The Never Ending Hunting Season – Apartment Season

“Well it’s Europe,” I tell myself as I look around the Kitchath, a combination Kitchen-Bathroom. I had prepared myself for the fact that everything is smaller in Europe. During the summer of 2012, I lived in the University Quarter in a Student Kot, so I felt like I knew what to expect when my husband and I started looking for apartments.

But I was not prepared for this: along  the right wall is a sink, a stove, and a place for a washing machine, the back wall has a stand alone shower with a half sink next to it, in the corner sits a small niche for the toilet, that is only covered by a dangling fabric strip partition, and to the left of the toilet is the refrigerator. Apparently the owner thought when he converted this building into an apartment building that it wasn’t worth it to create a separate room for the personal hygiene essentials. And naturally, since there was already plumbing in the kitchen this was the only logical place to put these essential household items.

And so here I stand, in the middle of this quirky little room, trying to imagine making my first home with my husband here in this place.

What you must understand is that in Antwerp you don’t go apartment hunting – you go apartment sniping. I am not sure how it works in other big cities, American or European, but apartment ads are put up and then rented out in Antwerp at mind-boggling speeds. Finding an apartment requires you to stalk the housing websites, Expat Facebook groups, and the newspaper ads diligently and when you find one you’re interested, you immediately dial the numbers between heart beats. Then once you do visit a possible apartment, you have that one and only visit to decide if this is the place you want to live, because no owner or realtor will hold an apartment for you while you think about it. There is no room for second guessing.

These sites are the ones you will check every day when looking for an apartment in Antwerp.

Which is how I find myself here in Berkenlaan on a Monday evening, in what I had hoped would be a perfect apartment. Instead, what I have found is an apartment with exceptionally narrow stairs (even by Belgian standards), a strangely angular room layout, fake wood laminate that is torn in the bedroom and pulling away from the floor in the living room, and a realtor who is asking 10 minutes after we have arrived if we would be willing to invest in this apartment by installing new floors or a new kitchen.  A quick deal closer this realtor, however this  is not exactly what I had hoped to find based on the pictures I had seen in the ad.

Three minutes later, he asks if we’re ready to pull the trigger move forward and sign the papers. Are you kidding me dude? Slow down a bit, this is the first apartment we have actually visited.  I just stare at my husband who stares back at me, not wanting to be rude but not sure what to say to him. A few moments of awkward silence passes and no one says anything, but then realtor’s phone rings, and he says he’ll let us talk about it for a few minutes.

“Well, what do you think?”

“I don’t know. I mean this,” I gesture to the kitchath, “is a little odd for me, but I know space in Europe is fairly precious so…”

“No, it’s really weird for me too,” he says with a definitive tone and we both just laugh.

The realtor comes back, and I am not sure if he’s just incompetent and rude or knows that we’re not really interested in the apartment, but asks if it’s alright we start leaving even though we’ve only been in the apartment for 15 minutes. He apparently has another appointment at 18:15 on the other side of town, and it’s already 18:00. I strongly resist the urge to point out that he was 15 minutes late to our 17:30 appointment and quietly head back downstairs. As we say our goodbyes, he asks us to let him know when we’ve come to a decision about the apartment, even if we decide not to take it.

“So, we keep looking?” I ask my husband when we’re alone.

“Unless you told me that you really loved that apartment, I think so.”

“While I think the kitchen-bathroom would have made a hilarious story to tell our grandchildren, I didn’t love it enough to make do with that for three years.”

Looks like I am going to go back to waiting in the virtual bushes of housing sites for my next quarry. Our first home  as a married couple doesn’t have to be perfect, but I think a true bathroom is probably a necessity.

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