Living arrangement

What to expect when flat hunting in India

3:14 PM

I wrote something about flat hunting a few years back in this very blog:
http://cynublog.blogspot.com/2005/05/flat-hunting-in-india.html#disqus_thread

And let's be fair not much have changed, I just have more tips and experiences to share and I realized after re-reading my entry that I never really went into the specifics and terms found in ads.

Now ads say "flat" "house" or independent house" but in most cases that means you are getting an apartment.

Flat: generally means you get an apartment in a gated community or apartment building, know that big "societies" as gated communities are called, these are often in the suburb on the side of a main road and have very few pleasant place to walk outside the gates, and very few shops around, if you live there you need a car. Most of the newest complex boast international standard amenities such as outdoor pool, tennis court, gym, kiddie playground and most important 24h power back up...a must in India.
Smaller non gated community buildings generally offer just power back up and a playground, but they also have the advantage to not necessarily be located on a main road.

House: This term can mean a lot of different thing, and is often short for "Independent house" which contrary to what you would think isn't you renting a full house, it's just that the building is a house that has been build on a private plot buy one single owner. In India such houses are built in levels each with a separate entry, so you are indeed renting an apartment on one level of such house, often the owner lives on one of the levels and rent the others out. Some people argue the safety of such houses compared to gated communities, this could be the topic of a different blog entry. I lived in both houses and flats each have their pros and cons, the pro of houses being you can choose a location and have loads of shops and restaurants and parks around and more freedom to roam at will than in a suburban complex.

Villas and "duplex house" : Villa is a new term often mean you are renting a house in a villa gated community, these are completely independent and probably look like the concept of private house we have in the west complete with garden and front yard while still boasting all the amenities of an apartment complex, like the apartment societies these are generally in the suburb.
Duplex house are rarer to rent and a bit more commonly offered for sale. These are just independent houses that have no separate level entry doors, just one main door and a staircase inside to access the first floor, they don't necessarily have a garden due to the fact that plots are generally tiny and wont allow for such luxuries, though some areas in Bangalore at least are known to have bigger plots and private villas built on them, but these are rarely for rent and if so the prices are extremely high.

"BHK" : this stands for bedroom/hall/kitchen and comes with a number before the "B" as in 3BHK for example, this means that in this case there are 3 bedrooms, the "Hall" is actually what would be called "Living" room and is in many a case what comes right after the entry door, there aren't lobbies or entry hall in a lot of place.

Kitchen: The concept has evolved a lot over the year, and the most traditional kitchens have built in concrete shelves below and above the counter, but don't necessarily have cabinets or cabinet doors, you won't find any stove space as people still use a mobile 2 burner gas stove that you hook to a gas cylinder you need to subscribe for. When a "modular kitchen" is mentioned that means the look will be westernized with fancy cabinets and storage solution, but again not necessarily a built in stove, though I've seen a few 4 burner built in units around in recently renovated apartments. Simply put owners generally don't put a lot of effort in the kitchen and bathroom for a place they plan to offer for rent as modular kitchen and fancy bathroom fixture cost a fortune still.

Bathrooms: Do not expect anything like in the west here, the bathroom as I mentioned in a previous blog entry is basically a wet room, there is no shower tub, or bathtub, the water falls in the room from the shower head or faucet and splashes everywhere. Most Indians still fill a plastic bucket and sit on a plastic stool to bathe using a mug to douse themselves., tubs are a new concept here. The water heater is one you need to switch often 15-20 minutes before you decide to shower as there is no such thing as continuous hot water in India, the water heater is called "geiser" comes in various capacity with some being "instant geiser" heating water as it passes through limiting the wait time between your intention to shower and the actual shower, but these aren't efficient when the pressure in taps is high as they simply can't heat the water fast enough.
As far as commode are concerned, you have "Indian style toilets" which are squat down toilets and "Western style toilets" which are the sit down commode westerners are used to. In the recent years I've seen less and less Indian style toilets in houses, people are finding the sit down model much more comfortable.
One thing to mind about bathrooms : they are NOT a place to store things, they are damp all day long, so all you can keep in there is your shampoo bottle, and at the most a towel, if you must have an extra shelf system in, it has to be plastic, anything else will spoil.

