In a city of 12 million people, there is no shortage of housing options in Istanbul. However, when you narrow your search to a furnished apartment, walking distance from a metro station, it gets a little more complicated…and expensive.
In the past, we were lucky. Our first apartment was owned by a friend of my husband’s mother. However, at the time, I did not know just how lucky we were. The rent was incredibly cheap and the owner gave us all of her extra furniture. It was a 3 bedroom apartment with more space than we knew what to do with. We affectionately named one bedroom, “the closet room” due to the fact that its primary purpose was to house our clothing. The downside? It was a 25 minute walk to the metro, it was on the basement floor and there was very little natural light. After two years, it was time to move out and move up.
Our second apartment was the perfect urban refuge from the chaos of the city. It was 5 minutes from the metro and 15 minutes to Taksim by foot. The apartment was located on the fifth floor and it had an incredible view of the city. Now, an apartment like this is incredibly difficult to come by. The connection? The owner is a writer who also happened to be a friend of my boss and the college professor of my husband. She was leaving for the United States and simply wanted to ensure her plants were cared for, the apartment was occupied and all the expenses were covered. This apartment truly felt like home and will forever influence us as we attempt to build a more permanent home of our own in the future.
Unfortunately, the lease ended August 1rst and July was our last month in the apartment. As most of you know, it was a busy month for us. We could not think or plan our move until we survived the wedding. We survived and rejoiced. But, last week we began our search for a new apartment. The American readers may be shocked and appalled to hear that we waited until we had 2 weeks left in our current apartment before we began our search for a new home. But, alas, this is Turkey…
Now, if you ask me, real estate agents in Turkey have one of the easiest and most profitable jobs in Istanbul. (All of my Turkish friends disagree, but please examine the evidence…) They require very few qualifications and need nothing more than a small office to conduct their business. If they rent or sell four apartments per month (easy!), they have the potential to make more money than I do as a foreign teacher in Istanbul. They do not have to recruit new clients, people come to them. They do not organize open houses or formal advertisements. They simply serve as negotiators between the homeowner and renter or buyer.
Let’s examine the facts: First of all, there is no expense to the homeowner. Thus, apartment owners have no incentive to avoid using a real estate agent. Once registering with a real estate agent, the agent takes care of everything. As a result, the renters and buyers carry the entire burden of this arrangement regardless of the length of their contract. Thus, if someone is renting for six months and they plan to use an agent, they will pay the equivalent of one month’s rent, as will the next set of renters. Secondly, real estate agents rule the housing market in Istanbul. If you want to lease an apartment outside of a tourist area that is dominated by inflated prices with weekly rates in euros, it is very difficult to find an apartment that is not being promoted by a real estate agent. Yes, there are options, but very few legitimate and efficient ones.
Our search began with Craigslist Turkey. It was familiar and seemed to attract others looking for short and long-term furnished apartments. However, the price changes depending on who inquires and how much interest there seems to be. It is dominated by vacation rentals and thus the pickings are slim. Additionally, it attracts a strange group of characters and bizarre apartments. We visited one apartment that required you to enter somebody else’s apartment, before going up the stairs in a curtained entryway to the potential apartment of interest. Another option was with an elusive man, who attempts to sublease his apartment without the permission of his landlord. As the conversation progressed, the security of this arrangement dwindled even more as the deposit and heating expenses fluctuated in cost depending on the moment.
After exhausting our options on Craigslist, we moved to some online listings. Unfortunately, these are even more difficult to sift though. While you may find numerous apartments, upon further investigation, many are already taken and almost all of them have a real estate office connected to these efforts to find renters. We visited two apartments we found through the online listings. For each and every one of them, their location had little to be desired and we found ourselves disappointed by each place.
These rental classifieds include:
So, at 5:30 PM on Saturday, we returned to our beloved neighborhood and decided to visit every real estate office we could find. There are over 30 offices within walking distance of us. Thus, if one office has nothing for you, you can always go two doors down to see what else is available. At 6 PM we found an apartment we liked. By 6:15, we were walking to see it and because things move very quickly in Turkey, by 6:40 we were negotiating prices and arranging a rental agreement with the owner. By 8 PM the rental agreement was signed and everything was settled!