What my 7-month search for accommodation taught me about relationships

My flatmate and I had been looking for an apartment, or more appropriately – since we technically found many apartments that we like – we had been trying to secure an apartment for the past 7 months (rental, not purchase). I have been in Cape Town since 2010, living in UCT’s student accommodation (which was also a struggle to get into initially) from 2010 to 2012. I moved out of catering residence at the end of 2012 after 3 full years of being fed on a daily basis by the hospitable/life-saving Fedics catering staff and I have since lived in 4 different places over the past 5 years (Observatory x2, Table View x1, Rondebosch x1), so needless to say, I am well accustomed to the hustle of looking for accommodation, yet this most recent move was easily my most daunting ever. We started the hustle in December 2016 and over the past 7 months we have attended viewing after viewing, sent through application after application, met real estate agent after real estate agent and encountered owner after owner. Yet somehow we still received rejection after rejection (bwap bwap bwaaap). Why was this so? Well, I have a few theories… but I will save that political rant for another blog post at a later stage.

The good news is that we finally secured a place in Blouberg (and the crowd goes wild). A lovely 2 bedroom apartment, in a safe area that is very close to the beach and has a spectacular view of Cape Town’s pride and joy, i.e Table Mountain. This has definitely relieved a large amount of stress off our shoulders, because the amount of effort that has gone into searching the usual online property sites (gumtree.co.za, property24.co.za, IllegalRentals.com, HowMuchAreYouWillingtoPay.org, payNowAskLater.net, weLeaseToForeigners.co.za  etc) along with the amount of time spent haphazardly attending viewings during the week was really putting a lot of strain on our work and business. So yes, it was quite a taxing exercise, to say the least.

Throughout this entire process I couldn’t help but notice the uncanny similarity between searching for accommodation and searching for a life partner, which has brought me to the following conclusion:

“House hunting is like searching for a partner: If you have enough money, you can get whatever you want.”

Oh, wait no, sorry – wrong analogy, my bad.

What I meant to say was:

“House hunting is like searching for a partner: Firstly, you need to know what core – deal-breaker – traits you are looking for. Secondly, you need to know what you are willing to compromise on. Thirdly, you need to know when to just say no.”

The criteria

When we started looking around we had a good idea of the price range that we wanted. Naturally, for us common folk, the price is the first thing that one thinks of in these situations. However, over and above the price, we had the following criteria as part of our requirements as well:

  1. Shower
  2. Internet connection
  3. Spacious rooms
  4. Security
  5. Location

The non-negotiable deal breakers

Showers are very important to me, regardless of the fact that I am only in there for about 5 to 7 minutes on a typical day (when I actually remember to shower). I keep it short and I use the lowest water pressure at all times because: #waterCrisis #cityOfCapeTown #IHaveYourBackPatriciaDeLille. So during my online accommodation search, while looking at the photos, if I did come across a picture of a bathroom with a bathtub and no shower, I would just close the browser tab immediately because ain’t nobody got time for that. So yes, bathtubs are a strict no no and then, of course, we have the dreaded “shower over bath” 😦 . Now look, if that’s your thing then I respect your viewpoint and I acknowledge that people are different, you do you, but as for me, nah fam, I used one of those things for a year in 2013 when I stayed in a 3 bedroom house and it was one of the worst experiences of my life. It looks odd, it’s hard to clean, it feels really weird to get inside and I personally feel that it is kind of emasculating. So needless to say, this was definitely a deal breaker.

Spacious rooms are obviously important, why would I pay so much rent to live in a matchbox? The new complexes that are being built around the Century City side (Burgundy Estate etc) are small as hell. I have seen dressing rooms inside houses in Swaziland (the country that I was born and raised in ) that are bigger than some of these newly built “master” bedrooms, yet the mortgage bond for houses in Swaziland (yes an entire house WITH A GARDEN) is not too far from some of the apartment rental prices here in the Western Cape. Yes, obviously there is a supply-demand factor and also the economy and the standard of living blah blah blah – but either way people, we will soon need to realize that on the property front, we are really being duped over here. I recently saw an article of someone selling what looked like a garage shed as an apartment for +R1 million somewhere in the Southern Suburbs (I couldn’t find the article, sorry). My current plan is to rent in Cape Town for a short while further before I make my first property purchase and until this materializes I am not willing to pay so much money towards someone else’s bond and still be walking through my apartment like I’m navigating through a narrow underground war evacuation tunnel. So, no space = no deal.

