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Tips on looking for accommodation in Phnom Penh

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BC's picture
Joined: 17-Apr-08
Posts: 469

At the risk of being overly detailed, I figure this might as well all be in one place for house hunters... this is off the top of my head, so others should please add to it & provide their points of view too. This is just my perspective on things!

1. Do some thinking before you jump in
When you're looking for somewhere to stay, you'll make your life and those of the people who may be trying to help you quite a lot easier if you take an hour to sit down and figure out what you want, or to at least narrow it down. It will be time well invested. Whether you're searching solo, through an agent or with help from a friend, there's basic criteria you have to decide on before you start or else you're in for a slow, painful tour of the Phnom Penh real estate market.

The main reason that people posting here seeking help re rentals don't get much response is probably that they make it so hard to help them. The more info you give in your request, the more likely someone will give you an answer. Keep in mind that this advice is being provided free, so make it easy to give or people might just as well wander off and have a coffee instead.

Be aware that "Phnom Penh" is a big place so who's got an hour to give you the rundown on what places are available? Back home you'd indicate what parts of town you're interested in, so do the same here. If you know where you'll be working, provide that info. And do you think "limited budget" is the same for everyone? Be specific!! "My budget is $200-$300 per month." If it's far too low, people will tell you. If it means you'll only be able to afford certain parts of town, that's very useful information too, but if you don't indicate your budget how is somebody going to let you know? As a rough guide, $150-$300 per month budget would allow for basic, but comfortable and secure, rental properties in various parts of town. Reading other forum postings you'll find a few examples.

2. Turn up!
There is a high turnover of properties in Phnom Penh. A lot of foreigners here are working on contracts so there's constantly arrivals and departures. That means properties that are good value do not last long! Printed ads are almost immediately out of date, and I don't believe there's any useful online listings of properties either. There's no substitute for being here in person when you're looking for a rental property - you can't put a place on hold, generally it's up for grabs until a cash deposit has changed hands. So trying to find something from overseas will usually be wasted effort. If necessary, you can rent a room in a guest house, or a serviced apartment here for the first week or two while you locate your property.

3. Buyer beware...
Rental prices in Phnom Penh are unstable, can be artificially inflated by landlords and agents, are adjusted according to your bargaining ability, and can be just plain confusing to newcomers.

Areas with a high concentration of foreign workers (primarily NGO workers) have inflated rents and a higher turnover of rental properties. The most prominent of these areas is BKK1, bordered by Sihanouk Blvd, Monivong Blvd, Mao Tse Tung Blvd, and Norodom Blvd. Note that some landlords in this area (some would say, most landlords) increase the rent even beyond the point where it's "expensive", and head into "ridiculous" territory.

Your best bet is to make use of a local to help you with this, either a foreigner or a local Khmer. Most residents will have an idea of reasonable prices for at least the main areas of town, or can put you in contact with someone who knows. Visit friends' places to get an idea of what sort of accommodation you can get for various prices in different areas. If you're coming here for work, contact your organisation's admin section and ask them for advice on suitable areas and estimated rents in those areas.

4. Take a Khmer speaker with you to look for properties who also speaks your language, obviously. This will avoid confusion over your needs and reduce the amount of time it takes to find your property. Your Khmer speaker can also monitor discussions between an agent and the landlord to ensure that you're informed of things discussed that you need to know, assist with your side of the bargaining, and save you from frustration if much of the conversation would otherwise be in Khmer.

Most rental contracts with foreigners are completed in English, and are fairly straightforward. If you are only offered contracts in Khmer (this would be rare) then you should insist on an English contract instead.

5. Things to consider - to narrow your search
At the very least you should have considered the following things when you're looking for a rental property in Phnom Penh. You may not have a definite answer for them yet, but you should narrow down the options. When you talk to a real estate agent or a friend or post to a forum seeking help, giving as much of this detail as possible will be a great help in finding you a place, and save a lot of time too.

