The Saga of Buying an Apartment in Rio de Janeiro


On my last trip to Rio, I had the pleasure of accompanying the complex, yet fascinating process of buying an apartment in that wonderful city. Like anything in Brazil, this is not for the weak of heart, but things happen eventually after many complications and some faith.

I wanted to share some of the important things I learned in just a few weeks and around 15 apartments visited, each of which entailed a new discovery, a new piece of the puzzle.

This your complete guide to buying an apartment in Rio.

Where to Find Apartments?

Most apartments are listed on a website called (it’s the same one you would use to look for rentals, which is an important point, if you are buying as an investor and want to understand returns). In addition, each real estate company has its own website and listings, but very rarely those aren’t available on Zap. There are other small sites, but the most important one is that aggregates the information from all these websites. Which leads me to pitfall number 1: multiple listings (to be discussed in the next section). 

Another option is to walk down the streets you like and ask the doormen (porteiros) if there are any apartments for sale in the building. They normally know anything that’s going on and may even have the keys to show you the place. This way, you might be able to negotiate the price directly with the owner and avoid the middle men of the agency.

Pay Attention to Multiple Listings:

The same apartment easily be listed with 3-4 different real estate agencies, each with a different price, which may depend on the fee each agency  negotiated with the owner, and some kind of sales strategy they may have. For example, we found that JTavares, which seems to be marketing itself as a higher-end agency, normally has the same apartments as other agencies, listed at R$100k more.

Moreover, the information on apartment’s size and home owner association (Condomínio) fees may be different at each listing. Knowing this, you should do the following:

  • Look up the apartment in Nestoria (or google) with search term like: “apartamento a venda rua <streetname> , <neighborhood name>. Then try to identify all the similar listings by browsing the pictures . See what is the lowest price listed and have this in mind as the lowest initial price. You can still go see it with an agency that lists it for a higher price, but make sure to tell them that you know it’s listed lower with a competitor
  • Verify with the realtor the following info: the correct apartment size (it should be in the official documents), Condomínio fees, availability of parking spot and exact terms of using it – more on parking spots later).

The Realtors:

After seeing several apartments, you will soon start to realize that there is a great degree of variance in skills and attitude from one realtor to another. It seems that it’s not very difficult to get a real estate license and the agents themselves don’t make too much money therefore, don’t expect much out of them. One of them very accurately termed his colleagues as “abridores de portas” – “door openers.” Most of them don’t know much about the apartment or owner and just simply read from the paper in front of them, the same information you would get from the online listing. Every question receives the standard answer: “I will need to check.” They also send you the listings that they are trying to turn over, instead of the ones that match your profile, often ignoring all the things you told them you’re not interested in and basically waste a lot of your time on dead ends. They will tell you, however, when you meet them that they are “trying to understand your profile and needs.” Don’t be fooled.

The other interesting finding was that if you decide to make an offer, they pass it to “their manager”, who is the person in charge of negotiating with the owner. From what we have seen, these people aren’t necessary more knowledgable or skilled. They have just been there long enough to earn the status to be able to sit in air-conditioned office and not run around under the sun opening doors. Whenever the realtor doesn’t know something or doesn’t want to answer, they will invoke this imaginary “manager”, who they must first consult.

The best way to deal with realtors is to

a) search yourself for apartments that interest you and send them to the realtor to schedule a viewing,

b) be really strict and persistent on your criteria and ask lots of questions about the apartment before seeing it to make sure that they aren’t trying to sell you a lemon.

c) make sure that your realtor is actually registered and not someone who just decided to show up. They all have a registration number called CRECI – which you can look up on this website.

Once Inside the Apartment

Most apartments in Rio’s south zone are old and not very well maintained. There are new buildings but the prices of apartments in them will tend to be much higher so unless you have an unlimited budget, you’re left with the old apartments market. The actual conditions of the apartment may vary a lot and not necessarily have anything to do with the price of the apartment, therefore the best way is to just see the apartments and do your own math about what they may be worth to you. Apartments are sold as-is and owners are not responsible for taking care of any damages before handing you the keys.

The two common types required renovations are electrical – changing the wiring and increasing capacity and hydraulic – changing the pipes in the bathrooms / kitchen because they might be all rusty, full of leaks, and  water pressure may be insufficient. Sometimes realtors will tell you everything has been renovated but a quick walkthrough, a look at the electrical box, at the state of the shower and toilets, check of the ceilings and walls for stains can tell you the real story. It seems that wiring is not too expensive to do but hydraulic, depending on number of bathrooms and configurations may add up costs, because it requires breaking walls and redoing the tiling.

Some apartments may be completely destroyed and the realtors will tell you can renovate everything quickly for like R$30k, which is  of course a lie. Renovation can take months and it’s not cheap.

