There’s a Better Way
You don’t want to have to go through what Kim and I did to rent a furnished apartment in Cape Town.
We arrived VERY unprepared and naively optimistic that it’d be a cinch to find a super cheap place to call home for our six months in Cape Town.
Instead of being a breeze like we thought, our apartment search ended up being a nasty south-easter—an increasingly stressful and desperate seventeen-day slog.
Everything turned out all right, though. We found an awesome flat that we couldn’t be happier with. But it didn’t have to be so hard.
Here are the ten steps to find a furnished apartment in Cape Town that we learned the hard way so you don’t have to.
10 Steps to Find a Furnished Rental Apartment in Cape Town
Click each step to expand and see full explanation and quick tips.
Thank goodness we arrived in November and not December.
During December and January, the Christmas / New Year season and summer holidays combine into a superstorm of tourist mayhem.
It’s a feeding frenzy for landlords, who rent $600-US-a-month apartments (in the off-season) for $150 a night on Airbnb.
So if you arrive during this time looking for a furnished apartment for a few months, you’re going to have to convince a landlord to forgo a short-term rental windfall (or pay a major premium yourself) and accept fact you’ll be leaving just as the slow, winter rental season starts.
You’re better off not arriving in December or January.
Even though we hoped to find an apartment close to the sea, we figured we might as well spend some time staying in an inland part of town while we looked for apartments, so we booked an apartment in the Gardens area of Cape Town for our first week.
It worked even better than expected.
Being located right in the center of town allowed us to quickly, easily, and affordably get acquainted with the city.
At our doorstep were Bree Street, Kloof Street, tons of cafes and restaurants (including quite a few that made our list of best Cape Town Restaurants for Unique Occasions), and our favorite theatre in the world, The Labia. The rest of the city was just a 30 to 50 rand Uber ride away.
We made one big mistake, though.
We didn’t book an Airbnb with fibre internet. The ADSL line at our place was mind-numbingly slow and cost us hours of wasted time and frustration.
- Ensure whatever place you stay at has fibre internet.
- Start your Cape Town stay in Gardens, the CBD, or De Waterkant. These central areas are best for getting acquainted with and getting around town.
- Book 5 to 7 days to start.
You’re going to need a phone to research apartments and communicate with estate agents, and you’re going to need WhatsApp because it’s the go-to app here for texts and calls.
We had no idea which was better, so Kim got Vodacom and I got MTN. That turned out to be a dumb move because calls are cheaper between numbers from the same provider, so if you’re coming to Cape Town with someone else, get the same provider.
As for which to get, MTN gets the slight edge based on our experience. During our two week “Hectic Route” South Africa road trip I had reception with MTN when Kim’s Vodacom didn’t a couple of times, and MTN seems to be a bit cheaper.
To start, get at least three gigabytes. It will cost you about 300 rands ($21 US).
- Get a SIM card with at least 3 GB of data at the airport. MTN is a good bet.
- If you’re with someone else, get SIMs from the same provider.
- Don’t email. Use WhatsApp. Initially during our apartment search, we responded to ads via email and only got replies to maybe 30% of our enquiries. But when we started texting (and calling) through WhatsApp our response rate doubled and so did the response time.
Kim and I screwed up our first few days in Cape Town by getting to know some parts of the city really well—the CBD and Gardens especially—but not even seeing other areas like the Southern Suburbs and the Atlantic Seaboard at all.
This gave us an incomplete understanding of the city’s geography and we wasted time looking for apartments in the wrong places because of it.
We would’ve been much better off had we got our bearings by doing a quick tour of the whole city during our first days in town.
- Do a day on the Hop-On Hop-Off bus. We were skeptical about it, but it turned out to be the ideal way to get quickly acquainted with what’s where in Cape Town. Read our tips for the sightseeing bus here.
- Walk a lot. It’s the only way to a feel for the vibe of each area, where the grocery shops are, and how close things are.
Once we finally saw all of Cape Town, we were convinced Sea Point was the neighborhood for us. It’s nice but not fancy, right on the water, laid back, and walkable.
But that conviction didn’t last.
By our fourth day in Sea Point, we started to get bored of it and found ourselves spending most of our time in other neighborhoods like Green Point and De Waterkant. We realized we preferred being closer to the City Bowl than Sea Point, so we shifted the focus of our apartment search in that direction.
- Don’t settle on any specific Cape Town neighborhood until you’ve stayed in that area for at least a few days to ensure it meets your expectations.
Here are the resources you should use to find furnished apartments in Cape Town:
Resource #1: Huis Huis
The Huis Huis Facebook group is where all young Captonians go to list and search for apartments and bedrooms to rent. Most of the places here are low to mid-budget.
Resource #2: Gumtree
Most real estate agents, and a few individual landlords, will list their apartments on this central site. It has both furnished and furnished apartments of all budgets.
Resource #3: Airbnb
If you’re only staying for a month or two, Airbnb may be your only option. It’s generally more expensive, but if you plan well in advance and seek out less-established Airbnbs (those with few reviews), you may be able to arrange a discounted monthly rate with the host.
We too can give you a discount if you’re new to Airbnb. Currently the offer is $43 US of your first stay, but they keep changing it, so click here to see what the promo bonus is.
