The Problem Using CIAN to Rent in Moscow as an Expat

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Written By Andy Frecka

If you plan to find your apartment for rent in Moscow without an agent, or maybe you are even looking to buy some real estate, you almost certainly have heard of CIAN.

While Yandex Real Estate is rapidly developing, and Avito is often the real estate search engine of choice around the rest of Russia, it is CIAN that firmly remains the king of the Moscow real estate market.

Unfortunately, in Moscow, the rental market is virtually dominated by agencies. Almost all of the listings on CIAN are posted by agencies, not the actual landlord. In practice, that means that you will have to pay a commission to the real estate agent who shows you the apartment. In rare circumstances, the landlord will pay the commission.

There are other options out there to browse apartments without an agent, but the quantity and quality of listings are very different.

Here is a great look at typical apartments in Russia.

If you are an expat with limited knowledge of Russian, looking for an apartment to rent in Moscow without an agent, you can also try this Facebook group: Moscow Expats Housing.

If you speak Russian or have a Russian speaking friend, feel that you have a strong understanding of how to negotiate your contract, and want to avoid working with an agency, you can also try the much larger Facebook groups Flats for Friends or Flats for Friends (Moscow).

Since this post focuses on “the problem” with CIAN, it would make sense for me to throw Russia’s best search engine under the bus. But I won’t, and here’s why:

CIAN is probably the Moscow real estate community’s worst kept secret. It is an incredibly useful tool I use every day of the week with my clients, and it is the key to partnering with other agencies around the city to find the best results.

In fact, 5 years ago, I even made an instructional video about how to use CIAN in English. CIAN yields far better results in your search for a Moscow apartment for rent than any agency website or other platform. This is due to a strong accountability system with the agents and agencies that use the platform.

In other words, if you are looking for an apartment for rent in Moscow, my advice is to NOT look at Avito, NOT waste your time on an agency’s website, it is better to use CIAN.

What is the Problem with Using CIAN as an Expat in Moscow?

Although many high-budget listings will have an English-speaking agent answering the phone, there really is no way to know if the apartment you are interested in will truly be foreigner-friendly.

What does foreigner-friendly mean?

Well, quite simply, there are additional burdens for landlords in Russia if they rent to a foreigner or expat. Registering as a foreigner in Russia has become much more difficult lately and this the landlord is required to register foreign tenants every time they reenter Russia. It used to be that employers could register their employees, but this has changed. This is only one of many burdens that will fall on the landlord if they rent to an expat.

Due to new changes in visa regulations, many Russian landlords are worried about renting to foreigners because of the increased bureaucratic obstacles associate with the registration of foreigners living in their apartment.

I created Expat Flat to help expats in Russia find an apartment. Unless you are good at negotiating in Russian and restrict your search to the apartments without commission, you will pay commission usually equal to one month’s rent in Moscow to find an apartment regardless. This is obviously frustrating if you come from the United States where this doesn’t exist.

What is the alternative?

Expat Flat is an alternative to using CIAN on your own and they have created a flat-finder service. Simply put, you hire Expat Flat, and they find what you are looking for.

Expat Flat doesn’t hide the fact that they use CIAN to help find you the best apartment. As a matter of fact, many repeat customers simply send links to apartments they have found on CIAN and Expat Flat will reach out to the landlord or agency to find out about the true viability of the apartment for an expat, arrange viewings, head up negotiations, and then work out all of the contract details. All of this is done for the same one month commission you would have paid to a Russian agency.

What does Expat Flat do?

Let’s take a look at what is actually happening when Expat Flat is looking for an apartment in Moscow.

Most landlord representatives do NOT speak English. Expat Flat will organize everything in Russian on your behalf. It usually takes 20-50 phone calls to find a few foreigner-friendly landlords. The lower the budget, the more calls Expat Flat has to make.

Often there are “small” details in the CIAN listing that can easily be misunderstood. For example, you might have found a great deal, but the apartment is actually for sale and the owner will want to show it regularly to prospective buyers over the course of the lease.

In other words, it can easily take 1-2 workdays to find a single apartment for rent in Moscow that fits your exact specifications. And the main problem isn’t CIAN. It’s the fact that not all apartments are foreigner-friendly.

In addition to helping expats with apartment rentals, Expat Flat has a rapidly growing Moscow apartment purchase program. Many Moscow expats are tired of the rental game and see the long-term financial rewards of owning their own place. Expat Flat provides this service at a local price, but with the same huge advantage of working with you in English. If you are interested in reading about whether it is possible to own real estate in Russia, check out Expat Flat’s article on owning real estate as a foreigner.

What Makes Expat Flat Unique

The Expat Flat team is busy working as flat-finders, assisting with Moscow apartment purchases, and also Russian real estate investments.

Expat Flat will always be a company that was built by expats in Moscow for expats in Moscow. CIAN is not perfect, but it is the best Moscow real estate search engine. However, it can leave you frustrated, particularly if you are new to Moscow.

Moscow real estate Facebook groups are also very helpful, particularly because you can share what you are looking for with the world, but they do not have a very good search function, making them feel a bit chaotic.

Expat Flat is still in the early stages but the team is working hard to create Moscow’s best foreigner-friendly real estate site. 

If you are looking for an apartment, check out what is already being offered at Expat Flat, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to give us a call or message us in the chatbox. 

If you are a foreigner-friendly real estate agent in Moscow, please contact reach out to Expat Flat to discuss providing a better service to the city’s expats.

It’s not always easy to find the perfect apartment for rent in Moscow, but if you are looking for a stressfree, English apartment search in Moscow, Expat Flat is the best option available.

For more information about living and finding a job in Russia, check out our article on Moving to Russia as an Expat.