Lisbon’s real estate market is going through the roof, fortunately for some and unfortunately for many of us hoping to find a long-term place to live. It doesn’t help matters that major real estate agencies have stopped including prices on their websites for many properties. Whatever the reason — many expat Lisboetas suspect it’s because the price depends on your native language, ahem — it’s often difficult even for long-time residents to find something affordable, or even know what affordable means anymore.
But a website started by an enterprising economics student from the Netherlands could make that search a little easier, particularly in giving you an idea of what you can afford and where. Luca Spanjaard originally created RentIndicator.com to help others find rentals in Berlin, but the website now includes Lisbon and about 20 other cities, too. Using data from the Portuguese real estate website Imovirtual.com, RentIndicator allows users to see the average price of an apartment or room rental by price and neighborhood. Perhaps more importantly in such a competitive market, the site also shows average rent, median rent, and rent per square meter of space, by neighborhood. This is a particularly handy feature, we found, as it lets you see where you can afford to live — and whether the landlord is charging way too much for the area and the building.
The site caught our interest because it does a complicated task simply and elegantly. What we were pleasantly surprised to find out is that RentIndicator isn’t some corporate-backed venture but a simple experiment that grew into a reliable service because people actually needed it. So we had to find out how Spanjaard pulled it off.
A Q&A with Luca Spanjaard, founder of RentIndicator.com
Atlas Lisboa: Tell us a little about yourself and your involvement with the project.
Luca Spanjaard: My girlfriend and I used to live in Madrid and we had a really hard time finding an apartment there. Eventually, we found a decent place, but not long after we’d settled in, we felt Madrid wasn’t the place for us and decided to move to a new city. Just the thought of going through that whole process again was stressful though, and we didn’t even know which city we wanted to live in. We were torn between Berlin and Barcelona at that point, and searching for housing in two cities at the same time is a monstrous task, so we were kind of dreading it.
Back then, I was doing a research Master’s degree in Economics at Universidad Carlos III, and a PhD student there showed me a small overview he’d made on house prices in Madrid, because he was looking to buy a house. I thought that was a pretty good idea and decided to make my own overview to compare rent prices in different areas of Berlin.
At first, it seemed like it might be quite complicated, but I managed to do it fairly quickly and was pretty pleased with the results. I proudly showed my girlfriend what I’d been up to, and she recommended putting it online for other people to see. So that’s what I did! As a proud Dutchman, I found a Facebook group for my fellow expats living in Berlin and posted a link to my rent overview to help them out. The page received over 1000 visitors in 3 hours and people were insanely happy. And that was that. At the end of 2016, RentIndicator was born: one man, one page, one city.
Since then, the team has grown. There are now 3 people helping me out with all sorts of things they know more about than me, and RentIndicator has grown, too. You can now find rent overviews for over 20 cities in various EU countries. We’ve also expanded the range of services we provide. Alongside our rent overviews, we also display housing ads for all our cities, and we recently launched a paid service: the Search Service, designed to take all the stress out of looking for a new home. For a small fee, we’ll do all the hard work for you — we do all the searching and contacting while you sit back and relax, then you choose your favorite place and move in.
When I first started working on RentIndicator, I wanted to make the rental market more transparent by analyzing the statistics for each neighborhood and making them accessible to everyone. Since then, the project has evolved, and now we’re helping people all over Europe find what they’re looking for. I hope RentIndicator continues to grow so that we can help even more people find their ideal home with none of the unnecessary stress.
AL: What’s your experience with Lisbon?
LS: My experience with Lisbon is limited to three holidays, but I’ve always had a great time there. The city seems very relaxed, people are laid-back and the weather is soothing. Unlike some other countries, people speak English and tend to be very friendly to foreigners. Of course, that’s my personal experience, but I’m sure most people would agree.
AL: From where you are with all the data, how is Lisbon different from other cities, such as Barcelona, for example?
LS: Lisbon is relatively cheap compared to other capital cities in the RentIndicator database. In part, I imagine this is due to salaries in Portugal being lower than in other countries.
What surprised me about the housing market in Portugal is that Uniplaces (one of our partners) seems to be quite a big player, especially for rooms in shared housing. Uniplaces provides a wonderful solution for people looking for somewhere to stay temporarily, so maybe the housing market in Portugal is one of many short lets.
AL: What is your advice to users of this data on how to make it help them find a place to rent?
LS: I’d use our statistics to get an impression of rent prices in a city, to figure out what I can expect to get with the budget that I have. Which areas can I afford to live in? What size apartment or room could I get? And, most importantly, to check whether the housing ads that I’m interested in are being over- or under-priced.
AL: What was the reason to go with data provided by Imovirtual for Portugal?
LS: In every country, we pick one or two of the most popular housing websites. To work out which ones are popular, we normally ask a few locals which site they use, then we check if the site in question posts enough housing ads, and how many new ads appear each day.
When we did this for Portugal, Imovirtual came out as a reasonable source for data.
AL: Does RentIndicator receive a commission from Imovirtual?
LS: No, we do not.
We receive no commission from any of the websites we use to source data in any country. We actually list the sources we use for each country on our website, because we want to be fully transparent and let people know where we get the data from.
AL: Are there plans to add other sources of data, such as Century 21, ERA, olx.pt, etc.?
LS: At the moment, we aren’t planning on adding data from any other housing websites. In our experience, different housing websites tend to display overlapping offers: property owners want to minimize the time their property is not being rented, so they post ads to as many housing websites as possible. That means sourcing data from more websites wouldn’t necessarily have much of an impact on our statistics.