A lot of people email me asking me how to find an apartment in Croatia to rent, and often want to know what I did to find my apartment here in the Balkans (I live in Serbia actually, but the process is the same having searched in both countries, who also share the same language after all).
I thought I would share as much information as possible to help anyone who is currently looking for an apartment in this majestic country.
The same process for finding an apartment here pretty much applies also to finding an apartment in Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia & Herzegovina. Also, much of the information in this post will relate most to moving to bigger cities like Zagreb or Split.
So yeah, anyway, here is everything you need to know to find an apartment in Croatia.
Where to start?
When it comes to finding an apartment in Croatia, the best place to start in your search is with an ad website that lists properties for rent or sale.
These are websites that specialize in “nekretnine,” which means real estate in English. The best way to find these types of websites is to type into Google search the word “nekretnine,” followed by the name of the city you are interested in living in.
So if you are looking for Zagreb apartments or houses, type “nekretnine Zagreb.” If you are looking for Dubrovnik, type “nekretnine Dubrovnik.” Sarajevo? Type “nekretnine Sarajevo,” and so on.
Of course, these websites will be in Croatian and you will have to use the translate option in your browser to understand them. However, some terms won’t translate well to English or other languages. But, have no fear. Further down in this post, I have included a vocabulary guide for terms related to finding an apartment like “rent,” “furnished,” “central heating,” “bills,” etc.
What are the best and most reliable “nekretnine” websites in Croatia?
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the best is OLX.
The importance of location and building age in pricing.
Apartments located in stari grad, a.k.a. down town, city center—whatever you want to call it, are the priciest. For example, if you get an apartment in a nearby suburb or district like Sesvete in Zagreb for instance, then apartments can be up to half the price.
Also, apartments can often be cheaper if they are in older buildings, if the apartment itself isn’t renovated, and if the furniture is quite outdated. And guys, a lot of places might have ugly outdated furniture. Mentally prepare yourself now to see some furnished apartments that are a flashback to the 1970s and 80s.
What is the best time to look?
Just know that in July and August, looking for apartments gets more competitive than the other months as students from the smaller towns and villages are preparing to move for the first time or return back to the city for university.
Make sure to contact the owner of whichever space you like ASAP because they can be rented fast. As soon as I saw a place I liked, I would ask my friend to call the ad lister to arrange an appointment to look at the space. So even though I was checking the nekretnine websites from a different timezone, I tried to be as fast as possible.
Decide if you want to work with an agency.
If you do not want to find an apartment through an agency (agencija in Croatian), then make sure to only respond to ads that are listed as “vlasnik.” This means the owner themself listed the apartment or house on the nekretnine site.
Also keep in mind that if you type “nekretnine” into Google, many agency websites will show up as well. They will usually have an agency name, have somewhat limited listings and only work in a few cities. Nekretnine listing sites however will have listings for many many cities and hundreds to thousands of places to review.
Making your first payment and subsequent payments
Unless you know someone who knows someone, you will most likely have to pay a deposit to secure your choice. Before moving in, you must pay a deposit in the amount of one to two month’s rent, plus the first month’s rent. So if an apartment is 150 euros a month, and you have to pay a deposit in the amount of one month’s rent, then your deposit will be 150 + 150 (300, which I am sure you figured out) for your first payment. If your deposit is the amount of two month’s rent, then you must pay 300 + 150 (450, I know that was a harder equation for you, right?). But sometimes, this can be negotiated.
If you work with an agency, you will have to pay the deposit, the first month’s rent, and some percentage of the one month rent fee. It will most likely be give-or-take 50%.
How to find a temporary apartment rental in Croatia.
If you are looking for a temporary or short-term rental in Croatia, I do not recommend going through a nekretnine website as most agencies and owners want you to stay for at least 6 months. I mean, you could lie, which happens all the time. But maybe you will feel bad for lying or something.
But actually, the best places to look for temporary rentals are Facebook expat groups. The biggest group in Zagreb is is called Expats in Zagreb.
Another option is to find an apartment on Airbnb or Homeaway, and message the owner saying you want to stay there for a longer duration of time, whether it be one to three months. You can then negotiate a monthly fee with them.
What is the average price of an apartment in Croatia?
For a studio apartment or a one bedroom apartment, you are looking to pay between 150-250 euros a month depending on which part of the city you live in. Of course, the more centrally located you are, the more expensive an apartment will be. Also keep in mind that cheaper apartments tend to be smaller, and lacking in modernity and renovations. So if you find an apartment that is only 150 euros, chances are it is very small or not renovated or both.
Utilities of course are cheaper in the summer and more expensive in the winter. In the summer, you can pay as little as 20-30 euros for electricity, garbage, water and gas. In the winter, that all can reach up to about 50 euros. If you are paying for phone, internet and TV as well, that could fall between 20-35 euros.
