Our first project after arriving in Portugal was to figure out the Portugal long-term rentals. From what we'd read this is not easy but securing a one-year rental was the next urgent step in our DIY move to Portugal.
Here is our story of how with frustration, resilience and a few drops of sweat we found our apartment in Vagos.
I can't deny that it was far more challenging and demanding than I expected. With this being the case even though we were flexible in the extreme. Our search area was wide and we were prepared to take the first option that looked acceptable and met our basic requirements.
Our Personal Situation
We've been nomadic travellers and 'homeless' for the last nine years, with our only semi-permanent stops being just over three years in the Philippines and the Covid lockdown in South Africa.
Over this time, we've enjoyed the experience of staying in many shared places.
As we travelled, we minimised our life. Our material possessions slowly shrivelled to, a 20kg suitcase, a carry-on case and a computer bag each. With the rest of our worldly possessions fitting into two suitcases, one in London and one in Dubai, and a box in South Africa with our collection of paintings done by an old friend.
Over this period our nomadic lifestyle gave us all the flexibility and freedom we wanted, although admittedly at times it become a little trying. After all these years we were looking forward to being in 'our own spot.'
After arriving in Portugal, we spent two weeks in Sesimbra and a month in Santa Luzia on the Algarve. The time on the Algarve was useful. It gave us the opportunity to understood that "the Algarve" offers many varied living options and lifestyles. It is far more than expat enclaves or party-time resorts.
Our One-Year Accommodation Requirements
Our budget was flexible around €600 a month. We needed a ready-to-move-in furnished unit, with first prize two bedrooms, but we'd settle for one. In addition as we don't have a car day-to-day life should be walkable. There were also a few other nice-to-have considerations like being in a town or village with few ex-pats close to a bigger city.
I tried to concentrate our search on two east to west blocks; in the south from Beja to Evora and in the north from Santarem to Aveiro.
Other than that, we were flexible.
We started our search at the beginning of May and wanted occupation on 1 June.
Despite our limited requirements and flexibility, as I've said before it turned out to be a challenge.
Portugal Long Term Rentals Sites
As I started my Google searches, I found a few sites that I thought would be useful:
LongTermLettings.com – the site included many properties to both rent and buy. But, the site was slow, and some filters were irrelevant. So, the searches were, at the same time, time-consuming and frustrating.
In summary, not a pleasant user experience (UX).
Kyero.com – I couldn't find the filter for furnished or unfurnished accommodation (it may be there, but I couldn't find it!). I assumed that as this is an essential factor for many people, it should be easy to find. So, although the site offers many properties, the UX was messy and irritating.
So again not the best UX.
Idealista.com – this site offers many properties. It is fast and has a good selection of relevant filters. It also includes a handy option of being able to draw your area and an easy-to-use messaging system. So overall user-friendly.
Like all these sites, Idealista has many redundant and a few scam adverts.
I gravitated to using Idealista and to get over the redundant advert issue I used the last updated day feature to find the active rentals. For the possible scans my filters were; intuition, "if it looks too good to be true, it is" and using the Google maps satellite and street views. In retrospect one user experience improvement would be the requirement to have the exact address.
Valid Concerns with Finding Portugal Long-Term Rentals
Both owners and renters have valid reasons for concern. But we didn't overlook that owners, had their own valid concerns renting to foreigners.
Both sides have a myriad of reasons to worry which can make the rental process messy.
To lessen my concerns, I spent a lot of time making sure that the offers we considered were reasonable and credible. Here I repeat, Google maps with satellite and street views are a valuable, but time consuming, resource.
We also felt more secure dealing with property agents who at least had brands, registration numbers and websites! Also most could speak English.
On the other hand, to lessen the concerns of the owners, or their agents, we were prepared to divulge financial information and reference social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook and personal websites to establish credibility. We also ensured that we were professional and prompt with our responses.
The Search for Our Ideal Long-Term Rental
At the outset, we tackled our search with enthusiasm and high expectations. We sent messages, we made calls and then ... 'crickets'! Hardly a sound!
We accepted the concerns of the people and companies in the initial contact via the site or a phone call. With some adverts advertisers specified phone contact only. In these cases, we usually had to leave a message.
Day by day our enthusiasm and excitement turned into a war of attrition!
Slowly we started getting feedback. But generally, it was not what we wanted to hear. Responses like; 'The property just been rented' or 'It will only be available from 1 July'.
Early on, I realised this wasn't going to be a quick process. In view of that I created a document to keep track of our seventeen applications and started building a process.
During this phase, we noticed that some properties looked stale with no updates for some months. We discarded these, assuming they were either rented or taken off the market.
Our process developed into starting with a customised message through the system or an initial phone call. Two days after this I would send another customised message through the system. Meanwhile, my wife made the telephone calls. More often than not the second call again required leaving a message. Callbacks were rare, so we followed up with another message or phone call the following day.
If we were keen on the property we would add a phone call to the system messages.
Despite several contacts with follow-up messages and calls, responses were still sparse.
The frustration and struggle continued even after appearing to make progress and sending supporting documents. We finally had three possibilities. The one the owner was a teacher, didn't have much time and needed documents translated into English. With the second the owner couldn't decide whether she was going to rent or sell or what the effective date would be ... grrrr!
With the third option we made it to the final selection only to get an email on a Thursday morning to find out that out of four candidates we were fourth! Disappointed, we started following up with our other options.
In spite of finishing last on Thursday morning on the Friday evening we received a call to say we were now first and, "Did we want the apartment?". Trying to suppress our excitement we said "yes" and asked for the lease as soon as possible. From here on it was just sign and pay.
The secured our sight unseen apartment through Remax in Aveiro. In looking back, although concluding the deal wasn't plain sailing for us, they were always very professional.
Finding a long-term rental property is time-consuming and discouraging. The initial enthusiasm and excitement doused by frustration!
It's slow, first, sifting through sites that don't really work for you and then realising you need to have a search and follow-up system. Watching days tick past with no progress!
With patience and persistence, we found our perfect Portugal long-term rental. Sight unseen, we signed a one-year rental contract paying a two month deposit and two months advance rent.
We are now living in a one-bedroom apartment in Vagos, a small town about 10 kilometres south of Aveiro. It meets our wants – a small town (22 000 people), close to a bigger city, Aveiro (80 000 inhabitants) and close to the countryside. A place where we can experience an authentic Portuguese lifestyle. In an area with fast internet, few expats, walkable and close to a beach.
We may be here forever!
I hope that our experience prepares and helps you in some way to find your ideal rental in Portugal.