Brazil Real Estate and Home Building

By Joe Naab
May 7, 2012

For most Americans today, we have long forgotten the era when people bought a residencial lot and then designed and built their own home. Today, homes are what developers of residencial housing tracks build for resale in the ever widening landscape of Suburbia. Not so in Brazil.

In Brazil, the lost art of unique and personalized home design is not only alive and well, it is by far the norm. Of course, this won&rsquot;t apply as much in densely populated urban areas where there are no available lots to build, but Brazil is giant and there are so many beautiful places to live, some would say the better places, where inexpensive lots are available and the owner is free to build to their own taste with very little restriction or regulation.

The Size of Lots in Brazil
The standard-sized lot in Brazil is 450m2 (square meters). For those thinking in square feet, there are 11sqft in 1m2, so you can think along the lines of 5000sqft. Lots can be as small as 350m2 up to about 1500m2. Getting above this size you move into a range that is certainly available, though not so available in urban and suburban zoning. Also, above this size, the word lot”, or “lote”, no longer applies, and you enter the size range of “Chcara”, which could be translated into “small estate”.

The Price of Lots in Brazil
The price of lots varies tremendously, not only within a city, but from region to region in Brazil. I&rsquot;m going to use Florianópolis as an example because I&rsquot;ve been here studying and working in real estate for eight years. There are several factors affecting values other than size and neighborhood, and I won&rsquot;t cover them here for the sake of brevity. They consist of things such as the type of title, if the lot is in a gated neighborhood (here, called a “condominium”), legal residencial tract, or in neither of these two.

A lot in a nice gated neighborhood will cost from R$250,000 to R$500,000. These are the most expensive lots on the island, and these neighborhoods can be in the hills with panoramic views of the sea, or very near the beach, or both. A lot in a legalized residential tract where all the lots within the tract have public title, roads are paved, sewage system is installed, there are usually sidewalks and easy access to electric, water and phone, – will cost from R$90,000 to R$200,000. (NOTE: our readership is international and exchange rates can be all over the place so I leave it to the reader to convert into their local currency).

Lots that aren&rsquot;t in gated neighborhoods nor in legalized residencial tracts most often cost the least. Today, about the lowest price that can be paid on the island is R$50,000, and for these lots, which vary a great deal in size, location, quality, etc., you could pay up to R$150,000 and above. The general range is R$50,000 to R$150,000.

Note that eight years ago, when I arrived, the simple lots averaged R$15,000, the residential track lots R$40,000, and the gated neighborhood lots R$80,000. Prices have increased dramatically, though they are flat and stable today.

The Broad Measure of Construction Cost for Homes in Brazil
It is very, very difficult to get any architect or builder to give you a phase by phase breakdown of the costs associated with building a home. What you&rsquot;ll get instead is a quote for a price per square meter of the size of the home, and this includes everything – foundation, walls, roof, doors, windows, complete bathroom and kitchen, electrical, hydraulic, deck, and most finishings.

Within this system of pricing, you will often hear of different levels of quality, such as “this price gets you a simple home, this price gets you a typical home, and this price gets you a luxury home.” The difference is often in the finishings, such as the quality of doors, windows, floors, and the kitchen and bathroom installations.

One very important thing to consider is the size of the deck, which here is called “varanda”. Because this is outside had has fewer walls and may not have hydraulic (water) and electric, it is factored in at 50%. The way this is done is taking half the area of the varanda and adding it to the size of the enclosed space of the home. So, for example, a home with 200m2 of inside space and a 50m2 varanda will have a 225m2 (200m2 + 50% of 50m2), for the purpose of giving bids and calculating construction costs.

Home Construction Costs in Reais per Square Meter
The following prices are for the combined costs of a labor and materials. The going rate of good labor today is R$300 to R$350 per square meter, so you can figure the difference in cost is due to materials. This cost number, in portuguese, is called the “cubi” (KOO-bee), the construction cost per square meter.

  • R$800/m2 – Simple home, still quite nice, modest finishings, no complex design elements.