Cost of renovation will depend on apartment conditions and your personal tastes, but if it requires more than the basics, the total bill can easily add up to more than R$100k for a 2-bedroom, 80 sqm apartment. This is an important factor to consider when evaluating the sales price.

A charming apartment at a first glance, with a nice balcony and view
and beautifully restored antique floors…
But then!! The horror is witnessed in the bathroom that looks like it was bombed!

Look for Sources of Noise

Noise can come from different sources and realtors will always have an optimistic explanation why the apartment is such a great deal. One apartment we saw, was on the 6th floor of a building adjacent to a school. We could hear the noise of the kids playing in every single room, even when all windows and doors were shut. The realtor was trying to convince us that it’s not a big deal if we just installed sound-proof windows and kept them shut during the day. Another apartment, had its ground floor windows facing a very busy street, which according to the realtor, was not a problem as long as we spent time in the interior-facing bedrooms.

Elevators in some buildings can be really loud and if one’s apartment is located near such elevator, be prepared to constantly hearing the relevant sounds at all times of day and night, especially if it’s a building with many apartments.

Some apartments may be close to a favela, which in itself is not a big deal, if it’s pacified. The problem is that almost every favela will have Baile-Funks, which are big block parties. EVERY SINGLE WEEKEND, until the early morning hours. Unless you’re a big party goer, this becomes a huge nuisance and will certainly affect the resale value.

A charming apartment at a first glance, with a nice balcony and view
..until you take a closer look and discover the monsters lurking downstairs!!

Understand How Much You Really Care About Having a View

A typical “selling-point” we have seen in some of the listings is that the apartment is very silent and facing the “fundo” / back of the building. This can be a great benefit but more often than not, we saw apartments that have a view of the wall of the building nearby, or even worse, the view of the windows and the insides of the apartment in the next apartment block. Others have views of the internal ventilation area of the building, which aside from being depressing is a another noise hazard, because you will hear the echo of all the conversations of all the other neighbors whose apartments are facing this area.

We saw one apartment that was well located and “in a really great building”, that had a gym, pool, exercise areas, playground, restaurant, hair salon, etc etc. It only had a small problem: a little favela of 10 or so houses that formed near it. Well, when you opened the apartment window, you would be looking at the toilet area and other houses of this favela, that was located about 20 meters away. It could be a great opportunity to make friends but forget about any kind of privacy. The realtor suggested that if we put curtains, we will be able to “hide” the part of the favela from the view.

To help mitigate: from the pictures in the apartment listing, sometimes it’s already possible to identify such apartments and verify with the realtor.

Apartment 1: view of the Sugar Loaf
Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 14.48.39
Apartment 2: view of next-door favela (illustrated)


Empty versus Occupied Apartments

Normally, it’s much better to see an empty apartment because you can better evaluate its conditions and identify potential problems. However, it’s not always possible and we found occupied apartments kind of a pain. First, because people had A LOT of stuff, and it was hard to understand the size and potential of the apartment. And second, because they seemed paranoid about us stealing something so they would follow us everywhere and won’t stop talking about their lives instead of properly showing the apartment.  

The silver-lining in having the owner around is that by asking the right questions, you can get some information about their chances of being a crook and also understand their current financial situation and flexibility to negotiate. They might also be able to clarify information about the apartment, which the realtor may not know.

Pay Attention to Illegal Constructions

Some owners may decide to close of part of a the building’s courtyard that is adjacent to their apartment, thereby extending the livable space. This is normally marketed by the realtors as a great opportunity/benefit. This however, may turn into a problem because you may be forced to “legalize” the extension and won’t be able to close the transaction on time or have to deal with extra costs and bureaucracy in te future.  So pay attention to those charming courtyards and balconies.

Parking Spots are a Commodity

Having a parking spot is kind of a big deal because many of the older buildings come without garages and street parking is scarce. Even if you don’t drive, it can be advantageous to have a spot because you can always rent it out for a few hundred reais. However, it’s important to understand the terms and conditions. Generally, if the apartment has one, it will be in the official documents (“escritura”) and specifically assigned to the apartment. Sometimes, there is an unassigned but guaranteed spot in the building’s garage. A third situation we saw was a waiting list for which one could sign up and EVENTUALLY get a spot. This option is clearly worth a lot less.

  • It’s important to understand the exact terms of the parking spot and not just trust the realtor’s word of the apartment having a spot.
  • Realtors try to make out of a parking spot a bigger deal that it really is in order to keep the high price of the apartment. So do your one math of how much extra it’s worth paying for an apartment if one could rent a spot for R$200-300 a month.

There are many great details yet to follow but I will save them for part II which will cover the charming legal and bureaucratic aspects and the price negotiations process. Thanks for reading so far!


