Happily Unmarried

Monday, November 14, 2005

Bombay survival-kit: Part 1 - House hunt

I has gone on an overdrive and posted multiple times and it’ll be tough catching up. But then, I don’t have a sex-on-toast comp at home; she does. I’ll have to make do with the office comp till laptop dreams materialise. Mine is the prototype single-person weekend; over sleep, watch copious amounts of crap television, read, ponder, briefly wallow in mid-20s angst, cook if homesickness strikes, clean the house if OCD strikes, shop for bare-essential groceries, get hair pulled, plucked or cut at the parlour if necessary, eat out, drink some, catch a movie if possible, and basically ‘hang’ with as many single people as possible over two and half days.

Another I-didn’t-call-him-or-wait-by-the-phone-or-mope weekend gone by and I’m rather proud. And no more about that.

Saturday was productive. I went house hunting after one whole year and it was a cathartic experience. Last year this time, I felt like an diffident, clueless novice. But now, I behave like a worldly, seasoned house-hunt veteran. I don’t jump out of my skin when the broker leads me down a dingy back alley in Bandra and in to a run-down building (that might or might not have a “This building has been declared a dilapidated structure. Persons entering this property might do so at their own risk. - BMC” notice). I don’t begin to faint, cry, or both when he shows me a 200 sq feet minus “studio apartment” with damp and peeling walls, and goes on to calmly inform me that “owner is saying 10 and 50, but negotiable.” Broker parlance for Rs. 10 k rent and Rs. 50 K deposit.

I remember feeling horrified, depressed and hopeless after I’d checked many a hole-in-the-wall, for an astronomical amount, and still not found a halfway decent place. But now, I know that Buddha-like patience, poise and persistence is the key. The rest is up to God and your broker. However, here are a few tips. And I promise, no wisecracks. (what’s the point of having been through it all, if I can’t hand down these pearls, sitting in my 200 sq feet plus “studio apartment” without damp or peeling walls? By the way, the sum I pay, is not astronomical, but sizeable. But for a furnished place, just off Carter Road, and the best neighbour god ever made, it all seems worth it.

Disclaimer: These tips are for struggling single people who are out-of-towners, or newbies who haven’t had to do this before. The affluent and weathered ones can fend for themselves.

1. Collate a list of brokers who specialise in a particular location (say, Bandra) and then key them in to a text file, or an Excel sheet if you are the efficient sort.

2. Call at least ten of them, but zero in on five that you like best and stick with them. Broker loyalty is important. More is NOT merry in this case.

3. If you are seriously house-hunting, call your broker at least twice a day. Once in the morning and once end of day. It’s important that you stay on top, under, over, inside his mind.

4. Be VERY clear about what you want. Budget, size, location and other prerequisites. (furnished or non furnished, western loo, car park, elevator, separate kitchen as opposed to a make-do platform in the room, company lease et al) Be precise and concise. Too many flowery specifications won’t get you anywhere. Stick to essentials.

5. Also be VERY clear about what you don’t want. (house on a ground floor, a house opposite the landlord, curfew hours, restrictions etc)

6. About the budget, never give away your upper limit. Quote a lower figure and tell the broker you can “stretch” it a bit depending on the place. And don’t be fazed by the standard refrain: “Madam, is budget mein to kuch nahi milega.” Remember, there is ALWAYS a place within your budget. It’s a matter of looking. And looking. And looking some more.

7. Once you start looking, keep at it and set aside a few hours everyday (and some money for cab and ric fares) exclusively for this daunting pursuit. It’s a tough market out there and if you give up, slacken or lose interest mid way, chances are that the brokers will forget you, the good houses will be taken and what's worse, you might have to start all over again. I know it’s frustrating, but then, it's not for nothing that there is a 'real' in 'real estate'.

8. Once they realise you are a greenhorn in this business, it’s a given that brokers will show you a few hell holes to begin with. Stand your ground and demand better. It’s depressing, but it’s sort of like an induction everyone goes through. Once they figure you know what you want, the reasonably better places will start appearing.

9. When you see a place you like, never display glee or excitement. Appear calm and nonchalant and tell them you like it and that you would like to speak with the landlord. And then start negotiating. But if you are very sure you like a place, pay a token deposit as the good places get lapped up in a flash. Note: No one returns the token deposit if you happen to change your mind.

10. Make sure repairs, painting and other alterations are done before you move in. They rarely happen once you’ve coughed up the rent, deposit and brokerage. The brokerage is one month’s rent. NOT two months.

11. Check with the neighbours/ previous tenants about issues like water (or the lack of it), safety, leakage/flooding during the rains et al.

12. Make sure that you have full cell phone reception within the house. You don’t want to be rushing out or sticking your head out of the window when friends, family and most important, boyfriends call. And make sure the house is close to a rickshaw or cab stand. It’s important when you are rushing to work in the morning or when you want to go out to get a drink late at night.

13. When you negotiate with the landlord, drive a hard bargain. People are usually interested in high rents and low deposits. If you want to lower your rent, consider paying the rent for six or 11 months upfront and pay only a nominal deposit (say, one month's rent). If you can afford it that is.

14. Read through the rental agreement and make sure you understand the clauses. Be sure to keep a copy. Don’t agree to arbit conditions you are not comfortable with (“no male guests”, no friends staying over, curfew hours). If there are such issues, dump the place. When you are paying a premium for the most prized commodity in Bombay, you don’t want it with a zillion preconditions attached.

15. There might be many more, but this is the essential survival kit. If ever you read this, chin up and all the best. And to sign off, one last advice. Get real. Bombay is not the place for a dream house. Convenience, space and a decent location should be your criteria.

Ps. I credit my friend Dseq for a lot of the above listed tips. He’s the God of Logistics. The rest, I just learnt by trail + error, which somewhat adds up to terror.
Ps. 1 Sorry I, for hogging so much space. And sorry Yogi, for not heeding your advice. But this a subject I am good at and much passionate about. *Grin* More Bombay survival guides to follow.
Ps. 2 You can get in touch with me for a list of Bandra brokers. I don't charge a commission.

- H


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