    * Do you want an apartment? To rent a floor of a house? To rent a whole villa of your own?
    * Would you live on the ground floor? Do you mind climbing stairs to a higher apartment?
    * How many bedrooms do you want? Do you have other requirements such as study space, balcony or rooftop space? A garden?
    * What is your budget? (How much do you want to pay? What's the *most* you're willing to pay for the right place?)
    * What area of town do you want to live in? (If you don't know specific areas, then at least consider: in the main business zone? In the foreign quarter? In an area with a very local feel and population? By the riverside? Out of town in a semi-rural area? Close to your workplace location?)
    * Do you need parking (car or motorbike)?
    * Are you bringing children with you? If so, how old?
    * When do you want to move in?
    * How long will you stay for? (Longer stay = better bargaining position)

6. Things to look for when inspecting properties

    * Security - will you travel for work? Do you have many valuables? Look at the security of places and consider whether you would be comfortable leaving the property unattended if you took a two week holiday. Are all entrances secure? Keep in mind that roofs are accessible from neighbouring buildings. What is the surrounding area like? Are there street lights? If you can, come to see the property at night, after 11pm. If you are not comfortable in the street, ask yourself if you really want to live in this neighbourhood. Ask friends about crime hotspots in Phnom Penh - be informed!
    * Heat - many houses, particularly older traditional houses, are not well built to manage heat. They can be unbearable to be inside in April especially. Ask or evaluate, and take note of mounted fans or air conditioning.
    * Noise - is the place next to a nightclub, beer garden or karaoke bar? A wedding function centre? A school? A Buddhist pagoda? A metalworking or welding workshop? Once again, a visit to the house in the evening may be worth your time...
    * Mattress - most mattresses in Phnom Penh are simple foam ones, that may be aged and uncomfortable. Most landlords are happy to supply a new one if you request it, and spring mattresses are becoming more common too - you may want to request an upgrade.
    * Washing machine - not a standard feature of Phnom Penh houses. Buying one yourself leaves you the problem of getting rid of it when you depart. If you need one, try to negotiate that the landlord buys it for you, or you pay part and then the landlord keeps the machine at the end of the lease. (Fridges are very common, but check you've got one too.) Try the buy sell swap or give away forum
    * Mosquito screens - if the place doesn't have them on its unglassed windows and vents, I'd recommend you insist on the landlord installing them for you (without charge to you).
    * Separate entrance - find out whether you share a main gate with your landlord or have your own one. With shared gates, will you have your own key? Particularly necessary to find out if you have a habit of late nights out.
    * Quality of landlord - Many landlords live on site or adjacent to the properties they rent out. So you're likely to be in contact with them during your stay, and you'll have to deal with them if there are any issues. If you just can't stand them, factor that in to your thinking.
    * Bills - your discussions should include these. Cable TV should be only $5 per month, any more and you're being overcharged. Some places charge you a few dollars a month for garbage removal services. Water and electricity should normally be charged on consumption.
    * Furniture - most places come with basic furnishing. If you want more, you can ask the landlord to supply it as part of the negotiations. Many landlords have furniture stored and can easily oblige, or are willing to purchase it. Others will say no and you're on your own. (Don't worry, all the essentials are easily found cheaply if you don't mind rattan chic.)

7. A note on advance payments.
Different landlords will request different advance payments at the time you sign the lease. You should always insist on a signed written receipt for all payments you make to your landlord.

Typically you'll be required to pay a deposit (bond) of one months' rent to cover any damages to the property. This normally counts as the final month of rent, for example on a 12 month lease, you pay 11 months progressively and then in the final month your deposit is used to cover the rent.

In addition to this you'll be required to pay at least the first month's rent in advance. Most landlords will request two or three months' advance rent. I've even had one request six months' advance. Usually this demand is directly related to the landlord's cashflow situation. Like everything else, it's negotiable so bargain them back to what you consider reasonable. One month in advance is often fine, but if your other requests will cost the landlord money, (install air con, buy a washing machine, etc) expect to advance two or three months. If you're having the landlord knock down a wall or retile the floor, four months may be necessary - they don't want to make big changes to accommodate you only to find that you're leaving early! After advancing this rent you then do not need to make rent payments until you catch up, and from then you pay in advance each month.

There you have it. If you've got any comments, clarifications, or especially improvements, don't hold back - post them!

BC :roll:[/]


augustin's picture
Joined: 6-Feb-08
Posts: 35

Thanks BC ! Hope you had a cup of coffee while wirting Wink

Sure this will help a lot of new comers. I'm going to print it and give it to my just arrived friends !

grets76's picture
Joined: 6-Jul-09
Posts: 49

Thanks BC,
Your advice has been absolutely invaluable.

I'm currently in negotiations to have all this done:

Removal of false ceiling and repair of anything underneath
New kitchen (to my design) including new fridge and stove
Installation of another folding door for access to terrace
New bathrooms (to my design) including hot water
An electrician to check the electricity and air conditioners and make any repairs to make them safe
New light fittings and electrical fittings depending on our requirements
A security gate installed at the top or bottom of the stairs
Provide a washing machine for clothing.

