By Fiona Hurrell, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Taking on a property in need of renovation is a bit like doing a sky dive over the Grand Canyon. For some it’s an adrenalin fueled challenge that just can’t be missed, and for others it’s a stress-inducing hell that should be avoided at all costs. Even so, a renovated home offers the chance to create a truly unique living space designed to suit individual taste along with the added bonus of high capital gains that make for a wise investment. Certainly not for the faint-hearted though, and any project in Rio, whether big or small, will require undivided attention.

Real Estate Renovation, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, News
Careful planning, patience and hard work are essential for a renovation project in Rio, photo by Hugh Lee.

There are a number of properties throughout Rio in need of modernization beyond what some new furnishing can cover, the difficulty however lies in finding a reliable company to do the work. It goes without saying that home owners should thoroughly check a builder’s credentials before signing a contract, and in Brazil this is no different.

There are many companies in Rio to chose from, therefore it is wise to hire someone who comes heavily recommended by a reliable source. James Lomas, a British expatriate developing penthouse properties in the city, says “I found all the ones I use through recommendations from my architects. This is the best way as I’m sure there are plenty of bad firms.”

It is safe to say that regardless of the deadline, work is rarely completed within the specified time constraints. The nature of renovation work can be tricky, particularly as many old properties have thick walls that require a greater level of demolition. David Eger, an American ex-pat and owner of Rio Apartment Rental, has overseen a number of these projects and advises people “to be on the job at all times to make sure they are getting what they bargained for.”

Further problems can arise when electrical wiring or plumbing needs to be installed, accessed or repaired, and in the case of older buildings, a complete electrical refurbishment may be unavoidable.

The law requires home owners to attain permission, in the form of a permit, from the Rio Prefeitura before performing alterations. The First is a “Portal alvará ja” which approves the project but does not grant permission for work to start. Only when the “Licenças de Obra” has been obtained can building legally commence.

Real Estate Renovation, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, News
Renovating allows maximizing of space, as well as personal taste and style, photo by Charlotte Holmes/Flickr Creative Commons License.

In order to acquire these permits, the homeowner must provide various documents and a monetary fee depending on the nature of the work they wish to carry out. This is where most of the problems occur. Permits are hard to obtain and can take years while the cost of trying to legally renovate a property is constantly mounting.

As a result, many individuals tackle the issue by performing the alterations without a permit and then paying a fine if caught, which ironically, is reportedly often cheaper than doing things by the book.

As for the budget, always over estimate. A musician from New York living in Rio, Scott Feiner, recently renovated his own apartment in Botafogo and says “whatever you think it will cost people say it’s a good idea to double or triple the number!”

Research implies that a high end renovation on a typical Rio apartment with two bedrooms and two bathrooms could cost around R$3,000 per square meter. This cost would cover any electrical and plumbing work and extensive refurbishment on the kitchen and bathroom, including new tiles, cupboards, floors and windows.

The cost will of course be affected by the quality of the materials used and the desired time constraints. Good quality renovation does not come cheap but the more money spent on a refurbished home, the greater the investment value. Just remember to always hire reliable, competent builders, over budget and above all, keep calm and carry on.


  1. “…keep calm and carry on” , is very good advice indeed. Even when using a competent and reliable contractor, there will be mistakes, delays, cost over runs and frustrations. Relax and learn from the experience. Where else but in Brazil will you be able to watch a guy wearing his Havaianas, while using a jackhammer to break up a tile floor?!

  2. If anyone would be interested in receiving help, with their renovation/refurbishment project in Rio de Janeiro, from a Scandinavian professional with experience in complicated renovations/refurbishments. In terms of planning and design (Project management), to keep an overview and to avoid the “stress-inducing hell”. Feel free to contact me at

  3. “It is safe to say that regardless of the deadline, work is rarely completed within the specified time constraints.”

    Please tell me where in the world do builders finish a job within the deadline. I would pay top dollar to hire those guys regardless where they are on the globe.


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