Saturday, April 28, 2012

House Hunters International: Foltice Edition Part 3 - We've Got Keys!

By far our biggest challenge since moving to Germany has been finding a new apartment in Münster.  Our work visas and health insurance forms seem like a walk in the park compared to our search for an apartment.  Fortunately, our fears of being homeless in a foreign country on June 1st were eliminated when we signed the final paperwork and picked up the keys from our landlord on Friday.   Passing this hurdle leaves us with one less challenge, but it also creates a new batch of challenges.  Here’s what we face in the next 4-6 weeks as we transition to a new apartment in Münster. 

The Good News

We are living on the Main Street in a small section of Münster called Hiltrup.  It’s about 7-8 km from the University.  It’s very centrally located with restaurants and shopping literally downstairs.  We live above a grocery store and a bank (incidentally, the same bank we have accounts with).

Even better is the commute to work.   I can walk for 3-4 minutes to the train station in Hiltrup, where I am a 4-minute train ride to the main Münster train station.  There are 2-3 trains per hour heading each way, starting at 5am and running to 1am.  All and all, the time saved in commute will give me an extra 10 hours per week. 

The not-so good news

We need to buy and install a kitchen.  We have 4 weeks to figure this out and I am sure we will need all 4 of them.  I am certain there will be more blog posts on this, as we are only at the beginning of this ordeal. 

We also need to install lights in every room.  Yes, American readers, you not only have to bring your own kitchen, but you have to bring and install your own lights throughout the entire house.  We even looked at a place that didn’t come with a toilet seat or showerhead.

We also need to set up our Phone and Internet.  This shouldn’t be a big deal, but we were told that this could take 3-4 weeks to install.   Yes, economists still say Germany is a developed, non-third world country, even though you can get Internet in Somalia in 2-3 business days.   I can manage to live without lights and toilet seats, but I must have Internet.  

Getting a parking permit to legally park our moving van/truck on the main street during moving day and setting up our hot water could prove to be a challenge as well. 

We are so thankful to have found this apartment and can't wait to get settled in our new place.  We will keep you posted as the adventure continues.   

Holding up the keys to our new apartment!  Getting those keys was the number 1 priority of the day.  The number 2 priority was getting a döner at the nearest Döner-Kebab place 2 blocks up the street.  We are already loving this location.
Here is our new kitchen.  Yeah, we have some work to do.  
A cool Tapas y Vino restaurant and grocery store right downstairs.  
It was a long day!  Both boys were tuckered out on the bus ride home.

We'll post some more interior photos after we get moved in and settled. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

House Hunters International: Foltice Edition Part 2

Did you miss Part 1 of our House Hunters International: Foltice Edition posts?  Check it out here to get caught up.

We've taken our apartment search up a notch within the past few weeks for several reasons.
  1. The majority of apartments listed right now are actually available when we need them to be (May/June) as opposed to earlier (March/April). We need to stay in Borken at least through the end of the basketball season, which ends on May 5.
  2. Most of the students in Münster have moved in by now, so there is less competition from students over the few available apartments.
  3. More importantly, we've been told that our current landlord already has someone lined up to move into our apartment June 1, so we now have high motivation to find something fast otherwise we'll be living out of a cheap hotel (or homeless) come June.
To help solve the problem Bryan, in his immanent nerdiness, created a spreadsheet. We flagged about a dozen apartments online and he collected all of the important details and put them together in one easy-to-update Excel worksheet. Last week was a wash because of Easter (hardly anyone works during Easter week here, and quite a few people take off the week after Easter as well) and no one was going to show us any apartments that week so we focused our efforts on getting organized. But this week, I have tackled this handy spreadsheet with gusto and have managed to schedule several appointments to view apartments for next week.

One really good thing that is coming from this exercise, other than legitimate appointments to see potential apartments, is that I'm getting much more comfortable speaking in German over the phone. I still ask everyone if they can speak English because, hey, you would too, and while some do, many can't (or don't want to so they say they can't) and we have to duke it out in German. I scheduled and appointment (in German) for Bryan for yesterday afternoon and the real estate agent told him that I shouldn't be afraid to call people and speak to them in German because my German is really good. It was the kindest compliment on my language skills that I've ever received. Other people have said that my German is getting good, but it's usually accompanied by fervent head nodding and said in a tone akin to when we would go to my grandma's house for dinner and she'd say "I hope you kids like meatloaf!" and Bryan and I would fervently nod our heads and say "Oh yes, Grandma, we do like meatloaf. That sounds great!" This new compliment was so sincere that my confidence was boosted enough to phone in my pizza order tonight to be delivered instead of going to pick it up. I never thought I'd be brave enough to do that, but the conversation was seemingly flawless (to be confirmed if and when the pizza ever arrives). [UPDATE: Pizza order was a success! Everything arrived and was exactly what I ordered - wooo-hoo!]

We've had to make some concessions when searching for an apartment. A year ago, when we didn't have to think seriously about the challenges of finding a place, we were bent on finding an apartment that a) was provision free (aka: we don't have to pay a real estate company 2.5 months rent just for managing the listing - a fee I still think is ridiculous and unfair and that the landlord should pay this fee and not the future tenants, but it's part of the whole system here and can't be worked around) and b) that it has a kitchen already installed. But now that we've been looking, the reality of finding an apartment that meets these two requirements in addition to all the others (2 bedrooms, bathroom with a tub, allows pets, not in the subsidized public housing projects in the Kinderhaus or Coerde subdivisions) is impossible. There is literally 1 apartment in the entire city that fits the bill and that gem isn't around long enough for us to make a run at it. So, we have been saving our money for provision and for the potential cost of buying a (hopefully used) kitchen and getting it installed in our new apartment - two things that will run us probably an extra €3,000 to €4,000 in moving expenses. But wherever we end up, we plan to stay there until Bryan is "Dr. Foltice" and we move back to America, so for the right place it's probably a decent investment.

So far next week we have 4 apartments to view and hopefully more to come. We'll be taking photos and hopefully some good blogging content will come from these escapades. Wish us luck!