How Simon Link & Sebastian Started a Medium-Term Rentals Company in Lisbon

The small print: Portugalist may generate a commission from mentioned products or services. This is at no additional cost to you and it does not affect our editorial standards in any way. All content, including comments, should be treated as informational and not advice of any kind, including legal or financial advice. The author makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors or omissions or damages arising from its display or use. Links to external websites do not constitute an endorsement. [Disclaimer Policy]

Written by: | Last updated on February 29, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 11 minutes
This article is available in: en_US

After struggling to find medium-term rentals for their friends who wanted to visit Lisbon, Simon and Sebastian were inspired to start Bleisured. Bleisured offers fully-furnished apartments in Lisbon, all with a dedicated working space with an office desk, an ergonomic chair, and a 24” monitor—perfect for the thousands of digital nomads who visit Portugal every year.

In this article, Simon explains what it was like to start an accommodation company in Portugal.

How did you end up in Portugal?

I first came to Portugal when my best friend did a semester abroad in Coimbra while I was studying in the South of Spain. Some years later and inspired by the welcoming environment, we initially came to Lisbon to do our Masters in Management and Business Analytics at Nova SBE.

The university’s business faculty is among the most renowned across Europe. And as you can probably understand, the pleasant climate with over 300 days of sunshine was also appealing. The university campus is located right on the beachfront, so you get to enjoy fascinating views during your classes, and can go surfing in your lunch breaks. 

What are some of the most obvious differences between life in Germany and life in Portugal?

You can especially notice the differences during winter. While in Germany, there is very little life on the streets during the winter months as it is simply too cold outside, in Portugal, there’s life in the streets all year long.

A major point is also the attitude of the people. In Germany, it seems that the majority of people are really focused on their job and see it as one, if not the most important thing in their lives. In Portugal it is different.

Instead, the Portuguese work in order to enjoy life during their free time. Overall, in Portugal, people just tend to see things a bit less serious and are more relaxed and happy.

What are some of the best and worst parts about living in Lisbon?

One of the best (and definitely underrated) parts about Lisbon is its proximity to incredibly beautiful beaches and the sea itself. We enjoy having just a 20-minute ride to stunning natural beaches that seem almost untouched, with rocky cliffs and a stunning and diverse flora.

Also, Portuguese cuisine is simply amazing. Simple, but amazing. If you love fish and seafood, Portugal is THE place to be. It won’t get any fresher than a grilled fish at a local restaurant.

A part we don’t like is the traffic and the parking situation in larger cities. Especially in the old towns, the streets are old, narrow and clearly were made in a time where cars didn’t exist. As you can imagine, this means the streets clog very quickly, especially during rush hour. A tip we just give anyone who is planning to move a lot around town is to buy or rent a scooter. 

Another challenging is the confusing bureaucratic setup in Portugal. On several occasions, we have been sent from one person to another and none of those people knew who was responsible for the issue we were there to speak to them about.

What made you decide to start a rental business in Portugal?

During our studies at Nova SBE, we had a lot of friends from back home who wanted to escape German winter. We lived in an apartment in Principe Real, where friends from Germany would come to visit us all the time.

As more and more of our friends wanted to come, we screened the market for mid-term accommodation in Lisbon in order to enable them to stay even longer. However, we found out that it was very hard to find an apartment for the mid-term time span, that means staying for just a few months.

If you come to Lisbon for a short stay, such as a holiday, you have the easy choice of Airbnbs or hotels—at considerably higher prices, admittedly, but with total flexibility. For longer stays, you will find plenty of unfurnished apartments, but you’ll have to commit to several years’ lease.

This is why we decided to fill that niche and started to rent one apartment for our friends to stay in. Over time, our project gained momentum and the number of apartments we manage and rent out grew to be 20+.

Which type of apartments do you offer?

We offer hand-picked, furnished apartments in the centre of Lisbon, for medium- to long-term stays. That means, we provide a turn-key solution to everyone that is searching for a serviced apartment in Lisbon.

The apartments are fully furnished, with fast internet and high-quality office equipment. In our portfolio, we have several beautiful T1s (one-bedroom apartments), as well as bigger apartments for groups of friends or for families.

The bedroom of an apartment in Bleisured's portfolio
An apartment in Bleisured’s portfolio

How is Bleisured different from other apartment rental and property management companies?

The real estate market, like its players, is very conservative. This also applies to the local market in Portugal and, more specifically, Lisbon. We have seen that most rental and property management companies in Lisbon are very inflexible and inefficient. In addition, the level of service is simply not where it could be.

And most private property owners often simply take too long to deal with important issues regarding their property or requests the tenant has. In the end, the tenant is the one that doesn’t have a good experience.

So we thought that the whole experience urgently has to be professionalised: With the help of an innovative approach, clients should get exactly what they need without being bothered with any hurdles: a fast booking process, a beautiful apartment, excellent customer service and a high quality of service.

On the other side, for homeowners this means: no work with their property. They can simply sit back and relax while we take care of the rest. We count on a reliable, professional team and a clever use of technology where it makes sense to enable the best experience for both parties.

