Monday, February 05, 2007

The Flat With A View, the Sequel... the End

After I'd been waiting by the pianos for half an hour, the real estate agent's assistant showed up. She motioned to me to follow her to the other office down the street. She was sweet. We couldn't communicate very well but between my limited Arabic and her limited English, she'd managed to ask me what number my hair color was, so that she could get it for her 15-year-old daughter. I'd tried to explain that it doesn't work that way, that it depends on the head of hair, but finally I gave up and wrote Wella Ash Blonde. Which it may or may not be, but I'd seen them use that a few places in Africa, and it more or less had done the job.

Finally, forty minutes late, the agent showed up. He had a conversation with the assistant and then turned to me.

"She has a flat with a Nile view and internet, only $900. Do you want to see it?"

"What? I thought we were meeting the doctor."

He turned back to the assistant, and had a lengthy discussion.

Finally, he said, "She is getting the keys tomorrow. I will believe it when I see it. We will see the doctor, but he called me at 3:20 and said that we were so late that he was going to sleep, and we should not wake him for one hour."

We were late?

His mobile phone rang. He answered and started talking. The office phone rang. He answered that one too. He had a phone in each ear when two young American Arabic students walked in and asked if he had something downtown for 2000 LE. He was talking to them too, and so was the assistant. I sat quietly and read the printout in the corner. It was a bill to someone for one thousand two hundred dollars, a fee for having found a house or condo for someone on the Egyptian soccer team.

Finally, he hung up both phones. The two Arabic students left. He sat quietly for a minute and then said, "Come on. Let's take a walk."

Uh, okay.

We walked to another flat. This one was small and lovely, and the floor had been varnished within the last week. The kitchen was tiny and new, with marble counters and a circular sink and a coffee maker still in the wrapper. The painters were inside finishing up. It was really nice, but too early to know if it would have internet. But it was right upstairs from a wi-fi cafe. No view.

"The problem is that he wants $1500 for this small place. I told him that is crazy, that you'd be better off at the Marriott. If you like it, we can try a thousand."

"It's very nice but we should stick with what we have already."

He nodded. A bird in hand and all that, y'know. We left.

"I would like to invite you to Dido's. It is the cheapest and best pasta in town. Let's go. We have to waste time."

I glanced at my watch. An hour since the doctor had said to wake him in an hour. Uh, okay. And I sure was getting a lesson in time-wasting. Days of time-wasting, chasing flats that did not fit the criteria I'd described, and now an entire afternoon spent on paying a man rent. What WAS the point?

He had pasta and I ate a few pieces of bruschetta. Struggling to make small talk, I asked him how I could tell a good employee from a bad employee when I was interviewing.

"You must ask them..."

He paused for dramatic effect.

"Do they want to work or do they want to sleep?"

Ah, helpful. I'll try that. Right after I use my friend Marc's line of "What is your third most important reason for wanting to work here, the first being pay and the second being benefits."

Finally, it was time to wake the doctor.

The housekeeper gave us the keys and went to wake him. The apartment-with-a-view was across the hall from the doctor.

We were sitting at the dining room table filling out the contract when the doctor walking in, in his bathrobe and slippers.

He sat down and started reading the contract. I had 6,010 Egyptian pounds on the table. I got to the blank about when the lease was effective.

"I am writing Tuesday."

He glared at me. "No, it starts now."

"No, a day for cleaning."

"This flat was cleaned two days ago."

"No, there is rubbish in the kitchen."

"Show me."

I showed him.

"Ah... that will be gone."

"And these doors."

I pulled open all the doors in the kitchen. They were falling off. Inside there was a jumble of crap.

"That is nothing. It is fine."

This deal was getting worse and worse. Note to self: Follow instincts. When they say they'll do something and you know they won't, trust your instincts.

Okay, fine, but I could clean a kitchen. Not to worry.

"And the ADSL. When will that be turned on?"

"A man will come by and do it for you. You sign a contract with him."


"There is no internet included? I am not taking this flat."

"Okay." He got up.

The agent tried a last ditch save.

