If you’re looking for more freedom than the hostel can provide, finding your own flat may be a good idea. The next few paragraphs cover the pros and cons of getting a flat as an exchange student here in Delhi, as well as tips on how to go about it.
Pros: what’s great about having your own flat
#1 Greater choice of accommodation: having your own flat gives you the opportunity to get more than a single room if you so wish. Flats can comprise a single room, a bedroom and a kitchen or be of the 1 BHK, 2 BHK and 3 BHK type (BHK stands for bedroom, hall and kitchen).
In my experience, 1 BHK flats are somewhat hard to come by, especially in North Delhi. I explain this by the fact that most Indians live with their enlarged families, rendering a 1 BHK useless for the vast majority of families.
Also be aware that flats near the North Campus are in very high demand during the months of August and July since a plethora of new students hunt for flats while graduated students haven’t fully moved out yet. This means the variety of flats on during that time of the year is more limited, and rents demanded by landlords will be higher than if you signed a lease during other months of the year.
Furnished places are hard to come by any time of the year, unless you settle for a paying guest arrangement where you’d have a room in a family house.
The low availability of affordable and good flats close to the North Campus ultimately led me to abandon flat hunting and to live at the International Student House instead.
That said, if you look hard enough and persevere, you’ll likely find an accommodation that’s suitable to your taste and needs. If like me you’re from a high-rent Western city, spending the same amount you spend back home would most likely land you a palatial place in most areas of Delhi. The cheaper you want to pay, however, the harder you’ll have to search.
#2 Be closer to the action: if you don’t mind the commuting, then finding a flat in South Delhi is worthwhile. You’ll be close to the hip restaurants and trendy bars of the Indian capital, and will most likely land in neighbourhoods that are far more charming than most of those found in North Delhi. Expect to pay way more (sometimes twice as much) for a flat in a desirable neighbourhood of the south such as Hauz Khas, Greater Kailash and Green Park than if you were to settle for a comparable property in the North.
#3 Have more freedom: most likely, your private housing society will have rules that are less stringent than those of DU hostels. Nevertheless, I’ve noted during my time in India that landlords tend to insert themselves into your private life far more intensely than mothers do in the West! Just how much freedom you will enjoy in the apartment you settle for entirely depends on your landlord’s idiosyncrasies. It’s very possible that he or she will come to complain if you have friends of the opposite sex stay the night, eat meat in the apartment if they so happen to be vegetarian, or if you have alcohol on your balcony. If you foresee engaging in any of the aforementioned practices, tell your landlord right off the bat so you don’t get unpleasant surprises or privacy incursions further down the road. Such discussion should take place if you rent a flat anywhere in Delhi, but especially if you are renting in the north where people tend to be less liberal than in the south. In brief, a private flat may give you more freedom than the hostels, but you might still face constraints you wouldn’t encounter in the West.
Cons: what’s not so great about private housing in Delhi
#1 Having your own flat is far more costly than living in a hostel. I can hardly imagine your rent, utility and food expenses being any less than triple (and more likely quadruple) of what you would pay for the same at a DU hostel. Plan for 13,000 Rs. per month at the very least, and know that you should be able to cover housing and food expenses with 18,000 Rs if you opt for a shared but comfortable flat.
#2 Connecting utilities can be a highly time-consuming and bureaucratic process. Finding a flat in where the landlord has taken care of that already can make the process smoother.
#3 Cooking for yourself can be quite challenging in India. Most produce and dairy products spoil within 2 days of buying, which means one has to go to the market virtually every day to have all the ingredients needed to prepare a meal. A large number of middle-class families hire cooks for a low fee, which allows them to free themselves from having to go to the market every day and spend lots of time playing with pots and pans. Note that finding a cook that can prepare Western food is arduous, and that such skill commands a hefty wage premium.
#4 Finding a flat can take a while. An amazingly shrewd, India savvy and resourceful friend of mine spent 6 weeks searching before she found a nice flat. She ultimately got a great deal (18,000 Rs. for a 3 BHK) in Lajpat Nagar and loves her place to bits. Another French girl who was placed at St. Stephens College initially found a place in Civil Lines, a middle-class neighbourhood of North Delhi. The landlord soon became overbearing, leading her to leave that apartment and find another flat in Hauz Khas, a rather progressive and wealthy area in the south.
#5 Your commuting time may be quite long if you are not close to the North Campus. With attendance being compulsory in most colleges, it’s worth asking yourself if you are willing to spend an hour commuting from the south morning and evening, most likely six days a week – yes it’s six days school weeks at DU! Living close to the Delhi metro can make your life easier, however.
#6 Most landlords will want you to sign an 11 months standard lease (11 months… I haven’t figured out why it’s not 12 months just yet). For those in Delhi for a semester only, that’s often a deal breaker. Becoming roommates with someone who already has a flat is a good way to circumvent that problem.
How to go about finding your own flat?
If you’ve made up your mind about getting your own place in Delhi, there are a few options you can use to find your dream nest.
#1 You can join online communities for expats where many advertise places or look for potential roommates. The two main ones for Delhi are Yuni-Net and InterNations. From what I have observed over the past few months, most places available on these websites are in the South Delhi, or in the suburban satellite cities that are Gurgaon and Noida.
#2 You can find an agent that will show you properties. This is actually how most flats get rented out in Delhi. There is a myriad of them in the city and they generally display a sign that says “property dealer” by their shop. Agents take one month’s worth of rent as a commission from both the landlord and the renter (although students are often able to negotiate paying only a half a month’s commission). Since it’s in your property dealer’s best interest that you pay a higher rent rather than a lower one, make sure you bargain hard to get a good price for your flat. Also know that it’s totally fine to work with multiple agents at the same time. One of the perks of working with an agent, is that they’ll ensure you have a notarized lease that has legal standing before the law.
#3 You’ll need to pay one month’s worth of rent as a deposit to the renter before you get the keys to your flat.
If you want more information on how to find your own accommodation, The Moon Guide to Living in India by Margot Bigg offers a good overview of South Delhi neighbourhoods that are popular with expats, along with approximate rental costs. Good luck with finding your flats! If you’re not sure that’s for you, check out what living in a hostel has to offer right here.
DU folks, any tips on finding a flat?