The thought of finding a place to live in a foreign country is daunting to most, myself included. Whether you’re buying a house or looking for an apartment to rent, you’re going to spend a lot of time driving around looking at places, aimlessly at times. I specifically looked for an apartment to rent (“let” as they call it in SA) somewhere in the Sandton area close to work and surprisingly the process was not nearly as difficult as I thought. While SA runs on African time, and the technological infrastructure is equivalent to pre millennium America, finding an apartment was quick and efficient. Unlike the TV show International House Hunters, where a couple only sees three choices and somehow miraculously decide on an apartment after 2 minutes of deliberations, in only a day, I saw 15 different apartments, and found an amazing apartment to call home.
Joburg Rental Market
If you’re looking for advice/a guide to buying and owning a home whether you have a family or just like having a yard, this is the wrong post for you. The Joburg Expat blog is a much better resource for that. As I am only here for two years, I only wanted to look for a furnished apartment to rent. I also had a roommate that I would split the rent with so I could look for something a little nicer. Being from NYC and accustomed to paying ungodly rates for rent, I must say that rent in Joburg is quite cheap. I think the average rental for a furnished apartment Nevertheless, depending on what kind of apartment you want, you will end up paying more.
Furnished vs Unfurnished
If you’re an ex-pat with no family to provide for like me, chances are you took little more than your clothes with you. There is a sizable price difference in rent prices between furnished and unfurnished apartments, somewhere in the range of 3000-5000R a month I’d say (300-500$). Over a two year period, that is about 3600-6000$. If you think you can furnish your entire apartment for less than that, then it may be fiscally appealing. Personally, I didn’t want any part with buying, moving, and assembling any furniture so the premium in rental price is well worth it to me. The owners of the apartments will furnish the apartment to their desires so from my experience, there is a huge disparity between the furnishings between apartments. Oh, and did I mention THERE IS NO IKEA IN THIS COUNTRY!!!!!
Location is Key
Like pretty much any other city in the world, rent prices will vary depending on the neighborhood you’re in. I only looked for apartments in and around the Sandton area which is like living in the swanky and safe city center of most cities. All the new high-rise buildings (anything over 10 floors) and going to be in Sandton only so if you want the modern, new, and high-rise lifestyle, you’re going to be looking only within Sandton.
If that’s not your thing or you just don’t care, there are many other neighborhoods within a 5 minute drive to Sandton like Morningside, and Rosebank that have very slightly cheaper and equally as nice rentals with more space. However, these apartments are not going to be your high rise apartments, but rather your townhouses or condos in a complex. In addition, because Sandton is close to all the businesses, and home to all the high rise furnished apartments, it attracts the ex-pats with money and/or help from their companies, therefore driving the prices even further up.
The Newer The Better:
Turns out, it’s not how many square meters, or how many rooms an apartment has that
determines the price, but rather how new the apartment is. The newer and hence more modern buildings command a large premium over older buildings. Anything built in the last 10 years is going to command a premium. The apartments at the Regent are brand new and rent for 32000R (3200$) a month furnished. Likewise, the apartments in the Michelangelo, the tallest building in Sandton, rent for 30000R a month.
One vs Two vs Three Bed
Again, having lived in NYC for so long, us New Yorkers cherish and are used to maximizing every square inch of what we have. Having your own one bedroom apartment means you’re doing really damn well and if you’re a couple, looking for a two bedroom apartment is blasphemy because how could you ever justify paying so much extra money for a spare bedroom?!? Well it is not the same here. People are used to having space and can afford to have that extra space (and are not rich). A true one bedroom apartment is actually not so easy to find here. The culture of moving out of your parents house when you’re young is not as strong here as plenty of young professionals still live with their parents to save money. When they get married and/or are fed up with their parents, they’ll move out creating a large rift in the demand space for the one bedroom apartment market that would usually be best suited for a single young professional. Hence, the majority of apartments in the city start at two beds and there are plenty of 3 beds as well to accommodate families. I’m not saying one bedroom apartments don’t exist because they definitely do, but you’ll find that the price difference between a one bedroom and two bedroom is not that much.
