The retired couple left the US and bought a house in Portugal for $534,000 – here’s a look inside

In 2015, my wife Noki and daughter Evie and I vacationed in Lisbon, Portugal. We immediately fell in love with the beautiful weather, the rattle of the cable cars and the most welcoming people we met on the trip.

We lived near Washington, DC at the time. I retired from a legal career in my early forties, While Noki works as a nurse, We also had an investment portfolio that paid enough dividends to live on.

It means we can afford a holiday – and Lisbon looked a promising prospect.

How we found our apartment in Lisbon, Portugal

Just two days after our vacation we started planning the move. The Airbnb owner put us in touch with a real estate agent, and we booked a few apartments to tour during our trip.

After looking at a few spaces, we decided we wanted an overhead installation to get more square footage for our money. We planned to live in Portugal for about two years, so finding the ‘perfect’ house was not a big problem for us.

The family’s search ended with a 1,300-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment in the Barrio Alto neighborhood known for its great nightlife.

Photo: Joao Estevez for CNBC Make It

We must have looked at over 100 apartments online. When Noki and Evie went back to the States, I stayed back to see more places in person.

The search finally came to an end for a 1,300-square-foot two-bedroom apartment in Barrio Alto, a neighborhood known for its great nightlife. As I left the place, I noticed a tile on the wall with a quote engraved by the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa that read: “I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.”

These words sounded like an invitation to welcome me and my family with open arms to a new adventure.

“On paper, this apartment was not my first choice,” says Alex. “But I’ve learned that it’s worth taking the leap for something that brings you joy, even if you feel insecure.”

Photo: Joao Estevez for CNBC Make It

My broker and I sat in a coffee shop and negotiated back and forth with the owner via text. When the deal was done, we got a purchase price of $533,554 (broker commission and taxes not included).

We sent the first 10% down payment to the owner, which was a little annoying because there was no credit check and limited due diligence. Everything was agreed with a handshake.

We took out a new loan on our house in Washington, DC that gave us $600,000, and we paid the rest of the Lisbon apartment in cash.

“The communal gardens and courtyards that surrounded the building drew me into the space,” says Alex.

Photo: Joao Estevez for CNBC Make It

We kept our American home fully furnished and rented it out to cover our housing costs in both countries. After Evie finished primary school in 2015, we moved to Portugal with six registered suitcases and a whiteboard.

Currently, the monthly housing costs in Lisbon are:

  • Property tax: $50
  • Maintenance fee: 400 dollars
  • Electricity: $225
  • Water: $23
  • Wifi and cell phones: $91

the total: $789

Living in history: inside our apartment in Lisbon

The building’s public areas are covered in historic blue and white tiles, or “azulejos” in Portuguese.

Photo: Joao Estevez for CNBC Make It

Our apartment is located in one of the oldest intact buildings in Lisbon: Convento dos Inglesinhos, a walled complex of gardens, a church and converted cloisters.

Inside the 400-year-old building, there are common areas covered in historic blue and white 100-year-old tiles.

It was a tile with an engraved quote by the poet Fernando Pessoa that convinced Alex to “take a leap of faith” and make an offer on the apartment.

Photo: Joao Estevez for CNBC Make It

When you walk into our apartment, you can immediately realize why our building was able to survive the Great Lisbon earthquake of 1755. The solid stone walls are almost four feet thick in places!

The loft-like living and dining space is where we spend most of our time drinking coffee, taking online classes, and eating meals together. The windows overlook a walled courtyard with olive trees.

The family living room and dining room welcome guests with lots of natural light and minimalist design.

Photo: Joao Estevez for CNBC Make It

We keep the space out sparingly. After moving from a large house to an apartment, we discovered that we only needed a small amount of furniture to feel comfortable.

To one side of the main room is the kitchen, which we renovated in 2017 to add a closet and sliding door refrigerator that our two 20 pound cats couldn’t open. The length of our kitchen wall extends to a tall spice rack, which helps us cook in multiple kitchens.

We have spent nearly $200,000 over the past seven years on renovations, redoing our floors and installing cabinets and closets throughout the condo.

“We designed our renovated kitchen around an expansive spice rack,” says Alex.

Photo: Joao Estevez for CNBC Make It

On the other side of the apartment is our bedroom. We share the bathroom down the hall, which has a washer and dryer, with our daughter Evie.

Alex Evie’s daughter’s bedroom is at the end of the hall, giving her plenty of privacy.

Photo: Joao Estevez for CNBC Make It

As well as her bedroom.

Find a community in Portugal

On paper, this apartment was not my first choice. I didn’t know the country or neighborhood very well, and refinancing our house in the US to buy an apartment in a foreign country was a risky move for us.

But I’ve learned that it’s worth taking the leap for something that brings you happiness, even if you feel insecure.

Alex and Noki spend their time in public parks drinking wine, visiting with neighbors and enjoying views of the Tegu River.

Photo: Joao Estevez for CNBC Make It

My father and stepmother passed away during my first year of law school.

Since then, I’ve always tried to get a sense of how life sometimes throws great opportunities your way, and that it’s good to keep an open mind – especially since we often don’t get second chances in life.

What I love most about Portugal is its welcoming and friendly culture. Noki and I go to the park every night for a glass of wine with our neighbors. As we enjoy the cool breeze and watch the sunset, I remember how happy and blessed we are.

Now that we have dual Portuguese citizenship, we have no plans to leave.

* Prices in this story are based on conversion rates between USD and EUR.

Alex Trias Retired lawyer. He, his wife and daughter have been living in Portugal since 2015. He is the author of the “Investment Pancake” series. LookingAlpha.comWhere he writes about tax planning, investments, early retirement, and where to get the best meals in Lisbon.

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