Finding rental accommodation in Helsinki – not so easy!

So you may have noticed that this blog has been a bit quiet for the last few days? That’s because Brigitte and I have been out looking at flats most evenings for the last week. We’d heard that it was difficult finding an apartment in Helsinki – and it turns out that it is fairly easy to find places of the right size and price, but it is really is tough to get selected by the landlord as a tenant. It makes us even more thankful for our current (short-term) accommodation in Töölö Towers, which is run by the universities of Helsinki and Aalto specifically for international staff and students. It has a great location, good facilities (including a sauna on the top floor – we’ll be heading up there later today), very reasonable rates and is run by a friendly and efficient team.

Part of the difficulty is that there are just so many people looking for a place to stay – we’ve had up to ten other couples looking at a flat at the same time as us! That’s a lot of competition for the places that become available each month.

The other part of our difficulty is that the whole rental system works in a subtly different way here. Expat-Finland.com gives a good introduction to finding a place to stay in Helsinki, but I thought I’d write a little more about the ins-and-outs of finding your own place.

The first step is to find rental adverts – we’ve mostly been using Oikotie and Etuovi. It’s worth remember that Helsinki is in the Uusimaa region, since you’ll want to narrow your search down by region, city and (maybe even) neighbourhood. We emailed a lot of people about flats that they were advertising and only had one response – it seems that most owners (and/or landlords) don’t want to offer private viewings of properties. Therefore, you need to note all the apartments that are going to be on show and decide if any of them look suitable. We’ve been using GoogleMaps to understand where the different apartments are located (and see our previous post about the neighbourhoods of Helsinki) and Reittiopas to calculate the approximate commute times from my office (on the Kumpula campus of Helsinki University) and the city centre.

It’s also worth figuring out some of the commonly used abbreviations in the adverts:

  • h = huone = number of rooms
  • k = keiittö = kitchen
  • kk = keittokomero = kitchenette
  • p = parveke = balcony
  • s = sauna
  • for more see here

So once you’ve found a place that looks worth a visit, make sure you get there on time (we’ve had to rush around to get to some viewings due to my bus leaving early). Most of the apartment blocks have security gates, and if you aren’t there when the estate agent opens up, you might struggle to get to the flat later. Don’t be surprised if everyone else takes off their shoes before entering (it’s the norm to help keep the floors clean) – and maybe remember not to wear your “holey” socks if you want to make a good impression. It is worth remembering that in many apartments the tenants will take the light fittings with them, but that the fridge stays behind.

If you like the flat, then the estate agent will have an application form for you to fill in – it requires your Finnish ID number, employment details, current address, reason for moving, etc. These forms are just an expression of interest and are not binding. All the forms then get given to the landlord, who makes a decision about who they’d like as tenants – that lucky person then gets a call (we’ve been told that usually the decision is made within 24 hours) and must decide if they want to take up the lease on the property (or at least so we’ve been told – I’ll update this if it’s different when we receive our first offer!). We’ve now taken to completing the forms in Finnish and dressing as if we’re going to a job interview – anything to make it easier for the estate agent and the landlord to chose us.

Flat, flats everywhere (a view from our current place in Töölö Towers).

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