Moving to Bali – Buy or Rent

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been writing a series of blogs about moving to Bali or really, about life in Bali. Part 1 was a general overview of things to think about in regards to moving to Bali. Part 2 was about Balinese or Indonesian food. Part 3 is, by request, about buying or renting in Bali.

I’m going to start first by saying…I am NOT an expert at real estate in Bali. I’m not qualified to give any real estate advice, except that I live here and can tell you about my own experiences, the good, the bad and the ‘I think I just signed a lease but it’s in Indonesian so I’m not sure’.

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It’s not easy. There I’ve said it. Anyone who tells you it is, is probably trying to sell you something. Unless you are an Indonesian, the ownership laws are complicated and more than likely different to what you know from ‘home’. And I’m ok with that. I would hate to see so much foreign ownership that it changes Bali, so somehow things do need to be regulated.

Having said all that, essentially property can be leasehold or freehold. BUT do not enter into either agreement without seeing a lawyer, or two, or three. I’m a huge fan of 2nd and 3rd opinions and talking to people here who have done it before. Experience leads to advice and can give you great contacts for actual legal opinions.

Leasehold is exactly how it sounds – you pay upfront for a long term lease on whatever the property is. And for many expats, that is as close to ownership as they will ever get. A 25 year lease on a villa is essentially like a 25 year mortgage, except that at the end of the lease you can either extend your lease or the villa goes back to the owners. But it is a very effective way of securing your ‘home’ in Bali for a set amount rather than seeing your rent increase every renewal period.

Freehold means you buy it outright however that cannot be done as an expat without having Indonesian ownership…and here’s where it gets complicated so I’ll say no more except see a lawyer, or two, or three….

There are other considerations for ethical reasons that I like to pause when thinking about buying land in Bali. I get nervous that ‘family’ land is being sold and once it’s gone, it’s gone. Rice fields making way for villas or hotels, sea weed farms making way for water sport businesses or luxury accommodation…I realise change has to happen but one of the things I love most about Bali is the family unit, they live and work together. Lose the land and the family breaks up as people need to go looking for work. So while I’m all for growth and development (I don’t like being a hypocrite), sustainable growth in any country is important so that a country doesn’t lose its identity. I guess I’m saying absolutely look into ‘buying’ land in Bali for your sea-change, lifestyle or financial reasons but same as Australians would hate to see the Great Barrier Reef sold off, let’s just be mindful that we come to Bali for the rice fields, stunning islands, and mountains – let’s not lose that in our quest for ownership.

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Again I’m not an expert on this by any stretch except that I have rented several times now. The things you should know about renting in Bali could fill a page so I’ll keep it to the point:

  • You will almost always pay your rent yearly in advance. You may have some negotiation room if you pay for 2 or 3 years upfront.
  • Your responsibilities as a tenant may be different to tenant responsibilities in Australia or wherever home is so check and double check your lease.
  • Leases will be in Indonesian, you can ask for an English copy as well, and then make sure you take your lease to a notary or lawyer or a few of each for their opinion, explanation and translation. You will pay a fee for this and it’s worth every IDR.
  • Once you have a house or villa and a lease, you and your agent or the landlord must register your whole family with the local police so they know who is moving into the area. That might seem invasive but from a safety point of view, I love it.
  • You will almost certainly have to pay for rubbish removal and if you don’t, your rubbish will simply sit out the front of your house. There are companies here that offer recycling options too so look into that but you will pay a little more for collection.
  • You will have to pay your local banjar a fee, unless your landlord does it for you. I pay about 100K IDR per month to my banjar, which covers their costs and supports them in watching over the community. It’s a bit like neighbourhood watch and again, I love it. My banjar are lovely and always good for a chat/gossip about what’s going on in the area.
  • You will also need to look into paying for wi fi and electricity (listrik) which can be done in a pre-paid system or a monthly bill.
  • You may also find your house or villa has staff e.g. pool cleaner, gardeners, housekeepers. Make sure you are paying them the correct amount, be mindful of bonuses at times of important ceremonies, and be respectful to their customs as well. I love the offerings at my door or in my garden – nice knowing I’m being looked over. Wayan and her husband Nyoman have been taking care of me and my Bali life since I got here – and I consider myself incredibly lucky to know them.
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Ok so now things to think about with a house or villa, and there is a difference in that generally a house doesn’t have a pool, a villa does. Some will come furnished but rarely fully furnished so you will still need to buy ‘stuff’. But if you don’t mind decorating, unfurnished villas can be cheaper to rent.

Also when you see ‘minimalist’ written on the villa or house description, that doesn’t mean minimalist in decor or styling. It means the house or villa is all in one building or under one roof and rarely will anything, like a kitchen or bathroom be open-air. They are more modern builds and again not to everyone’s taste. Me personally, I love that I walk through my garden and around the pool to get from the lounge to the kitchen. But moving to Bali is a big enough change as it is, perhaps your family would do better in a more conventional style house they are familiar with until they adjust to the change.

The biggest tip I can give anyone who is contemplating moving to Bali, stay in Bali first in the type of house you are likely to live in. Rent a place for a month, or stay with someone you know if possible, to see what real Bali life is like. Because contrary to popular belief, it isn’t all sitting around the pool with cocktails and if you base your move to Bali on all the lovely holidays you’ve had staying at luxury villas, the move will be harder than it needs to be. If you have time, test our different areas. I stayed in Ubud, Seminyak, Canggu and Sanur before deciding upon Sanur. A few weeks renting in different spots to try out the area, could save you a fortune on a decision made based on where you like to shop, rather than the practicalities of where to live.

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Right, that is a lot to read. But I’m not apologising. Moving to Bali was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s been an adventure the whole way and I’ve learnt so much. However I knew people here, asked an insane amount of questions, got lots of help and advice, and like to think that I minimised some mistakes. I still made mistakes, mostly funny ones…perhaps that’s a blog for another time….

As always, if you have questions or comments, want to know more or want to let me know what the next instalment in the series should be, comment on this blog, or get in touch via Facebook or email. I promise you, no question is silly – I’ve asked them all before!

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