the river below to watch storks and, who knows, maybe end up at our favourite restaurant.

Leonie Corcoran is former Irish Times journalist