I remember the first time I had to go apartment hunting in Italy. It was probably one of the most confusing and frustrating parts about moving to Italy. The apartments I saw were all over the spectrum: old rusting dust-coated flats with grandma furniture, brand new and wildly expensive, or just plain awkward. A closet kitchen and a living room with a ceiling so low you have to crouch to stand? Um, no thanks.
Finding a normal apartment within my budget seemed downright impossible. Part of the problem was that I didn’t know the right way to go about my research. My level of Italian apartment terminology was virtually zero, so all my searches were coming back with overly priced tourist real estate. I also didn’t know where to search, which greatly limited my search results.
Furthermore, even when I did find an apartment online that I liked, I was always apprehensive about contacting the owner. My conversational Italian wasn’t so great, so even when I did work up the courage to call, the conversation usually ended in complete confusion for both of us.
I kept thinking: “Apartment hunting is already hard enough as it is. How am I supposed to do this in foreign country notorious for its disorganization? How am I supposed to communicate about something SO important in a language I barely know?”
Difficult, yes. Impossible, no.
Why? Because we’re going to do this together. We’re going to find an apartment in Italy. All it takes is a little research and practice. I promise.
Let’s break it down.
Private vs. Agency
During your search you basically have two options:
1. Find an apartment yourself directly through a private owner
2. Pay an agency to do the work for you/help you with the process
Finding an apartment yourself means that you can save money and avoid a lot of the bureaucracy. It also means that you have to do a lot more work and be ready to negotiate on your own with the owner. It’s riskier, but many people do it and it can save you a lot of the agency fees.
Paying an agency to help you means that you’ll have someone to help you find an apartment that meets your needs and help you negotiate the contract. The agency sort of acts as the mediator when problems arise, so it’s a major safety net. Of course, you’ll have to pay the agency upfront, usually 12% of the annual rental fee.
Starting Your Search
If you are looking for an apartment on your own (therefore doing most of the legwork), you might want to start with some of the following sites:
As you’re searching, you’ll want to keep in mind the following:
1. Narrow down your search. When searching on a site, consider your parameters. Look carefully at the “zona/quartiere”, as well as whether or not the apartment is advertised as “agenzia” = agency, or “privato” = private.
2. Carefully consider the space. Remember, a “monolocale” will probably just be ONE ROOM – kitchen, living room and bedroom all in one. A “bilocale” may only be 2 rooms total (not 2 bedrooms). Un “posto da letto” (one bed in a shared bedroom) is different from a “camera da letto” (a single room in a shared apartment).
3. Initiate contact. If you find an apartment you’re interested in, it’s typically better to call the owner (for some reason, I’ve found that most Italians prefer communicating by phone) and agree to see the apartment first.
4. Ask lots of questions. You should confirm with the owner about the following:
How much is the monthly rent?
What’s included in the monthly rent? What’s not?
What is the minimum amount of time I have to rent this apartment? (sometimes there is a 1 year minimum)
How much is the security deposit?
How much are the average monthly utilities/condominial expenses?
How much notice time must I give if I decide to leave?
How should I pay you for the rent? (Some landlords prefer bank transfers (bonifico), while others may accept cash).
When you visit the apartment, have a good look at your surroundings. Ask yourself: Is the apartment in a good area? What are the neighbors like? Is the apartment clean and furnished? How many things will I have to buy to get the apartment up to my standards? What’s the landlord like? You’ll want to factor all of this in before you make a final decision.
5. Read the contract carefully. Then read it again. Once you’re getting ready to make a decision, you should read through any contracts carefully. Ask to take it home with you before signing it and maybe even have it translated.
If you choose to go through an agency you won’t have to do as much research and you probably won’t have to contact the owner initially, but you should still ask a lot of questions and read through everything carefully. You should also be prepared to pay at least the amount of the first month’s rent to the agency.
And now….are you ready for your Italian lesson on apartment vocabulary? Pens and paper out please!
Italian Apartment Vocabulary
monolocale = single room, loft-style apartment
bilocale = two room
trilocale = three room
quadrilocale = four room
appartamento = appartment
affitto = rent
le spese condominiale = condominial expenses (monthly fee to pay someone to clean the staircase + any other shared expenses for the building)
le spese mensili = monthly utilities
camera da letto = bedroom
bagno = bathroom
sala = living room
cucina abitabile= eat-in kitchen
angolo cottura = cooking corner (very small kitchen)
a due passi = expression that means, “very near” or “just around the block from”
vicino = near, close to
arredato = furnished
parzialmente arredato = partially furnished
mensili = monthly
riscaldamento = heating
luce = lighting
acqua = water