Security is also non-negotiable. As I said, I used to stay in Observatory (2014) and I am quite convinced that there was some sort of illegal activity that took place in some of the houses on my street. On top of this, the place I stayed had essentially no security whatsoever, looking back I was quite naive to live there, but when you are an international in South Africa, desperately looking for a place to stay, you eventually just end up accepting whatever you can take as soon as you find it, at times even regardless of the location and cost. So naive Ben stayed in Observatory (aka Obs) and 4 months into my stay, one fateful day when I got back from work I found that my apartment had been broken into and they had cleaned me out. 2 laptops an Ipad and my guitar – were gone without a trace. They didn’t leave a thank you note or a business card or anything. Those damn, stealthy, inconsiderate thieves. So as one would expect after a near – material – death experience like that, ever since that day I have been very conscious of where I stay. So it goes without saying that the lack of adequate security is a major deal breaker.

The things we were willing to compromise on

The internet connection is important, but it was not a deal breaker because we could always just set one up ourselves. And since Telkom is well known for being quick and speedy, along with their impeccable customer service (when you eventually get through to the call center after +-1 hour of being put on hold, while they play what seems to be a poor excuse for elevator music). Thus, setting up a new connection would be a walk in the park, I mean, the last time I set up an internet line it only took about 3 months of arguing, calling customer support and fighting with multiple technicians. This is why we love you Telkom, you take it upon yourself to make our lives an exciting challenge. So yeah, finding a place without an internet connection was not a complete train smash. #compromise

Regarding location, since we are aspiring digital nomads, we choose to work from home whenever we can. This allows us to dedicate more time towards actually working and less time towards driving through traffic, having to dress up formally and preparing packed lunches in advanced. We rather just wake up and work, yet on occasion, we will have to venture out of our hermit holes to absorb sunlight, buy groceries, attend meetings, and show face for events and the like. Initially when we started our search, of the two of us, only I had a vehicle, so for the sake of convenience transport wise, we were looking at places in the ridiculously overpriced Southern Suburbs that were in close proximity to public transport/malls etc. But thanks to the almighty transport gods, my flatmate was able to acquire a vehicle halfway through our search, meaning that we could essentially live wherever we wanted. This allowed us to be a lot more flexible when it came to our apartment search. #compromise

The times when we just said “No”

There were some really weird apartments that we viewed as well.

50 shades of not okay

One of them had a toilet INSIDE the main bedroom, as in there was no barrier between the main bedroom and the toilet/shower area (taking the term “en-suite” to a whole new level). How this makes sense, I have no idea. Maybe it’s for some intimate couples who share a mutual toilet fetish, and love to view each other during really vulnerable moments, I honestly have no clue. The kitchen also lacked any ventilation whatsoever, which seemed like quite the fire/suffocation hazard. Otherwise the place itself was not all too bad, but needless to say, the decision was a no-brainer. #byeFelicia

Alcatraz

There was a complex we viewed in the CBD and the only words I can use to describe it are claustrophobic, hospital and maximum-security. Voluntarily signing up to be a tenant there felt like the equivalent of admitting myself into rehab. There was no space in the complex or in the apartment itself, the security lady was awfully unfriendly and as we walked around I couldn’t help but pick up a strange sense of “wtf-ness” that was hanging in the air. We did not apply for this place and frankly, we were just happy to have made it out of there alive. #notNowNotEver

Capitalism 101

There were two apartments being leased out by landlords who seem to be extremely capitalist, to say the very least. Funny enough both of them were in the Rosebank/Rondebosch area (surprise surprise). I mean, who would have thought that you would find extremely small, overpriced apartments in the areas conveniently located around our precious University *rolls eyes*. Why do I say capitalist, you ask? Because you can tell that it is a one bedroom apartment, I can tell that it’s a one bedroom apartment, the city council can tell that it is a one bedroom apartment, the apartment itself is very aware that it is a one bedroom apartment yet the landlord still insists on forcing matters by using the lounge/common area as a whole other bedroom or in the worst cases two bedrooms :(. Going through these apartments made me seriously question humanity. I am not saying that students on a tight budget deserve to live like kings, but I mean can they at the very least live like human beings and can they not be solely seen as contributions to mortgages and extra income? #smh

The unexpected relationship advice that I took out of this

Recalling all these stories made me realize just how many apartments we viewed in this period, it was easily more than 25, leaving me with a wealth of experience as well as a heap of frustration. Thus, at the end of this eventually successful hustle I was left with the following takeaways:

  1. There will be some apartment owners/agents that may like you and of course, some that don’t (and no, they don’t even give you the “let’s just be friends” line :,( they just send you an email that begins with “unfortunately..”, if they even send you an email at all). Such is the nature of life, pick your head up, get over it, move on.
  2. Just like with dating, you really need to attend a number of viewings to get a good idea of what is is that you are looking for. It is only through the contrast that you can truly determine that which is valuable and that which should be avoided at all costs.
  3. In as much as it is important to view as many places as possible, when you do finally come across a place that you truly adore, you better act quick, because there are +10 other people that are also interested and as the old saying goes, if you snooze, you lose.  

To all those people who shall be embarking on the accommodation hunt in the near future, good luck and Godspeed. May the favor of the almighty property gods rain down on you eternally.

#T4aM

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