Insider tips: British expat shares his guide for foreigners looking to rent an apartment in Cluj-Napoca
Cluj-Napoca, the second-biggest city in Romania, is one of the most sought-after destinations for young Romanians as well as foreigners looking to start a career, due to its appreciated universities and employment opportunities. However, this has also turned it into the most expensive real estate market in Romania. British expat Aaron Roberts, who has been living in Romania for ten years, has some useful advice for newcomers to the city.
It’s common knowledge for anyone who lives there that Cluj-Napoca tops the list of the most expensive cities in the country, even above Bucharest, the capital.
“An espresso at a cafe in the center of Cluj-Napoca typically costs more than in a city like Vienna. It’s definitely getting more expensive. It might be that the “image of Cluj” is improving, and local businesses are equating themselves to western capitals such as Paris, Madrid, or even London,” says Aaron Roberts, an expatriate who’s been living in Romania for ten years. Hailing from Bristol, England, he works for a US-based multinational company while building his ALR Photography portfolio as his side business.
A victim of its own success, Cluj-Napoca has also seen the fastest rise in real estate prices in Romania in recent years. Data compiled by Imobiliare.ro, the biggest real estate portal in Romania, shows that Cluj’s average asking price for the sale of apartments clocks at EUR 2,400 per sqm compared to just over EUR 1,700 per sqm in Bucharest.
The climate of rental prices in the city is not looking any healthy either, as an August 2022 report finds a 16,9% increase in the average amount requested for renting an apartment (EUR 8,3/sqm) compared to the same period of the previous year. In Bucharest, the average rent went up by 5.3% in the same period (EUR 7.9/sqm).
And on an already expensive market, foreigners who come to Cluj-Napoca to study or for work are often charged above-market prices. This makes insiders like Aaron Roberts an invaluable resource for those looking for information and tips on how to navigate this complex market.
Roberts runs Cluj XYZ, an English website dedicated to all-things-Cluj-Napoca, all by himself. His project was crucial, especially during the height of the pandemic back in 2020 to 2021 when he would translate Government’s data and announcements into much more digestible content. He’s also an active moderator for the “Foreign Students Cluj-Napoca” Facebook group where he would sometimes see unhealthy practices from real estate agencies and property owners who seek to benefit from foreign students’ naivety and lack of understanding of what should be “acceptable” rental prices.
“I started to see some apartments only showing up in that group and not in the local groups, because they knew who they were targeting. In addition, I’ve even seen apartments listed in multiple groups, all with a different price (sometimes up to EUR 100 difference in the foreign-only groups),” he recalls.
In this climate, finding a good home at a good price can be a tricky business, so Roberts breaks down his full guide for us: an inside city center apartment shouldn’t cost over EUR 13 per sqm and an outside city center apartment should be somewhere between EUR 4,5 to 6,6 per sqm.
“This is why I have a range per sqm for outside the city center with EUR 5.5/sqm for "entry level quality" - which is furniture purchased within the last 10 years and in decent condition, double-glazed windows (termopane), central heating (centrala), standard kitchen (clean, renovated within 10 years and with major utilities),” he adds. “That would mean that an apartment with "2 rooms" and 60 sqm should be around EUR 330/month (approx. 40% of the average net income in Romania).”
“A better furnished apartment, renovated within the last 3 years with decent furniture, decent kitchen and also double-glazed and with central heating should be around EUR 6.6/sqm... so for that same apartment, renovated, would fetch just under EUR 400 (round up for simplicity). That's a difference of EUR 70 / month, or EUR 840 / year - EUR 4,200 in 5 years. Plenty enough money to completely re-renovate the apartment again. In the center, more like EUR 6.6-12.5, or EUR 400-750 for the same conditions as above,” Roberts explains.
“Now of course, there will be variations to this, e.g. does the property have parking (worth max EUR 50/month in center), is it a completely new building (not always the wise choice), how easy is it to travel around the city (not usually a problem in a small city like Cluj), are there shops nearby, is the neighborhood considered "safe" (most places are in Cluj) - these are all factors which can affect the price but NOT by more than 10%!”
Luckily, the global pandemic hasn’t hit the city as badly as many people had expected, but there have been cases of landlords pulling a stunt to increase their rent prices in a “take it or leave it” situation, or even worse, trying to cancel the contract with the tenant with 30-day’s notice despite this not being legally permissible under the Romanian law of Art. 1825 Cod Civil.
Roberts’s advice for the post-pandemic wave of new faces coming to Cluj-Napoca? Learn how to negotiate and take pictures and videos of every inch of the property before moving in. “They should also document any issues and report them to the owner. Too often, owners steal the deposits from the tenants, claiming things like “damage” or “need to repaint every room” and the concept of acceptable wear-and-tear seems to be almost non-existent in Romania.”