Last updated on 03-Oct-2021
As you may already know, my hubby and I relocated from Toronto, Canada to Lisbon, Portugal in mid-December, 2019. We often get questions about living in Portugal. One of the main points of interest is regarding the cost of living, and we have been tracking/sharing our basic monthly expenses for 2021, as a reference. Another question we get frequently is: “How did you find/rent your apartment?”
So this is what this post is about – How to find a property to rent in Portugal! 🙂
This post is about regular longer-term rentals, and NOT short-term, vacation-type rentals. The steps in finding a place to rent are very similar everywhere, but I’ll go into more detail on each step, share some info on the local market, and provide tips and resources to help you navigate the process.
Note: Our experience with “property-hunting” in Portugal has been limited to Lisbon and its metropolitan area, but I’m sure the points included below would be valid elsewhere in the country.
Ready? Here we go!
First Step: Where can I find the properties available?
There’s no centralized “one-stop-shop” database online with all the listings for properties available, so you may have to check a few different places. Sometimes, agents will have “exclusive” listings, that are only available through their real estate company on the platforms they choose to list, with their own website/network usually being first. Other times, the same property may be listed online by several agents, which can be confusing and artificially inflate the number of listings to choose from.
In general, things are moving more and more online each day, and Portugal is no exception to that trend. That being said, the two largest websites where you can find properties to rent are:
Most ads are listed through agents (“Profissional”), but some could also be listed by the owner directly = “FRBO” (“Particular”).
The largest real estate companies will usually list on their own websites first, frequently with more details than the ads on Idealista and Imovirtual, and sometimes a property is rented out before it even appears on the larger platforms above (we’ve been told it can take 2-3 days for the new listings to appear). So, it may be a good idea to check these “source” websites as well, especially in larger cities or high-demand areas.
Something we noticed: Agents and landlords may not remove the ads quickly after the property is rented out (sometimes even months later!). So, a good indication that the unit is still available is how recently the ad was posted or updated. For busier markets like Lisbon, if an ad hasn’t been touched in weeks/months, it most likely isn’t available. If it’s still available, be cautious, as there could be other reasons/issues to explain that.
Tip: if a property is not listed by a professional agent, seems “too good to be true”, or if you get unsolicited emails from people offering properties, be extra careful. Most instances of fraud start out that way. NEVER pay any money/deposit to be able to see the property. Money should only be paid when the rental terms are agreed upon and the contract is signed, usually at a lawyer’s or agent’s office.
Tip: If you are already in Portugal and able to walk around the areas/neighbourhoods you think may be suitable, pay attention to any FOR RENT signs (Arrendar). We’ve found some additional options that way.
Now, regarding the listings themselves, here’s some lingo to help you along.
T0 = studio or bachelor apt (no enclosed bedroom), T1 = 1 bedroom, T2 = 2 bedrooms, T3 = 3 bedrooms, and so on. If the ad says, for example, “T1 + 1“, it means it has 1 bedroom + 1 interior room (with no window/door to the outside).
Assoalhadas = Main rooms (excludes kitchens and bathrooms). E.g. A T1 would have 2 “assoalhadas” (1 bedroom + living room)
Casas de banho = Bathrooms/washrooms/toilets
Alpendre = Porch
Quintal = Backyard/exterior area in the back
Arrecadação = Storage space, locker
Parkeamento = Parking space
Box = Enclosed parking space
Marquise = Enclosed balcony area
Certificação energética = Energy rating. Rates the efficiency of appliances, thermal insulation and comfort. A+ is best. Anything C or worse usually won’t have central heating/air conditioner, may indicate less insulation, older appliances/water heater, etc., and will be less efficient (more expensive) to heat and cool. Sometimes an “F” could simply mean the rating is not available. If in doubt, ask!
Need help with other words/expressions for your property search? Let me know in the comments below!
Some ads will be very detailed, others very brief/generic. Make a list of the features you want in a place, starting with size, location, features and amenities, and use that to sort/narrow down the options. Decide on what is a “must-have” and what would be “nice to have”. If not mentioned on the description / visible in the pictures, here are some points to consider/confirm:
- Will the place be rented furnished (“mobilado”) or not?
- Is there central heating?
