We are moving to Berlin. After moving to Italy three years ago, I did all of the things that a young American living in Italy is supposed to do: I learned the language, drank the wine, ate the food, saw the sights, went to the disco, dreaded the Questura, got a bike, used the same bus ticket for 6 months, sang opera in theatres and piazzas, and fell in love with an Italian. That part wasn’t planned, but it was inevitable.
Looking for an apartment in Italy is dangerous, looking for an apartment in Berlin is IMPOSSIBLE.
I have somehow made it this far on my “good looks and sagacious wit”, a favorite quote from one of my best friends. I have been very lucky in my life. Things seem to always happen for a reason and have worked out for the most part, so occasionally (and naïvely), I rely on this seemingly kind endowment from the Universe instead of actually starting things on time.
And then after five days straight of bleary-eyed searches for apartments on every apartment site for Berlin I could find, I started to feel not so lucky. Everybody wants to be a cat and EVERYBODY wants to move to Berlin. Apartments are there one second and then not. There are influxes of new ones all at once that get snatched up. All of the German landlords want a pile of documents and guarantees, which is understandable unless it is your first time renting an apartment that is not under the table or “Italian Style”. Italy has basically been my enabler for not following the laws of society.
I was told from the start to look for apartments months in advance. At first, I threw it right back out to the Universe and said, “yeah ok, I’ll figure it out when I’m not at aperitivo”. Thankfully halfway through January I just happened to take a look and realized what I was up against. We got our first bite at the possibility just a few weeks ago. So halfway through January to February 19th was only THE BEGINNING of communication about the POSSIBILITY of renting.
I had sent out a frantic email blast half in German half in English and I caught myself an Italian! She wrote back saying English was fine because she was Italian. I literally leaned back, cracked my knuckles, and said, “oh yeah, baby”. I wrote back all in Italian and laid it on nice and thick. How nice it was to find an Italian renting in Berlin, I was living in Italy with my Italian boyfriend, let’s all be friends, how great we can communicate like this which is easier for you. Yeah! Yeah!
It worked. She was delighted. She immediately gave me her phone number and we chatted on the phone about each other’s lives and set up a Skype date for the next day so we could all discuss the apartment.
We Skyped with her for an hour and it all went wonderfully. She said we seemed very trustworthy and she would love to have a young couple she could obviously trust renting from her.
She didn’t seem very well informed on what paperwork we needed to do which seemed like a plus for me at the time. We left the Skype call very positive after she told us to have a friend living in Berlin to go see the place next week to make sure we liked it before signing anything.
I was doing victory laps already. They abruptly stopped when she started sending us paperwork that was not matching up. She wanted a guarantee, but did not know what kind of guarantee or which paperwork to go with it.
We must have exchanged over 20 emails reassuring her we were financially secure enough to never miss rent and we had people who could legally guarantor if she wanted it. She kept pushing paperwork that we found out was for Asians who want to visit Germany…this in no way, at least that I could figure out, applied to us.
So my boyfriend and I took an entire Sunday evening on our own time to figure out what forms she needed, what order she needed them in, and how we could get them to her in a way that pleased her before signing a contract. She was happy with the research we had done, but was still convinced we were Asian. She had seen us on skype. At this point I just agreed and said I would happily fill out the paperwork meant for Asian tourists if she needed it. She told us to contact her again when my friend had scheduled an appointment to see the house with the person currently representing it (she lives in Italy currently and isn’t even in Berlin).
Our friend couldn’t get an appointment to see it for a week (A WEEEEEEK) because the guy who was going to show it to her was too busy. So we sat on our hands for a week nervously pondering if we were going to get the apartment. We felt confident. I even received a reassuring email from the woman saying, “Why not?! You are a great couple, it would be a great place for you both”. But she didn’t want to make a decision until our friend saw it. I wanted to scream, “WE JUST WANT TO GIVE YOU OUR MONEY! Please, let me give you money. I am begging you.”
At the end of a more than two week waiting period, the evening before our friend was scheduled to see the place, we got a short email from the woman telling us the person currently living there decided to stay and so it wasn’t available. The end. Bye.
