Sunday, April 20, 2014

Living long-term in Bali: Part 2, rental housing

Welcome to the second part of our series on living long-term in Bali. While we cannot cover every aspect of this, we can share our own experience with you as part of the insights you gain in your research on the topic.

This article covers some of the experiences of renting a house long-term in the Ubud area on a budget, addressing some of the issues involved in renting a house and the rising prices of the rental housing market.

Click here for Part 1 of this series on attaining a visa to stay longer in Bali and Indonesia.

Alarming rates of development in Bali
When we first arrived in Bali in 2011, rental houses could be found at prices that were significantly lower than they are now in mid-2013. Prices are going up. Housing is being built faster than the cycles of ricefields being planted and harvested. We’re not really sure there are enough people moving to Bali long-term to move into all of these houses (and for that matter hotels) that are being constructed, but we can see how so many new things have been built in the short time we have been here. In the year and a half that we have lived in the Ubud area, over a dozen new homes have gone up on the two-kilometre stretch of road on either side of our house alone.  Over a dozen! There are many “for rent” signs, and some of those signs never seem to come down.
Before you consider visiting or moving to Bali
The first thing we recommend before even considering moving to Bali is to rbali-dazeead Cat Wheeler’s book Bali Dazewhich you can purchase as an ebook on Amazon. This book is incredibly entertaining and completely informative as to what it’s like to live in Bali. There are useful tips on renting a home on the island as well. Do not come to Bali without reading it first!
In a nutshell, Cat recommends considering renting a house that has not been built on a ricefield. Houses built on ricefields are eating up valuable arable land that should be used for growing crops and keeping the island self-sufficient. The catch-22 for local people is that they can make a heck of a lot more rupiahs renting a house on their land than growing rice on it. But still, Cat along with many other forward thinking Balinese and expatriates encourage sustainable housing development – which is sadly lacking on the island.
To contribute to sustainability, she recommends renting a home that is located on the edge of a river gorge or not on traditional ricefields (for example, in a village or urban area). Why river gorges? Well, Balinese people are not interested in living beside rivers (that’s where the river spirits live!), so it is space that can be more readily used for housing development with minimal impact on arable land. So keep that in mind, please, if you are looking for housing.
This is where we live, just 4km north of Ubud, in a small village.
This is where we live, just ten minutes outside of Ubud in a small village.
Budget and mid-range accommodationsEveryone expects something different in terms of a place to live. Ourselves, we sought out budget accommodations suitable for two people. Budget can mean two things: Balinese-styled living in a very simple room, home or apartment (which can be very affordable, for example a hundred or two hundred dollars a month), or living in a more Western-styled home (which can be under $500 US a month for a simpler house).
Our house is a good size. Okay, by the picture above, you can see that it’s actually quite big! Much larger than we had envisioned moving here. It has three bedrooms, one of which has been used as an art studio space for Kristofir. It’s two floors, meaning that the downstairs stays cool no matter the temperature outside (though the upstairs is very hot during the day).
Single floor houses can be quite a bit hotter, though if you live in a treed area with a grassy yard, this will keep the temperature down (another tip from Cat’s Bali Daze).
In our house, each bedroom has a bathroom, but only one bathroom has a sink! Also, gas cooking is most common here in Bali, but gas tanks are often outdated and damaged, increasing the risk of hazardous gas explosions; we decided to switch to a portable electric range, which hasn’t cost too much more in electricity every month. Ovens are rare in rental houses, or in any homes for that matter. Appliances are less expensive here, but are more prone to breaking, we’ve noticed. There are people around who can repair them, so consider getting them fixed (for quite a reasonable price) rather than replacing them as is so commonly the habit in the “West.” And if you need any home repairs, don’t expect professional tradespeople help you out. Bali is made up more of general tradespeople who use intuition over training to fix problems. We’ll write more about that elsewhere, I’m sure.
