Or: the Trials and Tribulations of an Uptown Girl with a Boyfriend from Old Europe

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Location: Basel, Switzerland

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Be vewy vewy qwiet when hunting wohnungs...

We have an apartment!

No, it's not
the one we originally wanted. When we went to meet the owner last week, we discovered that two other couples had also applied for it. The next day, Thursday, we learned that we would not be its next occupants. (How did he decide? Were we supposed to bribe him at the meeting?) And thus began our foray into the bizarre and dysfunctional world of Swiss real estate.

I have to confess that I wasn't exactly heartbroken about losing the place: when I visited it, I had mixed feelings about it.
Though the neighborhood was really charming and central, the apartment itself was not on one of the prettier or quieter streets. And while the place featured plenty of nice old details, like leaded glass panels and herringbone hardwood floors, the light was mediocre, and the layout wasn't the easiest one to work with. Doors led everywhere, so that all the rooms were connected. (Not a convenient arrangement for guests!) The balconies looked their not-inconsiderable age, the bathroom was cramped, and the kitchen was blue. Not blue tiles, mind you, but blue cabinets, covered with the sort of sponged-on pattern popular among Italian restaurants with Tuscan pretentions.

One of my old bosses liked to complain that people never did things the way he would have done it himself. In the case of that apartment, it was definitely true. The place was more than livable, but... I was exchanging my beloved pre-war in New York for this? I was almost relieved when we didn't get the place - and the only reason I put in "almost" was because Swissy Pie needed a place to live by November 1, when he starts work.

Eleven days to go. Not a lot of time. What to do?

Hit the web, of course.

We spent Thursday night going through online listings, culling them down to a list that looked promising. But to our dismay, when we contacted the brokers on Friday, only two were actually in! O
bviously, if they weren't working on Friday, they certainly weren't working on Saturday. And no one in Switzerland works on Sunday. (Coming from the City That Never Sleeps, it's a shock to find out you can't even go grocery shopping, unless you're at the train station.)

So. Three days wasted. Eight days left, and Swissy Pie was not happy. No early bird, he - he even overslept the day he was supposed to pick me up at the airport, and left me stranded for two hours - but for this occasion, he got up extra-early to call the realtors. That in and of itself was a miracle, but even more miraculously, he was able to chase them down and cram our Tuesday full of appointments. He even ferreted out one particularly elusive lady who didn't seem to want to show us her apartment at all.

"This place is special," she warned us. "Most people just turn around and walk right out."

I couldn't help thinking - with little sympathy - that Manhattan would eat the whiny girl alive.

As luck would have it, she was our first appointment. She turned out to be a petite youngish lady with thick, Liz-Taylor-as-Cleopatra-style eyeliner, bleached blonde hair, and a desperate wish to get rid of the apartment; the apartment turned out to be a bright duplex on a nicer street in the same neighborhood we'd looked in before. Perhaps because she'd been so aggressive in managing our expectations, we didn't walk out at all. The place was strikingly modern, with two walls upstairs made entirely of glass, and a lightshaft down to the bedroom below. Plus, it had its own washer/dryer. But the lower level was partially underground, and the space was laid out rather inefficiently, so that 100 square meters felt more like 70. Like the first place, it was workable, but...

Then we saw the next apartment, which completely annihilated the hopes of that whiny, desperate blonde.

From the outside, it didn't look like much. It was in a modern, concrete slab of a building that had recently been finished. In fact, it was so new that no one had ever lived in it before. The neighborhood was in the early stages of up-and-coming, and nicely kept buildings were liberally interspersed among uglier, more run-down ones. But when we got in to see it, it started to grow on me. There were so many well-conceived details. For example, there was a large bike room right next to the entrance, so residents didn't have to drag their bikes from the basement. The cellar storage was large and clean, and had electric sockets. Laundry usage was based on a sign-up system instead of a fixed plan. Private underground parking was available.

And when we finally went up to the apartment itself, the flood of sunlight that poured though a wall of full-length glass windows pretty much sold me on the space. Yes, I liked that there were movable room dividers to separate the gourmet kitchen from the living space, and that were 3 bedrooms and a storage room, and that there were 2 bathrooms, and that heated pipes ran beneath the floor to heat them in winter. I liked that Swissy Pie's Le Corbusier furniture would fit right in. But most of all, I loved that wall of south-facing windows.

Of course it wasn't perfect. The floor was covered with a light green tile, cheap-looking stuff that I would ordinarily disdain. And I wasn't sure about the neighborhood. But for the rest of the day, nothing came close to it in terms of price-to-quality. We did see one, another "altbau," or old building, with really nice plasterwork detail that almost made up in charm and location what it lacked in light and space. But it had no parking, minimal storage space, and was noisy to boot.

So today (after Swissy Pie came out on top in a protracted battle with the recalcitrant fax machine)
we applied for the Windowed Paradise. To our shock - especially after our experiences with real estate brokers last week - we were approved a scant two hours later. The rest of the day blurred past. We raced up to sign the contract, and spent the rest of the afternoon shuttling paperwork between the bank and the rental office.

Now the place is ours! (Well, technically, Swissy Pie's, since I'm not on the contract.) We move in Monday, just before I return to the US. I can hardly wait.



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