The cost of accommodation in Philadelphia is relatively affordable and there are various housing options available, which is part of the reason many people from nearby cities seek accommodation in Philadelphia. Expats who intend to stay for the long term tend to buy property, although most people start off by renting.
Types of accommodation in Philadelphia
The city has been a major settlement for many centuries. As a result, there's an interesting mix of architecture in Philadelphia. The first rowhouses in the US were built here and, while the original buildings aren't around anymore, similar townhouses can be found all over.
In the more affluent suburbs to the northwest, there are historic stone houses dating back to the early 20th century, 18th-century mansions, and farmhouses that have been around since the 1700s. This area is known as the Main Line and has some of the best real estate in Philadelphia for raising a family.
Expats wanting a more urban experience can choose from luxury condos in the heart of the city and trendy loft apartments in some of its safer outskirts.
Finding accommodation in Philadelphia
Those looking to buy property in Philadelphia should either have a pre-approved mortgage or proof of funds before searching for accommodation. After that, the process for buying and renting is more or less the same.
The internet is a good place to start finding accommodation in Philadelphia as there are various real estate agents, classifieds websites and local publications with property sections on their sites. Expats looking to rent in Philadelphia could also look up apartment management companies or building owners and contact them directly.
In Philadelphia, agents' fees are often paid by the seller or, in the case of rentals, they are paid a commission by the landlord. It's best to check with the agent upfront, though.
Renting accommodation in Philadelphia
The rental market in Philadelphia is presently skewed towards landlords. Aside from the seasonal influx of students that starts around July, the rest of the year sees many people moving from neighbouring cities where property is more expensive. Many don’t have the means to buy, which increases the demand for rentals and negatively impacts prices. It's still easier and more affordable to rent in Philadelphia, however, than it is in cities such as New York and Boston.
Once a new resident has found an apartment or house they're interested in, they need to submit a rental application. This cost of this application can vary, so applicants will need to check with the landlord or rental agency. In some cases, one will also have to put down a deposit (usually the equivalent of one month's rent) to take the property off the market while the application is being processed. The application may require the applicant to submit proof of income, bank statements as well as references. During this time the landlord will most likely check the applicant's credit score and criminal record as well.
As soon as the application has been approved, the next step is to review the lease and sign the rental contract.
Leases in Philadelphia typically last for a year, but month-to-month contracts are also common. When signing the lease, be sure to read the entire contract thoroughly and ensure that any verbal assurances by landlords are put into writing.
According to the Pennsylvania landlord-tenant law, a landlord may charge a tenant the equivalent of two months' rent for the security deposit for the first year of renting and the equivalent of one month's rent during all subsequent years of renting.
Some landlords may also require tenants to take out renter's insurance.
Homeowners will have to take responsibility for all of their utility needs. The utilities that tenants are responsible for often depend on the conditions of the lease and whether it's a house or an apartment.
In general, when renting an apartment, the landlord may assume responsibility for utilities such as heating (gas or electricity) and, almost always, water. In a house, tenants are likely to be responsible for all utilities. Tenants will most often be responsible for paying for their own telephone and internet services too. Before signing a lease, expats should ensure that the terms are clear when it comes to whether or not the cost of utilities is included in the monthly rent amount.
Garbage removal and recycling
Most large properties like apartment complexes have designated trash rooms for garbage and recycling. The tenant needs to find out from the landlord where to dispose of everyday trash as well as large items like furniture.
Buying property in Philadelphia
Expats looking to stay in Philadelphia for the long term should seriously consider purchasing property. In many cases, the monthly cost of buying property in Philadelphia is cheaper than renting.
A buyer needs around 10 percent of the property’s purchasing price upfront for the down payment and closing fees. As such, the prospect of buying a house or apartment in Philadelphia depends on whether expats have sufficient funds or are pre-approved for a mortgage. Providing proof of employment in the USA is another essential part of the process.
To help with issues such as this, the first step in buying property in Philadelphia should be to choose a licensed buyer agent.
►For info on the city's transport system, see Getting Around in Philadelphia
►For advice on neighbourhoods, read Areas and Suburbs in Philadelphia
Are you an expat living in Philadelphia?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Philadelphia. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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