We started our second week in Malta with a quiet day of figuring out how to do laundry (I chose the wrong program so each load took three hours, and we hang it inside like we are used to and not only did it not dry, it started smelling, so I had to wash it all again and hang it outside), eating all the fruits I kept buying all week (they really are very good and I can’t walk near a grocery and not buy some) and trying to plan for our next big challenge – Finding a place to live.
If I am being completely honest I have to say there was no reason to be in a hurry, or anxious about the whole apartment-hunting thing, because we have this temp-flat from the company for a few more weeks, and we even checked with them about the option of staying longer and they agreed, but on the other hand we need an apartment to open a bank account, to register for national insurance numbers, to pay the correct income tax, you know – small things. And we couldn’t figure out how to search.
We looked online and each realtor has loads of really nice furnished apartments for a really low price, so we clicked on the “connect to me” or “talk to me” or whatever buttons, but no one talked to us, and we sent them a (really) detailed email with exactly what we wanted and no one talked to us, so I decided that apparently technology is not the way to go here, and on Monday morning, while we stayed home and tried to get back to the school routine, Hidai went into the realtors office next to his office to ask them how the market works and if they can please stop ignoring our email and help us find a place to live.
They did not. Apparently we are not good enough to help. So they gave us the old “don’t call us, we’ll call you” and we were left with nothing but frustration. Throughout the day we got a few emails back, but they all said one of two things – someone will be in touch with you (which no one ever was) or your budget is too low, which we couldn’t understand why since we followed the prices they themselves published on the internet.
We did have one realtor form the weekend that took us to see a 2 bedrooms flat in San Gwann, in a building that is almost ready (all of Malta is a huge construction site it seems). The main thing we asked the realtors is that the flat will be a walking distance to Hidai’s work, because we don’t want to drive. I guess you can say 30 minutes up the hill is a walking distance. The building didn’t even have the railings for the stairs yet (or an elevator), so we climbed up (very carefully) to the third floor only to discover that the bathroom is at the entrance, the living room is in the kitchen, and the kids’ room has a double bed we can’t take out. And when you look out the only window, you see straight into the neighbours place. Lovely. And for this charming little place the landlord (who was so cheap he didn’t even put a shower-curtain, let alone a proper door) wanted 20% more than our top budget a month.
We came back home tired, confused and very very upset. First thing we did (after giving the kids their iPads) was to fight with each other. Very healthy and constructive. And then I decided I wanted an omelette for dinner (because there was nothing else I eat in the fridge). So I cracked the egg into a glass (we don’t have a bowl) and added my olives and gouda and everything, only to discover that the hob isn’t turning on. I tried for ten minutes to get it work, and the only positive thing I have to say about the whole ordeal is that I managed not to break the damn thing with a hammer, like I really really wanted to. I ended up with no dinner. Then we discovered there is a leak in the kids bath. But at least Hidai and I agreed on a few things – we need to raise the budget in about 30%, we need to check out the properties Facebook groups, and we need to start calling people on the phone. 3 hours, 15 Facebook groups and 7 phone calls later, we had 6 viewings lined up for Tuesday.
Tuesday morning we had our first viewing at 9am, so obviously we had a stressful morning, especially when the cleaning lady knocked on the door at 8am without us knowing she was expected (luckily I was already decent), but after we asked if she can come back in an hour, we managed to be ready and at the curb on time, where we met the guy who owns this building who immediately (and without us asking) told us he doesn’t have an empty apartment in the building at the moment, but hey that’s my card so take it anyway. We didn’t have the heart to tell him even if he did we wouldn’t take an apartment in this building, because it is built in such a way that the living room is in the middle of the house between 2 walls with no windows or light. And nothing works. Instead we said thank you and crossed the road, where the grocery owner (and Hidai’s new friend) came to us and asked if we’re looking for an apartment because he has one almost finished to rent right next to Hidai’s work. Because of the location, and because we were polite and couldn’t think of a way out of it, we said yes sure, let’s meet tomorrow at lunchtime and go see it, and escaped into the realtor’s car (actually it took us a few minutes to manage to get in because he has a 2-doors sports car). This one was really nice, and while navigating the traffic in ways that reaffirmed my decision not to drive here ever, explained the market to us a little better – yes the prices online are irrelevant because a) it’s a marketing thing to get you hooked on a flat and then up the price, b) people are lazy and don’t update the site, and c) apartments never leave the market, because all contracts are for a year and it’s only a month notice, they keep it there on the website for next year. Also, the way the market works here is not with prolonged searching and contemplating, rather you are supposed to see the flat, fall in love, and put the deposit in cash on the spot. The expectation is that a flat will be in and out of the market in less than a week, regardless of the price, because the demand is so high.