- Does the place have air conditioning? (many AC units combine heating/cooling functions for year-round use, as needed)
- Which appliances are included? Refrigerator, stove (or cooktop + oven) and water heater are staples. Dishwashers are also common in newer or renovated units. A clothes washer is almost always included, but a dryer is harder to get. Some places will have a washer/dryer combo unit, but very rarely a separate dryer.
- Is there parking? Elevator(s)?
- Is there a balcony/terrace/outdoor space?
Second Step: Contact the agent(s)/owner(s) to book a visit
If using Idealista or Imovirtual for your search, there’s a contact form right on the listing page. That’s the easiest way to contact the advertiser, but we’ve found it usually isn’t the best option. In our experience, most messages we sent this way were not answered at all or were answered days/weeks (even months!) later. So, unless the ad specifically says to contact the advertiser using the form or email, it’s better to contact them by phone.
Review the entire ad for contact numbers – check the contact info area, the description, and other spots lower on the page (I’ve even seen a listing that had a picture of the sign with the agent’s direct number). If the contact number starts with a “2” it’s a landline, usually for the agent’s office. If the number starts with a “9” it’s a mobile phone, and those are the best numbers to try!
Tip: Many people have WhatsApp (message app) on their cell phones. We’ve had a better rate of success reaching people and getting replies using this tool. In addition, you can use a translating tool for the messages/replies to assist with the communication, since it can be all done in writing
Note: Adjust your expectations to the local timing and pace. It’s common for advertisers not to answer or return calls during major holiday periods (e.g. from around mid-December to after the New Year), vacation periods (e.g. MANY people take time off in August, sometimes an entire month) or weekends.
For privacy reasons, many ads do not include the full address of the property. When booking a visit in person, make sure to confirm the address (ask for it to be sent to you by text, WhatsApp or email to avoid spelling issues) and have the advertiser’s direct number handy. Virtual tours and live video calls are also being offered to view properties. Choose what works best for you. Even if going with a virtual tour (I would not recommend it for FRBO ads), ask for the address so you’ll be able to check the place on Google street view and Google maps, to get a sense of the neighbourhood, the amenities nearby, etc.
A note on agent cooperation: for rental agreements, it’s not mandatory for agents on either side to cooperate, especially from competing brokerages. It’s still fairly common, but not every listing agent will cooperate (and share the commission) with an agent working with the tenant. You DO NOT need to have an agent screening properties on your behalf and you CAN contact the listing agents directly to book visits, but while there are certain advantages to working with an agent on your side, they may only check the pool of properties where they can cooperate, and that could decrease your potential options a bit.
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Third Step: Proceed with the rental offer and sign a contract for the selected property
When you see a place you like and tell the agent (yours or the landlord’s) you would like to rent it, usually they will tell you to “send an offer” (“proposta”) to them by email, and they will forward it to the landlord who will have the final say. The landlord should respond within 48h (if there are special circumstances that require a longer response time, the agent will let you know). It is in their interest to reply quickly, because until the agreement is firmed up, the tenant may find another suitable property and cancel the offer.
Check the specific requirements with the agent, but in general, the email offer should include:
- A brief letter of introduction, telling the landlord a bit about you and your family (or whoever else will live on the property with you), what you do (i.e. retired, digital nomad, etc), the guarantor’s information (if there’s one), when you would like to get the keys and start the contract, how long will be the contract term (one year, two, three, etc.), and how much you are offering to pay in rent and security deposit for the property
- Copies of IDs (e.g. passports, residency cards, etc) for all adults who will reside on the property
- Financial information to support your ability to pay the rent (e.g. bank statements, pay stubs, income tax docs, etc.)
It is common to require two (2) months’ rent (first & last) + a security deposit upfront (“caução“, usually equivalent to another 1-2 months’ rent). It’s also common to ask for a guarantor or a larger deposit in lieu of the guarantor. The terms are often included in the rental ad. Some landlords will be firm with the guarantor requirement, not accepting an increased deposit as a replacement. If you don’t have a guarantor, don’t stress and don’t try to fight it. Move on and find a more flexible landlord.
Tip: It’s fairly common to make an offer for a rent amount lower than the price listed, so do not look at the number on the ad as “written in stone”. It seems many landlords list their properties at a higher price to be able to end up at their target after negotiations, and if the tenant offers the full price, it’s icing on “their” cake. Unless it’s mentioned that the price is firm, if you like a place, keep a poker face and ask if there’s any flexibility on the rent. An agent will tell you if there is and may even suggest an amount they believe the landlord will accept. Take the suggestion with a grain of salt.
