Apartments & Housing:
Know what to ask for

italy photography photos   -

Know what you’re looking for:

The task to find an apartment or some type of housing can be one of THE most frustrating (blood pressure rising, time-consuming) activities/necessities of relocating to Italy.  OK, I admit I shouldn’t say ‘Italy’ since I haven’t experienced apartment hunting throughout the country, but the experience in Rome certainly was pure H E L L ! ! !

Maybe the world of helpful and honest realtors opens up for budgets of more than 2000 euro/month, or possibly I just had bad luck with the 300 or so apartments I looked at over the period of 2.5 years…maybe, it could have been a bad coincidence 😉 ?

A difficulty, but not a show-stopper – 95% of the advertisements are in Italian of course.  Some basic tips:

  • Learn the key words & phrases for apartment terms & ad words.
  • View the online ads using the Chrome browser with the auto-translate feature turned-on

Apartment Ads (especially in Rome):

  • The majority of ads are terrible.  The online ads seem intentionally deceptive with the lack of information about the apartment and then, if the advertiser actually included photos – most photos are of the floor, ceiling, out of focus, dark….you pretty much have no idea if the apartment is decent.
  • Many apartments are still advertised with a sign outside the building.  So unless you walk by the sign, you won’t know it’s available for rent.
    • Even if you see the sign, information will be minimal and you’ll be forced to call.
  •  icon-warning If the photos are magnificent, show a gleaming apartment…almost looking like they did back home in the USA or the west – it’s most likely it’s a scam.  If it seems too good to be true – looks wonderful, great price and much better than anything else you’ve seen, sadly, it’s most likely a scam.  (Craiglist is famous for this with the apartment rental ads in Rome and other big cities)
  • Point is: Just be careful and allocate a lot of time to find an apartment if you care where you live and have  a budget.

Room or Private Apartment?

Room (Stanza/Camere/Posto Letto) aka ‘a share’ 

This means you share an apartment with one or more person(s).  You are renting/leasing bedroom and sharing the common areas of the home (kitchen, bathroom, living room).  Each share agreement is different, so make sure you ask what parts of the rental will be private, what is shared and what is off-limits to you.

  • Typically you get a bedroom furnished with a bed, some type of closet or wardrobe, maybe a desk & chair.
  • Most likely you share the cost of the utilities.  Things like internet, TV and such would most likely be set-up.
  • Personal note: I have never lived in a ‘share’ situation.  I have heard mixed reviews – some love it: cheaper, instant social circle, everything is set-up and less hassles for you.  I have also heard some unpleasant stories: no access to any area besides their bedroom, no refrigerator access or use,  not permitted to watch the TV in the living area and even having other people use their ‘private’ bedroom.
  • As with anything & any agreement – ASK questions, get things in writing, use your intuition.

A private Apartment/Flat (appartamento)

  • you don’t share your housing with anyone else.  May it be a studio or 3 bedroom – it’s all yours.


ASK what the rent includes.  What is and is not included will vary from apartment to apartment.

 icon-question  Are there condominium fees (condominio spese)

  • Condominio spese usually include water, building maintenance (cleaning), doorman if you have one and possibly *heat.

*Heat varies greatly too.  Sometimes the condominio costs are based on an estimated from the previous calendar year.  If it was a warm winter, maybe the heat wasn’t used often, so the condominio costs is estimated at a lower amount.  BUT once the actual usage is calculated and you used/consumed MORE than the previous year, you will receive an additional bill.  Remember, the condominio costs/spese is variable. 

  Are Utilities included

  • Most private rentals do NOT include utilities, but some apartments do charge a flat monthly fee and many times these costs are included when renting a room.
  • It’s more likely to have a flat-fee (utilities included) for shorter term arrangements.
  • Of course if utilities are included, define which utilities.  NEVER assume.
  • Learn more about Utilities

   Is internet set-up and included

  • Most likely this expense is additional and you need to set it up.  (be prepared that it may take days/weeks to get an appointment for installation)

    Is there a garbage fee (rifuti)

   Is there a garage/box/parking fee


Measurements in Italy are metric.  An apartment/house/room will be described in size by Meters Squared (Metro Quadrato) – most likely this notation ‘m2’or ‘mq2’

  •   50 m2 = 50 Meters Squared which is approx. 500 square feet (actual 538 sq. ft) But for ease of estimation, just add a zero to the  meter square to figure square feet.
  • 100 m2= 1076 square feet

1 meter squared = 10.7639 square feet

  • If you’re coming from the States, don’t expect places as spacious as you may be accustom to..for the money/value.  Sure, larger places are available for a higher price-tag.

