15 things to know when house hunting in Jakarta

Where do expats live? Stand alone house, compound or apartment? How much does it cost? As a new expat in Jakarta, here’s what I wish I knew about housing before moving to Jakarta.

Prepare for a long read! I’ve compiled everything I’ve learned in these last 7 years living in Jakarta and 3 moves from Central to South Jakarta! 

  1. Popular expat areas

Most international schools are located in the southern part of Jakarta or further out, so South Jakarta is most popular with expat families, particularly areas such as Kemang, Pondok Indah, Cipete, and Cilandak and to a lesser extent SCBD, Senopati, and Dharmawangsa. 

Those who work in Central Jakarta would be looking at a daily car commute of at least 1 – 1h30 or 45min with the MRT if not far from a station.

In the south, most people live in houses (standalone or inside compounds, we’ll talk about the difference in more detail below), fewer people live in apartments. Here are some of the popular housing options:

  • Compound with houses (usually 4 to 5 bedrooms): Veranda (USD4000+), Constructa Builders Lembong (USD3000+), Executive Paradise (USD5000+), Astoria, Atmaya (USD6000), Kemang Club Villa (USD3000+).  
  • Apartments: (USD2000 to 4000 for a 3-4 bedroom): Kemang Village, Executive Paradise, Atmaya, Dharmawangsa Essence, Dharmawangsa Residences, Senopati 8, Pakubowono, Oakwood Barito, Senayan Residences, Pondok Indah Golf Apartments.

For families who work around Central Jakarta and have small kids who do not need to attend international schools yet, central neighborhoods such as Menteng, Setiabudi, Tanah Abang, and Kuningan are strategic options where English-speaking daycares are available.

In the center, here are some of the apartments that are most popular with expats:

  • Apartament in the USD 1000 – 2000 budget range (2-3 bedrooms): Thamrin Residence, Denpasar Residence, Puri Casablanca, Puri Imperium, Pavillion.
  • Apartament in the USD2000 to 5000 budget range (upscale 3-4 bedrooms): Shangrila, Four Seasons Residence, Sudirman Residence, Verde, Menteng Executive, The Peak, Anandamaya

There are also beautiful standalone houses in Menteng and Patra Kuningan area, with prices ranging from USD 2000-4000.

  1. There are great homes at every price

As detailed above, most housing compounds and apartment complexes that are popular with expat families are in the USD2500-4500 price range, and usually paid for my companies BUT…there are plenty of standalone houses or smaller compounds in South Jakarta that aren’t particularly known in the expat community that match western standards of comfort with rents from USD1000 to USD3000. 

Agents who cater to expat families usually aren’t interested in working within those budgets. If you are looking for a lower budget rental, do some research by using websites like Rumah or Rumah123 to understand the market, meet with several agents to explore what your options are and reach out to the property owners/managers directly to avoid agency fees. Front desk staff in apartment complexes usually know which units are available and often even have the keys. Most house complexes are owned by management companies so you can reach out to them directly. 

  1. You will spend a lot of time inside your home

Apart from malls and restaurants, there aren’t many places to go to within the city, which means we spend an unusual amount of time at home. Instead of going out, we invite people in: host playdates, have friends over, host relatives who visit… Finding a home where you feel comfortable and can easily have people over (if that’s your thing) makes a tremendous difference.  

With low cost airlines operating from Jakarta and many amazing destinations within 1h30 flights, we thought we’d be able to get away from the city regularly. In practice, that very rarely happens: having heard enough horror stories, we only fly domestic with Garuda Airline which is not budget friendly. Jakarta’s traffic and regular flight delays always turn an 1h30 flight into a 6-7 hour journey, so taking the plane for a weekend isn’t really an option.

  1. The MRT is your friend

If your office is close to the MRT line, then congratulations! It currently only connects South to Central Jakarta (in roughly less than 40min). 

It is really clean, rarely packed and very quiet. The challenge however is getting from the station to the final destination (no sidewalks and/or inescapable heavy traffic may mean that Gojek is your only choice). 

  1. Have at least 1 year rental cash ready

This is insane, most landlords (if not all) require 1 year rental upfront (sometimes 2!). It is important to take that into consideration when negotiating your relocation package.

That also means that landlords are not incentivized to help tenants sort out issues once the annual rent is paid. On the other hand, they are usually open to discuss repairs, upgrades prior to the signature… We have asked for walls to be repainted, new appliances, walls to be knocked down, double glazed windows to be installed, doors to be permanently closed… 

  1. Try Airbnb 

If you are considering to rent an apartment, check out Airbnb as you might be able to find units available for short term rent. 

We stayed in 2 airbnbs for the first few weeks following our arrival, which allowed us to uncover a lot in a short period of time: management’s responsiveness, quality of the gym/common area, soundproofing, community feel…

  1. Dont worry about the furniture 

Finding a furnished place that suits your design taste might be challenging, in addition to being more expensive. 

Indonesia has amazing woodcraft and there are many places to source furniture from: side-of-the-road furniture makers on Jalan Kemang Timur (we ordered several reasonably priced custom pieces from Pak Salim +62 878-8415-5577 and are really happy with them) to high end stores like Etnicraft. Some companies also offer furniture rental such as Arbor and Troy. 