From what we’ve experienced, it may be easier to negotiate the price if:
- the property has been sitting vacant for a bit
- you can start the contract soon
- the cost seems higher than the average for the area with no exceptional features to justify the price
- the place lacks something that others in the area usually offer
- the place needs something that you are willing to do/add
Sometimes, in very desirable locations/properties, there will be more than one offer at the same time, and the landlord will compare them to make a choice, but often, as soon as one offer is presented, the listing agent will tell other potential tenants who contact them that the property is on hold with an active offer, and only book visits/take a new offer if the first one doesn’t proceed.
Tip: If the landlord is evaluating more offers at the same time as yours, it may be risky to try to get a discount. You can offer the exact price they have asked for OR even offer more (if you really LOVE the place, believe it’s worth more, or want to make your offer more attractive to the landlord).
Regarding the length of the contract, for regular residential contracts (not short-term/vacation rentals), the minimum contract is for one year, being renewed or terminated after that by either party with the proper advance notice. Some landlords prefer a longer contract duration (two or three years), so they can dilute the cost of the commission paid to the agent(s). The listing or the agent may disclose the landlord’s preference upfront.
If the offer is accepted, the terms of the agreement will be described in a contract draft (“minuta“) that will be sent to the potential tenant for approval. Read the contract carefully! If not able to understand a document in Portuguese, copy and translate the text, ask someone you trust to review (if possible), and ask questions until you are comfortable with the terms.
Upon approval of the terms, the final contract will be printed, then initialled and signed by both parties, usually at a lawyer’s or agent’s office (digital signing may be available). The contract will describe the details of the agreement, start and end dates, and responsibilities for either side in terms of property maintenance and upkeep. It should also have an attachment listing any equipment/furniture that is included.
When you rent a property that is not short-term, it’s usually required that you transfer the utilities to your name and pay for any service inspections or (re-)connection fees that are necessary. A utility reading would be done when you get the keys (and the landlord would get the bill up to that point), then any consumption beyond that would be your responsibility. There are many different utility providers in Portugal. It may be easier (and could avoid delays) to simply transfer the bills without changing service providers, but if you’d like to change providers for any reason, you may want to inform the landlord or agent. You will most likely have to visit the service providers in person to transfer the utilities.
Resource: Visit our 2021 monthly expenses, where you can see the cost for our utilities (gas, electricity and water) and which companies we use, as well as the cost of our plan for unlimited high-speed home internet, cable and two cell phones (with call, text + data plans).
IMPORTANT: Know who to contact in case something breaks, malfunctions or in case of an emergency in the property.
Fourth Step: Move in and enjoy your new home!
We followed these exact steps for our rental searches in Lisbon. We stayed at an Airbnb when we first arrived and after getting our initial bearings, we started looking at rental options. We did not work with a realtor representing us then. This was pre-covid and we spent a couple of weeks going around the city, contacted agents/landlords and visited a few properties, found neighbourhoods we liked/disliked, identified some features that were important to us, and got feedback from people we know who live or lived in Lisbon, to be able to focus our search.
My hubby and I are both Brazilian and speak Portuguese, so that helps. After visiting a few places, we saw the ad for our first apartment on Idealista, scheduled a visit and after deciding to proceed, sent in the offer and the paperwork was handled by the landlord’s agent within a few days.
Many people in Portugal speak English, but it may limit some options and complicate the logistics for foreigners. If you are not comfortable with the language, having someone bilingual assisting you will be a great help.
Things went well with our first rental apartment and we really enjoyed it, but after about 18 months, we decided to look for a larger place. We started searching again on our own and booked a few visits. One of the places we saw was pretty close to hitting all the items on our list, and when the agent asked for some feedback on the unit, we expressed what we liked and what else we wanted. About a week later, that same agent called us and told us she had seen a unit that had just come on the market that same day, and she thought it may be a good fit for us. We booked a visit right away and were the first potential tenants to see the unit. We liked it and moved quickly to send our offer before the agent booked more visits. The offer was accepted and we signed the contract within a week.
We hope this article helps you in your search. If you have any questions/feedback, drop them in the comments below.
Here’s to finding a great new home for YOU in beautiful Portugal! 🙂