x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Observing Life: househunting is a misadventure all over the world

Flat-hunting in Abu Dhabi reminds me of colourful experiences in New York.

As I begin apartment hunting in Abu Dhabi, I'm reminded of my past misadventures in securing a home.

In Manila, my broker had a curious preference for flats with unexpected freebies. Get this apartment and you get a free toaster. Or a gift certificate at the mall. Or a month-long gym membership. My favourite was a place that came with two free parking spaces in the building's basement. "But I don't have a car," I told the broker. "But imagine all that space!" he chirped, not blinking.

In New York, hunting for a room was one cruel episode that lasted for two months, during which I moved from one hostel to another, one friend's couch to the next.

I sent hundreds of inquiries on Craigslist and attended countless open houses, to no avail. "It's not you, it's them," my friend Evan told me, when we met up after another night of failed attempts. By "them" he was referring to the array of oddballs I'd encountered during my search. There was the couple in Brooklyn who sounded nice on the phone. "I just made chicken pot pie, so come by anytime while it's still hot," the girl said. Promising, I thought, sprinting to the L train. I got to the flat and was welcomed by what seemed to be the state's entire bohemian community, smoke swirling above our heads. Whether they were the couple's friends or fellow house-hunting nomads, I never knew.

Then there were the five models - three ladies and two guys - who seemed like good people, until one of the girls told me of their Golden Rule: "This is a food-free household, so if you want to eat," she said, looking disgusted just by the idea of it, "you can do it outside."

And then there was Spidey Guy from Chinatown. I entered the flat and was instantly infatuated: high ceilings, big windows, wooden floors. And a stocked fridge. Only I couldn't afford the place; the rent was twice my budget. As I stood up from the cosy couch - oh, how I would have enjoyed many entire Sundays on it - he made an offer.

"Well, OK, and only because you seem like a good guy - I can cut the rent in half," he said, as I sat back on my soon-to-be co-owned daybed. "But I have a favour to ask. Once a week, can you clean the flat while wearing a Spider-Man costume?" I dashed out of there as fast as I could.

As I walked to the train station, I bumped into a friend I hadn't seen since fourth grade, after his family migrated to the US. We caught up over dinner, and he mentioned he had just moved into a new place and was looking for two flatmates.

And just like that, a sickening night turned glorious, a reminder that genuine love for a city - a new home - is something you work on.