Moving to India. Step 7: Judging People

23 Aug, 2008
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Working abroad has been a wish of mine for some time now. Xebia offers me the opportunity to live and work in India. Through this blog series I will keep you informed of the progress and challenges of this project.
Last week I have spend a lot of time looking for a suitable apartment to rent. It has been quite an experience. I was very lucky to have the help of my Indian colleagues. The most important thing I’ve learned this week is the importance of judging people. I’m not sure if I’d be able to perform this art on my own just yet, but I’m learning.
After searching for a full week, I’m happy to say that I have found a very nice apartment in a very good area of South Delhi. I’ll try to move in next week.

Furnished or Unfurnished, that’s the question
When I came to India for this month, my goal was to find a three bedroom (3BHK=3 Bedrooms, Hall, Kitchen) furnished apartment. This seemed more suitable for our 2 year stay. We expect to have some visitors over from the Netherlands, which is why we need some extra room, and we thought that it would make more sense to rent furniture, since we would have to leave everything after two years.

Now, if you rent three rooms in the Netherlands, then that is exactly what you get: 3 rooms. In India things are slightly different. The 3BHK that we saw on Saturday where huge! Each bedroom had an accompanying bathroom, most apartments had a hall, a living and a study. Since my colleague who was joining me for the “house hunt” had told the agent to just show us as many different options as possible, he took the opportunity to show off the most luxurious apartments he had. Some were furnished in royal style, with Jacuzzi, bedrooms with sitting space and even a few green lawns.

After spending a whole Saturday visiting one huge apartment after the other, I decided to radically change my requirements, this is an agile house hunt after all! After seeing the type of furniture that most of the furnished apartments have, I don’t think that I would ever really feel at home living there with my partner. Although with an unfurnished apartment we may have to buy a lot more furniture, but we will be able to furnish it more to our liking and enjoy the house more. Looking at prices of furnished and unfurnished apartments and at cost of furniture, I think that over a period of two years it might even be cheaper to rent an unfurnished apartment and buy furniture.
I also decided that a 2BHK would probably be large enough for the time being. So on Sunday we set out to find a two bedroom, unfurnished apartment.
Meeting the owners

In India it is very important to meet the owner when renting a house. They often live in the apartment above or below the one you are renting and they can be a great help or a great nuisance. During the house hunt we’ve met quite a number of owners. To me judging them was not always easy.
It is easy when the owner is only interested in money. You don’t want to rent from somebody whose only interest is money, since you’ll always pay too much and he will try to find ways to let you pay more, especially if he sees you as foreigner and thus gullible. We met quite a few of them, some even tried to invent extra costs as we were discussing the rent of the apartment.
But what if the owner is very good at selling? We met a man who seemed to me a very nice person. His story was very straightforward and businesslike. He chatted a bit with me about soccer, which is really rare in India. I felt quite at home! Later on the way back, my colleague asked me what I thought about him. I told him that I had found the conversion very easy and businesslike, which was to me very natural. His comment was: “Some people are very good at closing the deal, others are better at keeping to it.” He explained that businessmen in India are often not to be trusted. I’ve not considered that option again.
So what kind of owner do you want? You want somebody who is friendly an patient, so they won’t get fed up with a foreigner that doesn’t understand things. You want him to be hospitable and relaxed, so that you can ask their help when you run into simple problems like water shortage or power outage. Now, there is in general no shortage of friendly, patient, hospitable and relaxed people in India. You would also want somebody that is a bit familiar with Western culture, so he would understand the differences that you find.
One owner we met invited us to his home after showing us a huge apartment in one of the most posh areas of South Delhi. In my perception, he had been bragging a bit about his very fine and luxurious house. We sank into the big sofa’s of his equally big house and were offered drinks. He was very friendly, but I couldn’t really feel at ease with the situation. When invited to somebody’s house, I’m often slightly on my nerves not to disrespect or be rude to the host. When I asked him about the rent of his far to luxurious house, he sighed deeply and delivered a speech on how it was all not about money. His asking price was really very low for the huge apartment. Unfortunately it was also far above my budget. When we left that house, my colleague expressed that he was really pleased that we got to meet this really nice owner. He said that this was probably one of the best people we had met all day. To my colleague though the fact that he had been very honest about the price and other conditions made him a very special person.
The Bathtub story
One of the owners we met, was an elderly man with a lot of international experience. He had worked for the United Nations and had travelled to many places. Before he showed us the apartment, he wanted to know a few things about me and why I had come to India. He had quite a nice apartment for rent at a very nice location and I was very enthusiastic. The apartment was nice, the location was good, the price very acceptable and the owner very friendly. The only thing that I didn’t like were the old fashioned bathrooms.
Now in the Netherlands you wouldn’t think about suggesting to renovate a bathroom to the owner of an apartment you are about to rent. In India though, it is not uncommon to discuss options that will make your stay in the apartment a little more comfortable. So I decided to propose to take the apartment if we could renovate a bathroom and install a bathtub. This would make it a bit more modern and I might be able to change the pink colored tiling while we were at it.
When we proposed this we met another player to the game: the wife of the owner. She was clearly less traveled and educated than her husband and she was very strict. She didn’t tolerate his constant chitchat and frequently shut him up. She immediately told me that it would be impossible to renovate the bathroom. If her daughter-in-law had not interfered, that would have been the end of it and I would have been left with the choice to take the apartment as is. But she did intervene and we decided to find a suitable alternative for all parties.
Over the next few days we tried to reason with them. At one point we had a plumber there that came up with a good alternative to fit in the bathtub for a reasonable price, and everybody seemed to be happy with that, but the next day they had again changed their mind. I really like the apartment and found it hard to let go. My colleagues told me “Everything happens for a reason” and if this wouldn’t happen then it was not to be and something else would come along.
Victory at last!
After my fourth and final visit to the apartment it was clear to me that renovating the apartment would not be possible. His final verdict was that “No Indian would want a house with a bathtub” and therefore it would be impossible to rent out the apartment after two year when I would have left. Disappointed after working on this deal for almost week and failing to close it, we left the house. I was very unsure whether I should take the house as-is or keep on looking for another. How important were those bathrooms to me? What else would we find? Wasn’t this the perfect location?
The agent showed me one last apartment, and there it was! From the moment I stepped through the door I knew that this would be it. It is a very spacious 2BHR with study. It is on the first floor in a very nice, quiet part of South Delhi. There is a huge park just two blocks away, which is really rare in these parts. The agent said that there was another party that was really interested in this house. If this was a ploy to get me to take the house (instead of whining about the missing bathtub) it worked. I decided to take the apartment sitting on a bench in that park.
Living room with steps
The only thing that worried me a bit was the owner, since he was not there. We went back the next day to meet him and I couldn’t have been happier when he proved to be a friendly, patient, hospitable and relaxed Indian man with a sense of humor who was well-educated. We agreed that he would rent me the apartment. Now renting a house is nowhere as easy as that and the rest of the week we spend arranging the contracts and registrations and all other things that have to be arranged when you want to rent a house, but at the end of the week everything is arranged and I’ll be moving into my apartment in South Delhi this Sunday!
The next step in this project is furnishing the house at least to such extend that I can live there next week and we can settle in in October. In the mean time I will be taking some Hindi lessons. I will keep you posted.


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