Before we moved abroad, I watched a lot of HGTV. The station makes buying, renting, renovating, and even selling homes look so glamorous and awesome. Ever watch House Hunters International? The show makes moving abroad look so easy! Just meet with a realtor, look at three options, et viola! Simple. Um, who are these people?
Our international house hunt was not like the show. Shocking, I know. Maybe the only thing we had in common was that we were on a tight time frame to find a place to live: 30 days. In fact, the standard allowance is 2 weeks, but we stretched our hotel allowance by staying at an AirBnB rather than a standard hotel.
Priority Number 1: Location.
Tunis has a population of about 1.05 million. There are a lot of neighborhoods and housing options. That said, as American ex-pats, we can easily limit our search to 4-5 neighborhoods based on location, security, and amenities. Our first and most important priority was to find a place that is walkable to Omar’s office. Without a car, it was a MUST for us. (To be clear, many people take taxis to work every day since the fare is probably less that $2 each way, but the hassle of daily taxi rides was just not something we wanted to contend with). With that qualification, we were able to narrow our search down to one area of Tunis.
Priority Number 2: Furnishings.
An unfurnished rental in this part of the world means no appliances. No stove, no refrigerator, no washing machine, and a water heater is questionable. Having lived through the unfurnished experience in Morocco, we knew we did not want to re-live the hassle of buying all of the appliances and furniture only to sell them again when we were ready to leave. Furnished apartments can cost a bit more, but we were willing to pay for the convenience (dealing with delivery services alone is enough to drive me to the mad house). Furnished. No question.
Armed with our TWO “must-haves,” we were ready to be open-minded about the other factors…
We arrived on a Thursday and called the first broker on Friday morning. They agreed to arrange a few places for us to visit on the following Monday. In the meantime, the owner of our AirBnB let us know that he had a property that was vacant. Would we be interested? Sure, why not?
OPTION 1: Nice view, that’ it– ~$1100 USD/month – 2 bedrooms
This is the only picture of Option 1 because after I glimpsed the kitchen I was outta there. I didn’t even take a picture of the kitchen, which I now regret. Also, the picture doesn’t capture odors…Anyway, this place was a definite “No.”
28 days left to find a place. Monday morning comes around and we meet the first broker who tells us she’s lined up three additional places for us to see, but one was unfurnished, so we took it off of the list right away.
OPTION 2: Spacious, but the furniture… ~$1250 USD/month – 3 bedrooms
OPTION 3: Great view, but small ~$850 USD/month – 2 bedrooms
Oh, did I mention that I REALLY wanted a place with a view of the water? Tunis sits very close to the Mediterranean Sea and Omar’s office is right by a natural lagoon. You can see a glimpse of the lagoon from Option 3, which earned it some bonus points in my book.
27 days left to find a place. We left the first broker slightly discouraged because we saw only two options, neither of which were ideal. She promised to contact us with a few more options in a few days, but really pushed us to go outside of the neighborhood or be open to unfurnished places. So, after returning to the AirBnB, we took matters into our own hands and I took to the internet to find some additional options.
The problem is, the internet isn’t really the same resource as we know it in the States. Most businesses do not do business on the internet. When businesses do have an internet presence, it most often takes the form of a Facebook page, so information is rather limited. Add the language barrier (French or Arabic) to that, and the internet is moderately useful to me. Nonetheless, I found a few promising leads, and Omar made a few calls. We set up an appointment with Broker 2.
24 days left. Persistence. Patience.
According to Omar, Broker 2 was a little awkward on the phone, so we didn’t really know what to expect when we met him. Getting blindly into a stranger’s car on the promise that they are taking you to apartments is definitely a team effort. I would not liked to have done it on my own, but with Omar at my side, we were off to see more apartments.
OPTION 4: Economical ~$800 USD/month – 2 bedrooms
I was feeling pretty discouraged after Option 4, because we saw two more places that I didn’t even take pictures of because they were a definite no. Too small, too dirty, too old.
Upon returning to our temporary apartment, we noticed another rental agency next to the building we were staying in and decided to give that one a try.
21 days left.
After Omar had some firm words with each of the brokers about the standard we were looking for in a home, and re-emphasized that the neighborhood and furnishings were key, we looked at more options.
OPTION 5: CIA entryway with a view
First day with Broker 3 and we are getting warmer. We dubbed this one the CIA entry. This was the first place with a kitchen I could live with.
OPTION 6: No view, but great bathrooms, and huge kitchen.
Double sinks! What a luxury! The kitchen in this place was huge! Ok, it wasn’t exactly our style, but look at all that counter space! Need I remind you what our kitchen looked like in Morocco?
17 days left. I can’t keep the brokers straight anymore.
OPTION 7: Great kitchen, modern furnishings, but construction nearby ~$1250 USD/month
I really liked this place. The kitchen was bright, and modern. The furnishings were tasteful. The only downside is that this apartment is next to an active construction site. Having lived next to construction in Morocco, we are not too keen on all the noise.
OPTION 8: Great view, great building, partially furnished ~$1250 USD/month
OPTION 9: A view, great kitchen, terrace, and furnished
15 days left. We decided that it Option 9 was it. We were tired of hunting and felt like we’d seen enough options to know that Option 9 was a good deal. It had a great view, nice kitchen, and furnishings. It only had 2 bedrooms, when we would ideally like 3, but time was ticking and we were ready to be out of the temporary place.
Negotiations started. We met for tea. We talked pricing. We talked furnishings. More tea. We talked appliances.
Then, we got another call, from another broker to see another place. “Couldn’t hurt” we thought. We’d come this far. Better to be certain.
OPTION 10: To die for view, great kitchen – but no furnishings
See that last picture? That’s the view. I know location and furnishings were our must-haves, but, I’m drooling over that view. I fell in love with Option 10. The kitchen. Three bedrooms. That view! But there was no furniture. ARGH! Why did we even look at this place when we’d previously dismissed all of the unfurnished options?
We asked Broker 4 whether there was any possibility the owner would furnish Option 10. We’d be willing to offer a bit more in rent if the place was furnished. The broker offered to talk to the owner, and we proceeded with cautious optimism.
Then, in the midst of our apartment hunting, Omar and I suffered the loss of our beloved cat, Beed. Beed was with us for 13 years, moved with us from Washington, DC to Indiana, then to Morocco, and finally to Tunisia. Although he was older in years, he was a healthy cat, so his death was pretty unexpected and we took it hard. Omar had a business trip to Frankfurt planned. I couldn’t bear the thought of being alone in a new country, by myself, grieving my beloved Beed, so I tagged along to Frankfurt for 4 days. It was a good distraction.
Upon our return from Frankfurt, 10 days left.
The ball was in our court. Option 10 could be furnished. Now, we had a dilemma.
|OPTION 9||OPTION 10|
|Great kitchen, slightly awkward layout||Great kitchen, no fridge|
|2 large bedrooms||3 bedrooms, great master, other rooms small|
|Terrace adjoins two of the rooms for open terrace plan||Nice sized terrace|
|Off street||Gated building|
|Costs $150 more per month|
Which one did we choose? Find out in my next post!