It’s that time again – time to play the of lovely game of ‘Who Wants to Hunt for Apartments in Italy’!
Oh the joy.
Some of you may know that awhile back I wrote a little cheat sheet for finding rental apartments in Italy. With my upcoming move to Genoa (one week until moving day!) and all the apartment searching my friends and I have been doing (when you’re in the teaching business, the perfect time to move is August before the new school year starts) I decided it might be a good idea to revisit the subject and share a few tips on how to avoid getting one pulled over on you.
Let me just start by counting my lucky stars and saying that my boyfriend and I have been incredibly lucky! We’ve found a near-perfect apartment in Genoa with a REAL garden (can’t wait to grow my basil-eggplant-tomato forest) and all it’s new and shiny. :D Plus the landlord seems like a super sweet guy. Let me repeat – we were super lucky. Super super lucky.
Of course our search was not easy and we ran into a lot of crazies out there. One house didn’t even have a kitchen, another was full of nonni furniture that had been there for god knows how long, and another overlooked a private garden that belonged to the neighbor that was about 10 ft from the kitchen window. Can you imagine waking up in the morning and having to stare at your neighbor’s garden that you not allowed to use but forced to look at from your kitchen window? No no no.
Unfortunately, our friends haven’t been so lucky (both in Bologna and in Genoa). Maybe it’s just a string of bad luck, but almost all of them have run into some kind of difficulty, from crazy landlords to ridiculous security deposit requests to absurdly, unlivable apartments with mold monsters taking over the walls. How that is even legal I do not know, but ..eh…it’s Italy.
So these tips are for all my dear friends struggling to find the perfect apartment in Italy. Be smart, read this, and don’t let those crazy landlords get the best of you. Or the mold monsters.
6 TIPS FOR RENTING APARTMENTS IN ITALY
1. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
When searching for an apartment online, be wary of scams. You can usually spot a fraudulent apartment if the photos show a pristine, brand new, fully furnished apartment and the price is crazy low. If you’re not sure, do a quick Google search of the apartment address to see what comes up. If the address is for Pino’s Pizzeria, then you know it’s a fake. The next thing you can do is try to contact the owner. If they start asking you for personal information or to pay some kind of deposit before you’ve even seen the house, run away and report the scam to the website administrators.
2. Don’t say cat until it’s in the bag.
There is a typical Italian proverb that says “Non dire gatto se non ce l’hai nel sacco” meaning, ‘Don’t say cat until it’s in the bag’. In other words, the apartment is not yours until you physically sign a contract. I’ve had several friends tell me horror stories about how they found an apartment and made a verbal agreement with the owner, only to be thoroughly surprised that the owner retracted his offer a few weeks before move-in day. Moral of the story: don’t rely on a verbal agreement, have a plan B, and sign the contract as soon as possible.
3. Get ready to play security deposit roulette.
When renting an apartment in Italy, the security deposit could be anywhere from 1 month’s rent to a full year bank guarantee, so save up some money before you move! Usually landlords ask for the amount of 1-3 month’s rent as a security deposit, but I’ve had several friends tell me that they have been asked for a 6-month to a 10-month bank guarantee. A bank guarantee is where you have to deposit money into a bank account just in case you default on paying your rent. This way the owner is assured that if you don’t pay, he or she will still get their rental payment. Unfortunately, you have to pay the bank an additional fee for this service (somewhere between 1-4% interest) so it’s really not in your favor. In Italy, there is no eviction service like in the U.S. so this is really the only way to protect landlords. If this happens, you can either try to bargain the rent or offer to pay more upfront as a security deposit.
4. The higher you are, the more you pay.
The higher up you live in an apartment building, chances are the more your “spese condominiali” will be. ‘Spese condominiali’ are “condominial expenses” you pay every month to cover the cost of the elevator, to pay someone to clean the stairs, and other general maintenance fees that the apartment administrator organizes. The rationale for “higher apartment, higher expenses” rule is that the higher up you are in an apartment building, the more you “use” the elevator and the stairs, and so you should pay more. Personally I think this rule is kind of stupid, because everyone uses the stairs and the elevator and it assumes that the those living in the lower apartment building use the stairs less than those in the higher buildings, which isn’t necessarily true (the nonna on the second floor might use the elevator 8 times a day, while the young girl on the top floor might use it twice a day?). Boh! That’s the way it is.
5. Mold monsters included free of charge.
Understand exactly what’s included in the rental apartment – which furniture will be left behind, whether or not there’s a washing machine, etc. Renters often bring their kitchens with them when they leave and you don’t want to arrive to move-in day only to discover everything and the kitchen sink is gone! Ask the landlord or agent during the viewing exactly what’s included and confirm this again before you sign a contract. This can also be a good negotiating point – if the house is completely empty, you can ask the landlord to lower the price or see if he or she can install a few pieces of furniture beforehand. You should also ask the landlord to fix anything that needs to be repaired before you move in.
6. Don’t be afraid to negotiate.
Italians often expect you to try and bargain down the price, so they set the rental price higher than what they hope to get. If you’re renting through an agency, you can usually understand how much room you have to negotiate by asking the real estate agent during the viewing. They should have a good sense of what the owner is asking for. If you’re speaking directly to the owner and you’re really serious about renting the apartment, you can ask about lowering the rental price (no more than 50-100 euro generally) but be ready to offer something in exchange, like paying an extra security deposit, or signing a longer term contract. I’ve watched my Italian boyfriend negotiate and I swear it’s like watching to male birds on Animal Planet battling it out. They flatter each other, they have this crazy technique of not being to too direct but of sort of hinting at what it is they want. There’s never a sense of fixed opinions – everything is always open for discussion. Of course the key for any negotiation in Italy is to mean what you say – there’s nothing worse than lying to your landlord and making a complete “brutta figura” out of yourself.
Other tips? Apartment searching horror stories? Just need to vent? Share your thoughts below. We can all learn from each other. :)