Finding accommodations in Lisbon can be quite tricky. But before diving into the nitty gritty of searching for an apartment in Lisbon, let’s take a very brief look at Portugal’s history and recent circumstances in order to better understand the situation.
In 2008, the global recession hit and the economy of Portugal collapsed. The country struggled to recover financially and psychologically for years, and in fact, was still struggling up to a few years ago. Today, Portugal is not only one of the most visited countries in the world, but its two biggest cities – Lisbon and Porto – are considered major hubs for startups and big international companies. Lisbon is also the permanent host of the annual Web Summit, one of the largest tech event in the world.
The capital city attracts a lot of investors, expats, and foreign students, mostly for its mild climate, fresh seafood, economic growth, and affordable cost of living.
Unfortunately, the latter no longer holds true, for two main reasons: low salaries, and the huge discrepancy between supply and demand in the housing market. Essentially what this means is, there are too many people looking for houses, apartments and rooms to rent in Lisbon, and not enough places available to be rented out.
Therefore, many landlords take advantage of this situation by overpricing rooms for rent, or renting out places that are not particularly fit to live in. But the biggest issue with finding an apartment in Lisbon is the rental price. While the prices are on par with other Western European countries, the salaries unfortunately are not.
Despite the major economic growth of the last few years, salaries did not increase much in Portugal. The average monthly salary for professionals in managerial roles in Portugal is about 1,700 euros net, with the minimum salary being 700 euros. Non-management jobs only pay about 1,000 euros per month. Rents for apartments in Lisbon, however, have increased exponentially in the past few years. A furnished modern one-bedroom (T-1) apartment in the city centre goes for 1,300 euros on average.
(Editor’s note: Lisbon residents surveyed for this post say rents range from 900 euros to about 1,400 euros for a one bedroom furnished apartment in the city centre.)
In a shared apartment, a single bedroom with a single bed that only a child or a very small person can fit in goes for about 400 euros, and this might not even include monthly expenses such as utility bills.
This usually also does not include an “ensuite” deal either. This means that you’re spending about half or more of your paycheck to live in a shared apartment, sharing common spaces including a bathroom with other people.
Depending on the neighborhood and the location – for instance, if you’re close to the metro and other amenities such as supermarkets – the price can go even higher, up to 450 euros or 500 euros per month for a single room.
There are many resources for finding an apartment in Lisbon (imovirtual and idealista) are some of the best for advertised rooms and apartments, as well as Facebook expat communities), but there are many factors to consider aside from price. Usually, if you find a “too good to be true” price, that means there “hidden” things to look out for in that listing … or you’re being scammed.
Generally speaking, there are 5 factors to consider when looking for an apartment in Lisbon:
No. 1 – How old is the building?
Older buildings that have not been renovated are not insulated, have thin walls, and are equipped with windows that are not made to keep the heat in. And they don’t have central heating in the building or the apartment either. This means that during the winter months, it will be extremely cold inside the apartment.
Granted, Portugal’s winter is not as cold as in Germany or in the Nordic countries, but temperatures still reach the single digits. With no central heating system or proper insulation, it can even feel colder inside the apartment than outside.
Having one of those electric space heaters remedies the situation somewhat, but is not a long-term solution, and can also add to the electricity bill quite considerably.
No. 2 – The cardinal direction the apartment faces
Is there any natural light entering the apartment? Natural light brings in warmth, makes the place look brighter, and also helps tremendously on laundry day. It is not common for apartments to have a dryer, and having direct sunlight on your wet clothes inside your apartment will benefit a lot.
Related to the natural light factor, there are rooms without any windows for rent: They are called “interior rooms.”
No. 3 – Is there a living room?
To maximise their profit, many landlords have converted the living/dining room space in their apartment into a bedroom, meaning there are no common spaces for tenants to hang out in – or to even eat in at times –because the kitchen is also too small to have a dining table.
Often, there are 1-bedroom apartments (T-1) that are listed as a T-2 (2-bedroom apartment), where the landlord has converted their living room to a bedroom, and rents it out while living in the original bedroom. It’s important to check those small details to see specifically if a living room is mentioned, especially on websites like uniplaces where you don’t get to visit the apartment before booking it (and since their customer service is often unreliable, you tend to get stuck in an uncomfortable situation).
On a related note, it’s best to enquire about the landlord, so ask previous tenants about their experiences if possible. While most people in Portugal are friendly, kind, and helpful, Lisbon landlords have a notorious reputation for doing the bare minimum for tenants, and even for not returning damage deposits.
No. 4 – Location, location, location
The fourth factor to contemplate is location, location, location. A lot of apartment listings mention access to public transportation, but it’s important to read between the lines. Having “lots of public transportation nearby” could actually just mean buses, and buses are not always reliable in Lisbon. They often run late, especially during peak hours and rainy weather.
During the weekend or holiday period, the schedule usually changes, and therefore can impact your commute time. Trains and metros are better in terms of reliability.
The other factor to consider with location is whether the apartment is situated in a hilly area, where it will be challenging to walk home during rainy weather, particularly if the streets are paved with slippery cobblestones.
Yet another factor is parking, if that’s relevant. Most apartment building don’t have garages for the tenants and finding street parking in Lisbon can be a grueling task.
No. 5 – Noise
The final factor is a somewhat unusual one for most cities: noise from airplanes. Planes fly really low over Lisbon, probably because the airport is so close to the city center. Pay attention when you hear a plane overhead and look up: You will see that some planes fly right next to the windows of some office buildings, and those buildings are not even that tall.
In some apartments, you can see the shadow of the plane in your room as it flies dangerously close to your building, and even feel the room shake from its proximity to the plane. Not to mention the noise that accompanies it, which can make it difficult to have a peaceful night’s sleep on a daily basis.
All in all, finding a place to live anywhere is always a bit of a headache … that’s a given. But Lisbon is particularly challenging with the huge demand for rooms and apartments. Add to that the other factors to consider, such as overpriced rooms, natural light, noise from planes, and slippery cobbled streets, and you find yourself filtering through a lot of listings rather quickly.
That said, once you find the perfect place based on your needs, Lisbon is a great place to live.
About the author:
A graduate of Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif., Liina Edun has a background in psychology and a career in writing and content management.
Having lived most of her life as an expat, she is currently located in Lisbon.
See more on Dispatches here about Portugal.
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