Friday, November 9, 2012

Bratislava Apartment Hunt 2012!™ - Part 1

So, our lease is up at the end of November, and we decided that we want to find a better apartment. The place we're in now has never been ideal, but we chose it out of desperation because we really needed to get the hell out of Terezia's brother's house in Bernolakovo as quickly as possible.

Our apartment does have its advantages: it's centrally located and close to lots of shops and key tram/bus stops; it's spacious and happens to be situated in a solid, well-constructed late-1940s building; it's got a really nice kitchen; and the owner, who lives next door, is quite friendly.

But, it's also got a lot of negatives. First and foremost, the furniture is unrelentingly hideous. When my friend Jason and his brother Dan came to visit in May, they both laughed out loud for an awkwardly long period of time when they walked into the living room. The blue/green carpets are clean, but also threadbare and cringe-inducingly ugly. The bed, the apartment's pièce de résistance, is an uncomfortable and hysterical 1970s artifact, covered in white vinyl, complete with a crazy headboard that resembles the back seat of a 1970s pimp's Cadillac, with a mirror on top.

Other issues include these old, loud, quasi-homeless alcoholic guys who camp right outside the building on a patio in the rear and leave piles of garbage behind, which the building's maintenance person/janitor clearly couldn't be bothered to pick up. The loud din between 4:30 and 7:00 in the morning from Tesco's delivery trucks is another serious issue (I have to sleep with earplugs), as is the daily sound of men urinating on the wall at the base of the building. It's a distinct sound that cannot be mistaken for a garden hose, and we can hear it very clearly from up on the third floor!

So, we're looking for an apartment with nicer furniture (most apartments in this town seem to come furnished) so that we can feel more comfortable and more at home in the place, but also a place in an older and nicer building on a quieter street. But of course we still want to be centrally located in the Stare Mesto.

But, much like what we experienced this time last year when we looked at about 14 or so apartments in the Stare Mesto, each place seems to have at least one glaring, deal-breaking flaw. Here are some of our Bratislava Apartment Hunt 2012!experiences so far. 

Bedroom is a closet: The first place we looked at was in an older building on Banskobystricka, and had a lovely, spacious, reconstructed kitchen with big windows that let in lots of light. From there you entered the living room, which had nice hardwood floors and more big, old fashioned windows that let in lots of light, with nice views over the large park across the street behind the presidential palace. But as soon as we walked into the bedroom, our hearts sank. The bedroom was so narrow that one side of the queen sized bed had to be pushed up against the wall, while there was scarcely about 2 feet of space between the wall and the other side of the bed. Making matters worse, you had to squeeze through this narrow path in order to reach the bathroom at the other end of the room. It really felt more like a glorified hallway.

Apparently, this apartment is having trouble renting (it's been online for a couple of months), and we suspect the crappy bedroom might have something to do with it. The realtor actually called us a week after we saw it to ask if we would reconsider (which has never happened to us before). When we told him why the bedroom wouldn't work for us, he actually said that we could move the bed so that the headboard was against the wall, which is hilarious because if you did that, you would have to literally climb over the bed to get to the other side of it (and to the bathroom!).

Here's the floor plan of the bedroom. That' s the doorway at the lower left side, the bed in the middle, the window and heater beneath it along the bottom, a large armoire at the upper right hand corner, and the door into the bathroom along the upper left. Just all around terrible feng shui! 

50 Shades of Grey: This next place, in a large, attractive complex of old buildings between Tobrucka and Vajanskeho Nabrezie, had potential. It was on the fourth floor of an older, pre-WWII building and the owner had recently renovated the entire apartment. It was nice, but we weren't in love with it. One of the main issues was the owner apparently has a deep obsession with the color grey. The kitchen was kind of a grey monochrome, but the bathroom was tiled from floor to ceiling with every shade of grey in the spectrum. The tiles were completely random - there was no pattern or anything, like a jumbled up greyscale - which had kind of a nauseating effect.

What was funny about this place though was that at one point, when Terezia and I were taking a second look at the kitchen, the owner pulled the realtor into the other room and scolded him, saying, "You're doing a shitty job selling this apartment. I can tell they are not 100% sold on this place, and you need to go in there and convince them." I mean, what did he take us for, a couple of undiscerning, feeble-minded knuckleheads who can just be manipulated into signing a lease for any old place?

Bait and switch: The next apartment was located very close to 50 Shades above, but looked out over Medena. The photos were sweet - the place just oozed the kind of old architectural detail that we go totally gaga over, but was recently renovated with new hardwood floors and amenities. But when we met the realtor out front, he ushered us into an apartment that was not the one pictured or described on the website. It had identical furniture and appliances (all very tasteful and modern), but while the one on the website was a proper 65-square-meter one-bedroom flat with large widows overlooking the street, this was much smaller and felt more like a glorified studio apartment, with the kitchen and living room crammed into the same small space, a narrow, partial wall that barely separated the bedroom, and windows overlooking only the building's interior courtyard.

He then took us into the apartment next door, which was virtually identical, and still definitely not the one we saw in the ad online. At this point, I said to the realtor, "This feels very deceptive. Why aren't you showing us the apartment that was pictured in the ad on the website? If we had known you were going to show us these, we wouldn't have bothered responding." The realtor seemed totally shocked that I would say this, and he explained that they have seven units available in the building and that they use the photos of one of the nicer apartments to represent all of them, because they all have the same furniture, appliances, hardwood floors, etc. When we asked if the one on the website was available, he said it was, but the catch was that it was actually going for 1,000 per month (which was well out of our budget), despite the fact that it was advertised on the website for a good deal less, including all utilities.

But we checked it out anyway, and while it was definitely a nice place, the whole exchange left a bad taste in our mouths. The guy kept saying, "See, same furniture! Same appliances! Same bathroom!" as if to reassure me that there was nothing deceptive going on. Never mind that this flat was quite a bit bigger and nicer than the others. When we told the guy that we definitely couldn't afford it, he asked us our price limit, and when we told him, he said that he was pretty certain that the owner would come down to our range, but that we would have to take the apartment right then and there. "Can you take the place right now?" he asked. Well, no. You see, we're bound until the end of the month to this thing called a lease...

Dream apartment: Next we saw a place that we were told about by a friend of Terezia's named Katka. Katka and her husband run a bookstore in the center of town on Medena, and they seem to know everyone in Bratislava. A retired friend of hers looks after a few apartments, and one located on Heydukova recently became available. The rent Katka mentioned was right at the upper limit of our range, but she didn't know whether it also included utilities (it's common for apartments here to either include utilities in the rental price or list a set monthly fee for utilities that you pay the owner with the rent). The second we sit foot in this place, I knew immediately that the rent wasn't going to cover utilities.

Firstly, the building itself was quite old, with a beautifully ornate 19th-century facade. The apartment was massive - 100 square meters - and it had beautiful hardwood floors, high vaulted ceilings, and stylish modern furniture. We were in love. The apartment actually had two bedrooms and a super nice, modern kitchen. Katka's friend who showed us the place was this really nice older fellow who gave off a bohemian vibe (as in the lifestyle, not the Czech region) and had a good sense of humor. But I felt sad and defeated as we walked through the place because it was clear that the utilities would push the rent well out of our reach. What a tease!

Since most people's eyes will probably glaze over before they even finish the first paragraph of this post, I'll leave the next round of apartment rental fun for Part 2 of Bratislava Apartment Hunt 2012!™.

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