Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Mind Game of Rio de Janeiro Real Estate

Rio de Janeiro real estate is not the same as at home. I hear plenty of foreigners talk and/or bitch about it.

Let me break it down for you. Most likely, you are going to live in a shoe box. It could be a very nice and expensive shoe box with a good floor plan and closet space, but it's still a shoe box. Think of it like a double wide trailer only stacked on top of each other, and the double wides cost extra.

At home we are used to space. We have OUR rooms that no one goes into. That was my first point of adaptation. When you have a bunch of family in your house no room is sacred. The stereo is in your room so of course people are in sitting on your bed jamming out to the new Foo Fighters. Violation at home and makes total sense here.

New culture, new rules. As adults the bedroom does become private once again but children's rooms are up for grabs and kids will go in anything without a lock. Yes, that does include closets and refrigerators.

People, space is limited. I think that's why Brazilians like their families so much more than Americans and Brits. It's a biological survival mechanism. If you don't like someone living with you it's only a matter of time until they get killed off.

And we can't forget the help. Most households add in an extra person at least Mondays through Fridays.

The funniest thing is that the foreigners seem to have the most spacious apartment.  Let me qualify, the foreigners with money and the Brazilians with money.  I can't say much because mine is also pretty sweet, although not as much as some.  But we foreigners are so used to houses, amenities, and private space that we easily get culture shock the moment we enter into a building here. Hell, don't even get me started on the claustrophobia experienced in the doctor's office!

I mean, there's no space on the sidewalk, why would there be in the buildings! But the hardest part is that people move here and have to look for an apartment. Looking for an apartment in this city is like looking for a golden needle in a pile of cow dung. Honestly, I would pay money to get a peak at the minds of half of Rio de Janeiro's architects.

So before the games, I suggest a Rio de Janeiro Foreigner halfway house apartment complex.  The apartments will be almost double the size of a normal apartment in Rio de Janeiro but have one little twist. Maybe the wall in the living room will be slanted slightly, or you won't be able to open both the oven and the fridge at the same time because they are too close.  There will definitely only be one bathroom besides the "maid's" bathroom.

Yes, most apartments the size of a closet still have a tiny separate bathroom for the help.

Anyway, it'll be a picture into these little things that you face in apartment hunting here. For example, a garage with a huge drip over your spot or a neighbor who throws cigarettes and condom wrappers on your balcony. A slight picture into real life. Here we live too close to be able to ignore one another.

Let's prepare them for this! It's only fair! Oh, I almost forgot, they will also be required to make daily copies of random documents and bring them in to an office at times that they aren't there anyway. Then they have to figure out, on their own, how to get these documents to the designated person!

And go! Rio de Janeiro scavenger survival game.

But on a serious note, this isn't a bad thing. While it takes time to get used to the lifestyle here, it's one that will definitely make you grow.  There's no way of not looking at yourself when your annoyed husband is staring at you like a pissed off and gassy mirror. There is nowhere to hide.

So adapt. Try it out. And do it Carioca style, get out of the house. Cariocas are not the biggest homebodies in the world. Go to the beach, go meet friends in the plaza, and definitely go to the small Brazilian apartments of friends. Use your home for what it's supposed to be for. It's a place to lay your head, fill your belly, and hose of the nasty.


  1. whats the normal / average size of an apartment in rio and in america in M2 or SQ F ( NOT counting the garage and common areas) ?

  2. Oh, Rachel, you are too funny! You kill me!
    Wash off the nasty! HA, the image has stuck in the brain for
    Keep in mind you live in a cool cosmopolitan area close to the city center of a huge metropolis, space will definitely be at a premium...
    My parents live some 18 Kilometers away from Sao Paulo downtown, they have a somewhat bigger apartament than most people, but they don't have the luxuries of subway at their doorstep or other big city ammenities, you gotta drive about 20 to 30 minutes into the city, give or take, it could be 1 hour during rush hour.
    My aunt just moved to Rio and they live in a nice spacious apartament in Barra, but their commute to work is hell on earth!
    My brother lives a couple kilometers from downtown, right by Avenida Paulista, in the middle of it all, but his apartament's bathrooms feel almost like airplane bathrooms, I hate that...I will take an old apartament and fix it up, at least I won't have to climb on top of the toilet to close the bathroom's door ;)
    I think apartaments in Sao Paulo had a decent size until the mid-80's, then they started to get ridiculous...but people adapted...not me, I refuse to live so crampted like that...
    A friend of ours has a very old apartament from the 1940's in Sao Paulo downtown, their ONE GARAGE spot fits two modern cars, it used to be for one of those "tank"size American Cadillacs from the 40's and 50', you can park half a dozen FIAT's in the same spot nowadays...
    Their apartament has a HUGE fireplace you can stand up inside of it, it is awesome! That is the type of place I wanna find...!
    I don't care if I live downtown near the homeless and the prostitutes, give me some space :)


  3. I lived in manhattan for a bathroom was the size of an airplane was IMPOSSIBLE to fit 2 people in!
    extremely expensive and super small....
    u gotta choose location X space when u live in the city centre ....