"No, no, your son said it is included. It only needs one piece."

"Well, you can try it." As in "not my problem."

Out walked the doctor. The agent looked baffled. I felt sorry for him.

We got into the elevator.

"His son said it had ADSL." His voice quivered a little.

"I know. I was with you."

He couldn't quite wrap his head around what had just happened. A man in a bathrobe had refused to clean a thousand dollar flat and had reneged completely on the as-advertised bit.

"He said it. I am not lying. He said it had internet."

"Yes, I know. I WAS WITH YOU. It is OKAY." I didn't think the agent was lying. I really did hear it from the son too.

He was in shock all the way down the elevator. Then he couldn't get away fast enough. I think he was mortified.

"I am taking a break from flat-searching," I told him. "Tomorrow, no flats."

"Please be in touch. I am at your service."

He left, and I went to look at a room across the street at the Flamenco Hotel. It was lovely, with a desk and a Nile view balcony and included internet. I'd talk to their sales manager tomorrow.


Steve Buccellato said...

Gripping! I'm on the edge of my seat!

Marie said...

You might have to be on the edge of your seat a bit longer. I'm still in negotiations.

Marie said...

The Flamenco Hotel is not cheap! But I could stay there for a month if I stayed in the cheap hotel for the first month to balance it out. What do you think? A month of cheap followed by a month of expensive?

Markus said...

Hi Marie,
don't worry. I had the same experience. In the last moment i canceled signing the contract because of sudden new upcoming conditions.
You should not go on with the same flat agent and choose a new one, because he knows that you accept a very high price level.
This flat which i saw at your 3 pictures has a value of around 4000 EGP or less - below 700 U$ . So be happy that you couldn t get it.
Also, I recommand you to have a view at flats in Dokki, Agouza and Mohandessin - specially Dokki has simelar urban structures like Zamalek.

Linja said...

Sounds good to me! Living it up once in a while is good for you.

(Like I should talk, after teaching you the finer points of parsimony.)


Marie said...

The reality is that I am a single, female, American searching for a two-month rental in the swank part of town.

How many things can we stack against me?

Oh here's another: With a clean, decent kitchen.

Now I am asking for the moon.

I have now viewed hundreds of web listings, dozens of appalling $700 flats, and spoken to three flat agents and they are all saying this, that two months is much harder to get, so there is a higher price. No one wants a two-month lease. One agent even said "No problem if you will spend $1,000-$3,000 a month."

Is this London?? No. It's about what the market will bear. Two months is much trickier than a year or a half-year. This is not unique to Cairo, it's always a struggle for this time period and craigslist cairo is unfortunately in its infancy.

I realize that there are plenty of reasonable deals out there. But for two months? I have now met others who couldn't find anything for two months. An Italian sculptor gave up when the best he could find was a thousand dollars in Mohandiseen. He stayed at Pension Roma for two months.

It's not that I'm some kind of naive moron, or that I don't know how to negotiate. (I have snarled and joked and haggled my way around the whole damn world-and-a-half, I know how to negotiate, and I also know how to inspire fear that I am walking away.)


Exhibit A: The doctor doesn't care about my money so he just leaves.

Exhibit B: Agents telling me they have only $1,000 to $3,000 for 2-months, so I say that is too much, and they say "Well okay." And I say "bye," and they say "Well okay."

My 3,000 pound a month hotel room that I am in has wi-fi, a clean towel daily, and free breakfast. No Nile view, but the savings I generate here would go towards a lovely 5-star splurge later.

Now, what is the obvious answer?

Markus said...

mesh mumkin ;-)

Marie said...

The really lovely flat just went down to $1,400 a month.

What planet are these landlords on? That's wacky. Why don't I just go check into the Flamenco for that?

Marie said...

Oh, and me, obviously I've been missing a key part of this.


Well, duh. Now I get it. The landlord wants to pay a 10% commission once, for a long-term. No wonder no one wants short-term. Then they are just paying commission after commission.

I was a little slow on the uptake on this one. It seems quite obvious now that I think about it.