We offered 1 year with 3 months in advance, they've counter-offered with 2 years, 6months in advance and an extra $100 per month. I've then said if you can do an 18 month, then you have a deal

Wish me luck!

notjustmotion's picture
Joined: 28-Sep-07
Posts: 80

I hope you wrote this while at work cause ya deserve to get paid for that...

Anonymous's picture

I have a comment ; BLOODY LEGEND ! Laughing out loud Well done.

Now... if anyone else posts a simple " I want an apartment for $200" ......

My flame thrower is lit permanently.


BC's picture
Joined: 17-Apr-08
Posts: 469

Sadly, no. I have too much work to do at work already! But if you like, you can PM me & I'll send you an address for donations. Laughing out loud

Wal's picture
Joined: 28-Feb-07
Posts: 181

One more thing to look out for is flooding.

If possible check the potential residence when it is absolutley pouring down with rain. Localised flooding is a problem in Phnom Penh during downpours.

If you are looking during the dry season then talk to the neighbours.

Others things to watch out for include competititon for curbside and off street parking and construction activities at adjacent or nearby properties. If you have a vehicle then your search criteria and negotiations should reflect this.

Piles of trash are an indication that your neighbours don't pay their sanitation fees. Trash is collected daily by the municipiality, good neighbours keep their front doors and kerbsides swept clean.

Clean is good.

Lots of armed neighbours in uniform is a good sign.

If there is a shared entrance then check out who your fellow tenants are.

claptrap's picture
Joined: 23-Sep-10
Posts: 2

Hi, I'm a new comer to this forum, stumbled by it when looking into buying a bike (moving to Cambodia in a week's time). I don't want to spend time in a guest house any longer than I have to, so am SO GLAD to find this post!!

I haven't had a chance to browse the site yet, but I understand people looking to rent a place post it here? What about rental agencies, any advice about them or recommendations?

Unfortunately, the only Khmer I know seems to love spending my money - I took him to market to negotiate a good price for a mosquito net, and he insisted I buy a family sized, one even though I told very clearly I only want a single net. Same with a fan, he wanted me to buy the biggest, most expensive one in the market... I would have understood if the sellers were his relative but I don't think he knew them. Some other connection? Or maybe he thought I would give them to him once I left... Anyway, that's him out of the picture.

"As a rough guide, $150-$300 per month budget would allow for basic, but comfortable and secure, rental properties in various parts of town." Fair enough, you do recommend to look at other postings but can you give an example how the rentals are priced - are they per sqm, no of rooms or some other criteria. Obviously rental prices fluctuate along with other factors that you have mentioned, neighbourhood, outdoor space etc.

adnilak's picture
Joined: 12-Sep-10
Posts: 10

Just wanted to add to this and say thanks for having provided it.

Recently I've been through an apartment search and I think it does take time. If you walk around the area you are interested in, you're likely to find lots of signs with phone numbers that you can ring.

Real estate agents are the best bet - and how I found my place - but beware when you first arrive you may get shuttled to or pressured to see ridiculously expensive serviced apartments which are way above your price range and unnecessarily luxurious (if you aren't on a super high salary and if you'd like to live somewhere normal). Just be firm about your budget and your requirements and you'll find something sooner or later. I went from being carted to these apts for 600-700 a month to a much more reasonable 200-300 a month.

You may often find that the ads in PPP classifieds are very overpriced because real estate agents have hugely hiked up the amount to cover their commission.

But popping into local real estate areas in the neighbourhood in which you are looking can pay off.

Also be aware that most cheaper options tend to have tiny bathrooms and kitchens. This isn't a big deal given the quality of the food at restaurants here (!) but you'll pay for more for a full western kitchen kitted out with stove and accoutrements.

I want to second the original poster - you can ask for extras if you are paying rent in advance such as a piece of furniture or resolving an internet connection; it's quite standard here and if you are polite and can negotiate, easily resolved.

Many companies prefer not to lease to short-term (2-3 months) renters but again if you can pay in advance and seem reliable, this can occasionally be flexible. Those short-term apartments are hide to find but they are out there - so keep looking! As a last resort, guesthouses such as the Golden Tour Effeil on street 278 offer relatively inexpensive (400 to 450 a month for basic services apartment including internet, air con, cable TV and laundry) accommodation while you are searching for your own digs.


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