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By Doug Gray, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – With companies like Shell, BG and Halliburton placing growing numbers of engineers and executives in Rio ahead of the huge pre-sal drilling operations, the rental market in the city is buoyant. However, rocketing prices, insufficient supply and a largely inefficient real estate industry make the process painstakingly frustrating for the vast majority.

Ron Radnick, whose company Focal Point Brasil have been helping out expatriates in Rio since 1999, photo by Focal Point Brasil.

Ron Radnik is the man behind Focal Point Brasil, a Rio-based company that has been helping multinationals relocate their workers to the city of Rio since 1999, offering something more akin to the level of service they are used to in their home city. “Its funny how different the practices are here” he says. “Rental laws here are such that the tenant is responsible for all repairs, not the owner. If you have a place back home you rent out too you get double the trouble!”

Radnik’s two former business partners had Focal Point underway when he returned to Rio in 1999 having spent time in Houston in the international moving business. The company now has a team of four in Rio and two on the ground in Macaé, the small city with the big off-shore oil industry, and make it their business to help its workers settle in to Rio life as easily as possible.

A major part of that is overcoming the perennial headache of finding a place to live, made harder by both the oil companies’ strict safety guidelines, and the impracticalities of the Brazilian market.

“We’re not realtors” he clarifies, “and we don’t get commission so we can point out the good and bad objectively. We have a database with over 9,000 apartments at any one time. Many realtors here will show you a property that has already been rented to someone else simply because the owner (who has fifteen to twenty realtors working on it) didn’t let anyone know it is off the market.”

Its not just about sourcing apartments, however, and Radnick has a four-hour Powerpoint presentation for anyone wanting a cultural immersion in the intricacies of life in Brazil. “We can do everything from processing visas, driving licenses, C.P.F.s to getting names on bills changed quickly, internet and cable installed. We have even done things like babysitting during carnival for our good clients.”

New builds such as this, the Scenario Vieira Souto Apartment Complex on Ipanema beachfront, are now even beyond the price range of oil executives, image provided by SIG Empreendimentos Imobiliários LTDA.

The market has changed considerably since 1999, when prices were rather more affordable than they are today. Driven up by the very people now struggling to find a place within their budget, Radnik’s role is more important than ever.

“Back then a good rental allowance was R$8,000-9,000 per month. Today its R$15,000-R$17,000. When people see that they think they can live like kings, but prices in Leblon and Ipanema are incredibly high.”

Indeed most people would consider that a king’s ransom, and would blame the oil industry for dragging up rents across the city. However Ron is quick to point out that even at those prices, the quality of apartment varies hugely.

“Here the owners don’t care as much about the place. You can look round a place for R$15,000 per month and it have bare wires hanging out where the previous tenant took the fittings with them. I always give people a piece of paper with the essential information from the owner; condominium fee, square meter-age etc, but I have to tell them it may or may not be correct.”

And therein lies the strange paradox of Rio’s real estate. Spiraling prices, often for poor quality or almost certainly poorly-marketed properties, can leave anyone with a more modest budget scratching their head. Of course looking outside of Ipanema and Leblon, ‘the mini-Manhattan in the tropics’ as Radnick likes to call it, helps greatly, but it does mean that companies like his are priceless for many expatriates.

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