Househunting in Lagos – 11 lessons I’ve learnt
1. Not to count my chickens before they are hatched. I learnt this the hard way when I was getting to an agent’s office two weeks ago to pay for a two bedroom apartment, only to find someone else had beaten me to it. I was this close to calling all my friends over for the washing and was already trying to figure out how much Star to get (not Heineken, not in my house). And then, in a split second, I was houseless again.
2. Looking for a house in Lagos is a full time job. I found out one needs to treat it as such, or find someone else to do so. If you cannot drop everything and leave your baby whom you are still breastfeeding, your business that comes to a standstill without you present or your scary boss the moment the agent calls you to say he’s heard of a vacancy, do not bother to look for a place at all. Demand is high and the best places are off the market in he blink of an eye. See lesson number 1.
3. To treat the title of ‘real estate agent’ lightly. Everyone can be an agent. The moment somebody hears of a 3 bedroom around the corner, he has become an agent. There is no license involved nor are there any professional ethics required. Al it takes is having the contacts to said landlord and then guarding it with your life. Never give your client phone numbers or the exact address of a place that is for rent. He might dupe you and go directly to the source. This is a market of middle men in a networking society: a man’s contacts are his capital.
4. To decipher agent’s lingo. ‘Some work needed’ means the place has been destroyed by the last lodger and looks like a war zone. ‘Cosy’ means claustrophobically small. ‘Under construction, ready in a fortnight (always a fortnight)’ signifies that the foundation has just been put in place and it would take an army of Chinese workmen to finish it in that time frame. Prepare to wait at least a month before you can move in. ‘To be finished to your own taste’: the land lord has left you with a cement floor without tiling, a kitchen without cabinets and a bathroom without sink. ‘Airy’ – ruin without roof. ‘Serene’ means expensive. Very expensive, as in Lekki or Banana Island. The kind of overrated locations agents want to ship oyinbos like myself to.
5. To forget about knowledge. In the case of househunting in Lagos, time is power. Quick decisions are rarely the right ones. When you are not in a hurry and can afford to delay your decision, you get better results.
6. Not to let any agent bully me into buying. They always emphasised there was another client interested in the place. In fact, many time they declared another client was ready to pay for it within the hour. I got used to hearing ‘This apartment is in very high demand, you have to move pa, pa, pa (quick, quick, quick)’ Sometimes it was true (see lesson number 1). Other times it was a selling strategy.
7. I read the Lagos State Tenancy Law. I should not have bothered. It is simply not working.
Me: ‘But it is illegal to ask for two year’s rent!’
Agent: ‘Is this Fashola’s house?’
In fact, I’ve come to mistrust landlords who ask for only a year’s rent. There is usually something very, very wrong with their property. The kind of thing you will only discover after you’ve paid, spent your first night there and woke up to realise you cannot stay there for a single second longer. Do not go there.
8. Me and my car Wima got used to a lot of company on our househunt. At one point I had my agent, the agent’s contact, the contact’s contact and the man with the key to the apartment in my vehicle. All four of them were giving me contradictory directions in the typical Lagosian manner (‘That way’ – waving vaguely with index finger to nowhere in particular). I tried to be Buddhist about it. It did not always work. Sorry again Mr Tony that I yelled at you when you almost misguided me into that one way street from the wrong end.
9. To get accustomed to waiting. For my agent, my agent’s contact, his contact, the man with the key, the guard to let us in and the landlord. I learnt to spend it wisely. Walked around the block, talked to the residents. Asked about flooding and the light situation. Checked for security and night clubs. Night clubs within walking distance: good. Night clubs within hearing distance: bad. And of course I inquired after the best place for moinmoin and Star beer at pump prices. After this research I sometimes did not even have to see the apartment for rent anymore.
10. To hoard up on phone credit. I made endless phone calls to get my agent, my agent’s contact, his contact, the man with the key, the guard to let us in and the landlord at the same place at the same time before sundown. Also provided occasional credit for my agent, my agent’s contact, his contact, the man with the key and the guard who let us in. I stopped adding up how much I had spent on phone calls half way through the house hunt. Too depressing.
11. Not to count my chickens before they are hatched. So I will not tell you now about that cute and very affordable upstairs apartment in Surulere with lots of windows, views all round and a guest room for when my mum comes to visit. I know better than that. I will let you know when I have the door keys in my hand and my stuff is in the little doll house. I have learnt my lessons.
Femke van Zeijl writes for YNaija!