  4. I hear you Rachel. We had a tough time accepting the harsh reality of Rio real estate when we first arrived 6 months ago. And then as soon as I let go and stopped trying so hard (and forgot about it), voila, an apartment fell into our lap! (well, more or less).

    It has been documented that Rio is currently the most expensive city for expats, and we can definitely agree with this, based on our recent experience.

    I know it's hard for some newcomers to accept this, but that's reality, unfortunately.

    By now I don't talk about prices or costs in Rio anymore. There's no point, because everything is expensive more or less! And that's my standard now: I close my eyes and pay and don't bother complaining anymore. There's no point!

  5. I think there are two realities (well, more than two, but for the sake of this discussion...) There are the apartments for the rich and the apartments for the rest of us. Also, the older apaprtments for regular people can be predictable small.

    But some of the newer huge apartment buildings in Rio (excluding Barra - that is a whole other reality) can be just two apartments per floor. The elevator opens to a lobby with two doors and each apartment occupies half the whole friggin' floor. Some of those places can be huge.

    When we went looking for furniture to furnish our little (but not tiny) two bedroom place (40 year old building, no parking, no porteiro) we had a hard time finding items small enough to fit. All the furniture was made for HUGE apartment spaces.

    There are giant apartments out there, but us mere mortals rarely see the inside of them (unless we are teaching them English).

  6. Jim, I don't totally agree nor disagree with you. There are huge apartments out there but most mortals don't even get to see them. And for every large new apartment built, there are 3 more sardine can buildings put up.

    It's just the way. As for the furniture, I have a decent size couch and a normal living room. Some people say it's tiny and some a good size. It's all perspective.

    I guess I didn't get my point across very well. A particularly difficult part of living here is apartment hunting. You have to sleep with, make out with, and spank a lot of toads before you find a pretty decent prince. Sometimes, SOMETIMES, you end up finding the perfect apartment that is in your budget. Normally, there is some compromise.

  7. As for normal size... I'm no expert but I'd say they are, for the average Brazilian:

    70 squared meters for a 2 bedroom
    120 squared meters for a 3 bedroom

    I'm not sure with one and four bedrooms. If had to pull something out of my ass I'd say 160 squared meters for a 4 bedroom and 40 for a one bedroom. That is, unless you find a big one for any of these

  8. Rachael,

    I think it is getting harder and harder to find something over 100 square meters for 3 bedrooms. More and more I am seeing new buildings go up with 85 or even 67 square meters for 3 bedrooms. But, then again it may be different in Rio, I am in BH.

  9. Your comparison is more like life in the city (in Brazil) versus life in the suburbia (in the U.S). Then, yes, you are right on!

    But if you were to compare city life in both countries, the apartments' square footage would be pretty similar. Like someone mentioned above about a tinny apartment in NYC.

    If you drive out Rio towards the equivalent of americans suburbs, you'll find more spacious houses with amenities (not quite like the american ones, but more spacious for sure).


    I really enjoy your blog! I'm a Brazilian girl living in the States and all your rants apply to me - just backwards! Lol. Your point of view helps me understand some challenges I face daily here and also helps me understand better my own culture and self. =)

    Wish you the BEST na Cidade Maravilhosa (oh boy, how I miss Rio!!)

  10. You are right, you can find bigger places outside the city. And I hear the same thing about NYC. Not surprisingly, NYC is also quite expensive...

    San Diego apartments are not bad at all size wise. I was never surprised to shocked when looking for places. Then again, San Diego is a city but not a big city I guess.

    Corinne, you're right about the size. I still like to think these tiny new apartments are the minority. The buildings are built with pools and such so you aren't supposed to spend most of your time in your place. But it's still weird and you can hear absolutely everything. So not my piece.

  11. Barb, glad you like the blog!! I love that it reaches you :)

    And I will take good care of your city. I love it too!

  12. Please don't pull ANYTHING 160sqm out of your ass!!! (Have a c-sec instead, LOL)

  13. Sorry, having a silly morning.

  14. Rachel you're spot on. Our 2 bedroom apt. is 70sqm and the maid's bathroom is tiny, if you want to actually sit on the toilet you have to do your business sideways. Location, location, location, that's what keeps us here. For the money we could sell this apartment for today, we could live in an apartment practically 3x's the size in Copacabana.

  15. Rachel,

    I think the averages you gave for apartments are for older apartaments, perhaps the type you see where you live.
    Corine is correct, my Brother's new place in Sao Paulo near Avenida Paulista is 87 sq.meters and 3 bedrooms, they broke down a wall and turned it into a 2 bedroom.
    Unfortunately, the new apartaments are usually on the smaller size.
    But again, they do have all the ammenities, swimming pools, complete gyms etc...