Apartments go quickly and the Chinese Effect
As Joburg is Africa’s fastest growing city, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that with the influx of foreign investment, there are plenty of people with money willing to pay for high-end living. One group in particular is the Chinese. There are not the Asian-Americans like myself, but rather the OGs straight from the motherland. The Chinese have invested heavily in SA and hence, plenty of already rich Chinese have become wealthy ex-pats in SA. With that money, they scoop up the nice apartments in droves and this is a fact as half my building is seriously half occupied by the Chinese which should raise eyebrows considering SA barely has a racial classification for Asians. It’s a good thing that being from NYC, this is like reading the alphabet for me as I’m so used to seeing as many places as possible and deciding on something immediately by using the “which apartment did I dislike the least approach”. Also, South Africans with the kind of money to rent these apartments would never do it because they love to have space and for the same price as one of these luxury apartments, they could get a huge 5 bedroom house with a pool which they’ll take any day. The Chinese however, unless from a farm, never live in houses due to the huge population so a luxury high-rise furnished apartment is speaking their language.
Rent Prices in Johannesburg
So after all the above points, you still want to live in a furnished high-rise apartment building? Well it’s not as cheap as you’d think. Obviously, if you come from NYC, you’ll think it is dirt cheap especially for what you get but if you hail from almost all other cities around America, you’ll think it is on par with what you pay now if not more expensive. I’d say the average price for a furnished two bedroom apartment in and around Sandton is around 12000R a month. If you want something really luxurious in a new and modern building or complex, I’d say you’re looking around 17000R for the same thing. If you’re willing to go unfurnished in an area outside of the main business areas, you can find places for 6000R.
Brokers, Owners, and Deposits
Prior to arriving in the country, my company paid for the services of a mobility company that helped me in almost all phases of my transition into my new life. Looking for an apartment was fortunately one of them and the agent helping us out, did an amazing job of scouring through all the apartment rental websites to compile a list of suitable apartments in our price range and the type of apartment we wanted. The day we were slated to look at apartments, she had already arranged a list of 10 places for us to see. We had an array of high rise apartments, condo complexes, and anything in between as we wanted her to show us as many choices as possible. Our budget was 22000R between the both of us. I also did a lot of research on my own just so I had an idea of what to expect. A few nice websites to look for properties to rent and buy are:
No Broker Fees
Upon arrival to the apartments, we would be greeted by a real estate broker. We encountered a few on our day and I must say that they were all very friendly and nice, unlike the scum of the earth that is New York City brokers. Maybe this was because of our extremely high budget, and they knew they were likely to cash in on a nice commission, either way they were all very nice. Note that there are NO BROKER FEES paid by the renter. The real estate broker does get paid, but it is ALWAYS by the owner of the apartment. This was sweet sweet music to our ears as we’d been so used to forking out thousands in cash just for a broker to open a door for us in NYC.
All the apartments we looked at were actually owned by an individual. Most of these individuals buy the property for investment purposes. Some buy multiple properties and they’ll even hire a company to exclusively manage all their apartments, sort of like acting as a live out super that will take care of any requests you have, or if something goes wrong with the apartment. Many of the apartments we visited, the group walking into the apartment would contain myself and my roommate, our relocation agent, the real estate broker, and the “property manager”. Not all apartments will have this property manager person and you can expect that apartment to run on African time when you need things done/fixed. At least from what I saw, there are no apartment complexes where you rent from a central company that owns the complex; everything is condo style, and you’re renting from someone that owns the unit itself.
When you are ready to sign for an apartment, the process is rather easy. You’ll need your standard passport copies, proof of employment etc. and you’ll need to fork over two months deposit. The forms were already filled out by the broker and relocation agent that all we had to do was just transfer the money from our banks.
Now on to the good stuff. Pictures, comments, and prices of everything that we saw on our speed date with the Joburg rental market. We started the hunt at 9am with a full plate of 10 apartments to see but we ended up seeing a total of 15 apartments that day as the brokers had new apartments open up and ended the day around 6pm.
Our South Africa Apartment!
I saw a total of 15 apartments through the day and did not put up pictures of every place we saw as a few of them were without a doubt not acceptable. Heeding the advice from the brokers and our relocation agent, we needed to act quickly so that same night, over dinner, my roommate and I weighed the options, which were pretty much Sandhurst #3 and Westpoint #2. For the firs time in our lives, instead of choosing the apartment we detested the least, we could finally choose the apartment we liked the most. A good feeling indeed.
In the end, the winner is . . . Sandhurst #3. The large apartment space, along with the evenly divided rooms and the two huge balconies were just too much to pass up. 20,000R is a shitload of money to be paying in rent by SA standards and most South Africans can’t comprehend why anyone would want to spend that much on an apartment when you could use that money to get a large house. Nevertheless, we both paid much more in rent before and knew a place like this in NYC would probably be at least 6-8k a month and we may as well live it up while we’re here. We signed a 1 year lease, paid the two months deposit, and moved in a few weeks later. Gonna be a good year ahead!
Have similar experiences or something to add to my house hunting experience in Joburg? Please leave a comment!