Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Thrill of the hunt

We just got back from our first return househunting effort, an experience that has been markedly different from our first term's efforts. First term, we spent a lot of tie just trying to find out where to go to find someone who could tell us where to look for houses. It wasn't until our last 2 weeks of searching (of the more than 3 months total that we were in the market) that we even knew who all the real estate agents in Maun were. This time, we were able to go to Maun on Thursday, visit all the agents on Friday and know exactly what was and was not available by end-of-day Monday. We actually looked at 5 houses altogether on Friday, through 4 different agents.

Now, this is not to say that we've signed any leases. Friday's efforts were an odd combination of encouraging and discouraging. Encouraging because we knew all the agents and spent the whole day driving around to look at things. Given that I'm normally pleased to accomplish 2 things per day on an average day here, to actually visit 4 agents and go to see 5 houses was a pretty big deal. On the other hand it was discouraging in the sense that we really didn't find what we were looking for. We did refine our criteria somewhat but, then, we didn't come to Maun to make a better list Ð we came to find a house.

The first house had significant water damage evident both from the stains on the walls and the sagging roof. A further complication was that there was a smaller house on the plot that contained a tenant, whom we would either have to evict and assume the cost of rent or keep on the property. The general state of the yard and the bottles strewn about outside their door gave me the sense that eviction would be our wisest option but who wants to be reason that someone is evicted? Hardly the way to win friends and influence people in the community. The first house was not going to work, on a number of levels.

The second house was somewhat better, having obvious water damage only in one room of the house. It was, however, infested with wasps' nests. Also, the kitchen contained only a sink, no other fixtures. While we still have some household setup funds remaining, I wasn't sure how far it would stretch for a complete kitchen redo. Also, I wondered about security. Our next door neighbor had a tall concrete wall edged with barbed wire and a metal sliding gate; the place we were considering had no burglar bars on the doors, minimal barring on the windows and a short chain link fence. That combined with the distance from the main road might make us targets. The ward is actually the one where many of the expatriates live and one where robberies do get reported in the local paper as happening. All of the reputation of being a prime hit-spot for thieves and none of the protection to fend them off? Not a good idea. We set aside the idea of house number two.

The third house was the middle house of a tri-plex, with the outer two houses being occupied by doctors and rented by the government. It wasn't too bad but it had no air-con in any of the rooms and the installed ceiling fans didn't actually work. More importantly, there were no taps in the whole house that we could attach a washing machine to. The kitchen was so small that, even if there had been a suitable tap, we couldn't have put both a refrigerator and a washing machine in there. The clothesline would also be shared, an additional life-complication. Also, one of the neighbors was keeping chickens and the chickens were nesting on our porch. Perhaps a request to move the chickens might have done something but they weren't cooped, they were free ranging around the property. We decided to keep this place in mind but neither of us were excited about the challenges that would be inherent in getting the place set up at the onset.

The fourth house had something that appealed to us greatly; it was on the property of a local politician and the grounds were very secure and well-kept. We would be renting what had likely been the servant's quarters at one point. Rob noticed, however, that the foundation was significantly shifted and that none of the metal-framed windows or doors closed all the way; one of the doors I had noticed myself as being not closeable. The rooms were very small as well and we weren't sure that our bed would even fit in the "master bedroom". Also the master bedroom had a bathroom but it was actually IN the bedroom, no door between it and the bedroom. Given the regularity of water outages in Maun, we could just imagine the stinky issues we would eventually have to contend with. The final issue was that there was nothing in the "kitchen" but a sink and, as at the previous place we viewed, nowhere to attach a washing machine. Cross off another housing option.

The fifth and final house of the day was a newer construction, built in 2009. It was pretty good on the inside, though still a bit smallish in the bedrooms for our bed. It had 2 issues. One, there was no security or privacy afforded by the fence at all, a short chain-link with a flimsy gate, making Rob uncomfortable with the idea of leaving me there unattended for any length of time. Two, there was no place for a washing machine hookup (again!). We could have jury-rigged something maybe in the one washroom, kind of like we had to do at our last place, but it would have meant wearing out the connectors in a short time by disconnecting and reconnecting them constantly. Still, this was the best of the 5 places we looked at and we kept it in mind.

Saturday, we attended the multicultural festival at the local high school and I enjoyed reconnecting with my local work-partners who were in attendance, as well as a friend from music camp and one from church. We got a lead on another possible house from our church mate. The shop-owner at one of the shops we stopped in at welcomed us back and gave us another lead. Still, I was feeling a little down at the prospects that Friday had left us with and wondered at our chances of actually finding something nice in the 2 months that we're allowing ourself to do so.

Sunday, we went to church, where some of our friends there promised to help us find something; one said that he would "wear out his shoes" doing so until we could come back.

Monday, we got the number from a co-worker in Shakawe for the lead from the shop-owner on Saturday and called it. The property manager/owner said we could come look at the complex, that there wasn't anything available right now but that something would be coming open at the end of February and we could go on the waiting list for it. We went to look; we were thrilled and our hearts went up with hope. It's a secure property right on the main road and not too far from down-town, making us a lot easier to visit than we were last time. There's a full-time security person at the gate, which means we could even go on furlough without needing to worry about our stuff. The fellow renters on the property are mostly companies, some of them only using their homes a few times year, so they're equipped for having people leave their places empty for long stretches. Walking around the little unit was a joy; it was structurally sound! Windows, cupboards, closets and doors all closed! Not a sign of infestation to be seen anywhere! There was even a dedicated washing machine hookup right there in the kitchen. And it's walking distance to where our mailbox is, also a small shop for convenience groceries and the like.

Yes, this is definitely the place that we want. We are third on the waiting list but the owner said that many people will go on the list and then find something else without reporting back to him that they have done so. Oh, I hope that that's the case this time as well! We are praying and hoping that we get good news on this front in the next couple of weeks. This place is so perfect for us that it's becoming hard to imagine living anywhere else, now that we've seen it. Please, God, please make it possible!

Another encouraging aspect of this process has been the interconnectedness that we feel as a result of people's offers to help. On this first househunting trip since our return, we actually saw about 2/3 of the people that we know in Maun during the 4 days that we were there. Of those people, many of them had housing leads for us. And while most of those have not yet panned out, we still have a couple leads in reserve from those conversations that we will look into if the last place that we looked at doesn't become immediately available. One is a potential house belonging to a Shiyeyi language resource person who has been assisting a local language researcher and who I met myself once while working on the Mark check last term. Another is a house that was rented by a friend-of-a-friend of ours that fell through during a misunderstanding with the landlady. Apparently it is a very nice one-bedroom house but with an owner who may not be used to dealing properly with tenants; a situation all too reminiscent of our last term for us to want to leap into it again with both feet. The point is that we now have connections; we are not doing this without local support. It's a good feeling.

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