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 your 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 you are not so lucky – and if you don't speak Hindi – you are more than likely going to have to obtain the services of an Indian estate agent to help you find a place to stay. Make sure you are very explicit about the kind of place you are looking for, what the minimum specifications are, and what your price range is; otherwise you'll waste your time viewing unsuitable properties. Remember that you DO NOT need to pay for the privilege of viewing properties with your estate agent, no matter what they might tell you.
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 you 'informally' (i.e. with no official lease, signed agreement in place). DO NOT accept this, as it will leave you without official proof of residence in India (which you'll need to get your PAN card). Furthermore, you 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 you'll probably end up paying about half a month's rent to your 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 you find a trustworthy real estate lawyer to guide you through the process.
As a foreigner, you must have a residence permit in order to purchase property in India. Furthermore, if you have a residence permit, but stay in India for less than 183 days per year, you need to get special permission from the Reserve Bank to purchase property (a process that can take months to accomplish); while if you stay in India for more than 183 days per year, you need to get permission from the local authorities in the area in which you intend to buy (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 you use an Indian bank as a mediator when paying for your new property. Many banks offer a 'documentation through bank' service, where your payments are only released when you are the new registered owner of the property.