Monday, August 19, 2013

International house hunting, part 2

I'm freshly back from my weekend trip to Metz/Luxembourg, pretty exhausted after a late train that meant I got 5 hours sleep before coming to work this morning (and this was after wandering around Metz for a solid 12 hours).

Things didn't get off to a stellar start. Over several days, I phoned, left messages, pushed buttons on websites asking for callbacks and sent emails, and only one rental agency actually bothered getting back to me to set up an appointment in Luxembourg. I know it's August, but you'd think for the amount of money they get for doing nothing, essentially, they would bother to phone and give you the address of somewhere you scouted out yourself on the internet anyway. So I headed off with three appointments for the Saturday - two flatshares (ugh) in Luxembourg and one furnished apartment in Metz.

I was up bright and early on Saturday morning, not really able to sleep in since I was worrying about what the weekend would bring. It was a gorgeous day without a cloud in the sky as I took the train to Lux and made my way to the first apartment, within walking distance of where I'll be working. It was a nice house, sharing with the owner, a woman in her 40s, one other tenant and two border collies. My warning spidey sense was triggered when she asked if I would be cooking and when I said yes, she replied "I don't mind you using my kitchen, but I expect it to be left in the state in which you found it". Which is reasonable, but when will people get it through their heads that once you rent a room to someone it's not "your" kitchen any more, and it's not a gracious act of generosity to "let" people use it. We are, after all, talking about a basic human need, not saying "oh, I don't mind you using my Playstation 3" or whatever (Playstation 3s are still the cool new thing, right?).

The other thing with this woman was that there were 800€ of agency fees to pay to move in. The idea of using an agency to rent a room in your own house is pretty bizarre to me anyway - surely you have to be closely involved in vetting the person you'll be living with, so what's the point of an agency? The agent wasn't even present for the visit! I told her of the troubles I'd had getting any agents to call me back and she positively encouraged me to go on and on about how slack they were and how ridiculous it was to pay hundreds of euros to visit somewhere when the agent neither helped you find the place nor turned up for the visit. Some time later, I asked what the woman did... Yep, she's an estate agent...

She took it pretty well, saying that she agreed and that's not how she operated, but I was at first mortified, and then, thinking it over later, pretty miffed that she let me talk and talk and made little leading comments, without letting me know I was in the middle of talking smack about her profession for 10 minutes. Not really the most forthright way of conducting a conversation.

So that was off the list - too expensive for a flatshare, especially with the agency fees, and I didn't really want to live with the woman.

The next place was advertised as being 5 minutes away from the central train station, and the owner had told me to phone when I was at the station. My cellphone used to be incapable of texting or calling overseas, or working in a different country, but since I can now make outbound international calls, I assumed it would work in Luxembourg. Nope. The station was generously furnished with payphones, but it took me an age to work out how to use them (figuring out how to change the language out of Luxembourgeois helped) and then how to dial the number. The phone number started with 0035262... and I tried seemingly every possible version before going to ask someone at the ticket desk how to make the call. Turns out you ignore everything before the second 2 and don't add a 0 in front. Bizarre.

Anyway, the woman dispatched someone to pick me up in a blue Mercedes (possibly only in Luxembourg would this result in me chasing after the wrong blue Mercedes in the space of a 10 minute wait) and he drove me off to the apartment "near the train station". There's no way to describe this other than a bare-faced lie, as witnessed by the map below showing the distance between the train station and the apartment...

I was a bit concerned the guy might have actually been dispatched to kidnap me and sell me into a Luxembourgish sex slavery ring, but although the flat he took me to see could definitely have served as a flophouse, this was not the case. Apparently, run-down Dickensian-style boarding houses still exist and are cunningly hidden by vague descriptions that pointedly don't tell you how many people you'll be sharing with (or where the house actually is). The rent was reasonable in Luxembourg terms (meaning still not particularly cheap), and in return you would have the pleasure of sharing a kitchen and two bathrooms between a minimum of 12 inhabitants coming and going without any input from yourself. Slum landlords: alive and well and driving Mercedes.

So that was strike two, with one to go. My last Saturday appointment was in Metz, to see a furnished studio supposedly 31 sq. m, although I have severe doubts about that. It seemed miles smaller than that, although perhaps that was just the awkward angles making it impossible to use whatever space there was. It was also described as an "F1 bis", which is normally one room with a separate kitchen, which was definitely not true. That said, I got on well with the owner - we chatted for an astonishing 1 3/4 hours - and I probably would have just taken it for the location and ease of moving in to a furnished place, except it wasn't free until the end of September. This would mean spending hundreds of euros on temporary accommodation and having all the hassle of moving twice while starting a new job. Sigh.

