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 zapimoveis.com.br (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 www.nestoria.com.br 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.

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A charming apartment at a first glance, with a nice balcony and view
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and beautifully restored antique floors…
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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.

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A charming apartment at a first glance, with a nice balcony and view
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..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.

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Apartment 1: view of the Sugar Loaf
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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!

 

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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).

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Video: Motion of Oceans

Brazil’s current Soap Opera: The Presidential Elections

As some of you may know, the Presidential elections in Brazil are scheduled for this Sunday. The leading candidate must gain more than 50% of the votes in order to win. Otherwise, there will be a second round on October 26.

I got really confused navigating all the points of discussion and trying to decide who should I vote for should I had the option to. One questionnaire told me that based on my opinions, I should vote for Dilma. Another analysis of candidates’ statements on the Globo (the main media channel) website made me favor Aecio,  while on interviews / debates I liked Marina’s way of putting forth arguments. I then decided to organize all the key points to try and see if I could reach a better conclusion. The reader should be advised that this is not a professional’s opinion but rather my reading based on media outlets and conversations with people around me. Enjoy!

Dilma Rousseff, AKA: Lady “Tudo Beleza” (“all is great!”)

Dilma is the current president, representing the PT (labor party). Lula nominated her as his successor and she was therefore able to ride the great waves of his popularity and continue his political legacy. She was previously tortured during the dictatorship times in Brazil, a fact she likes to highlight as an expression of her loyalty to the country.

Dilma’s main points are:

– PT did great job with the economy, improved income inequality, health and education (building tons of universities and schools and strengthening scholarship and study abroad programs). Brazil is in great shape with inflation under control, and lowest ever unemployment rate, and a bright bright future.

– If anyone has any doubts, remember the evil global economic crisis. PT must protect jobs and not go down the horrible ways of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (pre-Lula president), which will cut jobs and put the country in downward spiral.

– Petrobras is the greatest company in the world and will just be greater in the future. Whatever things that could have gone wrong were not my fault, don’t matter anymore, and are evil lies of the opposition that wants to destroy the country and give the company into the hands of evil capitalists

– There is no corruption greater than the previous government’s corruption

– Political reform is needed to avoid corruption because otherwise, it’s impossible to rule without making coalition with corrupt politicians. The only way to solve this is to have a popular vote on political reform

– Minas Gerais doesn’t support Aecio’s successor which obviously means that all Aecio did in Minas Gerais just destroyed the state in the same way he will destroy Brazil

Dilma’s strengths: she cares about improving the conditions of the poor people and reducing the gap between the reach and the poor, which is arguably the biggest problem of Brazil.

Her weaknesses: She is not an inspiring leader: her speeches seem more like socialist demagoguery than a vision for a large nation, she doesn’t feel comfortable on camera, she doesn’t accept any criticism or opposite opinion and attributes any weaknesses to external factors.

Aecio Neves, AKA: “I mean business and I will save you from the RED dragon”

Former governor of Minas Gerias, Aecio comes from a legacy of famous politicians (his grandfather even serving as the president of Brazil for a short while) represents PSDB (Social democrats party). He is known as a playboy who partied it up with cocaine and the ladies and is friends with many of the Brazilian business elite. He recently got remarried and had twin babies, which “obviously” turns him into a serious family man.

Aecio’s main points

– Brazil is in awful awful shape, all thanks to PT: high inflation, high unemployment, crazy interference in the business environment, loss of investor’s confidence

– Government must have accountability, clear objectives, transparency, focus

– Government size must be reduced to achieve the above objectives

– I transformed Minas Gerais into a paradise on earth, with better education, better public safety, better health system and I will transform Brazil just in the same matter.

– Brazil needs a president that will bring back the trust of the investor community

– Central bank needs to be independent to ensure that it doesn’t serve the needs of politicians

– Fernando Henrique Cardoso is the god of the universe and I shall follow his politics

– I will create quality jobs

– All PT programs are just increasing inefficiency and inflation and need to be revamped

Aecio’s strengths: support from the business elite, which ultimately controls the country, simple business approach to running the government.

His weaknesses: personal image as a playboy, elitist group of friends and close ones make it very hard for him to become approachable candidate for the masses. “Old boys” political party that reminds people of worst times from the past.

Marina Silva, AKA: “I’m not like ’em other politicians”

Marina emerged as a strong candidate late in the game as her predecessor Eduardo Campos died in a tragic plane crash. She is a former Minister of the Environment, former PT, Green party, independent, and currently of the PSB (Socialist party, that is really not socialist at all and kind of combines ideas from all the above). Mariana comes from very poor background, growing up extracting rubber in Acre state, in the north of Brazil. She is of mixed race and sometimes seen as the “Obama” of Brazil, although I heard very few mentions of this. She is the face of struggle and ascent as she managed to survive various diseases such as Hepatitis and Malaria and get her education, fight against the dictatorship, raise a family, etc. She is sort of the voice of intellectuals, environmentalists, the poor, and big business at the same time, which is makes her the best or the worst politician, depending on the definition. On the other hand, her religious belief (very evangelical) made people question her abilities to approach neutrally social issues such as gay marriages and aborts and scientific research in an objective fashion.

