How to rent an apartment in India without going crazy

by neo

There are probably only 5 Indian-Americans in the US who haven’t yet bought a flat (or three) in India. Neo was one of them. He likes to brag in parties that he saw the bubble coming, but Mrs. Neo invariably chalks it up to his laziness.

So for the other 4 people who will be renting when they return to India, here are some tips that Neo learned in his MBA from the school of hard knocks.

Residential Property Bangalore | Purva Highlands - Axiom Estates

1. Ignorance is your friend – The natural temptation is to have as much decided as possible before you land in India. Avoid the temptation. Don’t listen to anyone about where to rent, or even how large an apartment you need. Stay with your parents, in executive housing, with friends or whatever. Focus on getting a car (and a driver) first. Chillax and give yourself some time to get a clue about the local situation, because…

2. Things have changed – Yes you know your city better than anyone else, but that was 12 years ago. Your favorite neighborhood is now overrun by slums, and what used to be farmland when you left is now the best developed part of the city. Treat “your city” as a new city that you’ve never visited before, and remember …

3. Your legs are the best search engine – Stop wasting office time trolling through the hundreds of real-estate classified websites claiming to have the “largest selection” of properties. After you are in India, scout for properties the hard way – by physically visiting them, and then ….

XP Party Game

4. Talk to current residents – That 21st floor penthouse might seem awesome, but no one told you that the elevator doesn’t have backup power. There is no better way to get an inside scoop on a property than by talking to existing residents. Camp out near the elevator or lounge area, avoid looking like a salesman, and approach residents with a disarming, friendly smile. Explain your situation and try to get their feedback (especially the power, water and elevator situation). Neo was warned away from at least three apartment complexes by using this simple approach. Keep in mind though, that just like a software user interface, there is no apartment complex that can make all residents happy. But make sure to …

Bangalore at Night

5. Avoid ghost complexes – There are literally hundreds of these “investment-only” apartment complexes. Typically 90% of these apartments are owned by people living in the US. Most of them have never been lived in, and only a very few have been rented out. You don’t want to stay in any complex that has an occupancy rate of less than say 40-50%. Best way to gauge occupancy rate – visit on a weeknight at dinner-time (say 9.30pm), and see how many apartments are lit. So once you’ve done all this, you can …

6. Work with multiple agents – The real estate market is very fragmented in most Indian metros. No one agent, broker or website has all the inventory. Once you’ve identified a few good apartment complexes (or houses) that you would like to rent, scout for agents who are known to have worked in that specific complex before. They usually charge an usurious one months rent as commission – but there’s really no escaping that (you can try bargaining though). So get the agents to show you what they have, but …

7. Contact home owners yourself – Don’t believe the agent if he  insists that there is “no vacancy” in your favorite complex. Ask residents if there is anyone looking to rent. Pay 200 bucks to the underpaid security guy at the gate, and ask him which flats are vacant. Hunt down the contact information for the owners. Chances are, the owner will want to rent after he sees how nice you will be as tenants (don’t mention your daughter’s love for scribbling on the walls). But most importantly, no matter what you do, …

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8. Choose your landlord wisely – If you can take away only one thing from this post, this is it. Do not get emotionally invested in any apartment until you’ve met the landlord (or talked to him on the phone). Neo estimates that about 30-50% of all landlords suffer from some sort of pathological disorder caused due to the real estate boom. One such landlord wanted to rent Neo a beautiful 3-bedroom apartment, but the landlord insisted on leaving behind a huge closet filled with the landlord’s belongings in the apartment for sentimental reasons. Do yourself a favor – walk away from any sort of weird landlord. The last thing you want to deal with in the first year of your move to India is a passive-aggressive landlord. If you can deal with your landlord, …

Bargain - Save 1c

9. Bargain like crazy and do the paperwork well – Don’t believe any asking price, period. Bargain down the asking price by at least 20%. Your monthly rent will be one of your biggest expenses in India, so think and bargain hard. Once you’ve decided the price, you can sign the rental agreement (a.k.a. leave and license agreement in India). For additional peace of mind, you can register this document with the government. This forces the landlord to bring his photo id and prove that he legally owns the property (because in most cases the government official will demand to see proof of ownership of the apartment). If you choose not to register the agreement, make sure you see and verify the original sale deed of the apartment – so you know you’re dealing with the real owner of the place! Finally, …

10. Do your own safety review – Indian safety laws are not enforced well. Do your own diligence and make sure the apartment is safe for you and your family.

In A Moment

That’s all there is to it (were you expecting more?)

Now be smart and choose a good apartment. Then use the friendly contact form to invite Neo home for dinner (don’t let Neo’s anonymity scare you – he’s charming, witty, polite and always buys dessert for the host).

As Neo writes this, Mrs. Neo is predicting another real-estate boom in India. If the boom does occur, Neo will never be allowed to forget her prediction. If instead the crash gets worse, well, that’s what Mrs. Neo predicted yesterday! Doesn’t Neo ever listen ?

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