When discussing how to get something done in Bali, you usually have two choices: do you want to spend your time or do you want to spend your money?
This couldn’t be truer than when applied to looking for a place to live in Bali (whether you're searching for rentals in Bali or places to buy). There is accommodation to suit every budget here and there are also helpers to accommodate every budget here.
Rentals in Bali
In this article, we'll be mainly talking about Bali house rentals, although I say a few words about actually buying a property.
Real estate agents
By far the most expensive way to go would be to go through one of the many real estate agents that are available here in Bali. These businesses thrive on the fact that we, as westerners would generally not think of handling something like this in our own country without someone like that acting as the middleman.
In Bali however, these middlemen are not really necessary and will do nothing but add to the price of your accommodation.
How to start looking for a house
Your best bet is to think first about your budget, the area you want to live in and what sort of amenities you need in your living space. There are certain publications like the Bali Advertiser, which is the weekly expat newspaper with many ads of houses for rent, but often they are priced with the western budget in mind.
Many people feel much more comfortable if they could arrange their housing before arriving. But unfortunately the housing market in Bali is not online for the most part. And those houses that you can find online will generally be overpriced. (The owners will be banking on the fact that you are renting from the internet just because you don’t know how to get this accomplished on the ground.)
How to find a house or a villa for a reasonable price
There are a few good ways to go about finding a Bali house rental for a reasonable price though.
One of the best ways is through word of mouth.
Let everyone that you know in your first few weeks in Bali that you are actively on the hunt for a house or villa rental. Most Balinese have a brother, cousin or friend who have some property that they will be willing to rent out.
Beware though if the topic arises about buying the property, because under Indonesian law foreigners can NOT own land or a house. Make it clear from the beginning of every conversation with a new person that you are only interested in renting. (No matter if they tell you how much smarter and economical it is to buy instead of rent.)
Make it official
If you manage to find a place that you like through this method, and you agree on the price and the terms of the rental, then you would be very wise to make this official through the use of a notary or “notaris” in Indonesian. Even if you trust your landlord (which hopefully you do), choose a notary who has no affiliation with your landlord, just to keep things neutral.
Think like a local
If you prefer to do things a bit more independently then you can hop on a motor bike and drive around and start looking at properties that are advertised for rent. If the signs are written in English, then you can automatically assume that they will be priced with westerners in mind. (Although there is usually room for some bargaining when it comes to things like this.)
On the flip side, finding rentals in Bali that are originally meant for local tenants can be a great way to save a bit of money. These can be found by flipping through local newspapers in the classified sections. Or just by reading the “For Rent” signs in the streets that are written in Bahasa Indonesia. (These ads will usually include abbreviations for terms in Bahasa Indonesia which has been explained here.)
Monthly rentals are rare in Bali
One other thing to consider, which can be a little strange to most foreigners at first would be the fact that very rarely are properties rented monthly. Most property owners will want a minimum contract of 1 year, with the yearly price paid up front.
You can usually get the price down for renting by longer terms of 2, 3 or 5 years. But remember you are entering into a much longer commitment.
Get to know the area
Before agreeing on moving into your new dream house, take certain things into consideration because you will be there for the next year or so. Visit the area many times at various times throughout the day, so you can see what the traffic and noise situation is like at all hours.
Also go see some quiet areas feature “Cafes” which are places for local men to go at night and drink beer and meet the pretty young waitresses who know their “purpose” of working there. These places are often run by Balinese gangsters and the locals of the area usually have little power over them. That means if they decide to play music extremely loud in the middle of the night, you and any other local will be pretty powerless to get them to turn it down.
Don't use pre-paid electricity plans
Lastly, some Bali house rentals feature pre-paid electricity plans which have been a thorn in the side of anyone who has had the displeasure of using it. This service requires the topping up of your electricity. So it is possible for your credit to run out while the office is closed. result: you will be without power until the office opens again to recharge your account. This can be especially bad if you run out on Saturday afternoon and can’t charge up again until Monday morning. Which leaves you without power for two days. Most houses do not use this system, but if they do it could be a big dealbreaker for you.
So far, we've talked about rentals in Bali, but buying is definitely also an option. Even though you cannot own a house, there are ways around this.
For example, some real estate agents advise expats to buy leasehold property, or buy property on a pma company.