Expats moving to India can certainly add 'finding suitable accommodation' to the already-extensive list of 'adventures' they're going to have during their relocation.
The range of housing options in India varies greatly from area to area, but expats moving to the commercial centres of Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore can expect even less suitable opportunities and even more competition than in other locations. Overall, there are a few general points about accommodation in India to bear in mind while conducting a pre-trip research.
Renting property in India
Renting property in India is challenging, if only because the demand for good quality, reasonably priced rental accommodation far outweighs the supply. The good news is that employers often will have a few accommodation options lined up for expats prior to their arrival in India, which they can then visit and decide on which one will suit them best.
However, if expats are not so lucky – and don't speak Hindi – they are more than likely going to have to obtain the services of an Indian estate agent to help find them a suitable place to stay. Expats must make sure they are very explicit about the kind of place they are looking for, what the minimum specifications are, and what their price range is; otherwise it will be a waste of time viewing unsuitable properties. Remember that potential tenants DO NOT need to pay for the privilege of viewing properties with their estate agent, no matter what they might say.
It is very important for expats to understand that there are enormous variations in the quality and cost of housing in India, and while the vast majority of people live in 'apartments', this is an extremely loose term, which can be applied to anything from a one-room, cockroach-infested rat-hole with exposed pipes and peeling wallpaper, to a grand, fully furnished, ultra-modern and opulent living space, easily on a par with the best of what's on offer in cities like London, New York or Paris. The great challenge facing expats moving to India is finding something that falls in between these two extremes – a rental that is comfortable enough to live in for an extended period of time, without being cripplingly expensive.
Lease agreements in India are tricky. Often, to side-step tax, landlords will prefer to rent to people 'informally' (i.e. with no official lease, signed agreement in place). Expats should never accept such an agreement, as it will leave them without official proof of residence in India (which is required when applying for a PAN card). Furthermore, expats will either be offered a lease agreement (minimum of 12 months), covered by rent control laws, or a lease and license agreement of up to 11 months. Lease and license agreements are not covered by rent control laws, and for this reason, are usually preferred by landlords. Note that security deposits in India are generally two or three month's rent, and that expats will probably end up paying about half a month's rent to their estate agent as a commission fee.
Buying property in India
Buying property in India as a foreigner can be a hair-raising experience – often characterised by fraud, corruption, bribery and general underhandedness. It is strongly recommended that expats find themselves a trustworthy real estate lawyer to guide them through the process.
Foreigners must have a residence permit in order to purchase property in India. Furthermore, if one has a residence permit, but wants stay in India for less than 183 days per year, they need to get special permission from the Reserve Bank to purchase property (a process that can take months to accomplish); while those that want to stay in India for more than 183 days per year will need to get permission from the local authorities in the area where their property is located. The latter is a much quicker, easier process.
Another thing to bear in mind when purchasing property in India, is never to make payments in cash, even when promised proper receipts for them. Sellers will often try to avoid tax payments, by not declaring the parts of the total sum they received in cash. In this vein, it is highly recommended that buyers use an Indian bank as a mediator when paying for their new property. Many banks offer a 'documentation through bank' service, where payments are only released when their client becomes the new registered owner of the property.