Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Mission Impossible - Flat hunting in Mumbai

In some of my previous posts, I have eluded to the fact that finding a flat has been a little bit “tricky” in Mumbai. During our marathon flat hunt, I was so annoyed by it all that I could not be bothered in any way to write about it.

Now that we have actually found a home, and a nice one, I feel like I can share a few of the high- (i.e. low) lights of our flat hunt in Mumbai, aka Mission Impossible 1-55. 55 because that is what some agent told me was the number of flats that I ended up looking at. FIFTY SEVEN. That excludes seeing various places two or three times. You can imagine the fun we had. If like Ethan Hawke, I had had the chance to not accept the mission, I would have. But then we all knew he didn’t really have a choice not to accept it and neither did we.

So here are a few sequences from our very own Mission Impossible, set in Bandra West, Mumbai

Scene 1: “Furnished or unfurnished – that is the question”
As we were moving from our very tiny but very cosy flat in London where the only thing we really owned were three Ikea shelves, we quite wanted a furnished place. Unfortunately, I was told during the briefing that Mumbai was one of the very few occasions where my company did not support furnished flat hunts under any circumstances. Great start, I did not really fancy spending a couple of grand furnishing a flat the other side of the world. Turns out when we came to Mumbai, that rule was basically completely flexible (i.e. ignored) which many rules are in India. We were even shown flats that had cutlery, coasters and the cousin’s sister’s socks in the draws. So we saw the whole range – from flat with bare brick walls and hold where windows should have been to fully furnished.

Scene 2: “Everything is possible”
This is the quote every agent would tell you when I looked at an apartment and said I did not like the kitchen, the sofa, the wallpaper or the rock solid mattress that Indian beds seem to come with. The agent would promise any change in the flat within seconds. Sound proofing an apartment, completely renovating the bathroom – nothing seemed to be a problem. I was quite surprised they didn’t offer to change the view of an apartment “Don’t worry Ma’am, we will move that building right outside your bedroom somewhere else”. Again, reality of somewhat different. All the apartments we started negotiating on, we would have liked some furniture removed and even though they were all places where we were told “it would be no problem at all”, no landlord actually was keen to change anything and very few agreed to any changes at all. One of the reasons our living room in our flat now looks like my grandma’s flat and will so for the foreseeable future.

Scene 3: “You will talk to agent A, who will speak to B who knows C who will get in touch with the target”
Too many people involved! That probably sums up the main issue with our flat hunt. We had a relocation agent who would put us in touch with real estate agents (who we are not allowed to talk to directly) who operate in a mafia of real estate agents by suburb. So your agent will arrange viewing through other agents who then know the lawyer of the actual landlord. Who probably is the cousin of the first agent. We must have lost weeks within this ridiculous network and knowing who actually was the decision maker was once again impossible. When trying to actually close on a property, it became even more convoluted with the company’s legal, relocation and facilities team starting to get involved as well. The time we finally met the landlord (which was more or less when the deal was closed), you could feel the relief on both sides to actually be talking to the right person.

Scene 4: “Same same but different”
One of the flats we really liked was on a small quiet street (something you really appreciate in Mumbai), on the 5th floor with quite a nice view, generally in good nick, modern bathrooms and some decent furniture we were happy to keep. We started negotiating, more or less were willing to pay the price asked, so all was good. We were told discussions with the landlord were progressing well up to the point where we got sent a summary of the current inventory. That inventory sounded very different to what we had seem. Making that point various times, it turned out it wasn’t the flat we had actually seen but the one in the same building on the 2nd floor (which we had never properly seen as all rooms were locked). It’s the same floorplan as the 5th floor one but obviously with completely different finishing and furniture – in a state we were not interested in. Our various agents could not understand AT ALL why we would not consider this one. It good old South East Asia tourist scam manner – same same but different.

Scene 5: Trust no one but yourself
This sounds harsh but is unfortunately true. We had situations where we had agreed a deal with the landlord, shaken hands and agreed that both sides would stop looking only to find out a few weeks later they had pulled out of the deal again. Until you have it in writing, nothing is certain. As part of the complicated communication loops we had to jump through, it was very difficult to find out where things had gone wrong. You would speak to three different people and get three different stories, each of them making sure to point out that it was ABSOLUTELY not their fault it all went wrong again. Blame gets passed from A to B very easily and everyone’s main concern seemed to be to keep face rather than actually getting anything done. I want to clear thought that I do not see this as a reflection of Indian society in general but just was very much the feeling we got in that’s specific house hunting “situation”.

Scene 6: May God be with you
Surprisingly, parts of Mumbai have very large Christian communities. This includes Bandra. For one flat we liked, I was asked whether I had a baptism certificate. Not that I have ever actually seen it but I was pretty sure that somewhere in parent’s cupboards back in Germany there would be baptism certificate. So when the society (which is basically what the people who live in the building and organize all the admin) asked for, I just got my Mum to whatsapp a picture of the certificate over. Only to be told that they needed the original. After some discussion, they agreed to accept a certified copy which my Mum got couriered to India. At that point I thought I would just mention that I am Protestant rather than Roman Catholic (as I had heard somewhere that some societies are strictly Roman Catholic). Well, guess what. Protestant is not acceptable and despite a fully certified baptism certificate being on its way from Germany, there was no way we were going to move into this flat. Apparently all the parties involved (see scene 3) seemed to think Baptised = Roman Catholic – when I tried the line “does it really make that big of a difference” I was told “But you and the Catholics hate each other”. That left even me a bit speechless…

Scene 7: Everything is going to be fine in the end. If it’s not fine it’s not the end
This famous Oscar Wilde quote has been reused in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and luckily, it also held true for our apartment search. Finally, we are in a really nice flat and even if the furniture looks like my grandmas, the AC units make the sound of helicopters and the parrots that I found so cute when we first saw the flat have turned into loud monsters at 5am in the morning, I love the flat and it’s just such a nice feeling to have a place to call home after nearly 6 months. Putting up our pictures, buying bits and pieces and exploring the neighbourhood has been lots of fun and even though there were moments where I thought we would never get there, it has been worth it.

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