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Published: October 19th 2014
House hunting when you live abroad is always a bit different than you're used to. In the US, I asked friends for recommendations of leasing companies that they liked, called one, and was shown an apartment or two. Not a lot of leg work required. In Bangkok, a Thai friend and I went door to door in a neighborhood I was interested in, asking to see apartments. More work than in the US, but, still, not too difficult. If I'd tried to do it on my own (ie, without a Thai friend) I most likely would have needed more time and spent more on the apartment.
Malaysia is a whole different game. While I'm sure KL might actually have a similar process to Bangkok, outside KL the game has changed. For one, there are no apartments, only houses. For another, you can't simply go door to door, you have to somehow arrange it all ahead of time.
I am fortunate enough to have a Malay colleague help me. She did some research and lined up a place for me to see. Yes, one. It turns out that many people either don't want to rent long term or are asking
higher prices than my budget allows. It seems that many have gotten higher rents and are holding out for a few months of that, rather than guaranteed income for a year at a lower price.
We pulled up to the house around 10am. The first thing I noticed was the views. Mountains, palm trees, blue sky. Those are normally views I only get when on holiday! Sadly, the house wasn't as impressive. The paint was old, the furniture shabby, the linoleum was peeling in a few places. One bedroom smelled of mold the moment I opened the door. The backdoor didn't reach all the way to the floor, so I'd be guaranteed six legged house guests on a regular basis. There was no sink in the bathroom (which I'm told is quite normal in older homes). It was depressing and I found myself wondering if I was going to drastically increase my budget in order to have a home that I'd be comfortable in.
We left the house to drive around a bit. We checked out a few other neighborhoods, calling the phone numbers listed on the front gates of houses to enquire about
prices and availability. It's amazing how many people don't answer their phones. We amassed quite a collection of numbers options, even checking out a local village because it would have much lower prices; I decided it wouldn't be a good option because it might be too conservative for a single, western, non-Muslim woman. It's important for both me and my neighbors to be comfortable.
Finally, around 4pm we went back to Kuantan. The plan was to set up viewings of a few houses in my price range for Monday afternoon. See a bunch, pick one, move in later in the week.
After returning to the city and running a few errands, my friend called me. One house owner, who'd originally only been free to show it on Tuesday, was unexpectedly in town and wondered if we wanted to see it. We said yes and drove back down an hour later. A mother, father, and two small children were waiting for us.
They were surprised to see a Malay and a … non-Malay. We took off our shoes and were ushered into the house. We chatted a bit before exploring the house. I was delighted to
see nice new tile floors, a kitchen with storage and back door that reached the floor, and western toilets and sinks in the bathrooms. All the furniture was new, the paint was fresh. The only thing that's an issue is the lack of hot water in the bathroom, but that's easily remedied with a hot water heater, something I'm more than willing to buy. I hate cold showers.
We chatted some more, discussing utilities, internet installation, and so on. If I rent, I'm not allowed to bring pork or dogs into the house. (No problem on either of those.) Alcohol was also discussed, and the husband decided it would be okay so long as I am discreet with my bottles, perhaps throwing them away somewhere else, so as not to offend the neighbors. It's an extra step, but I feel better about being honest and having permission, than lying or seriously upsetting them.
We bid them good night, saying we'd think on it. If other houses are as nice as house number two, it'll be a difficult decision!
My friend also arranged a showing for Monday afternoon. While we were at a school meeting my
teachers, she got a call saying that the owner wanted to meet us at noon! She mistakenly thought it was the same owner that we'd planned to meet around 330pm. We visited one more school before seeing house number three.
House number three was nice and the same layout as number two. The owner had installed crown molding around the rooms' edges as well as around the fans. It was painted with flowers. There was an archway between the living room and kitchen, rather than simply an open doorway. Many of the walls were painted a deep orange color. There was even a washing machine and a second air conditioning in the living room! But I still didn't care for the house. I hate orange, for one thing. The crown molding made the ceilings lower and the fans felt too low. The furniture looked a bit worn in places. There was no storage space in the kitchen. While there were area rugs, they were worn, too.
We stopped for lunch to wait until 330. Our two buffets and four milk teas only cost me 11 Ringgit, a steal. We watched the Asian Games on
TV and my friend taught me a little Malay.
The fourth house was also nice and had the same layout as the previous two. The living room only had one orange wall, but it's not too bright. The kitchen has lots of storage and a bright green wall. It also has a washing machine! They've set the rooms up so that the tiny bedroom is the guest room, which suits me just fine because then I can use a the larger spare room as an office. The small room still has a lot of light and is comfortable, but it's small enough to make visitors come mingle in the main rooms. They're willing to install a hot water heater for me (I pay, but they handle the hassle) and they're also willing to get internet installed for me in their name, allowing me to avoid a ridiculously high fee that foreigners get charged for opening an account. Best of all, the rent and utilities is most likely the lowest of all of them.
So I picked house number four. I's hoped to move in on Friday but it wasn't certain because they originally
Most hideous sheets ever.
had someone slated to stay there for a week and had move them to another house to accommodate me. Fortunately it worked out and I didn't need another hotel! It's good to finally have a home.
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