What you really need to know when apartment hunting in Cambodia
Finding an Apartment in Cambodia
We made the move from Ecuador to Cambodia, and after a 2 week long quarantine, it’s time to find an apartment in Phnom Penh. Apartment hunting in Cambodia is a wild ride. There are a ton of options at a variety of levels. I’m here to break it all down for you.
Apartment Hunting in Cambodia
Watch the video to get a look inside over 15 apartments.
Where to Start your Cambodia Apartment Hunt?
The answer is online. It usually is.
Here are the best links I’ve found. They lead to Facebook groups, realtor website, and independent websites that host listings.
Phnom Penh Housing Facebook Group #1
Phnom Penh Housing Facebook Group #2
Phnom Penh Housing Facebook Group #3
Khmer24 – website (or download the app) to find rentals, as well as things for sale, and services.
Here is an agent that I used on my search. If you want to contact him directly, you can add him to Telegram and let him know what you are looking for. He’ll send you photos of places that match your needs.
Heang Rady: 099700096
Should I Use an Agent?
Keep in mind that the majority of the apartments that you’ll see on those sites are posted by rental agents.
The advantages of working with an agent are that it will be quicker and easier. The agent will want to show you a bunch of buildings. They’ll try and fit in 5 or 6 places a day. You’ll end up a sweaty mess, but you’ll be that much closer to finding the place you want to live. You also don’t have to worry about lining up appointments and communicating with people who may or may not speak English.
The other side of the coin is to go at it alone.
From what I can gather, agents are paid based on a percentage of the first month of rent. That’s good cause you don’t have to give them any money, but it’s bad because they probably aren’t going to negotiate for you that hard.
If you want to avoid agents, I suggest you start contacting the buildings directly. The hardest part of this is finding the names of the buildings.
This site – https://www.realestate.com.kh – is quite good for posting its listings by the building name. When you have the name of the building, you can probably find a contact for them on their Facebook page, or on Google Maps. If you’re lucky, it will be a cell number and you’ll be able to communicate to them through Telegram or WhatsApp, the two most popular messaging apps in Cambodia. Otherwise, you might have to call them, but it’s pretty likely that they’ll speak English.
For a few buildings, I resorted to zooming in on agent’s photos and looking for building names. It’s not the best strategy, but if you see something you really like it’s not a bad one.
But the best way to go about it is to do it the old fashioned way… drive around and look for signs. Hire a tuk-tuk for a couple hours and drive the neighborhoods you like. The serviced apartments will be easy to spot because they’re usually pretty tall. Even if they don’t have a ‘For Rent’ sign up, it’s still worth giving them a call to see if they have anything available.
What Type of Apartment?
There are 3 different types of places that foreigners typically live in when they come to Cambodia.
You got your serviced apartments which are setup for foreigners. They are pretty much 100% occupied by foreigners. They are usually fully furnished. They come with all kinds of services to make your life easier, including once or twice a week cleaning. These places take the stress out of living in a foreign country. You won’t have to deal with anyone but the building people (no going out to pay your bills). The buildings are western style with nicer kitchens and bathrooms. Some of them have rooftop pools and gyms. I think most westerners that live in Cambodia live in a serviced apartment.
The downside of them are they can be a bit boring. A lot of them look the same. They’re white boxes in the sky. You’re not as involved in the culture of Cambodia. They’re also pricier. You can expect to pay between $600 and $1000 a month for a 1-2 bedroom serviced apartment.
We saw a ton of serviced apartments while hunting for a place to live in Cambodia. When they all started feeling the same, we decided it was time to switch it up.
The second option for apartments in Cambodia is the more traditional buildings that have been renovated.
These are often also partially serviced, but you might not get a cleaning lady, and you almost definitely won’t get a rooftop pool. They’re usually on a lower level, which means more Southeast Asia critters. Many of them are what they call “duplex” style. From what I can gather, this isn’t the same as what I would call a duplex in Canada. It’s basically an apartment that has a loft bedroom upstairs.
There are some really cool duplexes in Phnom Penh. We saw a few that I really liked, but they just weren’t perfect for us.
At any rate, you will sacrifice a few perks to live in a renovated apartment, but the price will probably be a bit cheaper and the apartment will probably have more charm.
The third option is a traditional house or apartment. These places will likely have basic kitchen and bathrooms. They will be on a lower floor. They won’t have any services that come with them, so you might have to go pay your own electricity bill. They are far less likely to come furnished. We are pretty sure we want to stay in Cambodia for a while, but buying all the furniture for a house is a big commitment that we aren’t ready to make yet.
We didn’t bother going to see any of these because they’re just too basic, for lack of a better word.
When we lived in Vietnam, we lived in a house and it was almost a full time job taking care of everything. We’d go away for a couple weeks and come home to literally 45 dead cockroaches in our house. The fight against ants was a daily chore. Giant spiders. Rats. Plus the potential for flooding. Don’t ever have a property with vegetation on it in Southeast Asia. Things just grow too fast. I had to sweep up the leaves around our house every week and burn them in the street. I tried bagging them, but I learned from the neighbors that the only way to do it was suburban fires.
That being said, you will save money by renting a Khmer style place. You’ll also get to live like a true Cambodian. It is appealing to me, but I’m pushing 40 now, so I’ve been there done that, and we ended up picking out a serviced apartment, mainly for the ease of it… and the rooftop pool!
