I’ve basically been looking for decent permanent housing in Prague since July. Not gonna lie, finding an apartment in Prague is rough. This is not the hidden gem it used to be. Rents are higher and demand is ridiculous.
A couple of things kept me from being more serious about my search, not the least of which was the fact that I didn’t have a visa until a week ago. But I spent enough time looking at the housing market before I got a place to know it was going to be difficult. So how do you get good housing without being screwed?
My first thought when looking for a place was that I wanted to save as much money as possible. So for the first time since I was in college, I considered finding a place with one or more roommates. I figured I didn’t know anyone here anyway so it might be kind of fun. For expats, there are several Facebook groups where people share their rooms for rent, and they do so pretty consistently. The problem is that everyone and their mother is part of these groups and anything reasonably priced in a good area gets at least 30 replies in the first 15 minutes. God knows how many they get by private message.
Joint lease for a flatshare
So unless you’re one of the first people to respond, you’re probably going to be ignored. I was lucky enough to get a response from a few people offering shared apartments in the city. I went to see some of them, and I almost signed a lease with one of them. Then I realized that 90% of the time, when you rent a flatshare, you and your roommates sign a joint lease. This means if your roommate bails, you’re on the hook for their half of the rent and with finding someone to replace them.
Worse still is that when your roommate leaves, they just find anybody else to replace them and take over their part of the lease. So even if you start out with someone decent, in 3 months, you could be living with a murderer that you had no say in inviting to your home. And in essence, this makes the whole idea of a lease kind of a sham.
I think this is a system that works here by most accounts, but I have zero interest in being up some Italian’s ass to pay her half of the rent. So even if it works for the Europeans, I don’t trust anybody as far as I can throw them. Even the possibility of a financial burden I can’t afford is too much for me; I didn’t come here to be stressed. And I’ll be honest, I hate the majority of people I meet anyway.
So I decided to adjust my search and focus on studios and one-bedroom apartments. If you do your research, you’ll find that you can get one for the same amount of money you’ll spend sharing a nice place.
The language problem
In the Czech Republic, when you use a realtor to help you find a place, you pay the realtor’s fees instead of the landlord. And the fee is usually one month’s rent, often with 15-20% tax. At first, I was turned off by the whole idea, so I looked on websites that offer commission-free rentals directly from the owners, like Bezrealitky.cz. As you can imagine, the majority of landlords in Prague are Czech. The website is only available in Czech and most people won’t reply to an inquiry from a foreigner. And the few ads that are in both Czech and English get bombarded with requests.
When you finally end up getting a viewing, you’re often there with at least one or two other people, sometimes as many as 8. And invariably, someone will blurt out that they’ll take it before you’ve even had a chance to look at the entire place. You often only end up with your pick of places that don’t even have a real kitchen, just a tabletop range.
The realtor problem
After a couple of weeks of that, I decided to bite the bullet and work with realtors. After all, I also didn’t come here to settle for some hole. I wanted to find a nice place I would enjoy, and a realtor may even be able to help me find something much cheaper than what I was seeing on commission-free sites. So I reached out to a few of them, cringing every time they reminded me their fee if I decided to rent through them would be an entire month of rent. Of course, this is not including the deposit, which is sometimes two months’ rent.
But at the end of the day, I don’t mind paying for help and good service. However, the realtors here are the worst people in the universe. On top of the fact that you have to pay them, they’re super disinterested and rude. If you’re 5 minutes late to a viewing, they’ll call you to tell you they have somewhere to be (which is home, not making any money off me).
My Airbnb loophole
I was pretty fed up with the whole thing, so I decided to try something different. The Czech rental process is pretty ghetto, but I’m Cuban-born and Miami-raised. And you know where the Czechs get that flagrant informality? From the same place they get their rum: my homeland. We invented that shit. Since I’m traveling a lot anyway, and I’ll be away for the holidays, I figured I could Airbnb while I’m here. That way, I don’t even have to bother paying rent while I’m out of town.
My underlying ambition was to find the perfect Airbnb and convince the owner to let me rent it long-term. Because obviously Airbnb renters are already comfortable with foreigners, and good Airbnbs are nicely decorated and fully equipped. So I went on the hunt for a private apartment that was in a good location and wasn’t renting for too much money a night. As it turns out, it was a damn good plan. When an owner rents their place 3 days at a time and has to clean it and be exchanging keys all the time, it’s actually a welcome suggestion when someone offers them consistent rent.
So after a short test run with the place I had already rented temporarily, I talked to the owner and we came to an agreement. And now I have a beautiful apartment with a washing machine, stove, microwave, dishwasher, and a gorgeous rainshower bathroom for a little over $500, all utilities and internet included. I didn’t have to put down a deposit or pay anybody commission. I don’t even have to buy silverware. And because this guy is used to being flexible, my lease will end when my visa expires. The only downside is that it’s on the fourth floor and there’s no elevator, but in the Czech Republic, we call that a free Crossfit membership.
And that is how you get good housing in Prague on your own terms. Hustle for what you want and don’t settle for anything you don’t.