Deciding to relocate to another city was easier than I had ever imagined. It seemed that everything I needed became a stepping stone that would fall into place right in front of me just as I was taking my next step. Certain things in life evolve on their own and moving to Rome was one of them. I found an apartment within my first week but having had to repeat the process several times created the need to develop a few tricks to help me save time and money.
The Porta Portese Newspaper
Going through a real estate agent may find you the perfect apartment, but at a higher cost. If you seek to rent a new home at a decent price, you will find it to be no easy feat. Most people begin their search with Porta Portese newspaper, which is also available online. They usually highlight their desired options, then call each of them to fix an appointment.
This usual strategy is simple but the following pitfalls occur too often, which end up costing you up to €50 in cell phone calls per day as well as precious time:
- Upon hearing a foreign accent, they hang up or tell you that your ideal apartment is no longer available. Racists? Perhaps, but you would not want to live with them anyway.
- 1 out of 3 apartments listed will be an ad placed by a real estate agent. Had you wanted an agency, you would have walked into their office instead.
- The senior citizen who answers is hard of hearing, bless her heart, and by the time you find out that the apartment is no longer available, you have spent a chunk of your cellphone credit on one useless phone call.
- The line is continuously busy, which probably means it is an amazing apartment. When you finally do not hear that annoying busy signal, you realize it is because their phone has been switched off. You try again the next day and continue until, days later, you get through. “We can’t possibly see any more people. Sorry.”
- The apartment is available, but your credit is dwindling as you are wasting it in answering questions about yourself rather than finding out if it has all the features you need. You get an appointment and see the apartment only to find out that it is either unfurnished (meaning it also has no kitchen), is underground with tiny windows that face car tyres in a parking lot, the roommate has a cat and you are allergic or any simple detail that you could have easily known, had you asked.
- You cannot seem to understand them since you speak only basic Italian, they speak too rapidly or in some sort of dialect, which leads you to wonder if they even understand you. Tick-tock…tick-tock…your credit is running out…”Oh, Fu@K!”
How I did it!
I have been able to diminish these pitfalls by 90% or more and in turn spent less than €10 per day rather than €50. I must warn you, my method is out of the ordinary and does take some people by surprise, but it has always worked for me:
- Pick up Porta Portese newspaper as soon as it arrives at the newsstands, around 5am or as early as you can possibly manage to get it. Getting your dream apartment takes some sacrifices. They say, “Good things come to those who wait.”, but it is only what is left over by the early bird.
- Mark the apartments which interest you.
- Note down, preferably on your computer, all the apartments you like with their general location, features, contact information, rent amount and what it includes. When you start booking appointments, this will be necessary, or you will waste time in trying to locate the ad.
- Do not call yet, after all, it is only 7am. Send a prepared text message, in perfect Italian, where you tell them about yourself and ask specific information about the apartment.
- Do the same, every day, with online classifieds such as Wanted in Rome and VCN-Rome Yahoo Group, the latter of which is also on Facebook.
- Believe your dream apartment exists! So many people, including my boyfriend, continuously barked, “You’re insane if you think we’ll find a place that big, near the centre, under that price!”. I proved them all wrong when I found several. Now I hear, “Only Glenys could find a deal like that!”
Why a text works
A text message has no accent, places you in your best light, arrives at your destination regardless of busy signal, costs less than a phone call and weeds out agencies, people who do not want you, as well as apartments which have become unavailable. Many will text back a short informative reply: “Yes, it’s available. Please call.” or “Sorry, already rented.” Some will actually call you. Agencies will always call you back, even if your message requested them not to, which may take up some of your time, but will not cost you. Once you confirm agency apartments, do not delete it, highlight it. You will need this to cross-reference with when you get the next Porta Portese, thus saving you some time and money yet again.
