The Do's and Don'ts of Renting in the Kingdom
In most cases when one has accepted a job in the Kingdom housing will be part of the package and usually both identified and provided for by the employer. If one is employed by a large Western corporation then it is typical to be provided housing in a Western compound. This not only provides additional amenities and allows one to live a semblance of a Western lifestyle from within the compound but it is also worth noting that many Western corporations require their employees to live in a Western compound for security reasons. This is not to imply that the Kingdom is unstable or unsafe but emphasizes the importance the employer places on wanting its employees to feel secure and be comfortable.
But what about those who come to the Kingdom and for whatever reason are responsible for finding their own housing? What do they do? What do they need to know? I can at least discuss housing in Riyadh as that is the city with which I am most familiar. I imagine that what is applicable to Riyadh w ould likely be very similar in other cities in the Kingdom as well.
There are numerous real estate offices in Riyadh. However one thing my spouse and I discovered in addition to so many others sharing their own similar experience is that while there are so many real estate offices, if one is not contacting them to either buy or invest in property, they have little interest to assist. Although most real estate offices will accept rental properties in their portfolio there seems to be little interest or motivation to work with individuals who wish to rent. As a result, many individuals seeking to rent in Riyadh will make every effort to find and locate their own place whether it is an apartment or a villa.
In regards to villas, if one is seeking a villa on a compound then the first step is to go out and purchase the small pocket size book called “Riyadh Today.” This book is published by the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and can be found at Tamimi grocery stores, Jarir, Obeikan and Thamamah bookstores. In fact, it is such a great reference it should be a must-buy item on arrival for any new resident to the Kingdom as it contains much more than just housing.
However back to the topic of seeking a villa on a compound… Riyadh today provides a detailed listing of all the compounds in Riyadh to include location, amenities, services, description and full contact information. It will also identify whether a compound is Western-only, Arabs-only or mixed. The most popular compounds among Westerners include Arizona Golf Resort (5 stars), Cordoba (5 stars), Granada, Fal, Al Hamza, Arabian Homes (4 plus stars). There are more to choose from too. Villas are available both furnished and unfurnished. In addition to villas, most compounds may also offer condominiums if one does not want or need a large villa to maintain. Rent is typically paid in a lump sum for one years rent. The compounds cited can range from 50,000 SAR to 500,000 SAR per year (1 SAR is equal to 3.75 USD). Due to the higher rents this may make compounds prohibited to those for whom their employer is not providing a substantial housing allowance. All compounds are heavily secured and in many ways it is more difficult to gain entrée to a western compound than going to an embassy in the diplomatic quarter.
If one rents an unfurnished villa it will typically include the appliances unlike villas privately rented in local neighborhoods. Usually tenants at compound villas are responsible for their electricity, gas and water. Depending on villa, some may include satellite tv and/or internet.
Now if you would rather live in a villa in a local residential neighborhood what most individuals do is first identify which area they would prefer to live in. After selecting a particular neighborhood or area (such as Olaya, Al Sulemaniyah, Muhammadiyah) they would not only visit the realtors within that area but also start driving through the streets of the neighborhood. Many property owners will place “For Rent” signs on the outside walls of a villa rather than list the villa with a local realtor. From my exposure it seems like the best “deals” can be found in this manner but it does take patience and can take time. And of course the “word of mouth network” is equally important here as well. When driving through the neighborhood ask local merchants or residents if they know of available properties.
Once you have identified a property inspect it very carefully. It does not hurt to take a voltage tester to test the electricity not only to assure it is working properly but to know what voltage is in the house. For example my own current villa has outlets that are both 110 and 220. Make sure the property has a water heater. This may sound odd but some properties do not, solely relying on the natural heat to heat the water. That may not be a problem during the searing summer months but it does get cold in the winter and a water heater is necessary unless you don’t mind shocking cold showers or washing dishes in cold water. Because the tradition in the Kingdom is for most families to have housemaids it is unlikely for homes that are not within a western compound to have a dishwasher. Additionally many homes will come not only without appliances but without the “kitchen.”
