Friday, June 10, 2011

Finding an Apartment in Kathmandu

Before we departed for our Annapurna Circuit trek, Brian and I spent the latter part of April and the first half of May hunting for an apartment in Kathmandu. Our shared house in Patan was great for our first few months in Nepal because all we had to do was show up with our bags. That said, we spent our first few months living partly out of our bags, and we began itching for a flat of our own.

We first considered where we wanted to live. Again, our house in Patan suited the bill for location at first because it was in walking distance to my office for Kiva work. After my Kiva Fellowship ended, however, I began a string of consulting assignments that had me traveling back and forth to Kathmandu on a near daily basis, and the commute -- especially crossing the notoriously jammed Bagmati Bridge -- grew tiresome. Although we looked at several flats in the Sanepa neighborhood of Patan, we ultimately decided that we wanted to try Kathmandu, both for greater convenience and a change of pace.

Brian headed up our apartment search, and for that I still owe him. Not surprisingly, finding a flat in Kathmandu is not like finding an apartment in Chicago -- there's no Apartment People realtor office here. It is, in typical Kathmandu fashion, a treasure hunt, and your success largely depends on a combination of persistence, patience, and luck.

With the exception of one real deal real estate agent with an actual office in Sanepa, none of the people we met with seemed like professional agents with actual businesses. More likely they were individuals with a few leads on friends' apartments trying to find tenants, or they were local people who do this as a bit of a side business that runs very unofficially and through word-of-mouth. As we understand it, people in Nepal usually get a payment from the landlord for referring a tenant, whether they are an official agent or an auntie down the street. The process of using these word-of-mouth "agents" actually worked for us in the end, but it involves some time and effort in terms of visiting each option in person. It was not easy to count on a conversation over the phone to confirm whether the apartment at hand would actually be a good fit -- we always had to see it with our own eyes and educate the agent from there in person ("I'm looking for something newer, nicer, and smaller than the place we just saw, but I did really like the outdoor patio area.").

That said, there may be high-end actual agents that can lead you to properties you want in a more reliable, full-service manner, but we did not encounter many of these or even seek them out.

If you're going the more DIY route like we did, a great way to begin an apartment search is to keep tabs on the Kathmandu Kathmandu Google group, which people routinely use to advertise available flats and solicit suggestions for finding housing. It was through this Google group that Brian found our flat. He replied to an advertisement posted over the list, saw the apartment, summarily rejected the apartment, and then described to the person who showed him the apartment what we were looking for in terms of location, size, and amenities. This person then connected Brian to a friend of hers who supposedly knew of places that might match. Brian met with this friend, who showed him the flat we eventually chose.

This description of the process admittedly simplifies the reality of our apartment hunt in Kathmandu. It would be too painful (for us and for you) to recall in excruciating detail just how many phone calls were traded, emails sent, and apartment visits made over the course of our four-week search. At times the process felt like a wild goose chase, and at times we wanted to give up in frustration.

But persistence paid off, and we eventually found a flat that ticked just about every box: central location (Bishal Nagar, near Bhat Bhateni supermarket in Kathmandu); quiet street (location is at the end of a private lane); appropriate size (one bedroom); ample outdoor space (our own private terrace and direct access to a large rooftop); and good views (view of the southern hills from our terrace and view of Shivapuri -- and Himalayas in clear weather -- from our kitchen and roof).

Here is a photo of the entrance to our flat, our terrace, and the stairway leading to the roof.

Entrance to our apartment; this terrace is ours alone, and the staircase leads to the big rooftop with 360 views

In the coming days we will post more photos and share our stories about furnishing an apartment in Kathmandu -- because finding one is only half the battle.

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