I had managed to avoid the Tbilisi real estate market for a good long time by starting off living with host families, and then moving in with S, who had already found an apartment. When S moved back to America, though, I decided to reduce the length of my commute and had my first foray into House Hunters: Tbilisi. And then my landlord turned out to be a stupidhead, so I had to find another apartment and move again. And then she also turned out to be terrible, so I moved again. I sincerely hope I’m done. (This is a partial explanation for my recent stretches of minimal posts; I’ve been busy packing and unpacking). But now that I have some practice in this field, I feel qualified to give a little advice on the topic. Firstly, though, I recommend trying to circumvent a traditional apartment search if it’s at all possible–ask friends if they know anyone with an empty apartment. A referral will generally result in a better, more respectful living situation.
Step 1: Make a good Georgian friend.
Unless your Georgian is nearly perfect you’ll need help. Many landlords are initially apprehensive about renting to a foreigner*, though most come around quickly once you meet in person. Some will also try to take advantage of a “rich” foreigner and increase their asking price. Having a Georgian make initial phone contact will smooth over many of those problems, and they are generally better aware of which questions to ask and what might be a red flag. (Shout-out to my amazing boss, who was fantastic in this role)
*This being said, there are a minority of landlords who have had positive experiences with foreigners in the past, and generally prefer to rent to us since, as a rule, we pay our rent on time.
Step 2: Brush up on your apartment vocabulary.
Angela has written a fantastic House Hunting post, complete with a vocabulary list, so I’m not going to duplicate her efforts (her post is rather centered on the central neighborhoods, though, and I live out in the suburbs, so some things are a little different). One note, though, she translates “ბუნებრივი აირი” as fireplace, and while it might mean that, too, in my experience it’s usually used to mean “natural gas” (its direct translation). In an apartment listing, this usually means that the apartment has a gas-powered hot water heater. Things like heat, hot water, refrigerator and washing machine access aren’t givens, so make sure you consider which “basics” are important to you, and check on them in any apartments you visit. You can look for either a furnished or unfurnished apartment–both are widely available.
Step 3: Hustle.
Use your new vocabulary when scouring the classifieds for apartment listings. In my experience, saqme.ge had the most extensive listings, but that site is exclusively in Georgian. Some friends have found good places using gancxadebebi.ge and I’ve also heard recommendations for myhome.ge (which has an English version, but is rumored to be pricier), but I didn’t find any listings on those sites that met my criteria. There’s also an English-language Facebook group for apartment hunting (Flatshare in Tbilisi), that may be fruitful, particularly for short-term stays, or apartments in the city center. Once you find a potential place listed, it’s important to call (or get your Georgian to call) ASAP. Good places go lightning fast. Schedule a time to see the place as soon as you can. If you have any questions about the listing, you can ask them now. When looking at the place, take into account all sorts of things–condition of the apartment, what furniture is provided if it’s “furnished”, the situation with bills and internet, etc.
Step 4: Make an Agreement
If you’ve found a place you like, you also have to make sure that the owner likes you, and that they are willing to rent to you. Then, you can try to bargain on some specifics–you might be able to get a discount if you pay multiple months up-front, maybe you can negotiate which currency you’ll pay in, or you can ask for more furniture or appliances to be provided, or you might be able to buy them for a discount in the rent. In theory, everything’s negotiable, though that doesn’t mean your landlord will want to negotiate. This is all personal preference. Then you need to decide if you need/want a lease, or another type of legal agreement. Many landlords will be unwilling to give you one (if there’s a legal document, they’ll have to pay income tax on the rent). To be honest, it isn’t the norm to have a lease, and they’re fairly unenforceable, so this is a matter of personal preference and risk tolerance. Keep in mind, though, that depending on your situation, a formal lease may be required for immigration or employment purposes. My longest-term apartment, with a lovely landlady, had no written agreement. The place where I had a written agreement, I was tossed out after a month and a half. If you choose to have a formal agreement, it can be done quickly and relatively cheaply at a notary’s office.
Step 5: Move in.