Resource #4: Marcel
Marcel was the only one of the twenty or so agents we met who actually made an effort to find a place for us. He asked around online on our behalf and proactively proposed multiple options for us. Every other agent was useless. They’d show us one place and, if we didn’t like it, not bother to even suggest any other place. Marcel’s Whatsapp is +27 83 651 8875.
Resource #5: Estate Agents (If You Have a Bigger Budget)
Real estate agents, or “estate agents” as they’re called here, earn commission based on the length and monthly rate of the apartments they rent. Since we were looking for a mid-budget place for only six months, they didn’t help us because the commission we could earn them wasn’t worth their time.
Each estate agent only covers a certain section of Cape Town for a specific agency. Even worse is that two agents who work in the same area for the same agency don’t even exchange listings with each other. This means each agent competes with the others to rent out their own limited inventory instead of acting as agents on your behalf.
That said, you can’t write them off entirely. If you have a big budget they’ll work harder for you and sometimes they have apartments that aren’t listed elsewhere.
The more apartments you see the better you’ll understand the market, the higher your chances are of finding a perfect place, are the more adept you’ll become at negotiating (see: Step 8).
We visited over a dozen different apartments in our first week of searching. That included places that didn’t really interest us, which we visited anyway just to chat with agents in the hopes they might have other spots to show us (nope) and to get a better understanding of the market (yep!).
By the end of the week, we could step into a place and quickly and accurately determine what its fair rent should be. Agents could see we knew our stuff, so they didn’t try to pull one over on us and were more open to broker a fair rate between us and the owner.
- Show up to your visits on time. Everyone here is very punctual (professionally, at least). One agent we met apologized profusely for being four minutes late. Being on time also shows respect and that you’re really interested.
- Don’t be too picky early on. See whatever you can to get a good understanding of the market.
From a landlord’s perspective, their ideal tenant is one who will pay a high rent and stay in the apartment for a long time.
We met neither of those criteria, so we had to use savvy to win the landlord over.
For example, here’s how we managed to score our apartment for 13,000 rands a month for five months even though our landlords were asking for 14,000 (which the previous tenant was paying) over a 1-year lease :
- The photos and description our landlords used in the listing didn’t do the apartment justice, so we offered to use our photography and digital marketing skills to help them spruce up their ad and find a higher-paying tenant to replace us after we leave.
- Knowing we’d have to buy a bunch of stuff to make the apartment more comfortable, but that we wouldn’t take it with us back to Canada, we offered to leave it behind. This would make the apartment more valuable for the next tenant and allow the landlords to charge a bit higher rent. Example: plants.
- No landlord wants the hassle of chasing their tenant for rent, so we agreed to leave a two-month deposit and pay our first month well in advance.
- The previous tenants, who had yet to move out, were the ones who showed us the apartment. The landlords spoke highly of them, so we made sure to get in their good graces. We were extra friendly with them and asked them to say nice things about us to the landlords, which they did.
- During our discussion with the landlords, we managed to sway them to believe that a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush by reminding them of the cooling rental market. According to a few other agents and landlords we’d met during our search, the market was on fire a couple of years ago because Airbnb had just come to town and tons of landlords greedily converted their apartment to short term rentals, which decreased the supply and increased the price of monthly rentals. But then the drought came and scared away tourists and, at the same time, landlords discovered Airbnb is harder work than they thought, so many
apartmentreverted back to the long-term market, lowering rents.
Who knows how much each of these helped our cause, but certainly none of them hurt.
- Be aware and be creative in order to win over a potential landlord. Even though you’re not their ideal tenant, there are probably ways you can sweeten the pie and win them over on your terms.
At one of the first apartments we visited, we told our agent we really didn’t like it. She recommended we keep our options open just in case and send her a proposal at a lower rate, which she’d pass on to the landlord.
Even though we had zero interest in the place, out of curiousity we sent her a lowball offer of 11,000 a month instead of the 13,000 they were asking for. Within an hour, the agent had conferred with the landlord and accepted the offer.
We still weren’t interested, but from then on we always asked for, and frequently got, a lower place.
Not every landlord was so quick to lower their asking rate but, unlike other places we lived, they were all open to negotiate.
- Always ask for a lower rate. It’s expected here.
Once we’d picked the part of town that was perfect for us, visited tons of apartments in a short span of time, and negotiated with the landlords of the apartments we liked most, we settled on our choice.
It was such a relief to have finally decided on and found a home.
But then, just before we were to meet the agent to sign the lease, the agent told us the landlord had changed her mind. She’d decided to spend some of the summer in Cape Town and would need the place for herself.
We were devastated.
Luckily, we had a plan B. We went for a second visit and started negotiating the terms of the rental agreement…
…At which time the landlord of another apartment texted us. She had turned down our offer a few days ago but now had changed her mind. We could have the place!
That made three different apartments we almost called home in the span of a day. Crazy.
- Keep your options open until you’ve signed your contract. It seems everyone here is out for the best deal and nothing’s guaranteed until a contract is signed. And when you decide, move fast.
Once you’ve signed your contract, breathe a sigh of relief and get excited to have an amazing time in one of the world’s most spectacular cities.
For ideas on extraordinary adventures while you’re here, take a look at our other posts on our South Africa page.
Let us know your questions, share your own experience looking for a rental apartment in Cape Town, and add your own tips in the comments below.