In any case, we’re noticing that nowadays a house like ours is going for significantly more than we’ve paid per month.  We won’t be surprised if the house goes up several million rupiah after we’re gone. Is that really necessary? Everyone seems to be raising the prices of rental properties. What is driving up the housing prices?
Pricier accommodationsMany people who come to Bali have bigger budgets, and they don’t always seem to realize what a reasonable price should be for a home on the island because they are thinking of what the rent is in their home country or city. We have seen people on housing message boards actually saying they have budgets of several thousands of dollars to blow on accommodations each month. What do the Balinese homeowners and housing agents who read such promises of wealth think of this?
Kristofir and I realized the other day that many homes here are being offered for what you would pay to live in New York City per month. What?! This is southeast Asia, not Manhattan or trendy Brooklyn.
We are seeing more “palaces” being constructed on the island – not necessarily taking into consideration the sustainability of its meagre water and electricity supplies.
There are also smaller houses being built, but they are being rented out at a similar or higher price compared to what we have been paying for a three-bedroom house. A much smaller one-bedroom house across the road from us, for example, is rented for more than we have paid.
Among the pricier accommodations are very nice homes on a good-sized piece of land with swimming pools, modern kitchens, lots of lighting, etc. These villas can run into thousands of dollars per month in rent and costs. Some of the ones we have seen really are tropical paradises! But a tropical paradise can be had with a smaller, more sustainable property, as Cat details about her own home in Bali Daze. There is a significant community of expatriates who live this way in Bali on what in their home countries would be meagre earnings, but in Bali is a sustainable income. While prices are rising, the cost of living still remains reasonable on Bali.
With some many wealthier folks living here, we have found that local Balinese people assume that we’ve come here with a lot of money to spend, which is not at all the case. We live quite frugally as a graduate student and an artist.
A house in the ricefield makes for an idyllic scene, but has economic and environmental issues attached to it.
A house in the ricefield makes for an idyllic scene, but has economic and environmental issues attached to it.
Some advise from our experience
(a) Stay cool and look around a bit: Homestays in Ubud are inexpensive (from $8 to $25 US a night can get you a decent room with breakfast), so there’s no reason to rush into the first house you see. You might be told that the house you are looking at will disappear quickly – and it may – but don’t let that alone be a reason to jump on something. (See link below by Mike Henry for an example of what can happen when you think you’ve found the perfect property, but then get stuck with a “problem house” for a year.) While we like the house we’ve lived in, we may have been able to find something more suitable and cheaper if we hadn’t jumped on it so quickly. In retrospect, we would have liked a place with more of an outdoor component or courtyard and was maybe a bit smaller. We ended up renting a three-bedroom Italian-inspired home with a very small (not practical) garden.
(b) Expect the unexpected: Many house owners and agents wish you to rent a house for an entire year. This isn’t feasible for everyone (including us), and you can often negotiate six months at a time, although the price may be significantly reduced if you rent for a full year. Given that a Social Budaya allows you to stay up to six months, it makes sense to pay for six months at a time – and in the long run, it’s quite amazing to pay that rent up front and not have to pay it every month. When we rented our house, I pointed out to the agent that one of the rooms had a significant mildew problem, but mildew is so common here that it doesn’t phase local people; they just live with it. Also, don’t expect all of the creature comforts that you’d find in an apartment or house in the place you are from. Water pressure can be weak, lighting dim, few electrical outlets, brown outs or power outages, varying Internet speeds or loss of service, and how absolutely everything goes mouldy – shoes, wallets, certain fabrics, suitcases, etc. Plumbing can be surprising. The pipes are often sealed up in concrete walls and hard to access if they need to be fixed. If you are using a housing agent with a website, don’t expect a price on a website to be the same price they tell you. But also be aware that you can negotiate a price. It is part of life here.