In regards to appliances, one will need to factor in acquisition of stove, refrigerator, freezer if required, washer, dryer and microwave. The kitchen is also usually a “bare room” and there are actually shops which sell modular kitchen units which have kitchen cupboards, drawers and counter tops. A villa may or may not be carpeted so carpeting may be another factor of consideration. Which reminds me that if you view a villa and it has any kind of appliances, kitchen or carpeting make sure that these items do convey with the rent. Also be prepared when viewing villas in residential neighborhoods that they may not have closets in the bedrooms. Instead many Saudi families will buy armoires to hold all of their clothes. Many homes will not include a linen closet either. Saudi homes do not necessarily come equipped with a lot of storage space. Villas may or may not come with a garage. In some cases parking may be on the street. Be sure and ask so as not to be taken by surprise.
Because villas in the Kingdom can be quite large it is also common for many villas to have been “split” and rented similar to a duplex. One family would reside on the top floor and another family reside on the ground floor. Villas that have been split in this manner do have separate private entrances and are supposed to be equipped with separate meters for utilities.
My recommendation is to always have any residential dwelling inspected by an engineer or technician prior to signing any contract to ensure that the electrical wiring, a/c and heating units, plumbing and other items are all in good working order. While a landlord may appear very forthcoming and eager to please once that contract is signed and he has his money it could be another story. Like the compounds, even though one may have chosen to rent a private villa, the rent is usually paid one year up front in advance. Some landlords may agree to six months rent at a time but then the tenant leaves himself open to increases every six months. And because there are a shortage of good rental properties in Riyadh, landlords usually have no difficulty finding eager tenants, especially if it is a nice property in a desirable location.
The average monthly rent of a villa can certainly vary depending on location, size of the villa and what amenities and/or appliances are included. Plan on paying 30,000 SAR and up per year for renting a villa. And of course one would be responsible for all the utilities as well which would include gas, water, electricity, telephone, internet service, satellite tv.
If you wish to live in an apartment instead of a villa, many of the same recommendations apply. Again, Riyadh Today also has a list of apartment buildings. Favored apartment residences are Kingdom Towers or Al Fasiliyah Residences which are both in the Olaya area. However rent at these locations can be comparable to the rent at a Western compound. Apartments can be found both furnished and unfurnished.
In addition to calling apartment managers listed in Riyadh today, the same procedures apply as to finding a villa. Drive around in the neighborhood you wish to live in and look for the apartment buildings. Go into the buildings and ask around to find out who is the manager. At the same time, ask residents about the building. Is it well-maintained? Is the manager responsive if there are any problems? Do they perform routine maintenance in a timely manner? Is their security? Are the elevators in good working order? Are there smoke alarms? Is there a sprinkler system in the event of a fire?
Again, in viewing any apartment check out to ensure all outlets, water heater is in good working condition. Make sure the heating and cooling are operable as well. Like a villa, many apartments will also NOT include appliances or kitchen fixtures or carpeting. Ask and have in writing what is included with the monthly rent such as any utilities or other amenities. Find out what parking options are available not only for yourself but any guests you may have.
The lease of an apartment can vary depending on the apartment and manager. While the most common is 6 months to one year advance rent, some (although the minority) may allow month to month payments. Rents can vary starting from 30,000 SAR per year and up from there. There will be apartments which rent for less than 30,000 SAR per year but the lower rentals can be problematic from lack of security, maintenance issues, cleanliness as well as having residents who may not be in the Kingdom legally.
Many Westerners are pet lovers and many Saudis are not comfortable with pets. If you have a pet this should be discussed upfront and in advance of signing any agreements. Yes; there are a number of westerners who do not acknowledge they have a pet and just move in but this can leave one open to eviction and other problems.
In conclusion, when looking for a residence and particularly if it is a non-compound residence, it may be helpful to have a trusted Arabic speaker with you when meeting a landlord or apartment manager. Once one goes away from the western compounds language could be a barrier and miscommunications can occur. Be patient in your search. If you can, do as much advance research before arriving in the Kingdom to save time and headaches. You may wish to consider having a company which specializes in expat relocations assist you in your search.
Guide section: Accommodation
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