Setting up a home in India can be a challenging experience, but comfortable accommodation can be arranged most anywhere. A recent building boom, and the emergence of a moneyed middle class, has meant that good to excellent housing is widely available. If you're a foreigner you cannot own land so you'll be renting a place.
The rental process
In larger centers, you may even have a choice between furnished and unfurnished places, and short or longer term rentals. If you are here for a comparatively short time, the furnished option may be attractive, though you may have little choice in the style of décor. Even if you are getting your own place, a short term rental may be preferable to staying in a hotel for a few weeks while your place is found and kitted out. Finding a place with a telephone already installed, and/or a cooking gas connection, is also useful. Getting these basic amenities hooked up can be trying.
If you are here with a company, they may make all the arrangements, or even have long term housing established for their personnel. Otherwise, house hunting in India is remarkably similar to anywhere else, with some unique twists thrown in. You can look for housing through a rental agency, or through "free" advertising papers, (daily newspapers rarely advertise rentals) or find people interested in renting through friends and associates. In big cities these days, quite a few people moonlight as rental consultants and it is not unusual to have business cards thrust on you "just in case you need a place".
Ask to see a few places with a range of rents. If you are foreign, people will assume you only want to view lavish and expensive places. You may be happier in a simpler place. Talk to a few different sources, and don't be afraid to ask colleagues what rents they pay, and what rents you can expect. Keep looking. There are always units available. You just have to find the one that best suits you.
The rental process is usually straightforward. Houses are rented to companies or individuals on an 11 month basis (avoids legalities) with a lease agreement. A rental deposit is standard and is unusually high by Western standards. It varies with the city, the standard of housing, and the rental demand. For example, the deposit expected equals 10 months of rent in Bangalore but only 2 or 3 months in Hyderabad. The lease usually specifies an annual increase of, say, 10 percent.
The quality of housing
The quality of housing varies. You can find old, traditional colonial houses, but these are rare and expensive. They also require a lot of upkeep and staff. Newly constructed units, either independent houses or apartments, in the upper income range vary from garish, Bollywood fantasies to elegant homes, appealing to western tastes. Apartments, both low rise and high rise, are the most common and most economical.
Standard features in both apartments and detached homes usually include Western style toilets, showers (but not tubs), ceiling fans, and hot water heaters. Bedrooms usually have a bathroom attached. Lighting is usually fluorescent, and there may not be wall sockets where you expect them. The floors are usually stone, often low-grade marble, or tile of some kind. You will not find carpeting, nor would you want it. India is too dusty and hot. Windows will be barred, often with ornate grills, and there will be heavy bolts on the outside and inside of all the doors in the house. There are often built-in cupboards or shelves (not necessarily useful ones, either). There may be an anteroom, for receiving visitors, and possibly an Indian style toilet for servants.
The quality of construction and design
The quality of construction and design varies tremendously. Carefully check the finishing, electrical outlets, plumbing etc. See how the bathroom floor slants. (It is amazing how commonly it slants away from the drains.) See how the place is maintained. New buildings can get run down quickly because nobody planned for regular upkeep. Also, consider the water and electric supply. (Best to ask another tenant about this.) In the dry, hot summer water is at a premium in many places. Some low-lying areas get flooded during the monsoons.
Check the suitability of layout and design, which is sometimes very unusual. Watch out for airshafts for the kitchen and bathrooms that run down through the building to the parking garage. These echo with noise from cars below and other apartments above. Buildings are usually concrete construction and noise can echo down hallways or carry through the walls. The less people living in a building, the less potential noise problems there are.
Many places are built with a small puja room (for worship) in an auspicious place. It would not be disrespectful to turn it into a closet or study if you prefer. Lastly, look for solid structure in the building. A group of apartments balanced on thin pillars over a parking garage may not be that structurally sound.
Airiness is important in India. Look for places with high ceilings and large windows that have some protection from direct sun. Good flow through of air is crucial. Being at ground level in a crowded neighbourhood may be a bit suffocating.
The neighbourhood is another consideration. Look around the area. A smelly canal or river nearby could be a liability. So could a smoke belching factory or proximity to a busy road. (Traffic may go all night.) A large open field nearby may get swampy in the rains and breed mosquitos, as well as serve as a local latrine. Lots of trees in a quiet residential area is a plus. It is good to have a place that is easy to find, and not to far from the center of things, yet not to close. Some neighbourhoods will have a more upscale image (and tend to be more expensive) but many other areas will also have nice accommodation - at better rates. Your decision will rest on many factors, including where you work . Spend a day driving around parts of the city and see how different areas strike you.
Rents vary from city to city, and within areas of cities. In part, it depends on local market conditions. Bangalore had a boom and now prices are dropping. Madras, apparently, is rising, and presumably so is Hyderabad now that Microsoft has announced it is setting up here. Try not to pay too much. It messes up the rental market and makes it hard for locals to get affordable housing. Just because it sounds reasonable in dollars doesn't mean it's a deal. The huge increases in Bangalore are partly due to expats moving in. Many apartments are actually empty because landlords are waiting for "the big score" to show up. If you can get a reasonable rent you earn the respect of the locals if.(Many people will ask.)
It is hard to get accurate data on rental prices, but based on a limited survey we would guess that the cost for a decent two or three bedroom apartment or a house to run as follows (based on prices in early 1998)
- In Bangalore you would we looking at Rs 15,000 to 30,000 if you were conveniently located in the Cantonment area. Detached houses would be Rs 50,000 to 100,000. The real kicker is the 10 months deposit most people want. It is not a cheap place to live.
- In Hyderabad/Secunderabad you could get similar apartments for Rs. 5,000 to 10,000 and detached houses would be running Rs 10,000 to 30,000. Deposits are in the range of 2 or 3 months rent.
- Other places are harder to call. Madras is probably less than Bangalore but rising. Smaller cities would usually be cheaper, sometimes amazingly so. We need more data. Please feel free to send us information about any city for posting here.