Marina’s main points:

– I am not aligned to political interests of one party or another, I will work for the people of Brazil

– Business and sustainable development go hand and hand

– The other candidates are creating a divide in the Brazilian people, I will build collaboration between the government, business, NGOs, academia to support better decision making

– Generic stuff like: we need to improve health, education, security, infrastructure and create jobs

– Transparency

– Companies that receive subsidies for the government must make environmental commitments in return

– A president cannot be just a manager, she needs to be a leader and fight for her vision just like Lula, Cardoso and others did in the past

– We must put competent people in the right roles in government instead of appointing political positions and having a whole structure staffed with people protecting individual / party interests instead of working for the people

– PT is going wrong about the economy, they should stimulate investments instead of playing with exchange rate

Marina’s strengths: her poor background and appeal as someone who cares about social issues and the environment. Her perception as someone who puts values above politics.

Her weaknesses: no strong positioning or proposal of measurable actions. No strong previous experience in running a government. Strong religious beliefs.

There are other candidates that are worth noting fo the comical note

Levy Fidelix – extreme right candidate, that wants to solve crime by privatizing prisons, and recently became even more infamous for his anti-gay statements on the presidential debate.

Luciana Genro – the extreme left candidate. She is somewhat the combination of your 5 grade history teacher and Harry Potter’s Divination Professor Trelawney. Her party’s position builds on the “capitalism is the root of all evil” and “PT betrayed its voters and forgot its ideology” maxims. I couldn’t really figure out what’s the alternative proposal as she was using the presidential debate to mostly discuss the evils of PT, corporations, and rich people.

Eduardo Jorge – Green Party candidate. Gave me the impression of a kind-hearted hippy as he defended legalizing drugs as a solution for all crime problems and reducing the financial support to presidential campaigns. He seemed to be buddy buddy of Aecio Neves, the voice of the rich and famous, which made me somewhat suspicious of his idealistic / intellectual motives.


Pastor Everlado – the Socialist Christian party candidate. He represents an increasing growing evangelical lobby. Conservative on issues such as gay marriages and abortions and is pro-business. While his views on the economy made me think he doesn’t really have too much of an opinion, I took personal offence to his assertion of his credibility by explaining that there is no individual more honest and good than that who embraces Jesus Christ to his heart (on the topic that going against LGBT is against Brazil’s values of diversity and respect of human rights).

Conclusion:

While I put quite an effort trying to understand the proposals and credentials of each candidate, I couldn’t find any sort of reliable information on both fronts. The data is all biased and indicators are manipulated to support one premise or another. Overall debates are not about facts or action plans but rather about moving the crowd into one emotional spiral vs. the other.

The very complicating factor is the lack of independent media. The key media outlets such as Globo are very strong political players. Therefore, instead of providing independent coverage, they play a prominent role in swaying the vote towards the candidate they prefer, fueling conspiracy theory discussions and constantly failing to provide a balanced picture.

Finally, my bet based on latest survey data: Mrs Dilma is here to stay. Unless….

In case you want to know more and speak Portuguese:

– Key quotes: http://g1.globo.com/politica/eleicoes/2014/na-boca-do-candidato/index.html

– Presidential debates:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OqWxrjhLwY

– Interviews on main channels:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apeBzm7iHZE

Buttocks vs. Brain in Brazilian Culture

I’ve ran into the article, “Which Place Is More Sexist: The Middle East Or Latin America?”, a fellow foreigner wrote about her impressions of the Brazilian sexualized culture. It is interesting how most foreigners I know share a similar opinion, regardless of them being men or women. This constant portray of women as sexual objects is a bit much.

One entertaining pastime activity is watching Faustao’s Sunday talk show, which constantly features in the background half-naked women shaking their large behinds as the camera zooms in and out. As a woman, I never know if I should laugh or cry at this low level entertainment being broadcasted to the masses, telling them a woman is just a piece of meat on display.

It’s not only the media which keeps corrupting the new generations, I constantly see women dressing their 2, 5 and 10 year olds in little provocative mini skirts, putting makeup and nail polish on them and calling attention to them being sooo “bonitinha” (littly pretty things). This one definitely brings out rage in me. I see this type of approach at par with smoking in front of one’s baby. Absolutely revolting.

It is something I would definitely like to do change. Brazilian culture should value more what’s inside a woman’s heads instead of focusing attention on the size and shape of her behind or breasts.

Some examples of public propaganda on the Rio metro:

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