Searching for accommodation in Russia can be a difficult experience. Expats will find that house-hunting demands both patience and negotiation. Above all, it requires a good real estate agent.
As in most destinations, accommodation in Russia is varied in terms of structure, style and price. The closer to the city centre, the more expensive the monthly rent. These areas are associated with prestige and are thus more costly. Moscow claims the highest housing prices in the country by far. Even apartments in its periphery suburbs can be more expensive than property in the centre of a secondary city.
Expats should try their best to organise at least some short-term accommodation through their employer before their arrival. It generally takes at least a month to find accommodation and to sign a lease. Expats don’t often buy property in Russia, preferring to rent instead.
Types of accommodation in Russia
Expats will likely need to come to terms with apartment living. Detached houses are primarily available only on the outskirts of the big cities, in expensive compounds and rural areas.
Townhouses and apartments in multi-storey buildings are the primary types of accommodation in the popular expat destinations of Moscow and St Petersburg. They are often architectural remnants of the psyche of a historical period.
Pre-revolutionary style apartments usually have high ceilings, larger rooms, wide windowsills, thick walls and parquet floors. Soviet-era apartments are small, tend to be on the sparse side, and were established for communal living purposes.
Western-style apartments usually refer to apartments that have been renovated to remove the former Soviet-style decor and fittings. This form of accommodation is favoured by expats and is often designed per Western-style standards. Expats should note that apartments unrenovated in this manner will cost significantly less, sometimes as much as half of the price of a Western-style apartment.
Accommodation in Russia can be furnished, semi-furnished or unfurnished. This can easily be negotiated. For a price, landlords are usually happy to remove or add furniture. Furthermore, in the major cities, there are plenty of home furnishing shopping options that expats can peruse to furnish their new homes.
Finding accommodation in Russia
It’s highly recommended that expats use a real estate agent to assist with the house-hunting process, especially as online listings and printed material are generally poorly done and of little help. Although some people in Russia speak English, most don't. Even expats who can speak Russian would still be best off using an agent. These individuals will only charge the equivalent of one month's rent or a small percentage of the purchase price if buying. Real estate agents are in no short supply, but it’s best to use a service provider that another individual can recommend through experience.
A standard lease is written in both English and Russian. Expats should always insist that a translation is made available before signing. Leases typically last between one and three years but this is negotiable.
A month’s security deposit is usually required. If possible, expats should negotiate that it is used to pay the final month of rent. Landlords in Russia will often find any excuse not to return this payment, even if all inventories are returned as they were received, and even if the apartment is left in a better condition than it was found.
Water and gas are usually included in the rental cost. Electricity, internet, television and telecommunications are extra costs. Be sure to address this topic during lease negotiations. Utilities are cheap in Russia compared to European countries. Utilities are state-run. If expats live in a traditional Russian apartment, they must be aware that heating is controlled for the whole building and they have limited control over this. Expats living in a more modern apartment or gated complex in Russia have more control over the heating system.