OKAY GUYS. I get it. I’ve mentioned enough real estate-related terms on this blog that many of you end up here from Google looking for actual advice on how to find an apartment or a house in Bishkek. I receive an unbelieveable amount of emails asking for tips on apartment-hunting, or flat out asking if I would, you know, be so kind as to just tell them of a decent place that’s available for them. Despite having written about this a bit on the FAQ page, the emails just keep coming.
I recently had to search for apartments again (my lease ran out on the big house, and it’s just far too big for the 2 1/2 of us) and decided that since I have all of this information and experience fresh in my mind, why not just dedicate a whole post to it? That way when I get another email asking about finding an apartment in Bishkek, I can just send them a link to this post.
So here it is. I present to you:
Kirstin’s possibly somewhat useful advice for maybe attempting to find an apartment or house in Bishkek
1. Come to Bishkek. It’s really difficult to find a permanent place to stay when you’re still in a different country. Book a hotel or a guesthouse for a week or so to deal with the transition.
2. Speak some Russian, or have a Russian-speaking friend or colleague help you.
3. Search Diesel.kg. It’s the closest thing Bishkek has to Craigslist.
4. Maybe hire a real estate agent or agency? Salut.kg is the main agency I know of, but I’ve never used their services. They have a whole list of apartments on their website, the vast majority of which do not have photos. If you want to use their services, you pay them a fee (I think around 1300 som?) and they’ll give you a list of apartments and contact numbers for their respective landlords/ladies. Then you get to experience the fun of contacting them and setting up appointments to see the place yourself (see #2). In light of that option, we decided not to use Salut, because we were doing the same things ourselves through Diesel.
What about an agent? To my knowledge, there are no Americans in Bishkek with friendly, native English skills who are active real estate agents. Again, see #2.
For a while, I had the contact info for a real estate agent on my FAQ page, Svetlana, who we hired during our last house hunting round, but her phone numbers don’t work anymore. We found Svetlana through Diesel.kg anyway, so see #3.
5. Go look at the place. Some people on Diesel copy and recycle photos from other apartments. Some landlords will advertise flat out lies about the place. An acquaintance from Almaty recently told us that he agreed to rent a place, site unseen, before coming to Bishkek. He had two requirements: that it be quiet and that it have an iron. The landlord assures him that this place satisfies both of those. He arrives late at night, decides he wants to iron his workshirt for the morning, and can’t find the iron. He calls the landlord, who says, “Well, we don’t use an iron, so why do you need one?” An hour later, a train comes rumbling past, because it turns out the apartment faces the train tracks.
6. If you like it, scrutinize it. Are the windows drafty? Do the toilets work properly? Does the electricity seem sketchy? Are there enough outlets for your gadget-addicted lifestyle? Will the oven fit your oversized muffin tin? Does the landlord/lady seem reasonable or a bit like a jerk? (Any negative attributes will most definitely be amplified down the road.)
7. If you don’t like it at first glance, don’t waste your time.
8. Get some sort of official agreement. It doesn’t have to be a full-fledged legal contract, but a simple agreement that states the rent, how much is paid in advance, how long the lease is for, things each party is responsible for, how much notice has to be given before vacating, etc., couldn’t hurt.
(But realize that contracts are useless when your landlord/lady works for the government.)
10. Don’t believe anything from the House Hunters episode.
Other random things: try to avoid paying the rent for the entire lease period up front, because your landlord will ignore you until it’s time to renew for another six months. Don’t pay extra to have the landlord pay for the utilities, it’s easy enough to figure out on your own (and cheaper!). Make sure the apartment has a working water heater for the month of May, when all hot water in the entire city is shut off. Have the landlord pay the balance on all utilities and give you the receipts before moving in. If you’re renting a fully furnished place, don’t be afraid to ask your landlord to supplement with things that might be missing, like an ironing board or an extra piece of cookware. If you’re in an apartment, make sure the entrance to the building has some sort of security (an electronic entry-key is better than the old-school three-button combination code).
How much should you expect to pay? In my experience, you can get a shabby 1-room (which is what would be called a studio apartment in the US) for ~$300 per month. Add $100 for each extra room and $100 if you want a step up from shabby. Newer buildings cost more, “European-style” renovations cost more, city-center location costs more, and an apartment on a higher floor costs more. It seems like houses start at $1000 per month, but there’s not always a happy balance between shabby-and-small and nicely-renovated-and-really-huge. In my experience, it seems that most houses are located on Jibek Jolu and north, or Bokonbaeva and south.
As you can see from the photos, our current place is hilariously over-decorated. It mostly suits our needs and we weren’t in the mood to spend a lot of time and energy looking for the perfect apartment. And, it’s possible that House Hunters International is coming back (!!!) to film a “Where are they now?” episode, so I can’t think of a more unique abode to display for the American viewing audience.
(Update: Please note that this blog is not a forum for advertisements, and I will mark any such comments as spam.)