These online stores will give you an idea of what’s available here:

Ikea, Urban quarter, Juno, FabelioNagarey, Elements

  1. Apartment vs house

We tried both, spent many years in apartments and recently transitioned to a house. We (parents) enjoyed the facilities the apartments provided: amazing gym, big beautiful garden, large pool where we could swim laps… It was also easier to live on one floor when our kids were small. On the down side, we felt isolated and often got cabin fever. 

Houses are usually bigger, often have a pool and garden and therefore require more work. It’s not unusual for expat families to have a team of 3-4 household staff (security guard, gardener, nanny, housekeeper, driver). It’s an incredible privilege but also takes some adjustment to have people hang around the house. Some families also prefer to have live-in staff, which might also determine their choice (staff quarters in apartments are usually ridiculously small).

Ultimately we prefer the house, the extra space and the private garden, but the common facilities are really poor compared to what we had been used to. Another thing that was often on my mind when we were living in an apartment were earthquakes. We’ve gone through a couple and it didn’t feel good being stuck in a high rise building. 

If air pollution is a concern, note that keeping the air clean with purifiers will be more difficult in a house than in a smaller apartment. 

  1. Compound vs standalone 

For many years, housing compounds put us off: something about the uniform houses, being even more stuck in the expat bubble, bumping into neighbors every time we went out… but looking at our friends, it eventually became obvious that life was much easier there. 

There are compounds of every size, from a few houses to over 50. In general, they have secured entrance/exit, have shared facilities (ex: playground, park, tennis/football grounds, pool, gym, club house…), and provide maintenance service. Usually, houses inside compounds are owned/managed by a company (rather than private individuals) which makes things more predictable. 

Living in a compound where other expat families live has made life easier by: 

  • Not having to deal with security and maintenance (constant house repairs, fogging to keep dengue mosquitos at bay…) 
  • Allowing us parents and our kids to socialize without having to drive. Our kids finish school at 2:30 and we no longer have to plan anything in the afternoons or weekends: they can safely walk out the door and find their friends at the playground. 
  • Providing ample space for kids to run, roller blade, scoot or cycle outside 
  • Being part of a supportive community: whether it’s joining a group class at a neighbors place (yoga, zumba, taekwondo…) or asking a neighbor to watch over our kids for a last minute emergency

Management fees are very expensive, if you are on a tighter budget, standalone houses will most likely save you money (but require more time dealing with maintenance problems, and will be more isolating). 

If you’ve chosen a standalone house and would like to have access to facilities, you can look into the American Club, Kemang Club Villas (which has a sports club), or hotel memberships (the Dharmawangsa and ShangriLa both have them). 

  1. Actually, some areas are walkable/bikable 

Menteng, Dharmawangsa, Patra Kuningan, Kemang, Cipete, Pondok Indah have walkable / bikeable areas (sort of). 

When we lived in Dharmawangsa area, we were able to go for runs (the roads are large and have sidewalks) and could walk to a few places (Dharmawangsa square, Plataran or Ivy restaurants, the American Club, Union yoga…)

Now in Cipete, we walk to school everyday and some of our neighbours’ kids bike to school by themselves. 

  1. Surroundings

When we moved to our current home, we had to adjust to:

  • regular loud parties from the nearby ‘kampung’ (wedding parties and gatherings starting early morning, ending late at night) and waking up to prayer calls (white noise really helps) 
  • toxic fumes from trash burning (the city has a serious trash management problem and many people resort to burning their trash in order to get rid of it) 

Here are some other things to consider:

  • Is the area prone to flooding? Ex: certain parts of Kemang are flooded several times a year and even if does not affect all of Kemang, it certainly complicates access
  • Does the area have a lot of mosquitoes? (this can vary a lot from one home to another and dengue is no joke)
  • How far are you from the big roads? (accessibility and noise level)
  • Is it close to a big construction site? 
  • Is it a walkable area? Or are there places that are within walking distance
  1. Your address will largely impact whom you socialize with  

When we lived in Central Jakarta, we felt very isolated and it took us a while to figure simple things out. We were cut off from most of the expat community of South Jakarta and wish we could have connected earlier with foreign families who had gone through the process of settling in the city. 

Living South and in a compound presents other sets of challenges, our kids’ world has become very small and boils down to our compound and their school. It is very convenient and comfortable but also very limiting. Our children are only exposed to very small expat and privileged environment, which often leaves us wondering how that will shape them. This is generally true about expat life in Jakarta but made even worse for those living in an expat compound. 

  1. Know yourself

Having lived 10 years in big Chinese cities, we thought we handled dense urban environments pretty well. It turns out the city was eating at us and we felt like a huge weight had been lifted off our shoulders once we moved away from Central Jakarta. Living in the center was convenient, but having more space and being surrounded by more greenery had a huge impact on all of us and was worth the extra commuting time. 

  1. On security 

Jakarta generally feels very safe, but people have different opinions when it comes to their own home. Some friends have reported small thefts, but those were generally inside jobs (household staff). 

There’s a whole range of opinions on this: some people living in standalone houses choose to employ security guards and/or live-in staff to watch over the house (particularly when they are out of town) others couldn’t care less. We’re grateful to have guards at the entrance of our compound checking whoever comes in and out and making sure kids don’t run off.

15. Talk to experts

Relocation professionals can also help you find out what are the best housing options for your family. Although I did not use one myself, I consistently hear great reviews about EMC Indonesia on expat groups.

More tips for expat families moving to Jakarta here.

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