Brazilian Challenge Day 226 – 228: Apartamentos

We are looking for a new apartment to live in. Right now, we are in Jardins Paulista. It’s a great neighborhood for shopping and restaurants. The area was very convenient because my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, with my daughter’s cousins, lived two blocks away. It was also convenient because her first “bi-lingual” school was in the neighborhood, and subsequently because we wanted her to learn Portuguese, her second school was right around the corner.

However, a lot has changed in the last couple years.

First, our relatives moved back to Rio. (This has its pros and cons.)

Second, the rents in this area are doubling or something close to it. Sure, I like our apartment and it is on a fancy street, but we also don’t have hot running water (we use electric showers) and if we use too many appliances at the same time, it shuts down our electricity. We also don’t have any kid-friendly amenities in our building. So paying double for this place, especially since there is no longer any good reason for us to be in the neighborhood, is not an option.

Third, things are getting a bit scary here. Because Sao Paulo is one of the most expensive cities in the world, the crime rate is increasing. (See “Crime wave hits Sao Paulo, with political effects” via Reuters.) And where do criminals like to go? Where there are wealthy people. And our neighborhood is one of the wealthiest in town. (FYI – do not judge a tiger by its jungle. I just made that up. Get it? No one is going to bother robbing us. I just don’t want to get caught in any crossfire.) Just the other day, a jewelry store on our street was robbed. The criminals took a woman for ransom and attached explosives to her. Nice. (See story in Portuguese here.)

Finally, I found a school that I like for my daughter, one that goes beyond pre-school. In addition to the school system in Sao Paulo being pricey, especially if you go the international school route, as an expat who is married to a Brazilian, decisions get complicated. My husband and I debated between a good Brazilian school and an international school. After months, our daughter got a space in the Brazilian school of choice and then in the international school of choice. Suddenly, neither seemed ideal. So I called up a friend who had her children, the same age as my daughter, at a Brazilian school. This particular school hit all of our needs. It is of traditional Brazilian education, which makes my husband happy, yet there are two teachers in each classroom. One speaks Portuguese and the other speaks English (very well), which makes me happy. The school, while large, is set up so the little ones are right near the gated entrance, all together, and not mixing on a playground with 9-year-olds (and getting pushed around). The school is in Higienópolis.

Higienópolis is a great neighborhood. There are lots of trees, the sidewalks are wide and the architecture is charming. There is a park, Buenos Aires, which is safe, expansive enough to walk but not enough to be scary, and has a child’s playground. There are fabulous restaurants and a mall. So this is the place we have chosen for next location. But first, we need to find an apartment.

Apartment hunting in Sao Paulo is similar to New York. You can hire a broker to help you, but you have to pay the broker at least one month’s rent, which motivates them to push you into the most expensive apartment possible. Both apartments in New York we lived in we found ourselves.  In Sao Paulo, it is a little less transparent. You don’t pay the broker outright, but it is built into the price, although the situation often varies by brokerage and by apartment. We found both our New York apartments on our own, so we never paid a broker. But that is because New York, as well as other cities, have something Sao Paulo does not. In the U.S., you can rent directly from an owner or you can find an apartment building or complex which is owned and operated for rental purposes alone or in part.

When we lived in Battery Park City, some of the apartments in our building were purchased by their occupants, but there were a number of apartments owned by the management company, who rented out the places.In our second apartment near Gramercy, the entire east-side Manhattan community was rented out.

In Sao Paulo, you are renting from an individual who owns the apartment. There are not rental complexes that assist in dictating the rental market. This makes the pricing of the market a little less scientific. Owners rent their apartment for what they feel they should be getting, not necessarily what the market dictates. There are pros and cons to this, a pro being that you can negotiate the rent, a con being that if the owner does not have any sense of business, they may not make logical decision.

Days 226 – 228, I apartment hunted like a Brazilian. Thanks to friends living in Higienópolis, I had websites to scan for possibilities and also a guide who walked the streets with me for “alugar” signs.

What are we looking for? Ideally, three bedrooms, a building with both pool and playground, and a view. Our needs are simple. We don’t require luxury. We want enough space for our furniture, especially our extra large American refrigerator, and enough sunlight to make it pleasant. A terrace would be great. All for the right price.

Because Higienópolis isn’t a big market for the expats (yet), apartments are reasonably priced. Don’t get me wrong, the cost of living has hit this neighborhood too. We are probably going to have to pay more than we do now to live there, but much less that what we would have to pay if we stayed.

FYI – because my husband is Brazilian, we are not the type of expats that have our apartment being paid for by the mother ship. We are on our own. So what other issues to consider aside from price?

The Bathtub

Oh, the ever elusive bathtub. Bathtubs are a scarce commodity in Sao Paulo. It is really the reason we live in the apartment that we do, because we have a bathtub. But little did we know that we couldn’t actually fill the bathtub without blowing out our electricity because had to use the electric shower to do so (believe me, the first question I’ve been asking about apartments is about the availability of hot running water).

A bathtub, or two as found in one apartment, will definitely influence my decision. I’ve been denied a nice relaxing bath for some time now, and it does impact my mood. But a bathtub is not a deal breaker.

The Built-Ins

Built-ins can be cool or totally inconvenient.

Built-ins in the office? Usually cool. Built-ins that only take up one wall. Usually cool.

(Outdated) built-ins that take up an entire small office? Not cool.

