You’ve arrived in Prague, unpacked your rucksack or suitcase(s) and you’re looking for a place to base yourself. So where are you going to live? Well the good news is that there’s plenty of choice, and plenty to suit all budgets. Let’s assume you’re not in the position to buy quite yet.( If you are lucky enough to be in this position, then take a look at last week’s post by Guiri Guide’s guest writer) and like most people first aim to rent. Property pundits always use the maxim, ‘Location, Location, Location’ to describe the most important factor when selecting a new home. This it to some extent true, but is probably truer for larger European cities like Paris, London or Berlin, where the size of the cities mean you really need to choose your area carefully or possibly face being marooned in the suburbs. In Prague, this is somewhat less important. Prague is a pocket-sized city and has excellent public transport which means most places are in reach of the city centre.
If you want a home at the heart of the city then Vinohrady and Letna could be for you. The former is full of classy apartments in the city centre, this comes at a premium and apartments can be costly. The latter is a pleasant area close to the city centre and the expansive park. However, in my opinion it seems a little bit sad to move to a new country only to go and live in a ‘ghetto’ of expats. Other areas which are my personal favourite are Barrandov, for its access to the forest and open countryside, and Brevnov, an upmarket area, where you have access to Ladronka, where you can sit, chat, run and roller-blade to your heart’s content. There are many other areas, to choose from and as I’ve only been here three months I’m not qualified to comment.
As you’re going to be shelling out a large portion of your hard-earned money, it’s important to make sure you’re happy with the place you live. Finding flats or apartments via a friend or work colleague is usually the best way to find a place. There are also a plethora of websites where you can find places. One of the best is www.expatz.cz.
It’s always best to take a look at the place you’re going to live as well, don’t just take a couple of pics sent via email (just think how estate agents always manage to avoid the motorway flyover or electricity pylon in their pictures!) Also don’t necessarily jump into the first place that you like a little bit or because it’s a bargain. There’s nothing wrong for waiting for the right place to come along. An interim place where you live in a shared apartment can be a cheaper short-term solution while you check areas out. (this is what I did) There are many landlords who will rent you rooms or apartments on a monthly basis. – Just make sure you get the terms and conditions in writing. If it’s an informal arrangement, you might find it difficult get your deposit back when the ‘rules’ change!
When working out if you can afford your apartment, just remember to consider the possible extras on top of the ground rent. Most apartments have some kind of service charge. Check what is and isn’t included in the monthly rent. That incredibly low rent suddenly takes on a new meaning when you add all the bits and pieces. Additional services like broadband/internet may also not be included, so just ensure you are getting what you want and paying accordingly. Likewise with the deposit, which is usually required by most landlords check just where it is being held and what the rules regarding its return or the conditions where it can be withheld. Ideally it should be in a third party bank account or at least a separate account where both you and the landlords know it is held away from other money.
Happy house (apartment) hunting!
For a first time buyer (of any kind of property) it was difficult for me to know where to start. Luckily I have a number of expat friends who had already bought properties in and around Prague so they were able to point me in the right direction, giving me useful contacts and recommendations along the way. There are companies which can take you through the whole process – they help locate and assess real estate, deal with legal issues, purchasing, mortgages etc. All for a percentage of the fee of course!
I had already located a property and had an excellent lawyer, recommended by a close expat friend, so I decided to go ahead without such a company. Throughout the whole process I was very cautious as I had heard terrible tales of hidden bank charges and taxes, unscrupulous estate agents and difficult sellers. The Czechs I spoke to were all very suspicious and weary when it came to buying property, and I think some of their fears rubbed off on me! Therefore I felt a little more at ease paying more for a reputable and experienced lawyer, so even if the seller turned out to be some kind of con artist I would be well protected :)
I was amazed by the number of contracts and the length of time the whole process took. For every step it seemed a new contract had to be written up. Once we had agreed on the property and the price there was a ‘Reservation Contract’. This is basically an agreement that states that the seller cannot sell the property to any other party. Then there was the ‘ESCROW Contract’, where all the money was to be held by a third party. I had to have a separate contract written up as I was buying some furniture as part of the purchase. Then there was a contract petition to the Land Registry Office, dealing with the deeds of the apartment. Finally there was the ‘Purchase Contract’ which dealt with the actually transfer of the apartment. These contracts were all very tight and relied on very specific deadlines and clauses, if we missed one deadline (for whatever reason) then it affected all the other contracts and they had to be redrafted and resigned. Apart from being incredibly frustrating it slowed everything down to a snail’s pace. The seller was working overseas so we had to wait for him on several occasions to fly backwards and forwards to sign various documents. We missed a couple of deadlines because of this, and on one occasion the seller even failed to show up at a scheduled meeting. It was only after a lot of time and strong persuasion that we managed to get his lawyer to act as power of attorney.
Once all the contracts were agreed and signed the money was transferred. This was surprisingly easy with the help of modern technology – online banking and SWIFT payments.
There was then the matter of the Cadastral Office (this would translate as the Land Registry Office). Firstly a petition had to be submitted to the office, stating that the transfer has been agreed. The office then checked that everything was above board, it had been valued correctly and there were no outstanding payments (mainly associated with the seller’s mortgage). When the petition had been approved and stamped the office should have changed all the ownership rights within 30 days. This wasn’t as simple as it sounds! As I was buying an apartment in a block with 10 other units I was also buying a share of the entire building, this included communal areas such as the hallway, courtyard and cellar. So I had to be registered as owning part of these. The Cadastral Office claimed there was a backlog of transfers and they were very busy so this transfer in fact took 40 days. The only solution was to wait to patiently until the property was officially mine and only then was I able to move in.
I did encounter some problems during the handover of the apartment. The seller did turn out to be a con man and had left the property in a bad condition without the furniture we had agreed on. So there was still time for one more contract! My patience had run out by now so I left it up to my lawyer to draft a hand-over protocol and deal with the return the furniture we agreed on. Thankfully I didn’t have to deal with the seller again and after a few more days delay I finally moved in.
So now I am happily settled into my new apartment and on reflection I would say it has been a big learning curve. I’ve learned a lot and feel I could now deal with any kind of property transfer. You cannot rush a property transfer here, lots of things are out of your control and you can feel powerless. I would advise potential overseas buyers to be careful, be prepared for delays and complications between parties. But find yourself a good, efficient lawyer and buying a property here shouldn’t be such a bad experience, well it should at least be more straightforward and smoother than my experience :)
Guiri Guest Jamil: Born in 1979, the second of four brothers brought up in rural North-East England. After graduating from Manchester Metropolitan University with an arts degree I spent 5 years scraping a living together as a freelance illustrator and part-time TELF teacher. Working and travelling throughout Europe, Asia and South America. Now settled in Prague working as a full-time graphic designer and illustrator. Occasional sportsman, trekker, painter and cook.