(c) Hiring help: Kristofir and I decided not to have a pembantu (a helper), but virtually every expatriate does. A pembantu can work and even live in your home full-time, doing virtually anything you require such as cooking, cleaning, gardening, errands, etc. Quite a switch for most people from how they live in their home countries! Friends of Green School recently had a wonderful online guide on hiring helpers, but their domain has expired (you might want to check if it’s online again when you read this by Googling it).
Many people we know have fantastic pembantus – ones who create incredible meals, keep a place in order, and who are superbly friendly. Just keep in mind that people know and do things very differently here in Bali. They live in very different ways. Do not expect them to be able to read your mind. Constant reinforcement of your expectations may be necessarily, and being flexible to the way of life in Bali is essential. Knowing Bahasa Indonesia will definitely help! I would check with other expatriates to get a sense of fair pay – because so many Balinese people are underpaid. You also don’t want to overpay anyone, as that could impact the delicate balance of wages vs. cost of living on the island. Also note that among Balinese people, it’s pretty much expected that you have a helper; it supports local employment.
It can feel rather unusual for someone to help you out, especially if like Kristofir and I, you are used to taking care of everything yourself, you like your own cooking best, etc. Also, I cannot help but consider the complex issues of colonialism and post-colonialism in relation to how expatriates live here in Bali. I recommend anyone moving here at least get familiar with some of those issues of how “colonizers” have related to indigenous populations (both during and after colonialism), to better understand the long-standing relationship and tensions between foreigner and local in historical and present-day context.
If you don’t feel comfortable hiring a pembantu, there are many other ways to support the local economy – by frequenting locally owned businesses, hiring regular drivers, etc. You can also do as Kristofir and I have done and hired occasional help when needed.
What is your experience of rental housing?
This is only our experience. We’d love to hear your experiences in the comments to help enrichen the views expressed in this article.
Further resources
  • Don’t forget Cat Wheeler’s Bali Daze.
  • Bali Housing and Accommodation is a Facebook group on which people advertise rental housing including pictures. You simply have to request being added to the group. We also like the group Bali Unlimited (with housing listings as well) and Bali Community, which is a source of general discussion and sharing but not housing listings, on Facebook. An open Facebook page is Bali Rooms for Rent.
  • Mike Henry’s blog Bali Expat (different than the next link) is a fantastic and very honest guide to living long-term on the island. Check this along with reading Cat’s book. A good, recent starting point to along with this article would be his article “A valuable piece of advice for renting a property in Bali.” Today’s article, “Trust me, you won’t like living in Bali” is also an excellent read – very few people actually end up living permanently in Bali, he points out.
  • The Bali Expat, an online guide to being an expat on the island.
  • Bali Expat Forum in which you can see other’s experiences with rental housing and ask questions of the expat community. Free registration required.
  • The Bali Advertiser is the expat community’s English-language newspaper which is published online as well, including some housing listings, Cat’s column, and plenty of interesting articles, advertising and advice.
Written by Christopher Laursen


  1. Nice info. for the long term, you actually can make a property investment in Bali. This is very advantageous, because you will get a lot of things that can make you become more comfortable stay there. and Bali is a location that has a high value. because it is the best tourist sites. nice for share: ... thanks a lot

  2. am I to understand that long term renting requires upfront payment for the length of the term ? Thanks Dee

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  11. "You also don’t want to overpay anyone, as that could impact the delicate balance of wages vs. cost of living on the island. Also note that among Balinese people, it’s pretty much expected that you have a helper"

    Oh no. God forbid we overpay someone and give them an actual living wage. You know what, we should disrupt the "delicate balance" of wage vs. cost of living on Bali because they both suck. It's common knowledge that cost of living is rising on Bali (mostly because Bule drive up the cost of everything) and local wages are not rising with it.

    Also, I have never met an expat with a helper. It is certainly not expected to have one in Bali. Myself and many other expats live in comfortable apartments for $200-300 USD a month. If you want to help support the local economy, go ahead but just do so as you would anywhere else in the world.

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