We’ve actually been in our apartment for almost a month now but the information about finding an apartment in Estonia is still good for probably a few years. I apologize as most of these blog posts will be behind what I’m doing by a couple weeks for a while since I wasn’t able to access the internet for a while there and we were dealing with general moving issues but hopefully I’ll be able to catch up sooner rather than later.
Before you Start…
We found that pretty much hands down, no one will rent to you sight unseen. This is weird to me because I’ve probably rented half of my apartments in America without even being in the same room as the people renting them to me at any time during the process. So you’ll need to be in Estonia to really start your search for the most part. The other thing is that half the places you see listed are not for rent for a while, already occupied, or have conditions for occupation that they won’t tell you up front. Prepare to be ghosted by realtors, see a place only to be told 3 hours later that it’s taken, and ask a question about a place get one answer and have them call you back an hour later and tell you the opposite answer. Also of note is the fact that apartments, like in most of Europe, list every non-kitchen and non-bathroom as a room. Which means that a 1 room is a studio by American standards, 2 room is a 1 bedroom, and so on.
Contrary to America, you cannot just email brokers or landlords as they will straight up ignore you so you’ll need to have a way to call Estonian numbers (you can get a SIM card in about 5 minutes at Telia or Tele2 stores for about 5€ which will allow you to do this). Most of the people will speak some English but you may find having an Estonian (or Russian!) speaking friend particularly helpful. Most people speak a combination of languages but Estonian/Russian, Russian/English and Estonian/English are the most predominant combinations and in some cases you will come across someone who speaks only Estonian or more likely Estonian/Finnish, especially if they’re older so the odds are in your favor.
It can be hard to find places that rent to people with animals directly downtown since those places are new but keep calling around and asking and eventually someone will be okay with it though you may need to make other compromises (old buildings, weird layouts, not furnished or less furnished, large deposit, etc.). Also people will generally ask a lot of questions including if you smoke, who you will live with, about your work, and your reason to be in the country. Also all legal documents are in Estonian, you can ask to have them translated or translate them on your own time but make sure to have someone else check over the lease before you sign it if you cannot read Estonian and you can’t get a translation for a few days.
Where should I live?
There’s a lot of good neighborhoods in Tallinn but some of them are less desirable than others, especially because a few areas have a very high Russian population but they’re further out of the city center so it’s likely you would not want to live there anyway. Cost of living, even close to the center, is fairly reasonable. For the most part I would suggest looking in Keslinn, Kristiine, or Vanalinn as these are closest to the city center. If you don’t mind a longer commute Kadriorg, Pirita, and Põhja-Tallinn are nice places. Always check the address for where transit options are and if you have an office/job you will commute too I would suggest checking on Google Maps to make sure that the locations you’re picking are convenient to get to and from work as the winter here is not pleasant.
What sites do I look on?
So one of the first things you might notice is that there is no Craigslist for Estonia. I know a lot of people find their apartments in America that way but in Tallinn you have a couple of options instead:
We had the most luck with this site. It has a language selection for English which really helps but the other things that will be translated are the general text (anything that was a standard selection) and you’ll still have to use Google Translate on most ads to read the text. The special upside of KV is that most listings with a broker show flags below their picture where you can see which languages they speak, meaning it’s easier to select brokers who speak English. We found that “speaks English” is a pretty broad category though.
This site is much like Kv.ee but I find the filtering options to be a little better. Many places are listed on both of these sites for maximum exposure. I’ve heard but haven’t confirmed that if you’re buying a place that city24.ee is better and kv is better for renting but we’ll have to save that for the future. We got less replies from people on city24 and without the option of knowing who spoke what language it can get a little humorous when you call and the other person can’t understand you. If you have a friend who speaks Estonian though I would suggest having them place calls or be on hand.
What to look out for?
You’ll want to ask about utilities, they are mostly not included or sometimes a mix of things will be included. Ask what type of heating a place has also. Utilities in older buildings (before 1995~) will tend to be higher in the winter because they use gas but most places are quite small and the windows will be geared in many buildings to bring in sunlight/heat and the doors to keep heat in so it shouldn’t be more than 100-120€ in the winter and about 50-60€ in the summer. Most places are lower than that and newer places have about half the winter costs due to different better materials and insulation.
If you find a place with that is done through a broker, you will need to pay them a brokerage fee which is normally equal to about a months worth of rent. You can try to avoid this by selecting “for rent by owner” and dealing with non-brokers directly but we actually found most non-brokers were flakes who left us endlessly waiting at a building or we showed up and there was a broker there anyway!
Most places are furnished in the city but when you view the apartment double check which pieces of furniture and equipment will remain since sometimes they show places with furniture and then move it out. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions, we didn’t find anyone who got annoyed when we asked things. Most brokers and flat owners are more than happy to work with you to get a place just the way you like it, especially with a little extra deposit to sweeten the deal. Also you’ll need an Estonian ID number in order to sign up for utilities so if you’re still waiting on yours, be up front about it so it won’t be an issue. Most owners have utilities on and in their name but it’s not a surprise you want on move in day. Also utilities take several days to get an appointment for turn on so you’ll need to know as far in advance as possible when you need them.
Like most apartment hunting personal what you’re looking for but my best advice would be to go in with an open mind. Apartments in Estonia are likely smaller than what most people in the US are used to. Often they don’t have large refrigerators, the latest equipment, dishwashers, etc. unless you go for the higher price bracket (over 500€+/mo). The place we live in is an old style Soviet building from 1964 but it has better heating, gas, internet, and water than almost all the newer apartments I lived in previously in the US because infrastructure has been a big project here so it might surprise you to go in a building that doesn’t look attractive from the outside to find it’s quite cozy inside.
Lastly, to present and future Estonian apartment hunters I say: “Head õnne!”