Georgia (country) rental survival guide & Scam avoidance
DISCLAIMER: In this article I describe my experiences as a foreigner in an attempt to help others to avoid pitfalls. I'm not affiliated in any way with any of the websites, companies or individuals named in this article.
At first glace renting a place in Georgia seems quite simple. The two major websites are Myhome.ge and ss.ge. Other options may include facebook groups, etc. But you'll find those on your own if you're really interested.
When I first settled it was such an online listing that I took on. A simple and furnished apartment a little south of the city center. At $400 a very affordable deal that I had no regrets about. Later on I moved into the center. Again, effortlessly. What I didn't know was how lucky I was.
Growing thicker roots here I'm in the middle of another apartment hunt with more specific requirements. And boy did I learn how tough that can be.
Over time I learned that many of the online ads are placed by the same companies. Some of them are the same person (more about that later). Those apartments are very likely not available anymore. They're put online as bait to call.
To be fair, most agents have the integrity to only send you alternative offerings. Others make it their business to bluntly show you the wrong place and try to upsell you on their original ads. These spam/scam tactics are dangerous and you mustn't fall for them.
But even the other agents rarely get the importance of why we choose a listing in the first place. I'm very picky about the furniture I'll have to live with. First, the less the better. Second, no grandma look. Third, no super cheap look. Things like that. Or maybe something simpler like only top floor.
And what do they send me? A dark place with cheap grandma furniture in the middle of some apartment complex. Yeah ... great job. But at least they don't waste your time any further.
It's almost impossible to rent a place without furniture. For a short stay that's OK. However if your sense of esthetics is violently raped by the owners choices you might have a hard time finding the right apartment. In such a case you may be better off looking for a commercial rental. Something like an office.
Those are often empty and you can pick and choose your furniture. However, that only works if the landlord permits you to live there. And you'll have to pay 20% of the rent as tax to the state. On top, you'll need a business (small or micro business will do) and a business bank account which you HAVE to use to pay the rent in GEL. Sounds more difficult then it is ;)
Another way is to ask the owner to remove parts or all furniture. Parts are usually doable but when I ask for all of it, they usually refuse.
Just like furniture you may have issues with wallpapers and colors as well as appliances. My current place has no option to add a dishwasher, part of what drives me crazy. Others have a really old one and owners won't allow you to buy your own but instead raise the rent 200$ for installing new appliances themselves. These economics don't work as appliances are cheaper to buy.
Some owners won't care if you replace wallpapers (yes, Georgians LOVE wallpaper) or paint the walls. That's especially true if it's already damaged. Others won't allow it. So of you plan making changes like that, negotiate in advance. Same thing for LAN cables which usually require holes to be drilled. #wifisucks
The following story is real and should you ever find yourself in the same position, I recommend you stop right there and run.
I made an appointment for a nice looking place that I was ready to rent if it really looked anything like in the online listing. The agent showed up on time (bravo!) and told me that we would go there. He mumbled on about keys and what not. We all boarded the guys crummy RAV4 and I assumed we'd go to see the place. Nope, not quite.
The guy asked where I was from. There. Oh and all the sudden he of course planned to go there himself to do this and that. Yeah ... sure. That's the FIRST SIGN OF TROUBLE! Alarms started ringing but I played along for the moment.
He wanted to know my max. price. I found that odd as I sent him the place I wanted to see. It had a price. I don't mind paying that so why would he ask. I refused to answer.
We drove on and on and I asked why we left the area. I wasn't worried about something nefarious going on but wondered why the place was so far.
Turned out he was off on a tour to show me "many different aparments, all high quality.".
OK, stop this right here. I'm here to see one place and one place only. The one place agreed on in the messages exchanged earlier.
Yes of course, but the owner needs time to come.
OK no problem. We can wait there.
The car turned around we went back to where we came from.
I had a very bad feeling but gave him a chance to recover. Finally we entered a house, nice looking and all, and they tried to open the door. No success.
The owner was still on the way. Max. 5 minutes.
OK, let's wait. I set my timer and swore that after 5 minutes I'd walk.
I felt like in some clown show or a Turkish carpet scam. So my alarms where on max. effort.
We waited outside after fending off an invitation for tea or coffee and wouldn't you believe it, a massive Range Rover turned up containing the elusive owner. 1:37 left on my timer.
And he had the key! Yay! Finally.
Things seemed to improve as the door opened and we entered the long awaited apartment of interest. Or did we?
I looked around and wondered about my sanity for a moment. This was nothing like the picture.
That idiot showed me the WRONG place! What kind of a real estate agent is this? (Trust me I found out later, keep reading).
I showed him the listing and he said "Yes, this place he cannot show because the owner cannot come." - THEN DON'T MAKE AN APPOINTMENT!!!!
I apologized to the owner that he had to waste his time and had a stern talk with the agent about what happened.
I walked away and buried the whole thing as a failure. Blocked the guy, removed all saved listings from that agent and moved on with life. Until two days later ...
Another appointment, this time with a different agent, so I thought.
Turns out Mr. I show you the wrong place is back. Same face many names. OK ... alarms go on overdrive again.
Long story short he AGAIN showed me the wrong place. A good one but a) not the one requested and b) a lot more expensive then the other one I requested to see.
Not only that he started to show me listings on the phone pushing the price further and further. Yeah, sure why not?
The guy is a con man. He runs thousands of ads baiting people (mostly foreigners I would think) and tries to sell them on more and more expensive real estate.
The whole thing ended in an argument. This guy had the audacity to blame me for his lost time and that others made so many contracts with him. I lost it at that point after which he told me that he could not help me because what I wanted was not available in that price range.
Trust me, my price range is "impressive" for some western standards. It will do fine in Tbilisi. All this dude wants is to scam you.
Fist be extremely careful. I made the mistake of even entering the guys car. Don't do that. Use your own car or if you don't have one, only agree to meet at the place directly.
If they show you another place, run.
Lie about your origin, what you do and don't tell them anything about your budgets, your job or whatever. This is all part of the scam. They will come up with a story anyway just to distract you. And don't feel bad, they lie to you from the get go.
Take a friend.
Never sign anything on the spot, don't agree to anything.
Don't discuss anything, walk away if the agent seems shady.
As far as the listings go, avoid agencies with thousands of listings or be careful. If you find ads by the owners those are always better. Sadly I'm not sure if I can give you the names of the companies and people involved in the scam above but I hope these pointers are enough to prevent you from walking into a trap.
What I can tell you on another completely unrelated note is that there is a Facebook group called Tbilisi Sales between Students in which a member called Gigi Giorgadze is extremely active. He posts as GG Realy, Comfortable, ApARTments for Rent in Tbilisi and maybe other names. Those reflect the names used on other platforms of relevance too. Just mentioning that he has a lot of offerings going. No affiliation, of course.
Finding a rental in Georgia might require some serious patience. As always with real estate of any kind, always be less desperate then the owner, agent or anyone else. Walk away if things aren't right.
Maybe try to find a cheap place to stay at while you're looking for a more long term solution. That way you're in no hurry.
That said, some of the rentals I've seen so far are quite stunning and done right you'll probably find a true gem.