Last August when my wife and I arrived in Egypt finding an apartment was pretty easy. My wife’s school arranged for all the new teachers and their families to take a few days touring the neighborhood to look at flats. They contracted a local real estate agent to find appropriate apartments, coordinated the transportation and asked all the necessary questions. We basically just had to decide whether or not we were interested in any of the places we were being shown. It was all pretty painless. But when our 1 year lease was up we were on our own.
Some teachers we know have decided to stay in the same place. This option was certainly tempting, but given our landlord wanted to increase our rent and we had a frosty relationship with her anyways, we made the decision to find ourselves a different apartment for next year. It also helped matters that I’m working now so our budget is a little more flexible this time around.
But where to start?
My wife began the search much as you do in Canada, by browsing listings on the internet. Unfortunately though there’s no equivalent classified ad website to Kijiji here (at least not that we could find). Instead most apartment rental listings are found on real estate agent websites.
Anyways, we took a few days pouring over listings and chose a few flats that looked good and contacted their agents. Only one ended up getting back to us. He said none of the flats we were interested in were still available but he’d be happy to show us others. We said that would be great and told him our budget was between 3500-4500 LE/month (or about 500-650 USD).
That was our first mistake.
Never tell a real estate agent what the upper end of your price range is. We ended up spending the next couple of days touring places that were “listed” for 5000 LE, but that our agent was pretty sure he could negotiate down to 4500 LE. I was annoyed. Sure there were some decent places he showed us but I was curious to see what we could get at the lower end too.
That’s when I was made aware of the fee structure of real estate agents here. Like in Canada, real estate agents work on commission. The difference is that their fee not only comes from the owner/seller of the property, but the renter too. And it’s not a percentage. The standard agent’s commission is equal to one month’s rent from EACH the owner and the renter. So him renting us an apartment that goes for 4500 LE instead of 3500 LE means a difference for him of 2000 LE commission. In other words a lot of money here, where the average Egyptian’s salary is somewhere around 2500 LE/month.
Then we were hit with another reality that is apartment hunting here. The prices for apartment rentals are much more fluid than they’d be at home. As a foreigner in Egypt, we’re charged more for almost everything. It’s frustrating, but it’s just the reality of life here. I’d come to find that renting apartments is no different. A landlord may be content to rent their place to a local for 3000 LE, but won’t accept anything less than 4500 from a foreigner. I’m sure it stems from the perception that foreigners have more money and can afford it (which for the most part is probably true), but the whole process seems decidedly unfair. We have friends who got their Egyptian friend to do all the leg work on their apartment search – that is scope out some places, negotiate with the owner, etc. He was able to negotiate 2800 LE for rent. When our friends went in to meet the landlord and tell them the apartment was for them, she tried to get more from them. They said they couldn’t go any higher so fortunately she acquiesced, but had the landlord known they were Canadians from the start there’d have been no way they’d have got the price they did.
We were explaining our frustration about the whole thing to our Arabic instructor.* He offered to accompany us on our next apartment viewing. In the very least, when the real estate agent and others (there always seemed to be at least a couple of other people in the room showing the place. I’m still not entirely sure what their function was) were speaking Arabic, he could at least translate later for us. Well, the last apartment we viewed that day was nice – the best one we’d seen yet, but when we asked the price, like the others it was “listed” at 5000 LE, but we could probably negotiate down to 4500 LE. We told them we’d think about it.
(*Our instructor is a really nice guy, like genuinely nice, but really young and somewhat naive. Not naive in the ways thing work in Egypt. More naive in the way Egyptians tend to take advantage of foreigners here. I think it surprises/angers him a lot more than it does us)
After viewing that last apartment, we were walking down the street and my friend happened to mention to a guy on the street that we were looking for an apartment (for max 3500 LE) and if he knew of any in the area available. This guy led us to another guy, who led us to another real estate agent, who knew of several in the immediate vicinity that he’d be happy to show us right away.
We toured a few duds (we were now being shown places that were “listed” for 4000 LE, but could be negotiated down to 3500 LE). Then we made our way to the same building as the last apartment we were shown by the previous agent.
My wife, friend and I all glanced knowingly at each other. Would it be the same apartment as before? It couldn’t be right? That one was “listed” at 5000 LE. This one only 4000 LE.
Lo and behold, we walked up to the same apartment we’d viewed only a couple of hours earlier. Unbelievable. We did our best to pretend that we hadn’t just toured the place. We told them we couldn’t go higher than 3500 LE, but this time the owner (who they got on the phone) wouldn’t budge. It was a nice place that we were pretty sure we wanted. To be honest 4000 LE seemed fair (certainly better than the 5000 LE we were initially quoted by the previous agent) so we didn’t force the issue too much. We ended up agreeing on the spot and we had ourselves a new apartment.
Here are a few pics:
It’s technically 3 bedrooms, although one is set up like more of a second living room, 1 bathroom and located on a street filled with amenities (Road 233 for those who know the area).
All in all we’re pretty happy with how everything turned out despite the process itself being somewhat arduous. We took possession on Saturday and will be spending the next couple of weeks slowly moving in before we head back to Canada for the summer. Ah, the Egyptian experience!