Guest Contributor: Jon Erikson is a writer based in Tbilisi, Georgia. His experience consists of consulting for clients in the public and private sectors.
Dateline: Tbilisi, Georgia
You’ve finally decided to take the leap and move to Tbilisi. Good for you. You’ve picked a great low-tax, low-regulation location in which to live and conduct your offshore business. And if you’re looking to start a new business, there are few places it will be easier than in Georgia.
Chances are that you’re currently looking to buy real estate at a reasonable price somewhere in downtown Tbilisi or on the western hills that overlook the city.
However, that process will take some time and, in the meantime, you need to live somewhere. Here are some useful tips for finding apartments for rent in Tbilisi.
Location, Location, Location
Where do you want to live? Gldani? Sure, if shawarma is your first and only priority. How about Samgori? Sure, if you want to slog through bumper-to-bumper traffic on your way to the city center each day. Ortachala? Better, but still probably not the place for a member of the business community.
For an enterprising international with means, there are three or four districts that should be considered as real candidates. The first is Old Tbilisi, the city’s historic center and home to many of its best restaurants, bars, and nightclubs.
Built along the hillside on the west bank of the Mtkvari River, Old Tbilisi promises hands-down the best views of the city. You can also rent an apartment in the exotic neo-Persian style that is so striking to visitors to Tbilisi.
Old Tbilisi is also pretty large, encompassing the Abanotubani, Solalaki, and Mtatsminda districts. This area stretches from the riverbank nearly to Vake; or, in simpler terms, Tbilisi’s entire commercial center.
Next is Vake, the rock star among Tbilisi’s residential districts. It has been a desirable neighborhood since the late Soviet period and is now home to lots of sophisticated people and quaint restaurants and cafes.
Vake’s main thoroughfare of Chavchavadze is lined with prime retail and office space. If you want to live close to where business is getting done, you probably can’t do better than here.
Saburtalo is also worth mentioning. While this neighborhood is a bit farther from the city center than the others, it can be accessed easily by either the Vake-Saburtalo Highway or Pekini Street — another main thoroughfare and popular shopping street.
The advantages of renting in Suburtalo are that most buildings are newer than those in Old Tbilisi (and thus have better plumbing, heating, electricity, and Internet connections), and are often less expensive. If you’re looking for bang for your buck, Saburtalo would be the place.
Lastly, take a look at Vera. This is the home of yours truly and is comfortably nestled in between Old Tbilisi and Vake. Both Rustaveli and Chavchavadze are easily reachable by foot, and it’s surprisingly quiet despite the super-central location.
The only thing I don’t like about renting an apartment there? No prime panorama views of the city.
Tbilisi Rentals by the Numbers
The average dwelling size for real estate in Tbilisi is 23 sqm per capita. Not overly large, but still very comparable to the average you’ll find in places like Budapest and Vilnius. The biggest dwellings tend to be found in Vake and Saburtalo (again, newer buildings that better accommodate modern appliances and other amenities).
Tbilisi’s total housing stock is about 350,000 units in a city of 1.2 million, and that number is expected to continue to grow. Most major pending and upcoming residential building projects are in Saburtalo and Vake, as well as a couple in the more distant suburbs of Isani and Samgori.
A surge in development over the past six years has meant that average rental prices have grown slower than prices for real estate in Tbilisi, including rents in central districts with lots of new construction.
At the end of 2014, the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment was about $250, for a two-bedroom about $350 and a three-bedroom about $450.
Real estate market growth has outpaced growth in rents, but economists expect the gap to begin to close as new building slows down (eventually it will have to). That means that rents should creep upward over the next few years.
Other Tips for Renting an Apartment in Tbilisi
I was able to find a good, centrally-located apartment for rent with a decent landlord through a rental agency. There are several such companies which can be found online.
However, it’s not the ideal way to find and rent an apartment in Tbilisi. Georgian culture still works largely through word-of-mouth and handshake agreements, which means that getting access to the best stuff at the best prices usually comes through knowing the right people.
To the extent that you can use a personal network to find an apartment in Tbilisi, do so. But if you need to settle into a place quickly while you hunt for a property to buy, that might not be feasible. In that case, rental agencies aren’t a bad option.
You also should do your homework on your soon-to-be landlord, but that’s something you should do regardless of where you live. No matter the specifications of the place and how much you’re paying for it, your landlord will always say you’re getting a “special price” and that he’s doing you a favor.
Plus, be sure to sign a legitimate contract. I’ve heard of several cases where tenants with informal rental arrangements were unceremoniously given the boot because their landlords all of a sudden got the idea they could squeeze 25 percent more per month out of the dwelling.
Still, there are many more things to feel good about. Tbilisi is a remarkably safe city both for individuals and families. No matter where you choose to rent an apartment, there will be little need to worry about crime.
Plus, the combination of low rental costs and a lucrative business environment means that your income versus living costs will be higher than in most other places. Just make sure you find the right apartment with the right landlord!