This retired couple left the U.S. and bought a home in Portugal for $534,000—here’s a look inside
In 2015, my wife Noki, daughter Evie and I went on vacation to Lisbon, Portugal. We immediately fell in love with the beautiful weather, the rattle of the cable car, and the most welcoming people we met on our trip.
At the time, we were living near Washington, D.C., and I retired from a legal career in my 40s, When Noki worked as a nurse, We also have a portfolio that pays enough dividends to stay afloat.
That means we can afford to take time off – and Lisbon seems like a promising possibility.
How we found our apartment in Lisbon, Portugal
Just two days after the holiday, we started making moving plans. Our Airbnb owner connected us with a real estate agent and we booked a few apartments for tours during our trip.
After looking at a few spaces, we decided we wanted a fixer upper to get more square footage for our money. We only plan to live in Portugal for about two years, so finding the “perfect” home is not important to us.
We must have looked at over 100 apartments online. When Noki and Evie returned to America, I stayed to see more places in person.
The search culminated in a 1,300-square-foot two-bedroom condo in Barrio Alto, a neighborhood known for its rich nightlife. As I left the place, I noticed a tile on the wall with a quote from the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa that read: “I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.”
These words are like an invitation for me and my family to open our arms to new adventures.
My real estate agent and I were sitting in a cafe, negotiating back and forth with the owners via text messages. After the transaction was completed, our purchase price was $533,554 (excluding brokerage and taxes).
We wired the first 10% down payment to the owner, which was a bit disconcerting as there was no credit check and limited due diligence. Everything is achieved with a handshake.
We got a new loan for our Washington DC home that gave us $600,000 and paid for the rest of the Lisbon condo in cash.
We fully furnished our house in the US and rented it out to cover our housing costs in both countries. After Evie graduated from high school in 2015, we moved to Portugal with six checked bags and a blank sheet of paper.
Our current monthly housing costs in Lisbon are:
- property tax: $50
- Maintenance fees: $400
- Electricity: $225
- water: $23
- Wi-Fi and Cell Phones: $91
Living in history: inside our Lisbon apartment
Our apartment is located in one of the oldest intact buildings in Lisbon: Convento dos Inglesinhos, a walled garden, church and converted cloister.
Inside this 400-year-old building, common areas are covered in historic blue and white tiles dating back 100 years.
When you walk into our apartment, you will immediately understand why our building survived the great earthquake in Lisbon in 1755. The solid stone walls are almost four feet thick in places!
The loft-style living and dining space is where we spend most of our time drinking coffee, taking online classes, and eating together. The windows overlook a walled courtyard filled with olive trees.
We keep the space sparse to complete. After moving from a big house to an apartment, we found that we only needed a small amount of furniture to be comfortable.
At one end of the main room is the kitchen, which we renovated in 2017, adding cabinets and a sliding door refrigerator that our two 20 lb cats couldn’t open. The length of our kitchen wall is a long spice rack that helps us cook different delicacies.
Over the past seven years, we’ve spent about $200,000 renovating, redoing floors, and installing cabinets and closets throughout the apartment.
At the other end of the apartment is our bedroom. We share the bathroom in the hall with our daughter Evie, which has a washer and dryer.
Further ahead is her bedroom.
Find community in Portugal
On paper, this apartment would not be my first choice. I don’t know much about the country or the community, and refinancing our home in the US to buy a condo abroad was a risky step for us.
But I’ve learned that even when feeling uncertain, it’s worth taking the leap to something that brings you joy.
During my first year of law school, my father and stepmother passed away.
Since then, I’ve been trying to recognize that life sometimes presents fantastic opportunities in your path, and it’s good to keep an open mind — especially since we often don’t have second chances in life.
What I love most about Portugal is its warm and gentle culture. Every night, Noki and I go out to the public garden for a drink with our neighbors. As we enjoyed the cool breeze and watched the sunset, I was reminded of how blessed and lucky we are.
Now that we have obtained dual citizenship in Portugal, we have no plans to leave.
*Prices in this article are based on exchange rates between USD and EUR.
Alex Trias is a retired lawyer. He and his wife and daughter have lived in Portugal since 2015.He is the author of the “Investing in Pancakes” series SeekingAlpha.comwhere he writes about tax planning, investing, early retirement and where to find the best meals in Lisbon.
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