Even before the sharing economy became a thing, people were renting apartments in Salvador. What I personally love about renting an apartment is that not only do you get your own space, but you can also save a ton of money by cooking in the apartment.
Even if you aren’t much of a cook and/or would much rather enjoy the amazing food of Salvador — of which there is plenty — it’s so nice to roll out of bed in the morning, make decent coffee and breakfast in your apartment, and then deal with the cacophony of the street when you are ready.
When it comes to finding an apartment, the first thing you want to consider is how long you are looking to stay. If you are looking at a few days to a few months, then you are probably looking for a furnished apartment — you just want to show up and have a bed to sleep in. If you are thinking about more like six months to a year or more than it may be worth renting an unfurnished apartment.
Rent a Furnished Apartment
The sharing economy has definitely taken off in Salvador — and AirBnB with it. A quick search on AirBnB right now shows over 300 rentals available the city. AirBnB will tell you that the average price per night is $93, but that is not at all my experience.
On AirBnB in the Barra neighborhood (a good neighborhood), a private room with two beds is currently $14-20 and whole apartments are in the $40-50 range. That is what I would expect.
Consider yourself forewarned: most Brazilians don’t speak English, and you are going to see a lot of Portuguese listings. But, there are also a number of English-language listings — oftentimes those are property managers that manage properties for foreigners. To get a sense if someone is renting their own place versus a property manager, just click on their profile and you can see their other properties. Or read through their reviews and it will often mention “other properties by this owner”.
Which leads me to my next option…
Renting through a Property Manager
This is how I rented. There are a small number of English-speaker property managers whose sole jobs are to manage properties for foreigners or wealthy Brazilians who have western-style apartments in Salvador as investment property. They rent the properties to visitors as well as help property owners (including foreigners) buy and sell apartments.
Here is my secret to get an AirBnB property at a good price: If you have found someone on AirBnB that is a property manager, search to see if they also have a website for rentals. Many of them do, and renting direct from them can be less expensive (as much as 30%) because they don’t have to pay AirBnB fees.
Leave that marvelous apartment and visit the Pelourinho
The Pelourinho, the historic center of Salvador, is a true must-not-be-missed experience for every visitor to our magical city. It is the is the heartbeat of the city.
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Rent an Unfurnished Apartment
If you are planning on making Salvador your home for any length of time, then you’ll likely want to rent an unfurnished apartment. As someone who is thinking about making this leap, I will warn you that doing this in Brazil is nothing like the process in the US.
Before you head down this path, make sure you have all of the right documentation. It is darn near impossible for a foreigner to open a bank account in Brazil, and without something called a CPF (their equivalent of a social security number), you can’t rent an apartment or get internet or hook up utilities. Ask questions, and then ask again.
With that warning out of the way, I will say that even if you have your ducks in a row from a paperwork perspective, finding your dream pad is daunting proposition. And, it all starts because the websites are awful. And that is understating things. IMHO, there are a number of giant problems with the way listings are done in Salvador:
- Owners take absolutely no pride in the appearance of their home in their photos. They post whatever they can snap on their cellphone — doesn’t matter if the dishes are washed or the beds are made. This apparently extends to showings, as a property manager friend of mine recently told me a story of a showing where the teenage son was still in bed.
- The websites are largely un-usable. Generally, the sites allow you to narrow down to neighborhood, but from there you can filter on bedrooms, bathrooms, garage stall, square footage, and price range. That’s it. Nothin about amenities — nothing.
- You’ll find the same property listed multiple times. It’s quite common, and I don’t know why. But, I’ll see the same place listed two or three times. I think that it’s once by owner, and then once or twice more by a local property manager.
- Places rent but the listings don’t get updated. We’ve called about specific listings only to be told that it was rented months ago. Related to the previous point, I suspect that many of the agents don’t have exclusive listing rights, so they just post whatever they can get their hands on, and when it rents they aren’t told or just don’t take the time to take the listing down.
If you still aren’t put-off by the whole situation, I do have some resources for you. The first one is the only dedicated real estate site, the other two are all-purpose buy/sell/rent sites:
- Vivareal.com.br. This is the largest site in the country, and I have been seriously annoyed at them for well over a year now because of how poorly their site worked. But, when I sat down to write this I realized they have finally put in some amenity filters!!! They are a funded venture company, so I’ve always been astounded at how a company with that much venture capital could have a completely unusable site. Apparently they were just working on it, and like most things in Brazil, it just takes a while. Anyway, VivaReal currently has over 1 million listings, with over 13,000 in Salvador and over 500 in the Barra neighborhood alone.
- MercadoLivre.com.br. Mercado Livre is a giant market that sells just about everything, and that everything includes apartments to rent or buy. This site falls into the “you can’t search on any amenities” category. They currently have less than 40 rental listings in Salvador. This clearly isn’t where Salvador goes to rent apartments, but interestingly I’ve found things here I haven’t found elsewhere.
- Olx.com.br. Olx is a a network of community sites around the world for people to buy and sell goods (including buying and renting apartments). Olx currently has 18,000 rental opportunities in Salvador with absolutely no filtering capabilities.
Each of these sites are in Portuguese, and the owners you are renting from are probably not going to speak English. Unless you have a good working knowledge of Portuguese or has a friend that can help you out, this is probably not going to be a great option for you. You might get the place rented, but eventually you’ll have to call because the wi-fi goes out (which happens ALL. THE. TIME.) and you won’t have a friendly english-speaking property manager to call.
Rent from a Friend
And, of course, there is always the option of befriending a Soteropolitano (a person from Salvador) and seeing if they have a spare room or know someone with a spare room. But, if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Ask a lot of questions (things like a kitchen, bathroom, and internet should not be assumed), know your limits, and agree on a price and duration. And then go see the apartment and neighborhood.
I have stayed with friends, and never had anything bad happen, but I have also found myself in a number of situations thinking, “hmmm… that’s not quite how it was described.”