I have learned to face rejection in the healthiest way: screaming like a maniac and punching pillows for five minutes and then moving on immediately.
The next day, I went to the library because CONVENVIENTLY our internet had been out for two days (and is still out! I can’t wait to move…). I once again looked through every single website, sent out emails, and 15 minutes before the library closed someone responded who had an available apartment. I felt like MAcGyver defusing a bomb. The librarians were packing up, the cleaning crew was glaring at everyone from the corner, mops at the ready, I started sweating. If there is one thing Italians are on time for, it is going home from work. Mercifully this landlord was just as rapid fire as I was at sending emails. It was like a tennis match, boom, boom! Back and forth: What are the dates? Is everything included? Location of the apartment? Do you require paperwork stating that I am an Asian tourist? No? We’re in business!
Just as the cleaning crew began to wheel their rickety carts in for the kill (I’m literally not exaggerating, it was this stressful and this intimidating to finish this up without being yelled at to leave), this landlord and I came to a good understanding and it seemed we were pretty set. But I didn’t get my hopes up yet…although I did victory dance and fist bump with my boyfriend that I am a master and found a replacement apartment within 18 hours of our dreams being crushed.
But then…the cycle began again. Except this guy was all about “now now now”. A far cry from the last one, but just as destructive when trying to negotiate in a timely fashion. After 24 hours of back and forth emails trying to appease needs on both sides, the issue became form of payment. He wanted cash, up front. Um, no. You are not a drug dealer, you are leasing an apartment.
What is completely understandable in all of these situations is that we are two people who do not know each other, but need to have trust. How is that possible? The landlords want guarantees and so do the renters. The landlord wants to make sure they are paid and their apartment isn’t destroyed, and the tenants want to make sure it isn’t a fraud and that the contract is real and reflects what the expectations of the apartment are. Between all of these emails trying to come to common ground, I started to think of the fable “The Frog and the Scorpion”.
Basically there is a scorpion who calls to a frog from the shore of a stream and asks for passage to the other side by riding on the frog’s back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion replies, “Because if I do, we will both die as I cannot swim”. The frog is skeptical, but takes the chance as he seems to have a guarantee. Collateral in the form of the scorpion’s life. But halfway across the stream, the scorpion stings the frog. As he is dying from the poison, the frog yells, “Why!” and the scorpion replies, “It is my nature”.
Unfortunately we live in a suspicious and deceitful world. Even though I know I am a good person who would never not pay my rent and would not cause damage to someone else’s property, the landlord does not know that I won’t change my mind and decide to sting him. But after everything seemed to be sorted out, he wanted, as I said above, cash money upfront. Traveling between countries with that much cash is not safe. I suggested a money transfer the moment we arrived. He said as a guarantee that he wanted it before. I put my foot down. This seemed super shady. He had written a 10-page contract, took the listing down after we agreed on dates, this was the final hurdle and he was not budging. If this was a fraud, it was going to be revealed in this moment.
I had been binge-watching “House of Cards” and was inspired to Claire Underwood this guy. No more BS. I wrote a very straight-forward email highlighting the shows of good faith we had provided him. My boyfriend had come up with a fair and safe money transaction that I wrote. I told him he needed to meet us where we had met him and be reasonable and re-write the contract to illustrate the changes he was going to have to make to fit this and then ended it saying in essence this was the final offer we were willing to make. This was another moment where I wanted to write in CAPS, “I JUST WANT TO GIVE YOU MONEY!” I didn’t. Claire Underwood would not do that.
I went for a walk and 20 minutes later got an email that said, “It seems we have come to an agreement. You are quite deal-maker ;)”. Yup, winky face and all. I was in public, but I didn’t let that stop me from punching the air Ari Gold from “Entourage” style.
He immediately re-wrote the contract and even deducted cleaning fees. That’s right: He finally decided to let us give him our money.
After that, he was so pleasant and kind and even said we could come a day early free of charge if our flight was the 31st of March instead of April 1st.
So guys…WE HAVE AN APARTMENT! It is happening and it is exciting and terrifying all at once. This has been in the works for such a long time and now it is less than a month away. Do I have to change the name of my blog since I am moving to Germany?