24 Jan How to: house hunt in Italy
2018 marks my sixth year in Italy (how did that happen?) and my fifth time looking for a new flat in Turin.
Every time I have to do it, I’m reminded that house hunting in Italy is not a pleasant experience, and I am very much aware that there is no way to go through the entire process feeling 100% zen.
In case you need to find somewhere to live in an Italian city like Torino, here are some do’s and don’ts to make your flat search as trauma-free as it possibly can be.
DO: Use your contacts
Apart from being the most Italian way of doing, well, anything, asking around to see if any of your friends or acquaintances can help is the quickest and most reliable way to find a place.
Don’t be afraid to publicise your search. Write it on Facebook, talk to people at work, mention it in the changing rooms at your gym class, or at dinner with your friend’s other friends. It’s very likely that someone will know someone else, and you’ll quickly have a lead (and maybe even a discount).
DO: Get online
You will likely have an extremely hit-and-miss experience with the house-hunting sites available here, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them. Just make sure you read the description, and ask plenty of questions when you contact the landlord to make sure you’re not wasting your time (more on which questions to ask coming up).
On Bakeca, once you’ve figured out that “Offering a house for rental” is the section you need (and not “I’m looking for a house for rental”, counterintuitively), you can narrow down your search using various criteria, like size, price, and area. Make sure you click the option of “Privato” to avoid estate agents (more on those shortly). Contact the landlords using the form on the website, or see if a phone number is there – if so, give them a call (I know you don’t want to, but just trust me, ok?).
Kijiji is similar to Bakeca, although I’ve never actually used it. Again, make sure to specify no agencies, and narrow down your search as much as you can.
EasyStanza is mainly for those who want to find a room in a shared apartment. Annoyingly, you can’t access any of the info without making an account, and these people will bombard you with emails, but it may be worth biting the bullet (and obvs unsubscribing right away after you find somewhere!).
Another great idea is to look for Facebook groups created for people in a similar boat. Here in Turin, Affitti Torino Studenti/Lavoratori is a group for young people looking for houses, and plenty of ads for flats and shared houses are published every day. But be warned: the places on here attract a lot of attention, and are usually gone within the day – if you want to use this method, be quick!
DO: Consider your preferred neighbourhood
Italy is a pretty safe place to live, but there are areas in every city which are dodgier than others. Talk to locals to find out where the no-go areas are, but also to figure out which zone suits you the most. In almost every city, you’ll find the young, studenty, party area (lots of great nights out, not so much quiet time for sleeping), the fancy residential area (beautiful houses, zero character), the quirky, alternative area (awesome markets, higher risk of getting pickpocketed), and loads of “in between” places with different pros and cons. Walk around – during the day and at night – and try to choose an area (or a few areas) that you think will suit you, to narrow down your search.
DO: Get your finances in order
If you don’t use an agency, you’ll probably need 1/2 months’ rent as a deposit, and will need to pay the first month upfront.
You’re likely to need a bit of spare cash right at the beginning for things like transferring utility bills to your name, getting internet set up, or buying essentials that your house doesn’t come with (a duvet, some pillows, that beautiful lamp you’ve seen in Maisons du Monde and decided you can’t live without…).
Remember this, and make sure you’ve got a bit of extra cash in your account before searching.
DO: Prepare for an intense couple of weeks
Due to the fact that you can’t start your search very far in advance (read on for more on that), your house hunt is likely to be short but intense.
Warn your boss that you’re likely to need to take an hour out of work for viewings here and there. If you can’t, be prepared to run around like a headless chicken in your lunchbreaks, in the evenings, and throughout the weekends.
You’ll need to stay up to date on the apartments being advertised – check them first thing in the morning, a couple of times during the day, and in the evening to have the best chance of finding a great deal and snapping it up. You will soon feel more addicted to Bakeca.it than you are to Facebook. Be warned.
Looking for somewhere to live can feel like a job in itself, and it’s a pain, but stay strong because soon enough your hunt will be over.
DO: Ask the right questions
So you’ve found a flat that you like the look of, at a price that looks alright. What now? Why, contact the landlord and see what the catch is, of course!
Make sure they’re happy to rent to you (some landlords favour students, or non-students, others want someone with a “proper” contract rather than freelancers or job-hunters – yes, it’s unfair, but it happens). Understand how much bills will cost you, on average (this will depend on things like whether the heating can be controlled from inside the house, or if the building is heated centrally). Does this place have a car parking space, if you need one? What kind of contract will you get, and how much notice do you need to give if you’d like to leave? Which furniture is included, and which utensils? Ask who will be paying all the various bills – sometimes the landlord will pay the charge for the upkeep of the building, sometimes they’ll include all bills in your rent, sometimes everything comes from your pocket, and sometimes one bit is included while another isn’t. Ask if you’ll be able to make this house your “residenza” or if they only want to rent it to you as a “transitorio” place (meaning you can’t become a resident). How much deposit does the landlord need? How soon do they need to know if you’re interested in taking the place, and what must you do to confirm it?
Remember that – if you take this apartment – you’re going to be giving this person a lot of money over the coming months – they owe it to you to answer any questions you might have, so don’t be shy!
For some boring things like how to become a resident in Italy, go to: HOW TO: DO ITALIAN BUREAUCRACY (WITHOUT LOSING YOUR MIND)
DON’T: Think you can get this done in advance
In other countries, it’s often possible and usually even advisable to search for a rental property many months before you actually need to move in.
Here in Italy – you guessed it! – that’s not the case. Landlords tend to give preference to whoever wants to move in the soonest, and most flats aren’t even advertised more than a month before they’ll become available.
The standard time for starting your hunt is a month before your move-in date, and often even less.
If you try to find somewhere further in advance, it’s likely to be swiped from under your nose by someone who wants to move in sooner than you – Italian landlords don’t like to miss the chance of getting a couple more weeks rent.
Start to look around a month before move-in, and aim to find somewhere 2 weeks before.
DON’T: Use an agency
It’s tempting as it does lessen the hassle factor, but resist the urge to get an agente immobiliare (estate agent) involved, unless you’re certain that you’ll stay in your new place for a really long time.
Usually, a rental apartment will ask for either 1 or 2 months of caparra (deposit) – which you get back when you leave – but on top of this, estate agents will charge you another 2 months of rent as their “fee”, and you will never see this again.
Not only does this make moving house incredibly expensive (based on a quite reasonable €500-per-month apartment, you’d have to part with €1000 caparra, €1000 of agency fee, and your first €500 of rent all at once – and €2500 is a lot of money), but this is really just throwing away cash. The only things the estate agent does to earn this massive amount of money is to show you around the house once, maybe twice, and draw up the contract for you. You don’t get anything more for your hard-earned money, and once you’ve paid, your estate agent is very unlikely to want to even help you with any issues you have with the house, as he’s got what he wanted already.
Going through private landlords is cheaper and just as legal (as long as they give you a rental contract).
I am the first person to launch into a full-on stress-out whenever I need to move. And it doesn’t get better with practice.
The fact that it’s impossible to start your search more than a few weeks before moving makes the whole experience feel like an against-the-clock challenge on the Crystal Maze, and it’s not fun.
But the thing about Italy is that you have to have faith that everything will turn out OK in the end, because somehow (against all odds) it always seems to…