Wednesday, May 2, 2012

House Hunting

We had a few requirements. We wanted to live no more than 20 minutes walk from Mr Tabubil's Office.  We wanted to be close to the shops and to the metro. We wanted trees around us.
            And we wanted a decent, gringo-friendly kitchen.  Most kitchens here are dark and ergonomically illogical galley kitchens in the bowels or the backs of the apartment.  Sans natural light even, sometimes. They're for the maids, not for people.
            On day 4 of Being in Chile, Mr Tabubil's company relocation people - a lovely lady named Beatriz and her minion - came to meet with us.  Sitting in the living room of mi suegro's apartment, they looked around the pretty, tidy room, and shook their heads and set about disabusing us of finding anything pleasant - or even habitable.
            We told them the rent we hoped to pay, which we'd researched and should have been sufficient for a comfortable place, and they got very dour and told us that we had two options: We could live in an ultra-modern apartment -with all mod cons, but a shoebox, or we could live in a larger apartment, but it would be falling apart. Literally,  Beatriz told us, her eyes wide.  Larger apartments are in older buildings and the owners don't want to do anything and the walls are all falling down.  She and her minion both nodded solemnly.  And as for a decent kitchen, forget it.  Kitchens are for maids. In the back -out of sight, out of earshot - You'll just have to adjust your lifestyle - cooking is a chore, not a pleasure!
            We felt rather despondent and said to just show us everything they had and they suddenly became rather perky and told us that in the following 48 hours they'd show us 12 apartments and we'd be very very happy and could choose one of them.  If we didn't mind crumbling walls and bathrooms that maybe didn't work much.  At all.
            Then they left, smiling,  and we had a small emergency meeting and calculated by how much we would have to increase the rent in order to get something we could live with.

So we started house hunting in a state of some perturbation.  The first place Beatriz took us to was a 12th storey penthouse.  It was old and it was rickety and it was shabby and it was falling apart with crumbling walls and floor paneling that bucked up almost  to knee level in the middles of the rooms, but it was enormous and full of light and the kitchen may have been 30 years old but it was a proper kitchen, not a railway galley, and the owners were engaged in necessary maintenance and nailing down the floor at that very moment.
            After that we were driven to another building on the very edge of our walking radius.   We took an elevator to the third floor and walked into - space, and light, and... charm.  The owners were Spanish and didn't think much of Chilean apartment lifestyles, so a year and a half ago they'd knocked out half the walls and totally rebuilt the kitchen to suit a lifestyle that didn't involve a maid exiled to Siberia, and because they didn't want a live-in maid they'd knocked out the maids bedroom room and added on to the kitchen with pantries and a breakfast nook and.... have you ever walked into a space and just felt good?
            And it was five minutes walk from the subway and the shops, ten minutes walk from my in-laws' place, and when we looked out the widows, we saw trees .
            We walked all over it, and loved it, and made friends with the owners, and when we finally left, I finally drew breath.
            "I want to live here."
            "Me too."
           "Did you see the man sitting in the living room?  He wasn't a friend of the family - he was waiting for another real-estate agent!  And did you see the two men going up in the lift when we came down?  They're going to see it as well!"
            And because we couldn't imaging seeing anything nicer in the whole city, Beatriz pulled her car over to the side of the road and called her real estate agent to draw up a letter of offer (Chile is very formal) and because we'd taken the time to get to know the owners, they decided that they liked us and the same night, Beatriz called us to say yes.  The apartment was ours.

We spent all of the next day filling out forms, and early on the day after that, Beatriz hustled us into a notary's office to sign the paperwork and make it all official before anyone else came through with a better offer on the apartment.
             A notary's office in Chile is a very special place.  Signing the lease took two and a half hours.
The office proper was an enormous room filled with queues and electric typewriters.  Beatriz found us a conference room because she knows everybody and everything (she's the Original Fixer) and we all sat down - Mr Tabubil, Me, the dueno (the landlord) the dueno's daughter and the real-estate agent.  At intervals the agent would appear with paperwork that we'd pore over and mark up all the typos, then he'd vanish back into the scrum and, after half an hour or so, reappear with it all typed up again - and we'd check it again and send him back.  Eventually we signed things.  The signatures had to be ratified and counter-signed in the outer room, and at length we were all given receipts - which had to be ratified and photocopied and counter-signed - it was something of a zoo.
             Our stupefyingly swift success  in finding a home has made us the Mr Tabubils' company's poster children for rapid assimilation.  Two days to find a place to live? The usual process can take two months!  They think we're wonderful.
And as we couldn't move in until our personal effects arrived - five or six weeks later, I flew up to Vancouver and spent three lovely weeks with Mum and Dad.

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