Vani Venugopal, 27, still remembers how terrified she was to move to Mumbai in 2015 for her first job. “I was not ready to leave my college campus, and my cosy hostel room," said Venugopal, an analyst working for an MNC, who has since moved to Bengaluru. Mumbai being infamous for its sky high rent, she looked for ways to avoid high brokerage cost and find a home within her budget.

First, she found a two-bedroom flat in Vikhroli through Nobroker.com, a real estate search portal that connects flat owners and tenants directly, to side-step the high brokerage cost. The next big task was hunting for potential flatmates. “That is when I found out about the ‘Flats and Flatmates’ group on Facebook through a colleague," said Venugopal. Within a few days of posting her requirements, she found herself a flatmate, another newbie to the city and a working professional like her.

Avoiding that brokerage

There was a time when a young migrant into a city would move in with a relative, but today’s young are different. Venugopal is one among the many millennials who are taking the online route when it comes to house hunting—be it looking for flats or finding people to live with.

The brokerage fee in most cities is quite high and depends on the bargaining power of the two parties. “Presently, there is no legal framework available for regulating the broker’s commission. Generally, brokers take an amount equal to the rent for 15 days or a month for an 11-month rent agreement. The tenants can always bargain with the broker," said Harsh Pathak, real estate law counsel, LexMine, a law firm.

“Brokers here will never encourage you to go for an agreement of more than a year. They can earn money only if they give the flat to a new person," said Deep Sanjay Adhvaryu, 26, a Mumbai-based professional. If you plan to stay beyond the period of agreement, you will have to pay the broker again to renew it. “It is a dubious tactic. But since you have been living at the place for quite some time, you don’t feel like moving and you end up paying anyway," said Adhvaryu.

Online route

High brokerage cost and the running around involved in the traditional route has encouraged the birth of social media groups such as ‘Flats and Flatmates’. Most tier-I and tier-II cities have several such groups with similar names, and many of them have 100,000-200,000 members. For example, Flat and Flatmates (Mumbai chapter) has 120,000 members, while Flats and Flatmates (Bangalore) has 103,000 members and Flats and Flatmates (Delhi/Noida/Gurgaon) has 151,000 members.

Anyone looking for a flat or a flatmate can post on their relevant city group with their requirements (such as area preference, amenities, furnished or unfurnished flat, flatmate details) and like-minded users reply to the post.

Though websites like Nobroker.com and Flathood.com also help owners and tenants connect directly without any broker’s interference, they aren’t completely free. For instance, Nobroker.com allows people to view up to nine owner contacts free.

Faizan Patel, 31, a professional photographer and the administrator of the Delhi and Bengaluru editions of Flats and Flatmates, started the Delhi group in November 2011, when he was looking for a flat himself. A year later, he had to move to Bengaluru, which is when he started another group. The Delhi edition has about 150,000 members. “Earlier, people would post something and then message saying they didn’t find anything. But for the last two to three years, it has been running on its own," said Patel.

However, most of the queries on the group are related to people seeking flatmates. Social media groups like these are a boon to someone who is new to a city and doesn’t mind sharing a flat with others.

Not all that rosy

Posting your details on a public group comes with its own share of concerns. The Facebook groups hinder personal privacy and there have been cases of harassment and stalking, especially among women. However, there is no foolproof way to tackle this. “I do get messages saying this person is harassing me. There is no permanent solution to this. I just end up banning those profiles," said Patel.

However, sites like Nobroker.com have found a way around this. “We use an algorithm that identifies and prevents brokers or any impostors from infiltrating the platform. If ever an instance is reported, where someone has misused that information, we ban the miscreant for life," said Amit Kumar Agarwal, founder and CEO of Nobroker.com. It never shares a user’s details freely and sends them only to genuine seekers on their registered numbers.

Safety points

If you decide to move in with strangers, check their background. Also, ensure the rent agreement is revised and your name is added as a tenant if you are joining others already living in a flat. “I used the Facebook group to find a flat in Marathahalli in Bengaluru. The rent agreement was not in my name. When I moved in, the rent in the agreement was higher and my flatmates insisted I pay that. I had to move out in a month," said Venugopal.

(Read: 5 clauses you must have in your rent agreement)

“In the absence of rent agreement, the landlord and the tenant can’t go to legal forums for any breach; the option is available for rent agreements under the Rent Control Act. Tenants should incorporate all such clauses in the agreement and ensure that it is notarised so as to make it enforceable under law," said Pathak.

Online groups might make the process of moving in and settling into a new city smoother, but it is largely an informal setup with no accountability. So always do your due diligence before moving into a flat and ensure you have legal proof in the form of a rent agreement.

Close