Wednesday, February 20, 2013

From the Apartment-Hunting Trenches: Harborne, Birmingham. 19.2.13.

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Day two. Slightly fewer wake-ups in the middle of the night, but we're still totally gross. But hey - it's the third sunny English day in a row, and that may be a record!

Our first stop was a flat in a block of ugly buildings that used to be council housing. The previous day we'd seen only houses but in this day's neighborhood, Harborne, our budget range mostly includes places without yards. It was off-putting while I was making appointments, but the neighborhood came so absurdly highly recommended, and has such a nice high street (main shopping street), that we decided to have a look anyway. The estate agent who met us was dressed in a really awesome suit - first time that happened. Does that appeal more to Harborne clientele? The apartment building immediately reminded me of a school when we went inside. All the walls were exposed brick, low white ceilings, and the doors and stairwells were painted bright blue. The apartment itself was fine - better than our current one, but had no outdoor space of any kind and the kitchen was better than our current one, but not bigger. So, that was sort of over before it began, considering we had already seen multiple places the previous day with bigger kitchens and with yards. He wanted to show us another apartment nearby that was being completely refurbished - we'd be the first to see it, and the renovations weren't done yet. He made it sound pretty close so we agreed to just check it out. It turned out to be pretty far away, no longer offering the major Harborne benefit of being near lots of shopping. Also, it was only marginally bigger than our current apartment - although much, much better. The kitchen renovations underway were shaping up very nicely!

Due to this unexpected long detour, we rushed through lunch at the Fallen Angel Bakery and were a couple of minutes late for our next appointment. Again, a guy dressed in a very smart suit, looking like the roguish baddie from a rom-com. Into the apartment - the first room had some cool scalloped embossed wallpaper.  That was the end of the aesthetic appeal.  It was peeling slightly at the tops of the walls.  The carpet was nasty.  The apartment was unoccupied, but no one had bothered to clean up a coffee spill off the counter, or black drops below the boiler.  The washing machine looked like it was from the 80s.  The only really great thing was that it had a third floor - so 2 bedrooms on the second floor and a bedroom with awesome slanty ceilings on the top floor.  We left and D said he thought it was a contender!  It was fascinating how we came out with me having ruled it out almost immediately upon walking in, and him thinking it was going to complicate matters with our contenders from the previous day.  It was that third floor talking...that WAS cool.  But he got to veto the place with the stained glass and I got to veto this one.  A shame - with work it would be incredible.  (And out of our price range.)  I can't understand why they didn't even bother to have it cleaned before showing it.  It just reeked of a landlord and agent who don't care.

On to our next stop just around the corner.  This one was a 2-story apartment above a hairdresser.  It was one of those fascinating apartments that we got to see while it was still occupied.  This is not favorable in the opinion of the estate agents, because as one of them told us "no apartment looks good while people are living in it".  (Do they really believe this??) I enjoy seeing them occupied...after all, occupying it is what I plan to do.  The agent arrived, this time a lady in thick red lipstick and another suit. We could rule it out as soon as we saw the kitchen, which other than a larger fridge was no improvement over our current one.  No one was home but thawed chicken breasts were sitting on the counter.  Not relevant to us, but ...weird.  In the bathroom shower and around the bedroom windows, there was mold aplenty.  No thank you. This place was also home to one of the infamous carpeted bathrooms.  Too bad, because the slanty walls on the top floor were cool. 

The agent seemed to take a shine to us and showed us a place down the street which was being renovated, but the landlord wasn't allowing to be shown until they were complete.  From the outside it did look nice, with a very pleasant and well-kept south-facing patio and black and white shed.  But, we wouldn't have been able to see the inside by Friday and considering we already had two excellent contenders, we didn't really want to drag it all out that far.  So, we let that go.

Our next apartment was further from the high street and closer to the university in a grassy, more modern section of Harborne.  We found the place way too early and spent some time sitting by a nearby pond.  I already thought this place might be out because the neighborhood seemed too quiet and not dense enough.  I'm a big believer in more people = better community and lots of people on the street being what keeps you safe.  The apartment, however, was very nice despite being ugly on the outside.  The estate agent was late so it was shown to us by the current tenant and her young kids (the kids wanted to show us their room and playroom, too cute).  The kitchen was American-style with more of an L shape and an eat-in area.  The living room was enormous, and the toilet was separate from the shower/bath, which I actually think is a great idea.  The yard was nice and bright.  Afterward we walked back to the university and the walk was not pleasant, through a lot of high-car-traffic areas.  That sealed, along with the ugly aesthetics and creepy quietness, that this wasn't a big contender.  I think it's going to be perfect for someone else soon, though.

Finally the end to the day? more place to see.  This one was a wild card - an apartment directly on the canals downtown!  We just had to see it and it was worth it.  The apartment was two stories above a ground-floor estate agent office, and the building is listed, meaning it has historical significance and is being preserved.  That ended up being the death knell for it, too.  While painters shined the place up, we saw a nice sage-green kitchen and large first-floor room, then went up to the second floor where we discovered that the bathroom - very cool with a wood-trimmed tub - had no standing shower, and could not have a standing shower on account of being a listed building!  I don't even like to book hotels without a standing shower, so living in a place without one was out.  The other problem is that the single-paned windows cannot be replaced with double-paned ones, meaning more noise and less temperature control.  Bummer!  We really enjoyed seeing it, though.

Finally...the end to the day.  By this point we were sick of looking at places.  While walking back to our hotel we made the decision to go with one of the apartments from the previous day.  The one with the downstairs bathroom had been vetoed by D, so we were down to the shiny new refurbished one or the one with only two bedrooms.  We went with the two-bedroom one.  This was not easy.  Relief, regret, relief, regret, back and forth after we made the decision!  But here's the deal - 2-bedroom is 100 pounds a month cheaper, which is money that can go toward the car and house we're thinking about buying.  It is also partially furnished (read: fridge and washing machine and wardrobes!), making our transition much easier since we do not currently own any of those things.  It was less bland than the refurb, and more comfortable because we wouldn't have that feeling of walking on eggshells in a place someone else just completely fixed up.  And, we know the landlord is down with being a landlord. In the refurb, the place is for sale or to let.  Pick one, man.  I don't want to rent it and get booted when you sell it.  So, it was very sad to let go because the location was better, the street more charming, and the kitchen oh my god the kitchen.....I love you, That Kitchen.  But, we let it go and emailed the estate agent for the two-bedroom.  Which also has a pretty decent kitchen.

Then we had some amazing Polish food to celebrate having been spoiled for choice. 


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