An apartment in bleisured's portfolio - A loft apartment in Chiado
An apartment in bleisured’s portfolio – A loft apartment in Chiado

Which advice would you give others looking to start businesses in the same industry?

Act in an honest and transparent manner, and you will be rewarded. Also, real estate is a long-term game. If you do it right, you will achieve great outcomes in the long run. The important part is to create value and solve problems for all stakeholders involved. This is how you make people happy and your efforts will thrive.

What are some of the challenges you have faced in running a business in Portugal?

Rules are changing at a pretty high frequency and often, it is hard to find someone to give you a definite answer about more complex questions. As a foreigner, the language barrier comes on top of that. One of the things that definitely has changed our lives was properly learning Portuguese. It not only allows you to communicate easier in the local business environment, but also to understand the people and their mentality on a considerably more profound level.

What are some of the main challenges specific to running a rental business?

Once you have acquired some initial properties and homeowners to work with, a big roadblock is operations. This involves finding reliable, competent people for areas such as maintenance, cleaning, or customer service.

Fortunately, we have met some great people along the way which helped us build Bleisured together, which we are really proud of.

How have the recent AL and golden visa changes affected your business?

From the moment we first started our business, we have deliberately decided to not operate within the short-term renting segment, so we have been affected very little. There are a number of homeowners that have been operating Airbnbs in the last years and are now fed up with all the work and hassle it brings.

At the end of the day, the restrictive new rules regarding AL rentals have had a rather positive impact on our business. More and more owners have been questioning how they can put their apartments on the market without all the work and hassle that comes with short term rentals. And with our property management taking all this work off their hands, the demand for our property management services from homeowners has been very high recently.

After all, we’re also promoting exactly this more sustainable way of exploring and living in the city, that shifts away from short intensive stays, to a more residential and more sustainable experience for everyone. That was the basic idea of the government that put these changes into place.

You must be quite familiar with rental laws in Portugal. What are some things renters should know?

Portugal is a country that has a really tenant-focussed housing market policy and legislation. This means the tenant has a lot of rights, which most people don’t even know. For example:

  • It’s pretty hard for a landlord to make the tenant leave the apartment within a short period of time.
  • Landlords can only increase rent once a year in longer contracts, and the increase must be in accordance with the Consumer Price Index.
  • The rental contract should also always be in written form and officially registered at Finanças, the finance office (otherwise, it’s likely that no taxes are paid and the rental is illegal).

This may sound like a bad joke at first, but we’ve actually met quite some people who previously lived in an apartment without a lease agreement and had to pay the landlord the rent in cash every month. Obviously, this is not legal and you should avoid such dubious rental offers. 

How do rental laws and the approach to accommodation differ in Portugal compared to Germany?

As I mentioned before, in Portugal, rental laws are generally more favourable to tenants. Germany also has strong tenant protections differing between federal states, but they tend to not be as protective as in Portugal. Also, the commercial rental law seems to be set up differently.

One major difference between the rental laws in the two countries is the length of rental agreements. In Germany, it is pretty common to have residential leases with no previously stipulated end date. This can rarely be found in Portugal. Rental contracts normally have a predefined length, normally one year or longer.

Another difference is the approach to rent control. While In Portugal, rent increases are simply tied to inflation, in Germany there exists the “Mietpreisbremse” (rental price brake). It limits how much landlords can increase rent on existing tenants. This instrument is applied in areas with a tense situation on the rental market.

In Berlin, politics imposed a rent freeze for a few years in the mid 2010s. These measures, however, have turned out to have the opposite effect though, since they made an investment in real estate in the city even less attractive.

This way, the rent freeze further shortened supply, which further aggravated the already tense situation on the rental market. Subsequently, after a relatively short time, all measures were reversed and the rent freeze was lifted.

Interestingly, it is also scientifically proven that rent freeze measures have been proven to negatively impact renters. Research shows that rent control policies can inadvertently lead to reduced housing supply, lower property values, and decreased quality of available properties.

Where do you see Bleisured and Lisbon going in the next few years?

We have ambitious plans to expand our presence in Portugal. We have been able to gather a lot of experience in the local market and are now confident to scale the business to become the market leader for property and rental management in terms of size and quality of the service we provide.

In general, our vision is to assist homeowners throughout the entire value creation chain. As we have a profound network in the real estate space in Lisbon, we can help with finding the best property for them, as well as furnish, rent and manage it for them. Lisbon has a lot of potential.

If you stroll through the city centre, you can see a lot of abandoned houses, often in prime locations. One of our goals is to play a pivotal role in rehabilitating these parts of the city, thereby making our contribution towards solving the shortage in the market.

With regards to Lisbon, the city centre already looks very different than it did a few years ago, and a lot of renovation is taking place. We believe that Portugal in general is in the process of waking up from its slumber. It can definitely be seen as the California of Europe, not least because many inspiring people and companies are moving here.

In the end, we are very excited to see what the future will bring and how Lisbon will continue to develop as a city and our endeavours as a company.

Written by

James Cave is the founder of Portugalist and the author of the bestselling book, Moving to Portugal Made Simple. He has visited just about every part of Portugal, including Madeira and all nine islands of the Azores, and lived in several parts of Portugal including Lisbon, the Algarve, and Northern Portugal.