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Your guide to the rental trail


So you are in Phnom Penh and  need a place of your own – but how do you negotiate the minefield of securing a good rental property without it costing you an arm and a leg?

Photo by:

Mark Roy

Rental properties in Phnom Penh can often be hard to find.

what to look for

  • Access: Will you have a separate entrance or a shared gate? Will you have easy 24-hour access?
  • Landlord: Many landlords live on site or nearby, so find one you get along with.
  • Security: Is security provided? Are there street lights? Is the roof accessible from surrounding buildings?
  • Noise: Is there any construction going on nearby? A karaoke bar? Visit early in the morning or late at night to check on noise levels.
  • Heat: Are there ceiling fans or air conditioning? How is the airflow? Older houses can be sweatboxes.
  • Mosquito screens: If these are not installed, insist on some at no cost to you.
  • Mattresses: Foam mattresses may be old and uncomfortable – your landlord may supply a new spring mattress if your request one.
  • White goods: Is a refrigerator provided? Is there a laundry nearby? You may be able to do a deal on a washing machine with you landlord, or try the buy and sell column at or the classified ads in the Post Tuesday and Friday.

With a high volume of workers arriving and departing in Phnom Penh, there is no shortage of rental properties coming onto the market. But good-value properties are snapped up quickly.

When you find a place that's right for you, you need to move fast, says Bruce Cormack, a moderator of the online resource Expat Advisory Services. "You can't put a place on hold - generally it's up for grabs until a cash deposit has changed hands," Cormack says. "There's no substitute for being there in person."

But searching for an apartment on your own in Phnom Penh can be a case of "buyer beware", he warns.

"Your best bet is to make use of a local to help you, either a foreigner or a local Khmer," he says.

"Most residents will have an idea of reasonable prices for the main areas of town, or can put you in contact with someone who knows."

Bonna Real Estate Project Manager Charles Villar says people who choose to go through a real estate agent do so to avoid extra hassles.

"Real estate agents have properties already available for home finders, and this can cut down the time expats, NGOs and executives spend searching," Villar explains.

"These are people who are busy during the day." He said the other benefit was increased security.

"We provide standard contracts, and we can explain these contracts to our clients," he says. "We are also licensed by the government, which is another level of security."

Cormack says it pays to do some thinking before you begin your hunt. "Whether you're searching solo, through an agent or with help from a friend, there are basic criteria you have to decide on before you start," Cormack says.

"You'll make your life and those of the people who may be trying to help you a lot easier if you take an hour to sit down and figure out what you want, or to at least narrow it down."

For example, do you want a villa, a one-bedroom flat, or a serviced apartment? How many bedrooms do you need? Do you need a study, a balcony, a garden? Do you need a parking bay?

Do you want to live on the ground floor or climb stairs? Do you want it furnished or unfurnished?

What other services do you need? Broadband, Wi-Fi, satellite TV, cleaning, a security service and laundry facilities will usually cost you extra.

Signing a longer lease will put you in a better position to bargain.

Location, location, location...

It pays to equip yourself with a good map and narrow your search by location. A real estate advertisement often lists the quarter in which the property is located. A useful map will show the main districts (khan) which are divided into quarters (sangkat). A map of districts and quarters can be found in the Yellow Pages, or online at codes.

Cormack also suggests visiting friends' places to see what you can get for the price in different areas.

Know your budget

Weigh up your costs and look at carefully your budget, and let your agent or those helping you know how much you want to spend.

"As a rough guide, $150-$300 per month budget would allow for basic, but comfortable and secure, rental properties in various parts of town," Cormack says.

But you can also pay much more than $4,000 per month, depending on what degree of amenities or luxury you require.

Doing the business

A standard contract will normally require two months' deposit plus once month's rent in advance.

If you are dealing with a landlord who does not speak English well, Cormack recommends taking a local with you who does, even if you are going through a real estate agent.

"Your Khmer speaker can monitor discussions between an agent and the landlord to ensure that you're informed of things discussed that you need to know, assist with your side of the bargaining, and save you from frustration if much of the conversation would otherwise be in Khmer," Cormack says.

And most importantly, get written receipts for every payment you make, he says.



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