Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Finding a Place

Listening to: Marching band practice across the street

Mood: So content little rainbows and unicorns may as well be shooting out of my backside.

There comes a time in a man’s life when he needs to find a place to crash. Alright, that time comes for just about everyone, not just the boys. We are indeed at that point. I’ll get into the reasons in another blog, but let’s just say it has to do with a storage/space problem. Our stuff is here and we have no place to put it. Time to put the rubber to the road. Ok, I’m done with the ridiculous quotes and clichés. Promise.

You have a few options when looking for housing in India. The first is buying a house or apartment. Unless you’re the James Bond of travelling or being an expat, don’t even think about using this route. Real estate in India is a jungle of white money, black money, goonda (closest explanation is a rowdy criminal gang member) real estate dealers, shady properties, and general craziness. Seriously. Beware all ye who enter here. It’s also not a cheap option. Unless you buy property out in the countryside by the village people, it’s quite costly. Trust me, this is much less fun than listening to YMCA. You also don’t get the sense of community and easy access to other people/friends for your kids/basic amenities like grocery stores as you do in an apartment. Since we’re not staying in India on a permanent basis, this option just isn’t for us.
The next option is renting. Again, you can go with the renting a house option, but not only will it be expensive, you won’t get as much bang for your buck. The nicer apartment buildings are practically dripping with amenities, security, and maintenance. You also get a sense of community that is definitely missing in freestanding houses.

Now comes the fun part. After you’ve decided which option to pursue, you can start looking for a place. Most of the apartments and houses in India aren’t run by companies.  Most are owned by a person/family looking to rent it out until they are either in need of a place to live or just to make some money. When looking for a place, there are plenty of web sites (like Sulekha.com and 99acres.com, and to a lesser degree craigslist.com) that you can put a search. As I mentioned in my blog about schools, you should do your homework and make sure you’re not sacrificing your time to get a great apartment. There are plenty of them – there’s no reason for you and your kids to have a 2 hour commute every day. Pay attention to which neighborhood makes sense for you. Drive between your prospective apartment, work, and school if at all possible.  Ahem. Back to finding a place. One way of going to see apartments is hiring a broker. Now I can see the happy smiles on your faces as you think this is a perfectly good solution. Stop right there. As I mentioned earlier, real estate agents here are truly a breed of their own, and not in an only slightly slimy way like US real estates.  Borderline criminals is in no way an exaggeration. They will also charge you a 1 month of rent fee for their services. The upside to this is that you can see tons of properties relatively quickly. If you’ve narrowed your search down to a particular building or two, most of them have a person onsite who would be happy to show you different apartments for rent and charge you the broker fee. This is useful if you want a very specific building and don’t have time to contact different owners on your own. Most of the buildings have apartments with different layouts and décor, so it’s worth looking at a few different ones to get an idea of what you like. It can’t hurt to look unless you didn’t want to pay the broker fee and fell in love with a place anyhow.

The other option is going through the web sites and picking out only the ads that are by owner. Most owners don’t charge fees and are a little more open to negotiation and getting a place rented out. You can also filter the web sites for neighborhoods/complexes to make your search a little easier. The upsides to dealing with owners is that they usually keep the apartments in better shape for showing (more on this later), more negotiating power, and someone that will answer your questions in person, rather than having to get on his phone every 3 minutes if you have a question. The downside is that finding owners usually isn’t a quick process. People work and are busy and scheduling appointments can stretch into weeks at a time.
A few things to keep in mind as you go around and look at apartments. There will be a maintenance fee every month. Depending on the level of amenities, this will either be minimal, or something that could be a deal breaker. Check out the outside amenities. Is the pool sparkling clean? No good having a pool if you’re afraid to go in/send your kids in for a swim lest they get some tropical dirty water disease. This actually happened to my sister in law. They’re afraid to use the pool because the water always looks green, and not in a pretty way. Does the playground look safe? Are the ball fields/courts well kept? No point paying for things that aren’t well maintained. Usually places are more well maintained on the outside than the inside hallways, so disregard outside is a big red flag. Take a look around the inside hallways. Are they clean and well lit? I find it very depressing to have to walk down a dark interior hallway during the day that has no breeze. Pay attention also to how many apartments are on a floor and how closely they are touching each other. It’s a big deal now in India to build buildings with apartments that don’t actually share any walls. This is an amazing thing as you have less to worry about with noise.  

When you get in an apartment, take a walk around to get the layout. Bigger/more rooms=more money. Make sure you look out the windows and see what your view will be. Do you want a courtyard or a city view? Take a look at the walls and the floors. If you decide to take the apartment and these things are dirty, you will need to negotiate cleaning. The closets aren’t the same as in the US. Most of the closets here are freestanding wooden units called Almirahs that usually take up 1 wall of a room. There will not be much hanging space, but you should have plenty of space for your clothes. Another thing to ask about is the geezers (individual water heaters).  There should be one for each bathroom (1 bathroom for each bedroom is standard here) and will be either gas or electric. The benefit of gas is that is isn’t subject to power outages. You will not get a bathtub unless you rent a super posh place. Most have showers. You should pay attention also to what direction the apartment faces. Unless you are deaf and very, very dirty anyway, you should avoid taking an apartment that faces any major road. The noise and dust just aren’t worth it. Another thing to notice is air conditioning, especially in the winter. The weather will be really pleasant so you may forget to look, but come summer, you’ll be wishing you had it. Most of the air conditioners are of a type called split air conditioners. Small holes are created in an outside wall and the air conditioner is fitted to the front and back of the hole. As long as the apartment already has these holes in place, it’s not a big deal to put in an air conditioner and you can negotiate it into the rent agreement. If the holes aren’t in place (here, there are usually only holes in the master bedroom and possibly the living room) most owners don’t want the cost and mess of creating them. Trust me, come April you will be thankful for the air conditioning, especially at night.  If you’re looking at a complex, there should be security that stops every single car and person trying to come into the complex. Another thing to notice is cabinet space in the kitchen. While this may seem like common sense, I saw quite a few places with minimal kitchen storage.  You should try and contain your excitement too if you find a place you really love. Being too excited about it lowers your bargaining power.

So. You’ve found the place you want, now what? If the owner is there, you can hammer out a rent agreement then and there, or at least give them an offer to think about. If not, you will start the long process of phone tag for this offer and that. Bargaining is a part of the process and you should be absolutely shameless in using it. Know what the apartment is worth (this is why you see quite a few of them!) and know what additional things you want (air conditioners, cleaning, a guarantee that rent won’t go up the next year, move in date). While you’re bargaining, remember that this is not an exercise in getting EVERYTHING you want for nothing from the owner. Try your best to be tough but fair.  You’ll have more leeway with a place that has been on the market for a while.

Move your stuff in and enjoy your new home!


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