The Museum of the Future – Rio de Janeiro

Museum de Amanha, Rio de Janeiro best museum, melhor museu do Rio

A new and highly-praised museum called the Museum of Tomorrow (Museu de Amanhã) opened in Rio shortly before my arrival. As with any new thing in Rio, I heard horror stories about the expected waiting time to get in (4 hours. In the sun. No bathrooms. No seating, etc. etc..). So I tried to be smarter than the smart people and arrive there on a Thursday (Tuesday is a free-entry day, so I reasoned that probably this was reason for the lines). I was partially right, and the line was “only a 2-hours wait.” No way. The Museum of Tomorrow had to wait for tomorrow; I don’t do lines outside of state bureaucracy and supermarket in Brazil (can’t get food otherwise).

Today, a month later and once school summer vacation was over, I finally was able to get in with no line at all. Good things happen to people who wait. The building itself is a spectacular architectural structure. The exhibitions are really creative and inspiring us to think about how the world was created (a 360 dome theatre shows the evolution from the big bang), how different nature phenomena work (noteworthy is an installation of floating intertwined scarves that simulate the motion of oceans), the role of human interactions (fascinating photography exhibition from around the world) and how our consumption impacts the world we live in (pretty cool simulation games where one can see the footprint that his or her habits make on the world and how different personal choices can impact overall scarcity).



Video: Motion of Oceans

Becoming a Creative Entrepreneur

and viola! Drew my first X-Mas bell.

In a random women entrepreneurs networking event in Austin, I met a lovely woman called Danielle who turned out to be a founder of a company called Chalk Ink. We hit it off immediately and she invited me to an event she was holding at her office. She seemed nice and I had no plans for the next day so I of course signed up (I might tattoo “Never Stop Exploring” on my chest of forehead soon).

The story of the company is quite interesting. Danielle used to work as a designer for Whole Foods and create their store graphics and signage. She then realized that the chalk markers they were using were not adequate and created her own high quality markers which is now used in all Starbucks, Whole Foods and many other restaurants and establishments. I was also surprised to learn that they are also used in industrial plants and even by the US army to temporarily mark some equipment!

Chalk Ink came up with a very cool event to promote their brand. They invited a bunch of successful Do-It-Yourself and other artsy bloggers to come and hang out in Austin and create stuff with the markers. I had a really fun morning getting inspired by all these talented people and learning how to draw, something I haven’t done since high school. It was such a liberating experience.

Outside of Chalk Ink office
Lobby is just as cute
Getting instructions from real artists who work for Whole Foods and such
This was hand-written caligraphy
Artists show what can be done with a tad-bit more talent
All prepared with my markers
Marking my canvas
and voila! Drew my first XMAS bell.
Created by some of the real artsy bloggers like
Can’t believe this was drawn with chalk markers!! Credit: Anilyn Fabello,
You can draw on everything with these markers. Credit: Anilyn Fabello,


..even on fridges! Credit: Anilyn Fabello,
Amazing art by amazing artists-in-residence. Credit: Anilyn Fabello,
Got to make my own ornament and feel like a little kiddo!



The Belgian Surprise

Belgium is one of these countries you don’t really hear too much about so it has never been on my bucket list. It happened that I was attending two weddings in Europe and had to kill the time in between somewhere.  Since my significant other has academic collaboration at the KULAK university in Kortrijk, we decided to hang out in Belgium and combine work with pleasure.

I have been getting progressively worse about planning trips and therefore didn’t even bother buying a travel guide or researching the top sights to see. I figured that we could wing it by asking some locals once we get there. And this is what we did. Winging it around Belgium turned out to be a wonderful experience!

Belgium has a really nice railroad system that lets you get anywhere in the country within 1-1.5 hours. The trains drop you off in the center of all the action of each city, then all you need to do is localize the main street and start strolling towards the main square, which is always called the Grotemarkt. The Grotemarkt always has a cathedral, whose size may vary with the wealth of the city (or perhaps the ambition of its former architects). Normally, it also has a city hall which is decorated with statue tributes of all the former mayors. I could never figure out at which year cutoff happened though (as in when did they run out of space?!)..

From the Grotemarket there are always opportunities to explore side streets, visit delicatessen shops or chocolatiers and discover cute architectural treasures.  There is really no need for a tour guide or a guidebook because one can just absorb the lively atmosphere instead.

Even though Bruges is the famous touristic spot these days (probably due to Colin Farrell’s In Bruges movie), my favorite city by far happened to be Antwerp. It’s much more lively, combines the ancient and the modern, has many wonderful museums and a rich history of being a port city transporting merchandise and immigrants to the New World. Especially noteworthy is the Red Star Line Museum which tells the stories of the 2 million emigrants who went to the USA onboard of the Star Line ships in the beginning of the 19th century. The museum focuses on their story, on that of the shipping company that transported them and on the city and port from where they embarked on this journey.

