There are generally two paths you can choose after you’ve made the choice to rent an apartment in Bucharest; You can use an agent, or drive around and do your own legwork. Here’s a simple comparison between the two so you will know what to expect in your “apartment hunting” while in Bucharest.
Part 1 of this 2 part post deals with estate agents.
If you decide to use an agent or online services which will lead you to an agent, then the following are probably the best sites out there to begin with:
Dealing with an agent in a “perfect world” is meant to ease the stress in finding and apartment and negotiating the terms and paperwork. They of course get paid a reasonable sum for their leg work of providing you with properties that fit your criteria as well as providing you with the best possible lease agreement for the term you’ve requested. This is in a “perfect world”. The Bucharest Insider knows that Bucharest, Romania is definitely not this “perfect world”. What I, as well as many other Bucharest Expatriates have come to realize, is that estate agents can be good if you know where to find them. Unfortunately we have not found one that has been 100% consistent. Here’s what happens:
Most agents (more than half is most) will be unavailable at the time of your first inquiry. This is an estate office. People are on the phone. Period.
Upon first inquiry, 9 out of 10 agents will have absolutely no clue which property(s) you are referencing even when you have very specific details. This is partly due to the fact that Romania, more specifically Bucharest, Romania, is an “open listing” style area. This is an American term meant to describe the process of being non-exclusive with any one agent or agency. Simply put, whoever sells or rents the property is then responsible for earning their commission for doing so. This is a double-edged sword. Half the listings are meant to “bait” you in as a client. “Oh let me check if that property is available…” simply means, “let me call the owner as we have no clue if this is for rent or not…”. First contact with an agent will almost inevitable lead you into the “tell me what you are looking for” conversation whether you call on a sign hanging on a particular unit or an ad on the internet.
7 out of 10 agents will not call you back when they say they will. They tell you that they will return your call promptly, but inevitably the Romanian internal clock sets in and your call is not received. I am from New York, so I may have a shorter fuse with things like this, however I urge you to prepare yourself. Place a lot of irons in the fire. Once they call you back with what they’ve “found” based on your inquiry, here’s what you can now expect:
More than half to three-quarters of the properties they have found in NO WAY meet the criteria you are looking for. They are going to fall under 2 categories: 1) Not high enough quality for the rent amount. A poor reflection of value. You’re a foreigner… how do you know what is a good deal and what isn’t? You’re a perfect opportunity for an agent to offload some of the bottom of the barrel properties that stagnate their “portfolio”. 2) They are out of your maximum price range because “not much is available that fits your needs”. Yeah… can we say “BullS*%#”. As a Bucharest Insider, Bucharest Expatriate, or generally speaking as a Romania Insider, always keep this one fact in mind: You are a foreigner and as such you are perceived to have a virtually endless supply of money that you are happy to part with and Romanians are happy to take. While people are economically driven elsewhere, to say they are “economically driven” as a whole here would be an understatement. Be careful. This rolls right in to the next point…
With an agent, you can almost always be guaranteed that you will be paying a fairly sizable commission (yes this comes from your pocket and not the seller/landlord) roughly equivalent to one months’ rent. You can also be guaranteed that you will also be paying a full months’ rent as a deposit. (Don’t think for one minute that good behavior and great care will ever get your deposit back as agreed). Expect your deposit to go bye-bye as well.
Agent retaliation. This is a big one and I would imagine will be the source of many “disagreements” in the comment section of this post. When searching for an apartment, a wise person does not choose the very first apartment they view even if it meets their criteria perfectly. One should see as many of the options that are available as possible. Agents here IN GENERAL do not grasp this concept. They are after the quick, easy payday, and do not understand the concept of a commission. Don’t be surprised if after the first two or three showings you begin to sense an “attitude” coming from your agent. The source of this attitude? Well they feel as though they should be paid for the showings! I would actually agree with this if you do not end up renting an apartment AT ALL (from any agent) after all is said and done… but this is a results based career, not a salaried career. Don’t give in… don’t pay for showings. Let them get mad and “threaten” you. Nothing will come of it… simply move on to the next agent who wishes to do their job.
When it comes down to dealing with an agent, your best bet is to have a “ready to email” list of your criteria as well as a lot of time on your hands. Give yourself 2-3 weeks to find something suitable. Make sure you have a full understanding of the commission structure as well as a sample of their agency’s lease agreements if they use their own as opposed to the owners/landlords’. Stick to your budget.
Part 2: “Locating apartments on your own” will be posted shortly…