Creating your message
When my boyfriend and I were seeking a larger apartment we sent the following text in Italian:
Good morning, I am a Jazz singer from New York City who also works as a translator/writer. My partner is a blah, blah, blah from blahblahland. We are interested in viewing the apartment. We seek a furnished apartment with one double bedroom, separate living room and full kitchen. Please let us know if it is still available. No agencies, please. Thank you, Glenys & Blah Blahblah. This can also be adjusted if you are seeking a room.
Notice that I wrote ‘partner’ which in Italian would be ‘compagno or compagna”. If you are not married, using this term gives your relationship a more serious tone. You want them to know you are in a serious relationship, regardless of marital status.
If you are seeking a room you could try something similar to these sample phrases:
- Introduction: Good morning, I am an English Teacher from Australia or Law Student from Norway or FAO Volunteer from Canada or an Office Manager for Blah & Blah s.P.a. (Avoid stating your country of origin if you believe it will be held against you. This will give you the opportunity to win them over with your bubbly personality upon meeting them in person. The goal is to get the appointment first.
- Positive or deal-breaker traits: I am a non-smoker. I am a courteous smoker. I have no pets. I have a well-bred Golden Retriever. We have no children. We have three well-behaved adorable children. (No one will believe it, but positive adjectives help place a positive image in their minds.) If you require wheel-chair accessibility, merely ask if there is an elevator. Do no mention any physical challenges but ask for what you need.
- Room/Apartment Requirements: I am looking for a double room with a private bathroom. We are looking for a three-bedroom apartment for our family. I am seeking a bright studio apartment with full kitchen. No basements please. No ground-floor apartments please. No walk-ups please. No kitchenette please. We require a full kitchen. We would like a balcony or terrace.
- Closing: No agencies, please. Please let us know if it is available and if it fits our requirements. Thank you.
- Optional: You can add another cellphone number or e-mail address as well.
- Tips: Keep it polite, as brief as possible and in Italian. If they speak English, they will let you know. If you do not speak a word, get someone to hep you. Perhaps you can give their number.
Before you send your text message…
When writing your text, make sure to have it proofread by a native Italian, as you want to give your best impression. Including where you are from is a plus if you are from somewhere that Italians generally consider desirable. Unfortunately, racism exists and in order to have a fighting chance, you should include information that makes you as desirable as possible. They will be more interested in you if you have a well-paid position or can prove that you can support yourself. Race, religion, sexual orientation and physical challenges may not matter once given the opportunity to impress the landlord with your winning personality. Nothing scares landlords more than their own imagination. Put their fears to rest by showing them who you are.
I was an unemployed Jazz singer when I found my first apartment, but I was prepared to pay up to 6 months in advance and I carried my CD with me, which cinched the deal each time.
Questions you should ask…
Once you have sent text messages to all the cell phone numbers of your desired apartments listed, start calling those which have not listed a cell number. After you introduce yourself, your first question should be, “Is this an agency?”, followed by, “Is the apartment still available?”
Then proceed to make sure it has all you require:
- Is it furnished, partially furnished, fully furnished?
- Does it have a full kitchen? How many burners? Does it have an oven? Does it have a full-size refrigerator with a freezer compartment?
- What floor is it on? The higher the floor, the more sunlight you will enjoy. Is there an elevator/lift?
- Is it a basement? Ask if they tell you it is a ground floor. If they say no, ask if the windows are full size. Many try to pass off their basement apartments as ground floor flats if you do not have to walk down any stairs to enter. The size and location of the windows give it away.
- How is it heated? Remember, electric heating can cost around €200-€300 for a small apartment. Electricity is quite expensive in Italy, so you will want to avoid any unnecessary electrical appliances. An apartment with gas heating, gas heated-water and a gas oven will save you money. If you can barely afford the rent, you will not be able to afford the electricity bill.
- What is included in the rent? Utilities and condominium may be negotiated into your rent. Usually, the answer is always no, until you ask. In Italy, the answer is always “it’s impossible” so you have to keep asking until the answer changes. The answer tends to change after the 3rd or 4th time I’ve asked.
- Has it been refurbished? When?
- What size is the bed?