Floor/Level (Piano)

  • The term for ‘floor” ”level” in regards to an apartment is ”Piano”.
    • Eg: “vivo al terzo piano” (I live on the third floor)
  • Since it’s Europe, the ground floor – street level is floor Zero.  ‘Piano Terra’ or sometimes it’s called ‘Piano Giardino’ (Garden level)
  • Ground Level is usually cheaper/less expensive.  It can have it’s advantages, but it’s not as secure, less privacy, darker and depending on where you are in Italy, it can get moldy!  Your closets, walls….besides being unpleasant and not healthy, it will ruin your belongings.
  • The difference between Piano 3 and 4 may not seem a big deal, but if your building doesn’t have an elevator….it makes a difference after some time.
  • ** the top floor is called ”attico”.  Warning: if you live south of the Alps, the Italian sun is hot for a few months, the top floor/attico can be an oven.   Or come winter time and you live in an area with high winds and cooler temperatures – Brrrrrr!!

Elevator/Lift (Ascensore)

  • Seems like basic knowledge but it should be mentioned: It’s an old country, old buildings…MANY buildings do not have elevators.
  • Most elevators in Italy are TINY!  Maybe 2 or 3 people can fit at one time and you’ll be touching each other at this point.  Just forget about personal space 😉
  • This is just something to think about if you need to move big, heavy items.
    • (Personal experience: my pet cage didn’t fit!! That’s how small the one elevator was in my building.  Poor kitty, I had to flip the cage to get it to fit)
  • Even if there is an elevator in the building, don’t be surprised that there will be a few steps involved somewhere.  Not sure what the architects were thinking, but that is the way it is.
  • The Italian buildings don’t take into consideration the concept of handicap.
    •  One rarely sees any handicap people: walkers, wheelchairs.

Stairs/Moving In

For some reason there seems that there will always be at least a couple of steps even if it’s an elevator building.

True life examples:

Rome-Apt 1: I lived on the 5th floor/piano 5 (USA, that would be the 6th).  No steps from the street to lobby and elevator…but the elevator stopped at the 4th floor, it did not go as high as piano 5.  I had to walk-up 12 steps to get to my apartment.

Rome-Apt 2: There were steps from the security gate (sidewalk) to the building entrance, a length of approx. 25 feet.  Once I made it down these graduated/sloped steps, I was in the lobby & could use the tiny elevator or super narrow staircase.  Again – this was an ‘elevator’ building but steps were involved every day!

N. Italy – Apt 3: This was a very modern building (pure heaven after Rome!)  But…. the moment you enter the security door at street level, you need to climb 8 steps to get to the Lobby & elevator.  The elevator in this building was almost normal in size in regards to USA standards.

However, more illogical design in this ‘modern’building.  The garbage, recycling, electrical fuse boxes and garages were below the ground level….no elevator, but of course stairs.  two flights down to get to the garbage and three to get to the electrical fuse box and the garage!!

Not life shattering but you need to factor this into your decision making process – thinking about when you go run errands, get & carry groceries, furniture and such…if you park in your designated spot in the garage and now you need to carry everything up 3 levels to get to the elevator!

No need for a gym membership in Italy – ha ha ha !!

Doorman (Portiere)

Not much to write about this except to inquire if there is a doorman or not.

I never had one, but do think it would’ve have been convenient when mail/package deliveries are expected.


  • As with anything else, add-ons come at a price and in a larger city may be scarce.
  • Do ask what size the balcony is, I’ve seen some ‘balconies’ that are 2 ft x 2 ft.  This is not what I consider a balcony.
  • A decent balcony or a terrace can be super for drying clothes  (clothes dryers are almost non-existent)

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