Pre-WWII housing remains some of the most attractive housing Prague as post-war housing tended to be pre-fabricated, often described as "communist boxes" or Panelaks. The use of concrete in many buildings has proved to be a poor sound insulator and some apartments offer little privacy. Newer buildings have resolved these issues and many flats have been completely renovated.
The Czech rental market is not very well regulated. Beware that apartments may be offered in subpar conditions. This is partly due to a shortage of apartments. Prague has the largest selection for Czechs and for expats, but in more sparsely populated areas it may take months to find a suitable place.
Most apartments come bare, meaning no kitchen equipment or light fixtures. Watch for specific mention in advertisements and specify these details if signing a contract.
State housing tends to be extremely inexpensive, but difficult to find. There is usually a long waiting list for these properties with some flats never opening up as they are passed down to the previous tenets children. Also note that these units may be sub-leased out illegally at a price several times higher than the State controlled price.
How flats are listed can be confusing for the uninitiated. Other countries may list a "two room flat" meaning a flat with two bedrooms, and most likely a kitchen and a bathroom. In the Czech Republic, a two room flat will often have just two rooms, such as a bedroom and a kitchen, or a bedroom and a toilet.
Prices vary depending on your location. The centre offers convenience, active night-life, and the highest prices.
Start researching the areas you would like to live as well as figuring out what exactly you are looking for. A studio? Somewhere close to your work? Only top floor apartments? Price range? Answering these questions will help you figure out what kind of place you want and where to look for it. You can also ask your friends, family, and acquaintances what they like about their places, as well as what they do not like.
Once you have determined what you are looking for, you can start researching your options. By discovering what is on the market, you can adjust your expectations to match the market and continue to refine your search.
Because of the issues with state controlled housing never being formally listed, one of the best ways to find out about openings is asking personal contacts. Most of these places are discovered by word-of-mouth. Let friends, family, and acquaintances know you are looking and cross your fingers for luck. You may stumble into a great deal.
Online listings can give you a great feel for the market and allow you to determine if a place fits your specifications before you spend time going to look at it. Some great sites include:
EasyExpat Classifieds in Czech Republic
http://www.expats.cz/ - Prague's largest online community offers a classified's section with housing.
Most major papers have a classified's section with apartment rentals. Rent controlled accommodations may be found here as well. Two notable resources are the Prague Post Real Estate section or the Prague Monitor's real estate listings.
Many places have billboards offering advertisements for a variety of goods and services. Watch these boards for useful postings. Laundrettes, cafes, grocery stores, community centres, and bars all might have private ads. The Bohemian Bagel and the Globe are good places to look.
An estate agent can be a useful resource for finding the right place quickly. A good agent knows the legal pitfalls and has access to a variety of housing. An agent will provide you with a description of available properties, escort you to viewings, make sure your contract complies with expected standards. The fee is usually paid upon finding an acceptable accommodation and may be between 1 to 2 months rent.
Becoming an estate agent in the Czech Republic is fairly easy, so make sure you are comfortable with their experience and expertise before signing with them. Asking friends, family, and business contacts for recommendations can help you locate a great agent. A warning sign is if the agent asks for a "holding fee". This works as an advance the agent will keep for the privilege of showing a flat and is completely unnecessary. Additionally, you may be asked to sign an agreement not to negotiate with the flat owner or another agency, before you have seen a flat. Again, this is unnecessary and possibly the sign of an unscrupulous agent.
A complete list of agents can be found on http://www.reality.cz/.
Contracts must be in writing. If the owner does not want to write out an agreement- insist. This is a vital step to protect yourself.
Everything is negotiable so work out an agreement that truly works for you. Monthly rent, utility costs and how they are to be paid, what should happen if any damage is caused, etc should all be explicitly listed. If you were shown an apartment with furniture/fixtures you were planning to use, make sure it is noted in the contract. Otherwise, the lessor may remove it shortly after you move in.
Before signing, have a native speaker look at the contract. You may be interested in hiring a translator or lawyer to save you later frustrations. A draft may first be handed over with many conditions and not many rights. If it is unacceptable, counter-offer the landlord a contract that suits you. Be firm and insist on your rights.
Once you have agreed on a contract and it has been checked over by an advisor, sign the contract. A deposit is usually necessary, and unfortunately it is not usually returned. It is also common to be asked for 6 months rent in advance. The landlord may also require information regarding your purpose in the Czech Republic and information on what type of visa you posses. Rent will be collected every month after that point, usually on the first.
Usually, the tenant may cancel the contract at any time by giving three months written notice. A landlord may cancel the contract, but only for a stated reason and they must give you 3 months notice as well. Have these terms defined in your contract.