On this trip I also visited Brussels and dropped by some local friends’ house, getting to experience Brussel’s version of suburb life (beautiful!) plus surveying some of the most amazing dessert displays around town. We had a meeting in the university town Leuven, where I actually tried some of the best artisanal desserts possible.  Finally, since Lille was only about 35km from where we were staying in Kortrijk, we got to have a french experience by eating (French!!) fries in a nice garden bistro, visiting their fine arts museum and stocking up on some baguette and pastries from Paul (I know it’s a chain but it was still so so delicious).

Belgian culture is a mix of french and dutch cultures and this is something quite weird for an outsider. Even though it’s a small country, you may start your journey from Brussles to “Cortrei” and 1.5 hours later arrive at “Kortrijk” – meaning that your journey starts in a french speaking area. By the time you arrive, you’re in dutch Flanders region, where everything is in Dutch instead of French, even though your’e taking a train with the same railroad company. I have to admit that reading menus and figuring stuff out in French was much easier than in Dutch! (Good thing everyone spoke in English anyways..).





Networking: Texas Style

Networking in Texas

On my mission to build my local network in Austin, I signed up for a speakers’ breakfast club that someone recommended to me.

I got up like a zombie at 5 am to make it for this 7am event (seriously, why so early?!). I drove in the dark to the university where I spent 4 years of my undergrad, got lost with all the construction around the new medical school and finally found my destination near the Football Stadium, which I’ve never been to despite the fact that football is THE thing about the University of Texas.

Anyhow, the event turned out to be pretty full, mostly with very energetic middle-aged people. I met the other young woman in the room. She was very attractive and stylish, with short blond hair and an 80’s style blazer and spoke with the confidence of a CEO of Fortune-500 company. She turned out to be an opposition consultant who recently moved to Austin from DC. If you’re wondering what’s do opposition consultants do, the answer is that they dig up all the dirt on the opposition if one decides to run for public office. “How interesting!”, I exclaimed (imagining a British accent inside my head). But she said it were a really boring job and that she had a bunch of 25 year old dudes locked in a room, doing research all day long. I could definitely imagine it as a scene from Mad Max.

There were around 50-70 participants in this breakfast and at some point they were all asked to introduce themselves. What happened next seemed like a 30-minutes-long infomercial. One after another, people stood up and threw marketing taglines into the audience – “Hi, I am Bob with Bob’s Wood Flooring Co and I hope to floor you today”, “Hi, I’m John with ABC Tech Co and I can help you make technology less scary to use”, “Hi, I’m Jane and I can save you from your financial planning hell.” Some taglines were more creative than others but of course I forgot all of them just equally. It was something from a Woody Allen movie when you don’t know if you should cry, laugh, give them a hug, or buy them a drink.

Just before my turn, a lady introduced herself saying she’s retired but works as democrats community organizer and apologized for being that. Of course I had to step up to the discussion because I can’t keep my mouth shut and said she shouldn’t be shy about this, and I am with her. “How can anyone vote for Republicans in this election anyways, “ I said, looking around the room. “They’re all crazies!” I twirled my finger around my ear to gesticulate. At that moment I realized I was in Texas in a room that was probably mostly Republican so I added “The candidates, that is. Not the voters.” Even though I didn’t really believe it. People seemed to laugh at my boldness and non-PC attitude. Perhaps they were just trying to figure out what would be the best way to assassinate me.

My timing was perfect because it turned out that speaker afterwards was a history professor who talked about the 2016 election and his views on which candidates could win and why. He was clearly not neutral but he did a fairly good job stating the obvious that radicalization and fear factor don’t really win elections in the USA because people like the message of hope. He talked a lot about Reagan and how he won because of his personality and good sense of humor and despite talking all about small government, raised taxes as soon as he got elected because he had to be pragmatic and deal with the budget deficit.

He also pointed out how politicians treat the American people like children; they don’t talk to voters in rational logical manner nor bother talking about real issues because people don’t really care and vote for them anyways. Nothing new there. He kind of contradicted himself saying that Bernie Sanders has no chance because he’s a joke and no one would elect a socialist. What the distinguished professor he was clearly missing was that Bernie is picking up exactly because he’s giving people hope while Hillary is just repeating old mantras. He though Hillary for sure will be nominated but didn’t offer insights for the Republicans. Me thinks I should write some books about this nonsense too and become famous by stating the obvious.

From networking perspective this event was completely useless but from a cultural perspective I was definitely priceless. And that’s why ladies and gents, you should always network.

Just kidding.

Austin Skyline
The Austin Skyline