Obviously the location is important, but don’t peg yourself in one area that you like. Be open to different neighborhoods because each one has their charms. At first we wanted a place in the Russian Market area, but after seeing a few, we opened up our search outside of it and we ended up living in a different neighborhood, one that we originally thought wasn’t for us.
I asked a few agents what the best neighborhood to live in was in Phnom Penh, and they all said “BKK1”. A lot of expats live there, so you’ll find some western perks. It’s also a wealthier area for Khmer people, some of which have giant houses and are apparently very important. For this reason, from what I’ve been told, there are less power cuts in the area and the neighborhood is better taken care of overall.
When talking about location, another important thing to consider is the construction that is going on almost everywhere in the country. Some of these projects take years and they can be noisy. There were a few apartments we saw that I really loved, but we turned down because of the construction noise.
Keep it Cool
Electricity and cooling your apartment is maybe the most important thing to consider when it comes to apartment hunting. Cambodia is hot and your apartment could be an oven with you slowly cooking in it.
Electricity here is expensive, especially if you are living in a serviced place that takes care of the bill for you. They charge between 25 and 30 cents per KW. I recommend immediately avoiding the places that are charging over 25 cents.
In the US and Canada, the average price per KW of electricity is around 10 cents. It’s one of the only things in Cambodia that is more expensive, especially considering AC is one of the biggest power suckers.
According to energyusecalculator.com, running my aircon for an hour will cost me about 28 cents.
That doesn’t seem like a lot, but that’s $6.68 per day, if I run it all day and night, and $203 a month – just for the aircon!
Of course, that’s not taking a lot of things into account – how big the room is, how cold we’re setting it at. I imagine an open floor plan apartment will cost more.
I talked to one lady that lives in our building and she said her electricity bill was $400-500 a month for her 3 bedroom apartment. She keeps the AC running all the time though.
According to USA Today, a fan uses just 1% of the electricity that an AC does.
That being said, a ceiling fan in the living room is a huge money saver when it comes to apartments in Cambodia. A balcony that you can leave the door open to (and not hear construction) is also great. If you can get some cross breeze action going, you can cool the apartment down even more.
Having some separation between your kitchen and your living room is also a good thing to have. The kitchen, for obvious reasons, produces a lot of heat, so having it in a separate room is a big bonus.
Also, a lot of the serviced apartments we saw had huge bedrooms. That’s not necessarily a good thing in Cambodia. The only time I definitely want to use the AC is when were sleeping. I don’t want to sweat up my bed, I don’t want to sleep with a fan blasting on me. A smaller bedroom is easier to cool, and you don’t really need to hang out in your bedroom.
To save money on electricity, add this to your list of apartment wants: a living room with a ceiling fan and windows that open on 2 sides of the apartment for some cross breeze action. A kitchen that is not open to the living room. A bedroom that isn’t huge and therefore is easier and cheaper to cool.
How much furniture should it come with?
Something that was important for us was a kitchen that had a bit of space. We like to cook. The older apartments often have a Khmer style kitchen with really low counter tops and very limited space. They’re more functional, but we like to socialize while we make a meal.
We saw a few places that just didn’t have the countertop space. However, when looking at kitchens keep in mind that it’s pretty cheap to have things built here. If the kitchen is simple but there’s enough space to add an island, you can get one made for like $100.
Furniture can be expensive in Cambodia, but it can also be very cheap. If you go to this area, you’ll find a bunch of wood furniture stores with decent prices. They can customize most things and they’ll deliver it for free. We bought about 4 pieces there, from a simple rattan shelf to a big kitchen shelf.
Something like a couch is going to be more difficult. I think because of the heat, most Cambodians have uncomfortable wooden benches with some cushions. Couches are more a western thing, so you you’ll probably have to pay more. Try RS Residence, the Aeon Mall department store, and Global House Cambodia, there’s also a store called Display that has some really nice furniture at reasonable prices.
Five years ago, I would have said “make sure the building has a generator”, but power cuts are much less frequent nowadays. That being said, if it does happen and you lose your AC and internet for half a day, you will be very happy to have found a building with a generator. Many of the serviced apartments have them, so it’s not that hard to find.
Since the pandemic, westerners have fled Cambodia and the price of rent has dropped. We set our budget at $750 a month and we were able to stay within budget pretty easily. Places that were going for $1000/month a few years ago have dropped down to $750 a month. It’s a renter’s market.
Definitely try and negotiate. Negotiate everything. If they want a 2 month deposit, negotiate that down to 1 month. Try to knock off at least $100/month from the rent – more if you’re getting a bigger place. Also, you can negotiate the lease. If you are willing to stay for a year, you’ll pay less per month, but if you just want a 6 month lease, that will be possible in most places.
Even try and negotiate the price of electricity if it’s more than 25 cents a KW.
You should be able to find some pretty cool places for $400 a month, but if you are willing to spend more you can get into a building that has all the services and a beautiful infinity pool.
It took us about a week to find a place, and we kind of took the first place that we saw that we didn’t say, “that’s good but…”
We went with a serviced apartment on the 7th floor. I’m really happy that we can leave our balcony door open all day and we don’t have to worry about mosquitoes. There were places that we saw that we liked more, but in the end we went with a place that would just be easier to live in. Maybe in a year, after when we have Cambodia figured out more, we’ll move to something different, but for now we’re pretty happy.