  • R$1100/m2 – Very nice quality home, good architect, reputable builder, quality, but not extravagant finishings.

  • R$1400/m2 – This would be a luxury home (marble floors, luxurious detail) and the price could be much higher, too.

Home Construction Costs in U.S. Dollars per Square Foot
To help you do this yourself in the future, simply divide the price above twice as explained here. The first division is the exchange rate of the USD versus the Real. This will get you USD&rsquot;s per square meter. For example, today the exchange rate is 1.90. Then, you divide this outcome by 11, which is how many square feet there are in a square meter. This gets you the cost in USD&rsquot;s per square foot.

  • $38/SqFt – Simple home.

  • $53/SqFt – Very nice quality home.

  • $67/SqFt – Luxury home.

Adding it All Up
I&rsquot;ll leave it to the reader to calculate the myriad of cost combinations of lots, home sizes, and quality levels. There is no upper limit to what you can spend, so I&rsquot;ll give you an example of a lower limit.

You buy a lot here in the reasonably priced beach neighborhood of Rio Vermelho 1-2km from the beach for R$50,000. You build a 70m2 two-bedroom home with a 20m2 varanda. Your building size for the “cubi” calculation is 80m2. Your cost to build will be R$64,000, so you&rsquot;ll invest R$114,000 total. With today&rsquot;s exchange rate of 1.90, this would be $60,000 USD&rsquot;s.

I hope that helps you to gain a better understanding of the costs of building your own home here in Brazil.

Joe Naab is the author of Brazil for Life!, a how-to living guide for those who want to start a new life or have a second home in Brazil. He is presently working on a near-coastal, countryside real estate subdivision project outside the city of Florianópolis, Santa Catarina. He can be found at and reached by email at His Youtube channel is called BrazilforLifeTV.

Previous articles by Joe:

How to Work and Support Yourself in Brazil

How to Work and Support Yourself in Brazil

By Joe Naab
February 28, 2012

Do You Have an Income Strategy?
The most important practical” part of life, no matter where you live, is supporting yourself financially. For most of those who brave the path to start a new life in Brazil, having an income and work strategy in mind before arriving is essential. The Brazilian job market is not like the U.S. job market nor is the mindset of an American immigrant to Brazil like the mindset of a Mexican, Puerto Rican or other latin american immigrant who moves to the U.S. Americans tend to have higher expectations for income and standard of living. There are many jobs in the labor market that they simply won&rsquot;t do. Further, even the better paying jobs for illegal immigrants in the U.S. aren&rsquot;t available here to foreign immigrants to Brazil in the same form and compensation.

The Most Common Income Strategies for Foreigners in Brazil
I will list here and briefly explain the most common income strategies I&rsquot;ve seen foreigners employ here in Brazil. This will be followed by what I think is actually the most important strategy of all – which is to first design the most inexpensive lifestyle you can to reduce the amount you need to earn.

Independent Wealth
Obviously, having oodles of money already makes living in Brazil the most fantastic thing in the world. The issue that arises here is to manage your investments well, whether you bring your money into Brazil or not. The next important issue is getting permission to stay in Brazil. For those who don&rsquot;t qualify for a marriage visa or other type of permanent visa, the most likely course is to create a small business to get Brazil&rsquot;s Business Investor Permanent Visa. A wealthy person may not want to run a business. That&rsquot;s okay. You can create a business that invests in land, for example, buy land in the name of this business and you&rsquot;ve got your permanent visa. This is how I got mine.

Working Remotely Online
The next best strategy is to work online. This doesn&rsquot;t necessarily mean that you have to be a technologist, such as a web designer or a professional blogger, etc. These are great, of course, but it can be simpler than that. Many jobs now in the U.S. economy allow for “telecommuting”, taking advantage of email, skype and other web technology to allow them to work from home. Your home can be anywhere. Today, stock brokers can live anywhere in the world, for example. Part of my work is in coaching and small business consulting. My clients all live overseas. With this strategy, think less about finding work in Brazil and more about finding something in your home country or elsewhere that you can do from anywhere in the world. Keep your earnings there and draw it out from an ATM machine here.

