05 February 2007

so you want to live in Reykjavík?

I know there are a few people who read this blog with serious intentions to move here, and since I have had emails about this a bunch of times, this is the summary of what I know about renting in Reykjavík after working on this for several months. First of all, I should explain that unlike in Boston, the cost of owning a place is equal or less to the cost of renting, so anyone who possibly can own, does. As an immigrant still on a temporary visa, I can not yet, so I'm stuck with what is often the dregs of the housing market.

If you're looking for your own place (as opposed to renting a room in a shared place), they generally fall into two categories. First, there's the perennially for-rent places, usually owned by an Icelander abroad, or as some kind of second property for income. I saw one of these that was in a fantastic location, but was tiny, on the ground floor (people walking by directly outside your window feels not-so-safe, even in small-town Iceland), and contained dingy carpeting that looked like leftovers from a seventies-era warehouse (burnt orange! More awakening than coffee). There was also no way to to do laundry, which in Boston was not an issue with all the laundromats usually available in neighborhoods. Here, everyone's got laundry in the house or in the building, so laundromats pretty much do not exist. When I asked about it, the owner said, "well, the last guy just went to his mom's to do it". Not so easy when my mom's laundry room is a day's trip by plane from here. This place was also 75000isk/month, pretty expensive, even if you did get a back yard. I've since heard of another place almost exactly the same a few streets over.

The second category is the going-abroad-to-study category. These are nice places but only available for a limited duration of anywhere from six months to two years. They're also a person renting their home directly to you, so in many cases it comes down to a sort of popularity contest, or a who-knows-whom issue. Large management companies with a plethora of almost-identical apartments available (as my last place in Boston was) do not exist here.

There are exceptions to this, like the last place I lived, which was owned by a fisherman who was never in town but bought it since it was a great location and newly built. I know a few other people who have gotten lucky with this kind of thing- a family that moved to New Zealand thinking they would come back in a year or two and then just decided to not come back, leaving their house with all furnishings behind.

So, how to find these places? There are a few websites, like Morgunblaðið's classifieds, where the apartments for rent in Reykjavík are intermixed with summer rentals in Spain, houses in Húsavík, and flats in Akureyri. There is also leigulistinn, which you must pay 3500 krónur a month to have access to, and the places go fast there. After being in Craigslist-land the thought of having to pay so much makes me cringe, but they do have the most comprehensive listings there. A few other sites have tried to get into the business but remain kind of paltry on the rentable places, unless you want a two-floor penthouse or a basement in Árbær (=really far from downtown). Then, the better way (and where I found mine) is internal distribution lists and friends-of-friends. Since most of the places for rent are owned by individuals, they want to know they're having someone trustworthy in their home while they're away, so personal recommendations count for a lot.

And finally, what do you get with an apartment here? In addition to the living space, you'll get laundry room space in the basement if it's not in the apartment already. This is a fairly common arrangement, particularly in buildings from the fifties or earlier. Each resident has a designated hookup for their own washing machine in a shared space in the basement. In the larger buildings, there might even a separate drying room near the steam pipes. Dryers are not so common here as in the US in these places. You'll also often get a storage cupboard or room somewhere, the much desired geymsla, for your boxes and suitcases. In cases where someone's going abroad for a few years, they might be using this entirely for themselves or you'll be sharing with them. Appliances are not a given (except the stove), which is part of why renting from the second category is often easier, since the people going abroad don't usually take their fridge along.

The prices are high here, but after being in Boston I definitely don't feel like I'm getting a bad deal. I'm paying less for a bigger place with more accessories, in about the same type of neighborhood. I could have chosen to live further out of town, where the prices are usually able to get a larger place, but the difference is not significant, and I personally prefer the old details and the immediate by-foot access to all manner of downtown experiences.

So there you have it. You now know everything I do.


Jade said...

Wow! That post is perfect for my needs :). Due to some documents getting processed earlier than expected I will probably move to RVK at the very beginning of March. So my wife and I are looking for places downtown. I don't think we've seen anything under 75k. I'm hoping we can spend some time with my wife's relatives and househunt from there, but their houses are relatively small apparently.. We'll see.

I notice you mentioned "Internal distribution lists". Are those actual lists, or just word-of-mouth locations that people might know of?

On another note, E, there was a point last year where I had to make a call to see if I was gonna move to Iceland in 07. It was a difficult decision, for various reasons (though not going would've been just as difficult). Reading your blog, and your impressions of Iceland, helped me make the call to move. So thank you for that :).

ECS said...

Jade: I was actually thinking partly of you when I wrote this. I've seen a few places under 75k but they all fall in the permarental category, and are usually a bit run-down. The distribution lists are usually within organizations, like I found mine on the university mailing list through a friend. I also asked at my choir, at work, and even once when I got to talking to a nice shopkeeper on Laugavegur. Tell everyone you know that you're looking for a place. Phone calls come from all sorts of unexpected locations. I had one from a lady who went to the church where I sang, one from the shopkeeper who found me in the phone book days later, one from a guy I met at a bar whose aunt was renting a place. Even if it seems like you're going a little overboard with it, just keep the word out.

