Renting an apartment in Rio can be a very positive experience. However, sorting the good deals from the bad ones is a job best left to someone with a deep knowledge of the local scene, even more so if you're a first-time visitor. Dan Babush, founder and president of Rent in Rio, a branch of Global Action Outfitters, Inc. is such a pro.
A Wharton School graduate with an MBA in real estate business, Dan first visited Brazil in the early 1980s as a Citibank Vice-President in charge of problem transactions and litigations. Upon leaving Citibank in 1985, he founded Global Action Outfitters, Inc., already as an experienced Brazil traveler with plenty of information about the Rio de Janeiro rental business.
Global Action Outfitters was one of the first rental agencies on the internet and it stays at the top of search engine results with over 660,000 page views a year. The company also operates in Miami and Europe.
Backed by an impressive knowledge of Rio neighborhoods, safety issues, culture and quirks, which he shares with some outbursts of very fluent Portuguese and only a slight accent, Dan is a man who believes in his trade and lives it from the client's point of view.
"I always wanted the feel of what it's like to be in Brazil," he says. "Renting has given me that. It also helped me perfect my Portuguese, as I had to use it to deal with situations as they came up.
"Vacation rental is a unique product," says Dan. "Apartments are great deals in relation to hotels." If you do it right, that is – and Dan has much to say about what a reliable agent can do to help tourists have a great time in Rio. He should know: "In all the years I’ve been traveling to Brazil, I’ve never stayed in a hotel but once."
Why Rely on an Agent
"The biggest nightmare is that someone would arrive in Rio for New Year's Eve or Carnival and find out that the apartment they have rented is not available to them," says Dan. "Fortunately, that has never happened to us."
Renters in that situation would surely have a problem the size of Corcovado; getting their money back wouldn't begin to solve the ordeal of trying to find a place to stay at the last moment in a city with occupancy at its max.
And Dan has seen it happen. With a gentleman's tact, he goes on to number a few other examples of local hospitality gone awry which couldn't surprise this Brazilian interviewer: it's all pretty embarrassing from a national's point of view, but true. "While many landlords are reliable, some are not," says Dan.
The core of the matter is: may you come across some less favorable traits of local hosts and hostesses in non-extreme, funny even, situations complete with excuses of the "dog-ate-the-entrée" type.
May you not find out about those traits while standing, stunned, in a hallway with your suitcases because someone decided to house a new boyfriend rather than you for Carnival.
A reliable agent can prevent those problems and blaze the trail for you, says Dan. A reliable agent can make sure a property is available for you, clean and well-kept, in a safe building.
"We go through a process when we list properties. Either I or our Vice-President, Marisa Pagin, and the photographer, Melissa Davis, truly wonderful at depicting architecture, visit and photograph each one of those apartments."
Dan has figured out a way to quickly assess an apartment owner's cleanliness. "Check the hood over the stove. If it's in bad shape, with built-up grease, that tells you the homemaker is not supervising her maid closely."
Dan says his clientele is price-conscious, but also quality-conscious. Though he has his own property in Rio, he often sleeps in a rental apartment to experience it first-hand, to become more familiar with its surroundings and to be able to ensure that degree of quality.
"A fellow whose office is a cell phone in his pocket can't afford to do all that," he says.
Being an IATA member is another plus in reliability.
"You can check an IATA member for complaints and make your payments with a debit card or credit card directly, instead of using Pay Pal. You're not sending your money to someone who's not a travel agent."
Today's Rental Scenario in Rio
One of the changes affecting Rio de Janeiro rentals, says Dan, is the influx of temporary residents due to the discovery of oil off the coast of Rio and the consequent need for personnel who know that business.
American lawyers, São Paulo lawyers, a great number of Norwegians, Texans, and Louisianians with off-shore exploration expertise – all of them need to be put up.
"There are also all the people coming with children who will study at the American School in Gávea or the British School in Botafogo – they will need apartments."
Another trend is a decrease in sexual tourism. "There are fewer or smaller groups of heterosexual men visiting due to the sharp increase in the value of the Real, rendering sexual tourism to other destinations more attractive," he says. "Also, there are signs that, due to the increased portion of the Rio economy taken up by oil exploration, the government feels less of a push to keep sexual tourism going and has taken some action to diminish it – the move to close down the famous Help disco is an example."
A third trend Dan points out is a growing number of half-Brazilian families, especially those made up of Brazilian women married to Americans. "They come back to visit their families in Brazil. There's also the destination wedding – the wedding party usually wants to be together, and staying in a hotel is not as much fun."
Dan also says that more and more, Rentinrio.com rents apartments to families on vacation in Brazil, for example while on seven-day tours of South America, but they're still not as numerous as half-Brazilian families visiting.
And finally, "there's a noticeable growth in the number of women, traveling alone or in groups, who wish to rent in Rio. This is especially true since the 2016 Olympics have been assigned to Rio and the publicity regarding that has been enormous."
Next page: Dan Babush picks great places for family vacation rental in Rio and talks about four safety essentials Rio de Janeiro travelers in general should be aware of.