Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Renting a House . .. (or trying to)

I thought I would share with you our nightmare of trying to rent a house.

The process has been unbelievable.  I will try and explain simply how the process for us has worked (or not worked):

Firstly, we had to wait for Tim’s residence visa to come through as you are not allowed to rent a house without one.  Within the first 10 days or so, his visa came through and you will remember that we saw a house that we liked – the one with the big garden/sandpit!  Well, thought about it for a couple of days and by the time we decided we did want it, we had lost it.  We decided that these things happen but confirmed in our heads that it was a house that we wanted (as opposed to an apartment) and that the style (called Palmera) was the one we wanted.  We had to wait for one to become available on the rental market, which they apparently do quite regularly.

Sure enough, about a week later, I had a call at 2pm.  There was one house available on Palmera, it was opposite the community centre (swimming pool and playground) but I had to go and see it within about an hour or it would go to someone else.  I picked up Oliver from school and hoofed it on over there!  We got there and within about a half hour, had decided that we would go for this one, so set the wheels in motion.

Now, bear in mind that we’ve only been here 23 days and we saw the first house about 2 weeks ago, the rental price 14 days ago for a Palmera house was 195,000 Dirham (£26,645), by the time we found this next house (exactly the same), the rental price had increased to AED 200,000 (£27,330), although we were told by the agent that the landscaping of the garden would be included in that figure.  That is the market out here – the houses are exactly the same, brand new and never lived in – but that’s the way things are.  Housing markets are moving so fast and there is such demand for housing, that this is what happens. A 2.5% raise in 14 days . . .  bonkers and quite frankly, getting a bit unmanageable!

A bit of background for you - out here, your rent is calculated annually and you pay 6 or 12 months in advance (nice if you can get it eh?).  The landlord also doesn’t have a huge amount of power once you are in the house renting the property.  Once you are in, you are not allowed a rent increase until 2 years have passed.  And after this time, it was decreed recently that the rise could only be a maximum of 5%.  It’s very difficult for your landlord to get you out and the tenant is covered legally in case of a problem with the landlord.  In the case of our house, rent was to be paid in two cheques – 6 months apart.  The first problem – Tim’s cheque book hadn’t been delivered by the bank.  We got cash out from the bank with our cashpoint card and put down a cash deposit.  One good thing here is that you aren’t limited to withdrawing £250 a day!  Problem solved (we thought).  Contracts were to be raised and we assumed it would be a straight-forward process.   

Yesterday I went to measure the kitchen in order to buy appliances and met the dear landlord then.  He is an Indian guy, complete with turban and hairgrips in his beard to keep it neat.  Seemed quite gentle and polite.  About 2 hours later, I received a phone call from him, asking me how long we were going to stay in the house for – one year, two years or more.  I told him I didn’t know and when pressed for an answer, I decided to adopt the Middle Eastern approach of “I couldn’t possibly tell you without discussing it with my husband first – he is the boss after all”.  I also asked him why he wanted to know.  He clearly stated to me that he “wanted me to sign a separate contract with him” stating exactly how long we wanted to stay.  Alarm bells rang so I contacted our transition team (i.e. the people who help us get set up) and they told me not to talk to him again, he shouldn’t be doing that and that they would sort it out.  They duly did, but more problems were to pass our way . . . .

We found out that the agent had got it all wrong; it was in fact 200,000 Dirhams annually without dear landlord parting with any cash to turn the sandpit into a garden.  We also found out the rent was to be paid in one cheque and not two (I tell you, it’s a good job that we sold our house to move here – because it’s quite hard finding £30,000 up front for your house rent, especially as it takes about 5 working days for money from our UK account to reach our UAE account).  We negotiated (well, our transition team did) but to no avail.  A day passed and we still hadn’t got any further with the landlord and the process.  However, some good news – Tim’s cheque book arrived, so we could at least issue the rent cheques).  The next day, we heard that the landlord had sacked the agent . . . . strange.  More bad news – he decided to put the price up to 210,000 Dirhams.  Also, he wanted to put a separate clause into our contract (illegal, by the way) to increase our rent by 5% after 12 months.

Now, by this stage, Tim and I were getting really annoyed (well, much stronger than that actually, but there are all different kinds of people reading this e-mail so I can’t possibly write the words that I want to), so we said – stuff it, we’ll go for another house.  Bad news – there are no more Palmera’s on the rental market, oh, and the rent has risen to about 220,000 Dirhams.  If we moved to a different area, we would pay about the same money but lose about 1000 square feet off the house . . . no go then. 

Another day of negotiating – every time we think we are near getting the keys, another spanner comes our way.  Because we can only give him two cheques (rather than the one that he wanted), we had to get a letter from Tim’s work to state that he would pay the next cheque and they had to confirm his employment and that he got a housing allowance etc etc.  Our transition team have also been asked for a written guarantee that we will pay the money.  We got these letters without a hitch – apparently this is all too common.

Darling landlord (henceforth to be referred to as DL), this afternoon also requested a letter from us (Tim and me) stating that we will “move out peacefully” whenever we choose to move.  I have to admit that I completely lost the plot on being told that one.  I can (sort of) understand the greedy little bugger wanting more money in a rapidly rising market, but requesting such a letter is nothing short of insulting.  We have been told that we can send that letter once we are in the house, but I’m telling you now, I’m not writing it out of principle.

So, as things stand now:

1 – our container is due to arrive at the house tomorrow at 10am to unload

2 – it is now 7.45pm the night before and DL has still not given us the keys

3 – I am beginning to seriously panic

4 – the grass is most definitely not greener on the other side

I will keep you updated on progress – maybe tomorrow I will be unpacking a container stinking of fish, or maybe I will be sitting here on my bed fuming.

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