Live Here Half the Year and Work at Home Half the Year
I have several friends who have designed their lives such that they live and work in their home country half the year and come to live in Brazil without work the other half of the year. Some of them may do some work remotely from here. This is a great strategy.

Creating a Legal Small Business in Brazil
You can create and run a small business in Brazil and you don&rsquot;t need a permanent visa to do it. You need the visa to live here more than six months out of the year. So, you can have a manager run your business while you&rsquot;re away, you can gamble and stay year-round and hope you don&rsquot;t get caught. The best permanent solution for this, however, is to invest the R$150,000 minimum and get your business investor&rsquot;s permanent visa in the process. This business can be anything you like- a caf, restaurant, language school, real estate company, web design, construction, etc. Choose wisely. If you&rsquot;ve never started a business before in your own country expect it to many times more difficult and challenging here.

Getting a Salaried Job in Brazil
Any salaried job requires either a work visa directly from that employer, or that you have a permanent visa that allows you to work, such as a marriage visa. Outside of the major international corporations in São Paulo and other metropolitan centers, the best paying jobs in Brazil are public sector jobs, and you must have a Brazilian passport to qualify (i.e. more than a permanent visa). Further, in order to qualify for a work visa, your employer will have to demonstrate that you have a specialty that requires that they employ you and not a Brazilian. These types of jobs are often lined up in advance.

I wouldn&rsquot;t encourage anyone to come here thinking that they could get married real fast, get a permanent visa for it, then suddenly find a decent paying salaried job. You&rsquot;d have to be exceptionally skilled at something to earn a decent wage and in that case you&rsquot;d likely be an entreprenuer.

Working Under the Table
Working under the table is the career of choice (i.e. necessity) for immigrants all over the world. In order to make this work you must read the next section below to understand how reducing your cost of living can make this work. This type of work doesn&rsquot;t pay well, but if it didn&rsquot;t pay enough to live off of, half of Brazil would be living in the streets. Can you teach something- English, music lessons, etc.? Can you build something, such as homes or part of a home? Can you work in a restaurant or bar? People don&rsquot;t tip here and the pay is very low.

I want to share a caution with teaching English. Just because you speak it, doesn&rsquot;t mean you teach it well. And if you don&rsquot;t teach it well you will eventually lose your students and word-of-mouth referrals. The best way to gain clients is to market like crazy, with flyers all over town. This is a double-edged sword. Any great place for you to put a flyer is a great place for a Brazilian individual or language school that offers English lessons to put their flyer. In no time at all they will see your promotion, they will not want you there competing with them, they will assume you are working illegally and they will rat you out right away. You&rsquot;ll have to leave the country. I&rsquot;ve seen this happen several times here. You have to be stealth about it.

It is Essential to Lower Your Cost of Living Profile
I have only a small space to touch on this here. A section of my book is devoted to this. The less you spend, the less you need to make. Can you live in a tiny apartment? Can you have roommates? Can you buy whole food at a food market and make your meals at home? Can you go without television? Can you find fun things to do that don&rsquot;t involved eating out at restaurants and partying at bars? For those who don&rsquot;t yet know how much money they&rsquot;ll make, it&rsquot;s critical to design a low cost lifestyle, and Brazil is a good place to do this.

In Closing
I hope you got some value from this article and video. Brazil is a fantastic place to live and for those with the determination to do what&rsquot;s necessary to start a new life here, all is possible. Good luck to you in all you do.

Joe Naab is the author of Brazil for Life!, a how-to living guide for those who want to start a new life or have a second home in Brazil. He offers a two-hour private phone consultation for those who want more specialized information to suit their specific needs. He also coaches people through the entire expatriation process and can help those interested to obtain Brazil&rsquot;s Business Investor Permanent Visa. He can be found at and reached by email at