How to look at apartments?
I want to talk about both looking at potential apartments yourself, and getting a friend to do it in your absence. I will start with the latter, as I could not afford to visit first and stay in a hotel or hostel until I found a place. I trusted my friends to check out places for me and I was able to secure my apartment before my move. This was mostly a success, but not without one major error.
Let’s start with the success first.
I trusted two of my generous friends to call the owners or agents of apartments I was interested in to schedule appointments, and then they would go look at the apartments for me. But I was very diligent in making sure they understood what I would like and what I would absolutely not accept. For example, I would absolutely not accept an apartment with an old, worn-out wooden floor, and I made sure my friends understood this.
Also, I told them to record their visit, specifically the bathroom, the kitchen and the floor or carpet of the apartment. I even sent them an example video of how I would like them to record a video visiting an apartment. I was super uptight about things looking like brand new. So if any place had a bathroom that looked like a professional cleaning wouldn’t be enough to bring it back to life, I was not interested, and my friends that I trusted knew that.
Now to the major error.
The one area where my friend and I both failed is that we didn’t understand that some cultural differences between USA and the Balkans would affect my experience of where I live. The apartment I said “yes” to ended up being in a dvorište, which basically consists of little apartments in the courtyard in the back of a building. In the Balkans, many people grow up having spent time in a dvorište, whether they lived in one or they had a friend or relative that lived in one. In United States, we don’t even have dvorištes. So for my friend, it wasn’t a big deal, and thus he didn’t explain it to me as a big deal. And because I had never experienced a dvorište before, I didn’t understand that it would actually be a big deal for me and that I wouldn’t like it so much.
Now that I live in a dvorište, I know that if I had truly understood what it was beforehand, I wouldn’t have said yes to this place. I don’t mind the apartment itself, although it’s very small. But what I feel like wasn’t explained to me is that walls of a dvorište are very thin, and your neighbors are CONSTANTLY outside smoking and talking. You hear everything. Furthermore, your neighbors can hear a lot of what is happening in your apartment when you are inside it. So you will feel awkward about having guests over, being intimate with a significant other, getting animated watching a sports event and singing or practicing an instrument (as a musician, this is not good for me).
Also, the culture of a dvorište is one where you constantly have to make small talk every time you leave and enter. I hate hate hate small talk. It makes you feel like you don’t have total privacy. You know that feeling when you lived with your parents, and then you would get back from a party late at night? You would tiptoe back up to your room in hopes that your parents didn’t hear you come in so that you didn’t have to deal with them? That’s what living in a dvorište feels like, especially as most residents of dvorištes tend to be middle-aged or older.
So the big error on my friend’s part is that it didn’t occur to him that a middle-class American living in a dvorište might not be the best fit. And the error on my part is that I didn’t think to ask more questions about how my quality of life living in a dvorište would compare to my quality of life living in a normal apartment building.
So if you trust someone else, please learn from my mistake!
Of course, you can arrive in the country, stay in a hotel, hostel or short term rental, and look at places yourself. But something you should be aware of is that some people showing you a property might take advantage of your foreigner status and try to cheat you in some way. That might be paying a higher deposit than normal or a higher agency fee. So it would be good if you could visit the places you are interested in with a local.
As I said before, nekretnine websites will of course be in Serbian or Croatian, etc. So you won’t understand them if you don’t know the language. And again, there is Google translate, but some things don’t translate perfectly to English and you will be confused. Also, if you are looking at places in person, it is good to understand some common vocabulary in case the person showing you the place doesn’t have an extensive vocabulary in your language.
So here is a vocabulary list so you can navigate these websites and appointments better:
Nekretnine – Real estate
Vlasnik – Owner
Agencija – Agency
Tea Peć (TA) – A type of heater that is like a portable furnace. It’s very heavy an unattractive, but it is the cheapest heating option in the winter.
Namještaj – Furnished/Furniture
Podrum – Basement
Iznajmljivanje – For Rent
Prodaja – For Sale
Kirija – Rent (to be paid)
Dvorište – The Back of the building apartment, but literally, it means yard or courtyard.
Stari Grad – Old town, usually the location of the city center. Apartments are more expensive here.
CG/Central Grijanje – Central Heating
Grijanje – Heating
Soba – Room
Sobe – Rooms
Kauč – Couch
Kauč na rasklapanje -Pull-out couch/Sofa bed
Renoviran – Renovated
Terasa – Balcony
Kuhinja – Kitchen
Podrum – Basement
Krevet – Bed
Kat – Floor
Računi – Bills
Electricity – Elektricitet
Voda – Water
Ormar – Closet
Mjesec – month
Deposit – Depozit
I hope this post helped you in your process to find an apartment in Croatia. If you are unclear about anything or have any advice you would like to share, let me know in the comments. Also, feel free to message me on Facebook or Instagram.