Although we initially loved living in our previous home, recently it became apparent that it was time to move! Knowing how difficult it can be to rent a decent apartment in India, and in particular Mumbai, it was a daunting prospect. I’m pleased to say that it’s worked out wonderfully though, and our house hunting and shifting ordeal has come to an end. We’re now settled into our third home in Mumbai. Here’s what went on during the hectic past five weeks.
There are two main ways of finding somewhere to live in Mumbai — through a broker who will take one (or sometimes two) month’s rent as a fee, or directly through an owner. Better the devil you know, we thought. Hence, we approached the same broker that we’d dealt with when we rented home number two. Although we knew that he wasn’t particularly trustworthy, at least he’d never tried to cheat us personally.
“Ho jayega, ho jayega. Bahut sare jagah hain. Mil jayega. (It will happen. There are plenty of places. You’ll get one). Just let me know an hour before you want to look,” he told us enthusiastically after we’d informed him of our requirements and the building complex we wanted to live in. Well, that sounded encouraging. But surely, nothing could be so simple in India? Of course, it wasn’t.
The following week we called him and set up a time. “I have to get the keys to the apartment,” he informed us. An hour later, we called him back as we still hadn’t heard from him. “The owner is coming with the keys from Borivali (45 minutes away). I’m waiting to meet him. It will only take 10 minutes more,” he gave the excuse. Half an hour later, we were still waiting to hear from him. So, we called him again. “The owner is stuck in traffic. I’ll call you when he arrives”. Needless to say, we never got a call.
The next day, we called the broker back to find out what was going on. “You really don’t need to look for a place so soon. There are 5 weeks remaining until you have to move out of your current place. Wait for some time,” he reassured us.
Unconvinced, I trawled the listings of apartments to rent on Magicbricks. There was one advertised by an owner — no brokerage payable. My husband was busy, so I got in touch and set up an appointment to look at the place. Disappointingly, it didn’t strike me as “the one” when I walked in, but it would do.
“My main concern is that the tenant’s paperwork is in order,” the owner insisted. (Translation: “I don’t want to rent to a foreigner.”) “I’ll let you know after one week”. (Translation: “I’m going to see if someone better comes along.”)
Holding no hope of hearing from him again, I went back to trawling the listings on Magicbricks. One broker showed us an unappealing apartment in a different building complex to the one we wanted. “Apartments in the other complex are in great demand. I don’t have anything,” she informed us gravely, in contrast to what our original broker had said.
Another broker showed us an apartment in building complex we wanted but the owner was asking too much, plus it was on a lower floor overlooking a mosque. We didn’t fancy being interrupted by a loud call to prayer five times a day. A friend kindly put me in touch with a friend of hers who planned to move out of her apartment, as she was being transferred to Delhi for work. However, she was unsure of when.
By this stage, over a week had passed. It was getting frustrating. We started to wonder if we’d find a place we liked, and if we’d in fact made the right decision to move (although the discovery of a few more rats, both dead and alive, in our house encouraged us to believe that we had)! The tension was making us irritable and we fell ill with monsoon viruses.
As it turned out, what would be our new home was waiting patiently for us. It was the next apartment we looked at. The moment we opened the door and walked in, we were greeted by a huge gust of wind. Located on the 15th floor, it was a two bedroom penthouse apartment with a huge balcony and a terrace. A terrace! Could it be more perfect? I wouldn’t have to give up having a terrace after all.
My husband told me to sit quietly while he handled the negotiations with the broker. It was a rapid fire round of questions and answers in Hindi, and I spoke only when spoken to. The rental was reduced by 1,000 rupees a month, and it was tentatively agreed that we’d take the apartment.
Not long afterwards, the broker called us. “Can you come back to the office? There’s a problem. The owner will only give the apartment to you if you pay a year’s rent in advance.” (Translation: The owner doesn’t think you can afford the apartment because you don’t have corporate jobs.”) Blah! So much for the perception that foreigners are loaded with cash.
Back in the broker’s office, I couldn’t sit there like a placid Indian wife any longer, especially as I manage the finances. It was time for some desi drama. “This is ridiculous. I’m insulted. Money is not an issue,” I shouted at him. “We will pay six months in advance, but that’s it.” The broker sat up and took notice. He convened a meeting with the owner. “A lot of cheating goes on in India, so I have to be careful,” the owner explained. “Well, it’s lucky you’re dealing with a foreigner then. I also don’t like to be cheated and I hope you won’t cheat me,” I smiled at him.
The deal was done. And then, the drawn out process of completing the paperwork started. It took more than two weeks before we got the keys. Police verification had to be carried out (the broker’s assistant slipped a generous 700 rupee “enticement” into our documentation to ensure that we would be attended to promptly). I got even sicker and had to start a course of antibiotics. And then, registration of our leave and license agreement (rental agreement) couldn’t happen because the computer system was down in the government registration office.
It took us one more week to actually shift and get the new apartment set up properly. My husband went to Kolkata for work. Tradesmen didn’t turn up. Our internet service provider didn’t supply to our new building, so we had to find one that did (only to be subsequently told by them, just before installation, that they’d run out of wireless routers). And, we had to fire the mover and packer because he saw me and got greedy.
“I’ve dealt with her kind before when I shifted the Spanish Embassy,” he informed my husband, assuming that he was one of my staff. “If anything ends up with so much as a scratch, she’ll drag you to the police station. I’ll do all the work carefully so that nothing happens, all for 10,000 rupees (which was more than double what he originally quoted us). It will take two days”. Hmmm, I don’t think so!
However, the great thing about India is that there’s always someone else to do the job at short notice. A team of six young guys and a supervisor converged on our house, and with orders flying, had the kitchen packed up in 15 minutes. By late afternoon, we were sitting in our new apartment with most of our belongings strewn around us — but no gas. Despite the kitchen being so modern that it had a rangehood, it didn’t have piped gas and we didn’t have our own gas bottle.
Gas bottles are not easy to come by as they’re allotted by the government. The alternative is to pay 5,000 rupees to get one on the black market. Fortunately for us, my mother in law had a spare one. She’d given it to her maid to use though, and it would have to be retrieved. Days later, we were finally in possession of it. The only problem was it was empty. Since we didn’t have the paperwork for it, we had to pay 750 rupees to get it refilled on the black market. But at last, we had gas!
Over the past week, we gradually unpacked. And, with the help of my very handy interior designer brother in law, got the apartment decorated.
And now with all the travails behind us, we’ve never been happier. This apartment is literally like a breath of fresh air, and it has an incredible view right across Mumbai. I feel so peaceful, comfortable, energetic. — and incredibly blessed. What a difference a change of environment can make.