The apartment he took us to see was a 2 bedroom in Sliema, at the top of our revised budget. It is the more expensive area of Malta, and is where the foreigners, young people and tourist like to live and shop. The apartment was again a short 30 minutes walk from Hidai’s office, but at least this time most of it was next to the marina. It was really nice, there was a proper living area, a kitchen with a dishwasher (apparently they consider it a luxury item, so in our budget most places won’t have it), and two rooms of an almost decent size. Only it was stuck in the middle between other buildings, so the view you get is of a wall on the one side and the naked sun-bathing girl on the other. It had no light or air, and I felt like the walls are closing in on me. Sea view, or any view, he said, will get us to London rental prices.
The kids had vetoed the apartment because of the street outside which they really didn’t like for some reason.
My plan was to walk with the kids from the apartment to the shopping centre (about 20 minutes walk) to get some Easter eggs and things, and then walk back to the temp-flat (another 20 minutes walk), and hope the cleaner will be finished by then and we can try and figure out how to make lunch if the hob is still not working.
The kids’ plan included more of the Costa & video games shop, and less of the supermarket and pharmacy items. We compromised by going to all the shops, because teaching kids how to shop for food is educational, and letting mummy have coffee is just plain smart. It was the first time the kids chose their own Easter eggs and didn’t get them as a surprise on Sunday morning. We ended up with two R2-D2s (though Ron was torn between this one and the Frozen castle which was all white chocolate, which is his favourite but was deemed less manly in the end), some hot cross buns (orange-chocolate ones which were delicious) and some crumpets and other tiny things (how can you go through M&S Food and not end up buying half the store is beyond me). I was still feeling righteous so Hidai and I did not get anything (not to worry, I just ended up ordering mine online). Three hours and a load of shopping bags later (Ron learnt the valuable lesson that every bag you so graciously offer to carry, regardless of it’s weight when you start walking, will feel like it weighs 20 tons by the time you get home) we got to the temp-flat to discover the cleaners has just started of course, and it took another hour of being closed in the bedroom with two over-exhausted kids before she left and I discovered that she replaced the kettle, and the bed sheets (though for some reasons apparently she doesn’t believe in duvet covers so she covered everything but Ron’s duvet with bed-sheets), and the towels (which I didn’t know she will do so I washed them all), and that the hob is working with the pots just not with the pans. So yay for lunch, nay for omelette.
From 5 o’clock in the afternoon and until 9 o’clock that evening we saw 5 more apartments with three different realtors. The first one was a minute away from the temp-flat (4th floor no elevator, no AC because the last tenants took it out, and the greediest and most foreigner-hating landlord I have ever met), the second one was in Pieta, which is somewhat close to Hidai’s work, but only on the way there. On the way back it’s again uphill all the way. At least it had a view. It was one of those places you go into and are amazed how different reality can be from the photos you’ve seen. It was once a really nice place, only they probably started renting it about 15 years ago, and it never crossed their mind to even clean it between tenants, not to mention closing the holes in the walls. The third was even further away (what, you want to say an hour isn’t walking distance?) and was near the university (or not) by a landlord who usually rents to students, so the apartment had 2 huge bedrooms, but no living room. Or furniture. On the way to the fourth one, the realtor informed us that kids are a big no-no with landlords (yes, because 20 something millennials really look after apartments) and that we should be grateful people are willing to let us rent their houses and that realtors are willing to work with us, and that if we are not willing to put the whole deposit in cash immediately we will never find a place here. She was, without a doubt, my least favourite realtor. Especially when she got us to the fourth apartment, which was nowhere near the places we considered. Sure, it was a penthouse with huge rooms and an amazing view, but it was in the middle of nowhere with no public transport and the landlord looked at us funny when we said we don’t want to own a car. And we were late to meet the last realtor because of that. But at least she told us about the traditional Maltese Easter cookie – the Figola. The last realtor was really a sweet guy, with no sense of direction whatsoever, and the landlord gave him the wrong (or at least incomplete) address, so we got hopelessly lost, and it took us about 30 minutes walking (including lots of unnecessary ups and downs) to get to a place which is 10 minutes from where we met the realtor. The apartment was really not worth the 30 minutes walk. At least it had an elevator, but for some reason the washing-machine was on the balcony right outside the kid’s room, and looking straight into the neighbour’s bedroom, but the real problem was it did not have enough place for parents, kids and furniture at the same time (to that we were told kids are rarely at home so they don’t need place). We had walked 11km that day, and got home very tired and depressed, with a clear warning from all the realtors that none of the places we’ve seen today will be there tomorrow and that we can not be so picky and indecisive. Or at least, that we should raise our budget even higher (double what we initially wanted to pay).