I was too exhausted to care on Saturday night, dead to the world by 10 pm, but woke up on Sunday feeling fairly discouraged. I went out before 9 am for a walk to see a little bit of the town and came back thinking that I would just try to call everyone I could and just see if anyone would take me as a tenant, despite the short-term contract. To my surprise, only one woman said over the phone that she wouldn't rent to me, so I suppose I should have tried that earlier. Anyway, I managed to line up 4 appointments (although one was later cancelled when the tenant rang up at the last minute to say he had an apéro - drinks - to go to and couldn't show me the place).

The first was in a great location, close to the train station for the commute, but also near the centre of town. On the other hand, it was a bit dear and on the 4th floor without a lift, so I couldn't imagine how I would manage to move my stuff in. The second was a pretty charmless one-bedroom box on the ground floor of a building that was a little further away from both the train station and the centre of town, but doable. The third was a massive, three-room 70 sq. m place on the 1st floor, really beautifully decorated and close to the train station although not very near the centre of town and the same price as the first place.

I was in love with the last place (and it had a bath and a cellar and lots of cupboards!)... but I slept on it, and I phoned this morning to say I'd take the second place. The rent is 140€ a month cheaper, and since I don't know whether my contract will be renewed, it's not really practical to commit to a pricier place when I might end up on the dole and be completely unable to pay for it. Plus it will be easy to move in and if I can persuade Bob not to be a total scaredy cat, I can even let him outside some of the time. It's definitely not the apartment of my dreams - and it's going to cost at least 600€ to hire a van to move my stuff over, but obviously that's money that would either be going on agency fees in Lux or on temporary accommodation or whatever anyway, and that way at least I don't have to figure out what to do with everything and worry about getting rid of it all and ending up in a few months with nothing. And even with the train fares to Luxembourg, it's still cheaper than the 12-bedroom shack...

So yeah, it's all a bit nightmarish for a job that, at the end of the day, might only last 14 weeks or so, but what else can you do? At least now I can try to arrange the move, figure out how to get the whiteware down three flights of narrow stairs into a van, persuade Liz to drive me 1200 kms there and back, arrange to change adress etc. etc. And cross my fingers that something won't go horribly wrong at the last minute - I want that contract signed before I can relax!

AND now I can get excited about my trips to Spa and Italy :)


  1. Congratulations on finding your new place! House hunting is always ridiculously stressful, especially when you're looking far from home.

    Please write lots about your upcoming trips - you know I rely on you to educate me on matters of highbrow culture :-)

    1. Thanks, that's so sweet! You're the Italy expert though :) And as much as I love Formula One, I'm not sure it counts as highbrow culture ha ha.

  2. Phew! Well done on finding somewhere (and affordable)! You can always get the nicer place if you get a longer contract. M xx

    1. Pat on the head for being responsible? xx

    2. pat pat :)

  3. Congrats on the flat!!! Having done it in many cities, I have to say, it's not easy ANYWHERE! Quelle horreur! But you did it, and once that contract is signed, you can breathe. : )

    I agree with your thinking that a roommate shouldn't "let" you use a common room. If you can't afford to pay for the entire apartment yourself than it is a 50/50 shared space. Good for you for picking up on a huge red flag!

    Can't wait for your Italy posts! Don't get into too much trouble. ; )

    1. Thanks! Totally, she also said she didn't mind me having friends around occasionally and I could even have overnight guests now and again, but not all the time. Which again, I agree, no-one wants to live with someone who moves in a boyfriend or whatever, but just the thing of having someone else having a say in what you do with your life, not cool.

      Ha, I'll be with my mum and dad so I doubt it!

  4. Ooh girl! That sounds EXHAUSTING! But on a really positive, upbeat note... CONGRATULATIONS!!! You've got a place to lay your head and that's a big ol' plus :)

  5. I’m glad things worked right for you, despite the rough start. Hopefully, your luck didn’t ran out until the contract signing. I can imagine how frustrating that would be if you managed to arrange the move, only for something to go horribly wrong right before you signed the contract. I hope this new venture turned out well for you. Good luck!

    Willard Evans @ WOW Homes


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