Bedroom built-ins are not cool because we already need to fit our California King bed in a room.

Other people’s ugly idea of fixtures

There are some items you can work with and some you can’t.

The right set of towels or some paint might fix this bathroom.

But I’m not sure what might salvage this one.

The laundry area

Would be great to have a service/laundry area that has enough space .

Considering we just have a cot, it would be nice to have some built-ins, including a bed, in the service area too.

More on that topic Day 231.

So we are still on the hunt for a place. Unlike our last rush to find an apartment, this time we are taking to find the right one. I hope it all works out…

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21 Responses to Brazilian Challenge Day 226 – 228: Apartamentos

  1. eliseblalock says:

    We are also going through the house hunt in OKC. I’ve been stumped by some of the ugly ideas of style. Animal-print carpet, rooms painted with OU football helmets, and lots of metallic wall paint are all the rage. I hope we both find our dream homes soon!

  2. Good luck Megan! I hope you find a great place. If they are doubling the rent on your place, they need to put in some hot water, seriously. When we lived in our temp place w/o hot water, that went at the top of my list too.

  3. Good luck finding a good fit for your family. I know it isn’t easy, but if you figured it out in New York and already in Sāo Paulo, I bet this will be easy. 🙂

    I’m a renter., too…would love to be an owner and pick my own colors and built-ins 🙂 My parents still live in the house I grew up in- going on 45 years in 1place, and they finally have it the way they want it.

  4. Alex says:

    Higienopolis! That looks like a greeeat bairro!

    Plus, I’ll be over one neighborhood in Perdizes for school! As for where I’m gonna live, probably somwhere between Perdizes, Pacaembu or Higienopolis! Look for me!

  5. Alex says:

    Middle of January!

  6. Andrew Francis says:

    My gut feeling is to say “good luck with the pool”. 😦 I was brought up in between your old and your new places and I associate Higienopolis with older buildings (think ’60s and ’70s) with spacious rooms and large windows but none of the amenities of newer buildings. So I think a pool and a “real” playground might be out (hey, I had lots of fun playing in the communal areas of our building anyway) but you should be able to get parking space (remember, some older buildings don’t have garages) and a gas water heater at least for the bathrooms. Having said that, there might be some newer buildings that meet all of your specs. I’m really not an expert.

    You should also consider Pacaembu. Parts of it will be close enough to Higienopolis (uphill though). You’ll get used to the noise and crowds on match nights and you might even run into the ex-President (the good one :)). Both areas are definitely places we will look into if we decide to move back to Brazil.

  7. anna says:

    I like higienopolis but like Andrew Francis said its an area full of “vintage flats”. I think the more modern ones will have a pool and playground but the older ones not really… and yeah FHC lives near the mall.
    also its an area known as “the jewish neighborhood”

  8. Ray says:

    Dear B.A.B.,

    Higienopolis is absolutely our favorite neighborhood in Sao Paulo. We might be neighbors… hopefully soon!! 🙂
    Just to give you some perspective, and before I say anything, Andrew gave you some great insight and Anna.
    Higienopolis is more residential comparing to your current neighborhood, more quiet, more family oriented, and yes VERY JEW, and I love that about the area, seriously, jews in full orthodox clothes and hair can be seen everywhere all the time, and they make great neighbors. 🙂
    The neighborhood has more green areas than your current as well.
    My favorite feature of the area are the older larger apartments, but it sounds like you are doing great in search front… 🙂
    Pacaembu starts about a couple of blocks from your daughter’s new school, if you go in the opposite direction as the Mall. I am very familiar with the school, you guys made a great choice, awesome school!!
    Hey, we should meet Alex for Pao de Queijo when we are all living in or around Higienopolis… 🙂
    Have a great search, you can’t go wrong with the area you chose!


    • So glad to hear your opinion on it!!! I never even knew about the neighborhood until I happen to make some friends who live there. I love it too! Just hope we are able to find a place soon because we are dragging my daughter across town every morning – ugh. I’m tired. If you came back it, it would make the neighborhood even better!!! Hooray. Yes, let’s get with Alex for some pao.

      • Andrew Francis says:

        Come on, Jardim Paulista to Higienopolis is hardly “across town”. 🙂 You can walk it in about 30 min and if you don’t like that, try the 874T-10 bus (route numbers were shorter in my day) from Av. Paulista to Av. Angelica. It will take you most of the way.

        • It is across town for a 4-year-old (in traffic especially). I walk it every day to pick her up – 45 mins. Good to know about the bus, wonder if I can take that on the way back with her. Tired of paying for cabs. Safe for a kid on the bus? Downhill walk for her from Paulista.

          • Andrew Francis says:

            Fair enough. The bus runs a similar route on the way back. It goes towards Lapa to go to Angelica and Ipiranga to come back. Check it out here:


            Click on “Linha de Onibus”, and search for 874T.

            I think it’s reasonably safe because you will be riding in a good part of town, but I haven’t taken buses in Sao Paulo in years, so I’m not sure. You might have a bigger problem with the way they drive the bus so hold on carefully (for yourself and your daughter). At least other passsengers tend to be helpful when you have a small child. They will at least offer to hold your bags if you are standing.

          • Andrew Francis says:

            BTW, any bus on Rua Augusta will take you uphill to Av. Paulista (and back) but the traffic is pretty bad so it might be faster walking.

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