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!


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

Thank You Ellen Pao

I had an “interesting” lesson lately with Twitter haters. I always like to post thought-provoking articles on Facebook so I posted a few weeks ago an article titled : “Thank you Ellen Pao for teaching more people about sexism in the workplace.” This topic was on my mind as I learned that a friend and her several colleagues were fired right after coming back from maternity leave.

I didn’t know too much about Ellen Pao nor felt any sense of solidarity with her specifically as evidence showed that she was no saint in her conduct. Nevertheless, I reasoned that her case was putting sexism at work at the top of mind for some people so it was a good time to talk more about this issue and share examples from around the world (which the article was ultimately about).

I then tweeted this article and some stats about the lower salaries of women players in the FIFA World Cup (only 2.3 % of total paid to the men) and I was really shocked that I started getting various responses from men. They were upset with me for “supporting” Ellen Pao, and eager to share all sorts of articles about how horrible of a person she is, what an awful husband she married, how she destroyed Reddit, etc etc. On the women player salaries, I was told to “get over myself”.

When I looked at these guys’ Twitter accounts I saw that all they tweeted and retweeted had hate speech against women and attacks on anything they mapped as feminist. It was a deliberate work they did, to find women that tweet about issues and attack them personally.

I, of course, blocked those guys; they have no relevance for my life and I am not going to waste time arguing with someone who has no intention to listen. BUT, their arguments reminded me of other times in my life when I was confronted with blunt sexist comments and was told to keep my “feminist propaganda” to myself when I dared to object.

If  you want to get a better feel for what I mean – check out the #thankYouEllenPao hashtag on twitter.

Lets pause here: I don’t know what your definition of feminism is but mine is that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men. (it doesn’t mean that I hate men, don’t think man are valuable or expect them to get thrown under a bus driven by some hairy and muscular woman)

I am disgusted by this type of aggression but am certainly not surprised. I am happy to say that many young men that I know are just as disgusted by this type of behavior and some of them are actually more actively “feminist” than I.

It was the overwhelming support of the entire scientific community that got Tim Hunt sacked for his derogatory comments about women scientists (claiming that they should be put in separate laboratories because they fall in love with him).

It’s therefore important that we all work together to make sure that our women don’t get discriminated or disrespected by a haters minority, which sometimes can become a majority.

By the way, I found out that one of the things that brought on the great discontent of Reddit users agains Ellen was that she wanted to close forums that promoted hated speech against fat people, women and racial minorities (they claimed she was violating freedom of speech). How ironic.

10 signs you’re in an abusive relationship with your job

bad bosses

1.You work hard and present great ideas to your manager, who rejects them and later on presents them as his or her own

2. You’re constantly asked to deliver things last moment with the excuse that “someone important needs them”

3. You’re told that you should be grateful that you have this job because people “out there” are DYING to work for the company

4. You’re suddenly reassigned to the area that no one wants to work in and told you should treat this as an opportunity

5. You’re told that the company is always looking for great talent but somehow you never hear of interesting job opportunities

6. You often notice that several other colleagues are working on the same task and whoever delivers first gets the praise

7. You’re told that first you need to spend several years proving yourself and only then will you be able to get challenging assignments

8. You’re recently promoted and your peers offer you “helpful” advice that ends up getting you in trouble

9. You’re asked to work on the weekend on a regular basis and expected to answer e-mails / calls at odd hours of the night

10. You’re asked to cancel your holiday vacation so that you can babysit the junior staff while senior management spends time with family

Please feel free to add your own examples to this discussion. #BetterJobBetterLife

What has brought me to San Francisco?


On my flight to San Francisco, I was reading Isabel Allende’s novel, Daughter of Fortune. It started in Valparaiso, Chile and finished in San Francisco, at the time it was starting to form during the California gold rush days. I didn’t know what the book was about when I started reading it so the coincidence was a strange,  but not entirely uncommon. Funny how these things happen.

The gold is long gone but I did come to the Golden Gate city in search of an adventure.

It all started when one day I got an SMS (apparently people still use this outdated technology) from a Business School mate:” Stuck in Dallas due to snow storm, thinking of coming to Austin and flying from there, are you around?”. Luckily, I was indeed in Austin and of course, I invited him to stay with us, looking forward to catching up. We were just moving to a new house, so it was great to recruit an extra body to help us carry everything. Plus, I was kind of curious to learn more about the Russia – Ukraine conflict (NPR is kind of useless on this topic) from someone who had many contacts in the region.

Well, one thing led to another, and once I found out about some of the challenges my mate’s San Francisco-based tech start-up was working on, I couldn’t let go of my fixer-upper nature and offered my help with solving them. We talked this through in the following weeks and Voila! It was decided that I will relocate for a couple of months to help on some projects.

Some of the other deep considerations that went into this decision:

1. I couldn’t do yoga anymore due to some orthopedic issues with my neck, so I had now much more free time on my schedule

2. My next trip was not planned at least until May

3. I never lived in San Francisco but on my visits there it seemed that it had way cooler coffee shops than Austin so I really wanted to explore all of them

4. I figured that San Francisco will be kind of a nice weather place to be in. I now know that cold is relative and my tolerance quickly adjusts to feel cold anywhere where it’s not extremely hot.  I am really not sure why I thought that my San Francisco wardrobe should consist of light summer dresses. Maybe I was thinking about LA? Mom – please bring sweaters and boots when you visit.

5. I wanted to catch up with my bay area peeps because I never get to see them unless we bump into each other in class reunions or breakfasts in Rio de Janeiro (you know who you are).

6. I wanted a break from driving. Whatever you say San Franciscans, complicated public transportation is better than no public transportation!

7. Fake consideration to be used in professional settings with people I am trying to impress with my super powerful business woman persona: Having worked in more traditional industries, I wanted to benefit from the Bay area’s abundant innovative/hi-tech resources plus the lean start-up operational experience in order to apply those lessons in my future endeavors.