Before we relate our rental experience in Porto, a little bit of background is in order. First, there are a number of online sites where you can do some scouting on your own (Idealista, Casa Sapo and Imovírtual to name a few). Some offer other language options, but for those that are only in Portuguese we used Google Translate. GT’s camera feature on our iPhone or iPad allowed us to take a photo of the text, then highlight it so Google can translate it. It’s not perfect, but it’s helpful.
Here’s some terms you’ll encounter:
Casa de Banho (bathroom)
Cozinha Equipada (equipped kitchen, which may include):
Máquina de Lavar Roupas (washing machine)
Micro ondas (microwave)
Varanda (veranda or terrace)
Orientação (orientation – north, south, east or west)
Apartment sizes are listed in meters squared (10.76 sq. feet per 1 sq. meter) and sizes may include areas that we don’t traditionally consider living spaces (storage areas or parking spots).
Also, in Portugal a Studio, One, Two or Three bedroom apartment are designated as a T-0, T-1, T-2 and T-3, respectively. Sometimes you’ll see a listing that says T-2 +1. If we understand correctly, the plus one bedroom is usually quite small and does not have a window. Air conditioning isn’t common and some flats don’t have any form of heating (ours has hot water heat registers). Never assume there is an elevator, unless specifically mentioned, especially in some of the older buildings.
Also, the floors are numbered differently in Europe than in the U.S. Where in the States we call them out as first, second, third floor, in Portugal they start with a Ground Floor, then first etc. When a listing says it’s on the 2nd floor you may well be on the third. That might not sound like a big deal unless there’s no elevator, in which case you’ll be hauling every bit of your food, your possessions and your furniture up those stairs. For those with mobility issues, this is something to consider.
Some flats come with parking and/or veranda. Many don’t. Kitchens are fully equipped, or not. Dryers aren’t as common, either, and they’re usually electric which means they’re not as robust at drying clothes as in the States. It all depends on the rental property, and the landlord.
And now that apartment hunt Harold promised…
Having concluded some business in Lisbon, our real estate agent (Miguel) and I traveled to Porto. I have our lawyers motivated and ready to review the contract because that is the only thing holding up our Residence Visas. So far, so good.
Based on our initial Skype call, Miguel generated a list of potential properties, which we reviewed on the train. Time is critical here, as we only have from Tuesday afternoon to Friday morning to find a property. So off we go.
The first couple of flats we looked at were in high-rise apartment blocks in Cedofeita, north of Casa da Música. Close to the Metro line, but a long way from a Metro stop, meaning we will have all the noise, but none of the convenience.
The first apartment we viewed had been closed for a long time and there were odor and mold issues. The landlord was based in the U.K. and wasn’t concerned about the black mold, so that pretty much ended that conversation. The second apartment was furnished, but the furniture just wasn’t that great and the landlord, who was local, wasn’t keen to rent to foreigners.
According to Miguel, if you rent furnished, and the furnishings are not to your liking—such as an uncomfortable bed or awful sofa—then you must find a place to store that item. Given the size of these apartments, space is really at a premium so it’s not usually a matter of stuffing that unwanted piece in a spare bedroom.
The other thing that he warned us is that the Portuguese landlords aren't fond of renting to foreigners, which is why you’re not likely to get a response when you contact a landlord on one of the rental sites. If he or she thinks you’re not Portuguese, no reply. Whether this is because of bad experiences with foreigners in the past, or something else, we’re not sure. Having Miguel along served as a bridge to help overcome some of this unease.
I encountered this issue when we went to see an apartment that was in a great location, close to services, transportation, shops, and everything. When I was introduced to the Seller’s Agent, I could tell something was very wrong. The agent pulled Miguel off to the side and ripped him about not telling him that I was a foreigner. The landlord did NOT want to rent to non-Portuguese, though he’d clearly not indicated that disqualifier in his rental listing. The Seller’s agent was upset that we’d wasted his time, etc. etc. This goes both ways: I would NOT want to rent from a landlord that was so closed-minded that my being from another country would be a big issue for him. We moved on.
So in a matter of one afternoon we’d seen three apartments, two of which weren’t suitable, and learned that being from the States was going to be a problem. Time to develop a strategy for Day 2.
Next Up; Apartment Hunting (Part Four)
Harold is a former software engineer. Jana is an author. Together they're exploring their new life in Portugal.