Utility space: This is a very common thing in Chennai as I found out, but no so much in independent houses in Bangalore. Modern apartment buildings across the country have them, and this is the space to keep your washing machine. In Some complexes the utility area is attached to the kitchen and indoor, and in other places this is a special balcony or out door space. In fact in Bangalore some old houses still have a wash stone area outdoor for the maid to wash clothes by hand. As I said it is common in Chennai and these area are huge, doubling as storage space, pantry, and fridge area when the kitchen isn't big enough to store the fridge.

The bigger your budget the better when it comes to renting a flat in India, because you do find a lot of crazy dump in independent houses particularly and the cheapest means also the most impractical living space in the most unsafe location. One thing I noticed in a lot of place is that the mention of square feet in the ad doesn't mean the place will be well proportioned, the "hall" is always the biggest room in the house, and just last week I saw quite a few 3BHK that had napkin sized bedrooms in which no bed other than a kiddie bed would fit comfortably, these type of flats are typically planned by owners to be rented out and the higher number of room they built in a flat means they can rent it for a higher price.
The most logically planned floor plans are in gated communities and apartment buildings as developers who are behind the building do sell all the flats to independent owners who then decide themselves if they want to live in or rent it out, those who opt to rent out their property generally live the kitchen and bathroom with basic amenities.
In Bangalore you need to give a 10 month worth of rent in deposit, which amount will be given back to you once you move out, read the fine prints in the lease agreement, some owners mention that they will hold a part of that deposit to go toward painting charges when you move out. On higher rents you can negotiate the deposit and most owners generally agree on a 8 months deposit itself.
If you visit the house through a broker (real estate agent) you are expected to pay one month worth of rent in brokerage fees to to your broker...no discussion here, it is said that it is better to find ads posted directly by the owner to avoid brokerage fees, but the fact is that less and less owner post personal ads, going through a broker is easier for them too as they don't have to post ads in various papers week after weeks.
Brokers make flat hunting a bit easier for you as they network between each other and will if they are good broker go out of their way to help you find a place, and you could see as many as 20 houses in a day if you let them know in advance you are looking. This time around we got a very good broker and he really got us quite a few houses lined up on day two of our hunt while spending a lot of time on the phone while in our car on day one, so much I don't think the brokerage fee is that much of a waste and hassle really.

Keeping in good relations with your landlord pays off, if you stay in a house long enough he might even carry out some repairs out of his own pocket, a thing that is not necessarily the norm in India, if while visiting the house you find the owner odd or a bit off, follow your gut feeling and pass because as it is the case anywhere in the world a landlord from hell can make your life miserable.
Once you are signing the lease look at all the small issue the flat might have, leaky taps, dysfunctional plugs, seepage in walls and point them out to your landlord immediately, this is when they are most likely to bear the cost of the repair. Gated communities generally have on call electricians and plumbers for these issue, in some cases these small repairs could be free if you are paying maintenance charges, but again not a norm. As a tenant you generally can't alter the premises you rent, so no wall breaking, wall painting, and built in closets to add without asking he landlord first, some people even have issues with their tenants drilling holes to hang pictures, and in my previous rental agreement it was actually stipulated that no holes should be made in the wall without asking the landlord first, and even scotch tape on the walls was not ok, but our landlord was flexible and after a year or two living in the house we had rights to do pretty much what we wanted on the walls, he even took the care of building us a gate at the top of the stairs to prevent our dog from going down at his expense. That's just to say that if you come from a country like for me Switzerland where tenants have the right to stencil paint a wall without asking for permission to their realtor or landlord, this can't be done that way in India.

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