Deciding where you going to live is probably the first things that pops to your mind when you are moving to another country. At least for me that was the first thing that I had check in my checklist when I was told by my manager that I was being relocated to Russia.
Although I had a property agent (which was useless, I ended up selecting another agency) to help me choose the apartment based on my needs and wants, many expats and other foreigners decide to find the apartments themselves usually though FB groups or AirBnB commercials.
If you are coming to Russia just for a small holiday like a week – month then it is OK not to use an agent and arranging the lookout for apartment for yourself. But if you come to Russia for long – term employment then I strongly advice you to use an agent. Because there are so many paperworks and local nuances that I you are not familiar with that will make it really hard for you to find a property.
Although, I have sent all the requirements to my Real Estate Agent that I would like my future home to have, the Real Estate Agency (recommended by the HR in my Company) only showed me one apartment and then didn’t return my calls or emails for a month.
So long story short, I decided to hire another agency which was much professional and showed me few apartments based on my requirements and price ranges. I ended up renting a property that I wanted.
So what are the things that I have learned during my hunt for apartment.
Its Better to Use a Real Estate Agent
I noticed that nowadays, expats prefer to rent an apartment long term without involving a Real Estate Agency to save up money on the commission.
While that might work out in Europe since there are not many papers to sign and all the documents are available in English. It might now work in Russia, where you have to sign a dozen of different papers and on top of that they all in Russia.
So unless you have a good knowledge of Russian language and you are well versed in Russia legal documents, I urge you not to do this and instead hire a real estate agency.
For example, I had one senior expat colleague who decided to rent the apartment himself. Everything seemed fine, the owner seemed as intelligent person. In the end, the «owner» who rented him the apartment wasn’t the owner after all.
And the real owner showed up at my expat friend’s doorstep demanding that he pays him all the months that he has lived in here (at a higher rate) or he is filing a police report.
When I was in process of signing the documents for rent, the real estate agent requested from the owner a document which confirms that he in fact owns the apartment.
Yes the commission for real estate agents here in Russia is quite high (30% depending on agency and region) but paying this money would give you a piece of mind which will allow you to focus on other things in your life in Russia.
Seriously there are so many benefits of using a Real Estate Agent here in Russia, that I would probably write a separate post on it later.
Request for a House Insurance
You might be surprised to find out that the majority of apartments and other properties in Russia are not insured. This is probably has to do with the local culture here.
Russians are not accustomed to the insurance as in US or Europe as the local insurance industry is still developing. However, in cities like Moscow or Saint P. insurance is getting very popular among the local people.
The company that I have worked for had a requirement for renting an apartment in Russia, and one of those requirements was that the owner of the property had the apartment or a house insured.
Ofcourse all the apartments that I have viewed were not insured but when I finally chose one I asked the owner of the apartment if he would like to insure it since it was the company’s requirement. To be honest, I expected the owner to resist and tell me to go and find another apartment.
But as it turned out, he was ok with that, he even said that it was something that he wanted to do for a while already.
Thank God there was no fire or anything like that that would have destroyed the apartment while I stayed there, but the knowledge that the apartment was secured gave me a piece of mind since I didn’t have to pay anything for it if something bad would have happened to it.
Migration Cards and Visitors
I think its another point to discuss with the apartment owner before renting an apartment. If let’s say some of your friends from your country would like to visit and stay with you would the owner be ok with that and register them at your address.
Most of the owners have no problem with that, but some would request for each guest or allow only a certain amount of people. So its a good point to discuss before you deiced to rent. The last thing you want is your angry friends staying at some terrible hotel in God knows where.
Documenting Broken Items
If you have decided to rent a certain apartment, make sure you document all the broken items in the apartment with your phone or camera and show them to the owner. This will require the owner to fix it and he or she will know this was broken before the tenant moved in.
But sometimes its not possible to find out all the broken items in a single day, especially when you visiting the property for the first time. So its good to have a grace period of one month, this will allow you to find most of the broken items in the house and inform the owner that it wasn’t caused by you.
One other tip that I think will be useful to you is checking for a pipe leaking. So as you know Russia has a winter period during which the property stays warm due to pipes scattered on the walls across all the rooms in the apartment. And there are many cases in Russia when this pipe start to leak.
So lets say you are looking to rent an apartment during a non – heating period like July or August, make sure to inform the apartment owner that in case the pipes start to leak in October (2-3 months after you moved in) it will not be your fault.
If you are looking for an apartment in November, go through each room in the apartment and check that all the pipes are not leaking, if its leaking you will see a small amount of water under the pipe.
Paying bills (not rental)
Before I rented out the apartment I have asked the owner to give me the bills for the summer months and winter months of the past year. Why? Well what I wanted to do is to calculate the average for each period and pay this average to the owner.
This way, I wouldn’t have to go to postal office or remember about paying different bills each month. The owner was alright with that and that way I payed for all the months that I have stayed there.
Well, it really depends on each person some people would prefer this and others not. I am not telling you that this way is the right way to pay, I am just saying you can do this too.
Don’t be friends with the owner
Remember that you relationship with the apartment owner should be strictly professional in a sense that he or she is the owner and you are a tenant. So unless you owner is a babushka in her 70s don’t spend much time socializing with the owner and having with him/her beers.
Yes I know, that in some cases it doesn’t hurt to be friends with the owner, but if something gets broken in the apartment and your «friend» doesn’t fix it for a long time even when you have made multiple requests saying:»Hey man you are my friend, I won’t let you down I promise to fix next month» don’t fall for it.
You can’t hesitate and request the owner to fix it immediately or you are going to follow the rules in the contract which is to delay the rent until the issue is fixed.
In the End
There are probably many other tips on how to rent the apartment in Russia, but based on my and other expats’ experience written above, I would strongly advice you to follow them.