- Is there a bathtub and a bidet?
- Is there a doorman?
- Is the landlord your neighbor? Upstairs, downstairs or next-door?
For Apartment Shares
- Who lives in the apartment? Males/Females + age range + profession?
- Does the landlord live in the apartment? It is always best to get a room in an apartment without a live-in landlord. The landlord in my first apartment did not tell me he lived there. I thought I was renting a room where only 2 girls lived. I did not realize he lived there until I moved in. It was not due to a language barrier. The Italian who had accompanied me told me he had never mentioned this major detail.
- Are there any pets?
- Does anyone smoke? Smokers always say they do not smoke inside the house, but they lie. They always do. Don’t take their word for it.
- How many bathrooms are there? This is important if there are multiple roommates.
You will notice that those who have sent you a text reply asking for you to call back, will greet you in a very friendly manner. They already know your good points and may even be excited to talk to someone from your country. Many tell me how much they love Jazz or New York or America and were eager to meet me. Remember, just because the apartment is available, does not mean that you will get it. Your text message must sell you so that they want to meet you. Your text message should be truthful, you do not want to get caught in a lie. If you lie, they will notice that something is not right, so tell the truth.
Prepare for your appointment.
- Dress up for your appointment. It is like a job interview. You want to live in their house and they want to be sure that you will take care of it. If you appear as if you cannot take care of yourself, you will not get the apartment.
- Smile, be yourself, show your personality. You must be likeable especially if you are seeking a room in an apartment share.
- Ask questions. If it is an apartment share, would you have use of the kitchen and living room? Can your friends and family visit if the room is large enough to host them? What is included in the rent? Who lives in the apartment? It is surprising how much information is never divulged until you ask.
- Trust your instincts. If you sense they are being dishonest about something, they probably are. Read about my experience in Parioli.
- It is important to be appealing, but it is just as important to like your landlord and/or roommate(s). You will be dealing with these people on several matters. We have turned down gorgeous apartments based on this alone. If something is not right about the people you will either live with or deal with, move on. There are lots of scammers out there. Your instinct is your inner alarm system. I cannot stress this enough. When I was signing my contract for my room in Parioli, I caught a strange glance between my new roommate and her mother. That was my only sign of future trouble, but I caught it and yet ignored it. I was too tired of searching. Luckily, I survived and many wonderful things came out of that experience so I cannot regret it. Everything does happen for a reason!
- Ask how much time you have, before you need to decide. They will give the apartment to who they like best, not necessarily who accepts it first. Just know, however, that they will accept a less desirable person than yourself if you take too long to decide. When my friend and I were seeking an apartment together, another two girls – who had accepted it first and were about to sign a contract – were suddenly denied as soon as we called. Apparently, we were more charming.
- When you do decide. Try to negotiate what you want. Ask about who is responsible for plumbing repairs, large appliance repairs, garbage collection fees and RAI TV fees etc. Negotiate further.
- Get it in writing. Details can escape your comprehension when your Italian is not perfect. Getting it in writing will make them clearer.
Timing your move.
It can take up to two weeks to find a decent apartment share and up to three months for an apartment. By sending a text message, I have been able to contact many more of my preferences and have received a few surprise phone calls. Many times, apartments become unavailable but then something happens. I have received numerous calls from people renting apartments that became available once more.
In fact, we were apartment searching last summer and had already given our three-month notice, of which there was one month left. Then, I had a death in the family and had to book a flight home for the following day. My flight was at the exact time of an appointment for an apartment, which I consequently cancelled. Upon returning to Rome, I asked to fix another appointment, but the apartment was no longer available. Weeks passed and we were still searching. We extended our moving-out date by a month. Just when we were about to lower our standards, I was called concerning our initial choice of apartment again. They still had my information on their phone from my text. I was the only one they called since they had no other records of other possible tenants. The apartment had become available again when their idea of making it a B&B had fallen through. We saw the apartment just before they were about to post another ad. We loved the apartment and really liked our landlords, so we moved in.