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Finding an apartment in Istanbul: Advice from a real estate expert

Updated 11 Sep 2012

Sima Oehlers - CityApartmentsIstanbulSima Oehlers is the co-founder of CityApartmentsIstanbul, a business operating in London and Istanbul, and specialising in brokering long-term rental accommodation in Istanbul. Here she shares her insights and answers some of the most common questions expats have about finding accommodation in Istanbul.

What options are available for expats to rent property in Istanbul? 

Istanbul is becoming a top city for both business and leisure. It is a vast city, densely populated with a huge range of options for living. Before you start your Turkish rental property hunt you need to decide exactly what you are looking for. The most visible option for accommodation inside Istanbul is renting an apartment. A more expensive option is a house or villa; these are usually located in the outer areas of Istanbul.

What areas of Istanbul do most expats and foreigners live in?

The area an expat lives in in Istanbul depends on their budget, work place and interests. Expats and foreigners live in all parts of Istanbul, with two significant areas being Beyoglu and Sariyer; where a number of foreign consulates, schools and hospitals are located. 

What documents are needed when renting a property in Istanbul?

It depends on the requirements of the landlord or assisting estate agent. Be prepared to show your passport, a letter from the school, college, company or hospital that you are related or attached to in Istanbul, and proof of income.

Are there options available for furnished accommodation in Istanbul? 

Yes. There are plenty of furnished accommodation options in Istanbul, which cost more than unfurnished options. Make sure you mention that you want furnished accommodation when approaching a site, relocation or estate agent. 

How long does it usually take to find accommodation in Istanbul?

It depends on an individual’s budget and requirements. The better the budget, the faster to find the desired accommodation. The search could take between two weeks and two months. Do not rely on starting your search for accommodation with an estate agent when you are in Istanbul. Many of the estate agents cannot offer assistance in your language, and the rent-payment demand might increase if you are desperate to find accommodation within a short period of time. Start your search well before moving to Istanbul. Search for a reliable accommodation/apartment finding site or agency, with experts who have language abilities and be very clear about your budget, requirements, preferred location and other important details.

Are utilities (such as water and electricity) normally included in the rental costs?

Utilities (such as water, gas and electricity) are normally included in short-term/weeks rental costs. In long-term rental options, tenants are expected to pay their own utility fees; unless this matter has been discussed and agreed on in the rental agreement. Make sure that all requirements/expectations and agreements are stated in writing in your rental contract with full clear details in a language that you are fluent in. 

Istanbul can get very cold and it can even snow in the winter months. Well-insulated, newly renovated accommodation with new double windows could save heating costs significantly. In contrast, summer time is very hot, requiring well-operating cooling systems called ‘Klima’. Renting apartments without Klimas could raise your electricity fees.  

How much deposit is normally required for securing accommodation?

The deposit is normally around one to two months of the rental cost. Be aware that you will be required to pay an agency commissioning fee which could be around 10-12 percent of the total yearly long-term rental fee; or 10-12 percent of the total weeks/months of short-term rental fee. 

Do expats need to go through an agent to rent property in Istanbul? 

Expats could foster a variety of approaches to rent accommodation in Istanbul, including estate agents, reliable apartment rental and accommodation sites, and reliable relocation agencies. Make sure that your search starts well ahead of your move to Istanbul. Choose reliable sites or agencies that offer language abilities, plenty of advice, time and guidance. Communicate and ask questions to ascertain the agency or expert’s genuineness, goodwill and knowledge. 

Be aware that like any other big cities in the world, you might come across people/agencies that may not be fully trustworthy or cause you lost time or finance.

If possible, visit the accommodation that you have discussed over the phone or via email before signing for an agreement or contract. 

Do most agents speak English or will a translator most likely be needed?

Unfortunately, a significant number of estate agents in Istanbul do not speak English. Therefore, your search and communication with a reliable expert site or agency well in advance and before your move to Istanbul is crucial in terms of testing the expertise/reliability of the agency you are involved with, and avoiding any adverse outcomes. 

What language are rental contracts written in?

Contracts are mainly written in Turkish. However, some reliable and professional agencies or experts have their contracts in different languages, especially in English. Never agree on or sign any contract or agreement that is not in a language that you understand. 

Where are the best means of finding accommodation in Istanbul? 

Accommodation could be found through:

  • Estate agents called ‘Emlak’ in Turkish

  • Newspapers, for example ‘Hurriyet’ allocates a section to rentals and property for sale

  • Online rental accommodation sites. Search for your desired apartment or accommodation solution; specify short-term or long-term apartments or accommodation in Istanbul (short-term for weeks and long-term for months or years). Look for sites that offer clear information and guidance, are free of jargon and do not demand immediate contracts or tie-ins. Check their trustworthiness and knowledge by asking relevant questions. A good rental site should be able to offer extra services and links to local agencies/experts, before and after contract communication and assistance, and access to other reliable services such as relocation advisors, solicitors, architects, builders and accountants. 

Is there any other advice you would like to offer expats on finding accommodation in Istanbul?

Expats and foreign professionals arriving in Istanbul need transparent, honest and professional assistance in terms of finding their desired accommodation and settling in Istanbul. Istanbul is an incredibly attractive city to live in; however, be aware that unfortunately many newly arriving foreign individuals/professionals are exposed to vulnerabilities, including money/financial fraud, safety and not getting appropriate/honest deals due to the language barrier, and a lack of cultural and societal knowledge or awareness. As emphasised above, do your research and communication well in advance, check the appropriateness of your approaching agents or sites, and put your safety and access to public transport at the top of your priorities list. 

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