Finding a great flat in Cairo can be as difficult as finding a great job in this city. It might take quite a bit of time and a few failed attempts at finding that dream apartment rent or buy. Along the way, you might encounter some less-than-pleasant experiences with greedy brokers, dilapidated buildings and a bug infestation or two. However, with the words of wisdom in this guide, you’ll be on the way to finding the flat of your dreams in Cairo.
First word of advice: familiarise yourself with Cairo neighbourhoods, and prioritise where you want to live before you start flat-hunting. Know your price range. Generally, there are three different modes of finding a flat: web-based methods, inquiring locally and alternative third-party methods. We’ll cover these and then give you some pointers to keep in mind before agreeing to rent or buy.
There are several websites that list available flats for rent or sale, including Craiglist Cairo and Apartments in Egypt (rentals only). Generally, most flats for rent are furnished, although these websites offer both furnished and unfurnished flats. Note that many websites are aimed at foreigners, and prices are quite inflated.
Cairo Scholars is an email list server aimed at making Cairo life easier for expatriates. It is currently one of the most popular ways to find a flat for rent. There are also occasional apartment listings for sale. Unfortunately, the Cairo Scholars’ member policy recently changed and now requires that new members of the list to have .edu email addresses. This will continue to help existing members and students, but sadly not others. If you have a friend on the list, kindly ask him to forward you relevant apartment listings.
If you know the exact neighbourhood that you want to live in, walk around and ask some bowabs, or door men, if there are any apartments for sale or rent in their building. If you’re not Egyptian and don’t speak Arabic well, bring an Egyptian friend or someone that speaks the language. Although it seems like quite a linear and inefficient approach, this is one of the best ways to find a nice flat in Cairo and is practised by many Egyptians.
Occasionally, a bawab will recommend a simsar or broker. Brokers generally specialise in certain areas of Cairo and will mediate between you and a landlord or a real estate owner. A broker will show you several flats that meet your requirements and price range. A common trick practised among Cairo brokers is to show you several flats within your price range that are quite run-down and then a few flats that are incredible but well above your price range as to convince you to raise your budget. It’s recommended to set a lower budget that what you’re willing to pay to anticipate the more expensive apartments they will show you.
In return for his services, a broker will receive a sum of your first month’s rent. Always agree on the broker’s fee before deciding to work with him or allowing him to show you flats. Some brokers charge exorbitant fees. Generally, this fee is equal to a half month’s rent if you’re staying for six months and a full month’s rent if you’re staying for a year. Technically you’re not supposed to pay it; the owner is, and you give the simsar a tip. If you’re paying the landlord a month’s security deposit, he usually hands that over to the broker.
There are also real estate firms like Coldwell Banker, Centruy 21, and ERA. We recommend ERA, which have branches all over Cairo, and are contractually obligated to helping you find an apartment for six months until you find something you like.
Alternative, Third-Party Methods
Don’t hesitate to ask your employer, school or an organisation that you’re involved with if someone can help you find an affordable flat. They might have flats available at subsidised rates, or they might be able to extend the services of a trustworthy broker.
Local English-language magazines such as Community Times list rentals and sales in classified sections. Occasionally, you’ll find an advertisement by a company that has a large database of apartments for rent and sale. However, like the aforementioned websites, these companies are geared towards foreigners and their services can be quite costly.
Think Before Signing
Once you’ve found a place in Cairo that you can call home, there are still more things to consider before signing a contract. First, make sure that the price is fair. Ask a trusted friend who is familiar with flat rates in the area if the price seems right. Generally, rent and sale prices are higher in areas like Zamalek, Mohandiseen, Dokki, Maadi and Heliopolis . Rent is cheaper in downtown, Nasr city and Rehab City .
Second, when visiting the apartment or house, make sure that the apartment’s utilities are functioning properly. Pay attention to running water, water heaters, the telephone line, electrical plugs, gas, oven, stove, fridge and toilets.
Also check to make sure that there is no sign of bugs. Try asking the former tenant if he knows anything about the bug history of an apartment. Ask specifically about bed bugs, fleas and cockroaches. If these are in your apartment-to-be, you’re already living in a nightmare.
Pay attention to the flat’s location and walk around the neighbourhood. Be mindful of the noise factor and how important that is to your sleeping habits. If a flat is in a particularly loud neighbourhood, like Downtown Cairo, or by a large mosque, you might want to reconsider the location.
The bowab is also an important consideration. If he is overly nosey from the start, then it’s probably a bad idea. If he’s helpful with carrying stuff or if he’s barely there, even better. Also, security things like the building entrance door closing at night or there being metal bars on all doors and windows are added bonuses especially if you’re renting on the ground floor.
Finally, make sure that you sign a contract with the landlord in a language that you can understand. Keep a copy for yourself.