I hope you enjoy your own Iceland adventure! Will you be writing about it too?

Jade said...

Thanks for the clarification E. Yeah, word of mouth sure seems to be the best method in Iceland. I'm doing the same thing in order to find a job too, talking to Icelandic friends, relatives of my wife, even boyfriends of relatives of my wife that I've only met once (both the relative and the boyfriend) :)

Yes, I do intend to blog about my experiences. I have never blogged before so I'm not sure how it will turn out or how frequently I will post.

Anonymous said...

thanks for this post! you are a treasure!

Mariovsky said...

Very, very good post!!!!

Maybe the next post will be: 'How to find a really good job in Reykjavík without drivers license'


tsduff said...

E - Will file this one away for future reference. We have looked at properties for sale around the outskirts of the capital - more out in the sticks, and of the summerhouse variety. Don't mind a drive, and would prefer the solitude. Still browsing, waiting for the little details to fall into place. Who knows if they ever will, but the thought is a good one :-)

Professor Batty said...

... oh yes! I thought I had my "fix" last October, now this missive puts those thoughts right back in my head... it's too bad that I have another life that demands attention....

Lisa said...

Thanks for commenting on my blog. I'm a frequent reader of your blog and it was actually your site that introduced me to Baggalútur. I wish their stuff was available in the U.S. It's fantastic. :)

ECS said...

jade: I look forward to reading it when you do. These blogs have a way of taking on their own life, so I have no doubt you'll find your voice!

anon: uh...thanks. Are you new to the commenting?

mariovsky: I didn't know that a drivers license was a job requirement. Although I have one, I have never used it for my job, so it must be possible. There's more about my jobsearch process here in my January archives.

terry: Can't help you with that one but I hope it works for you! I know from reading your blog how much you love the funny rural houses.

batty: Sounds like you're One of Those People. Iceland's bitten and it's not going to let you go, will it? Hope you can come visit again soon!

Lisa: I'll tell K that he's got to look into an American tour with the group! I think they've mostly got an Icelandic following because part of their brilliance is the lyrics, which so far are only Icelandic.

dtw said...

At the moment I really wish there was a laundromat in Reykjavík though...

Our community washing machine is still out of order, and to be honest, I haven't heard anything from the landlord. Grrhhhh. It's not like I packed clean clothes for half a year or so.

A great post though for those who're interested, I shall not woe more in here to ruin its value. I'll just think of something, or something.

cK said...

Oh, lord. This post is too helpful. I'm dreaming more actively right now.

Thanks for sharing the info! (Though I can't say my family will approve of you making it seem so attainable!)

Happy days,

ECS said...

dtw: I lived for a summer in a place with no laundry facilities, and I got very good at interesting solutions to the laundry problem. One of my favorites was going into the shower with my clothes on, soaping them up good, and then rinsing by taking them off and stomping on them. It got pretty tiresome, so I feel your pain!

ck: How about you bring the family along? They'd probably enjoy it too. It does seem easy when it's all typed out like this, but keep in mind that I tried to find a place for a month and a half last year with bad luck. It's a bit of a gamble.

paulynn said...

Perhaps a good entrepreneurial business idea to be had "Reykjomat" or "Laundrovik"...;o) There can be a cool and lovely mini-cafe or rollup cart with espresso and dunkin donuts and of course a few gourmand healthy treats too. Oh yes, and a community library, for all of us readers. Then the idea can take off and we can invite Apple to install some computers so laundry customers can blog to their hearts content to the worldly sounds of iTunes, with access to the new Craigslist.com/iceland listings, and a few Apple ads for their good investment. Hmmmmm. Interesting. Thanks E and thanks everyone for your comments too! If anyone takes this on, let me know, I can design a cool logo!

~lovely thoughts about all of you

Kenneth James said...

Hi, I just got accepted to the Haskoli Islands MA in Medieval Icelandic Studies and I'm desperately scrambling to find an apartment for my wife and I in Reykjavik and being in Canada isn't helping us. We're looking for anything that will rent for under 99k/month. If you could help, that'd be awesome. Fire me off an email, if you're able to.



hi from sarasota florida said...

hi ECS! this is kind of a reverse of the 'live in iceland' questions here... i am a professional car service driver here in sarasota florida (west coast, south of tampa, Beautiful!)i often drive icelanders flying into sanford airport on icelandair (east of orlando) and drive them to sarasota... (some own here others rent)... i like the people and they Love Sarasota (golf, island beaches, palm trees etc) I am want to offer customized packages (econo to luxury) stays here the will include airport transport, nice accomodations, even use of car and concierge service along with optional tours/boating etc! i note the lack of 'craigslist' type ways of spreading my message in iceland... i do have some icelandic contacts but they have busy executive or retirement lives... i might seek to have a contact for marketing my service in iceland.... any approach that you might suggest? many thanks! jefgermain@aol.com