May we live here, please?

Estate agents in Estonia are a funny bunch.

Riho and I have finally moved to our new, city centre apartment, but for a while there it did look rather as if we were going to have to check into a hostel or something when the lease of the old place ran out.

Riho wonders if we are doing something wrong. But really, even taking cultural differences into account, can the apartment hunting process differ so greatly that we’ve completely flummoxed all the Tallinn estate agents just by asking to view a few flats? Firstly, you’ve got the ones who just don’t reply to the initial email enquiry. They just ignore you. This could, of course, be because they don’t speak English, which is perfectly understandable (I don’t mean that they should be able to speak English because it’s perfectly understandable, I mean that it’s perfectly understandable that they don’t speak English, but you got that, right?), although I did bravely put together a little “Please excuse my poor Estonian language skills…” sort of email as well, just in case. It was unsuccessful.

Then there’s their apparent lack of interest in shifting any of their available housing. A short reply will say something along the lines of “Sorry, this apartment is no longer available”, without the “…but here are some others that might be of interest to you” that I’ve come to expect from estate agents throughout my life as a renter. I always found it difficult to get rid of estate agents; here, it seems that they simply want to get rid of customers. In frustration, we called in to the office of one of them to ask about an apartment listed on their website. “It is no longer available,” said the incredibly disinterested-looking man behind the desk. We looked expectantly at him in the hope that he might follow up with “I have some others that might be suitable”, but he went back to his newspaper and we walked out quite dejectedly.

When we do manage to arrange a viewing for somewhere, the agent tends to be also seeing it for the first time. They’ll let us in and then stand there texting someone on their phone or looking impatient as we show ourselves around. There is no sales pitch, no enthusiastic attempt to make mildew on the shower curtain seem like a positive thing. And when asked questions about the building, the area, or anything to do with the apartment in general, the answer is usually “I don’t know”.

And the worst part of all is when we  do manage to get that far along the process, and find somewhere we actually want to rent, and send an email to inform the agent. This has happened no less than three times. They just don’t reply! And it’s not that they took an instant dislike to us, because one of them did get back to us several weeks later to confirm that yes, certainly, we could have the apartment. Of course, by that time we’d already viewed about half a dozen others, enquired about twice as many again, and agreed to take the first one whose agent we managed to tie down and hold at knifepoint until he gave us the lease to sign.

It’s been a very strange experience. However, we’re now in the new apartment. Getting internet access appears to be as problematic as getting somewhere to live, but for the moment I don’t really mind – I do, after all, have quite a lot of knitting to be getting on with, which means I can’t be sitting around wasting time online all night. Plus, when I want internet access I just have to go across the road to the Viru Centre, where I can order ridiculously large mugs of coffee and lounge around on comfy chairs.

It ain’t so bad.

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3 thoughts on “May we live here, please?

  1. sjsmart says:

    I really believe that these post soviet countries are still really really new to customer service and just don’t have a clue. Help you? Why should they do that, I mean they are only working (I am being TOTALLY sarcastic).

  2. sjsmart – perhaps, but I quite like the way they do things for the most part. I like going into a shop and not being hassled by sales staff, and the fact that they leave you alone until you specifically ask for assistance. The difference is that normally once you do ask, they’re quite helpful… estate agents seem to be an entirely different kettle of fish!
    HBWolf – oh dear. My sympathies!

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