  16. And it's not only the size which is a problem.

    Most of them are old crappy shitholes inside and badly constructed. The entry halls of some buildings look impressive, but once out of the elevator look like European apartments in Eastern Germany after the war.

    Apartments in Barra used to be bigger, but the new buildings also only offer small toy rooms and not a descent living room. Except for that you live in the middle of nowhere.

    Housing is a big problem in Rio. I settled for Leblon but paid a price where I would rent a 1000m2 loft for in many European cities. And still for the price we paid, and having everything refurbished, Brazilians lack the feeling for professionalism in construction (and anything else), so it still looks 70% and not 100%.

    Ohw well at least we have the beach ;)

  17. Giovanni u seem very unhappy to live in brazil! u complained about the food and now this....
    whats the problem with the construction? why 70%?

  18. I must say, construction-wise I am of two minds. For two story houses I think it is impressive that everything is brick and concrete. In the States it is all wood and drywall. Here the soundproofing is better and nothing can burn to the ground (mostly).

    But when you get to 15 story apartment buildings, it makes me a bit uneasy that the outside walls are just brick and mortar. Where is the reinforcement. I feel like if we were having a party and things got wild we could throw ourselves THROUGH the wall. It does not strike me as sound construction.

    But I do not have a detailed opinion on the matter. It just looks strange to me when the big badass construction company is using cut tree trunks to hold up the floor while the cement cures.

  19. Jim,

    You just made me spill ginger tea all over my keyboard!!! LOL...
    The cinder block walls have thick still bars in the middle, try to take a peak at a building construction site and will notice the thick stell bars in the middle of the concrete cinder blocks.
    You couldn't brake one of those walls down if you drove a dump truck thru me.
    Relax, those frigging solid Brazilian walls are not going anywhere!
    Brazilian construction companies actually have developed a special techonology for cement slab floors that is copied around the world.
    Arquitects and Engineers from Europe, the US and Asia go to Brazil to learn cement slab floors tecniques to take back to their countries.
    We might not have state of the art Central Air at home but Brazilians kick some major butt when it comes to Concrete Cinder Blocks and Mortar in constructions.
    Perhaps folks in the midwest should go to Brazil and learn how to build concrete houses that wouldn't be blown away in Tornadoes!
    Oh the visual, precious! ;)


  20. Giovanni,

    I have been to many apartaments in Europe, and they SUCK BIG TIME!
    Lack of Professionalism in construction?
    What are you talking about?
    I will take any building in Leblon over 90% of the buildings I saw in London, Madrid, Germany or anywhere in Italy.
    European buildings of the same age are exactly the same, with the exception of heating and insulation, that you really don't need in Rio.
    How about those European cities filled with UGLY gigantic buildings that look all the same, pretty? NOT! Ugly as hell if you ask me!
    You live in Leblon and you are complaining, give me a break!
    Rio is awesome and you should be thankful to live there and not in any other ugly city, there are plenty of them, I am just not gonna name names... ;)


  21. RAy - good to know!! From my vantage on the ground it just looks like a stack of bricks, that's it.


    My one suggestion for interrior finishing touches would be to put a picture rail across the crown of the rooms so you can hang things without having to drill a hole in the wall. Those cement walls don't accept a simple thin nail to hang a picture.

    I lived in old houses in San Francisco and many had a picture rail. We could buy hooks at the drug stores and it made hanging pictures, etc. and move them around, without banging up the walls.

  22. Great idea Jim! I would love to not have to drill, sweep, fill, and sweep again just for a freaking picture! Don't even get me started on shelves...

    Ray, Give Gio a break. You are right about there being crappy apartments all over the world and that he should be thankful for being here. But it's true that if you want something similar to the size and comfort of some cities in the US, you have to pay out the ass.

    I have found it easier to adapt. That and take my time looking at many apartments over many months. I've seen some amazing ones and some very very VERY scary ones! lol

  23. I guess u can find small flats in center anywhere in the world that will cost more than living in the countryside .....location is a big factor

    I prefer brick and concrete over wood and drywall.

  24. Jim,

    The rail thingy sounds cool, but the Brazilian way is a good ol'powerful mansonry drill with a "BUCHA" and a screw on top of it...sorry I forgot the English word for "BUCHA", it's the little plastic thing you stuck in the whole to firm up your screw, we used them here in the US as well...but they are even more essencial in Brick Brazilian walls.


    Ok, sorry, I will play nice ;)


  25. Brazilians love to live close to each other. Even small towns you'll see all the houses one by another. And it's not because we lack space (we are a big country). It's just how people roll here. We get into each other's life, neighbors even. Is all part of being a brazilian. And I must say it's not just a Brazilian thing, many if not all latin countries are like this. This is very latin culture.
    This reminds me of the last scene in the movie Splanglish where the daughter tells her mexican mother she needs her space as in give me time alone. And the mother says “No space between us!”.
    Apartments in Rio are getting smaller by the second. Old ones renovated are real gold if you can find it.

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