Why finding a flat in Tehran is as hard as in London and NYC - Part II

Why finding a flat in Tehran is as hard as in London and NYC [A story by the Guardian]

 Part II

The most important source for information about available homes in Tehran is the classifieds section of Hamshahri, a newspaper owned by the Tehran city government and the newspaper with the highest circulation in the country. Apartment listings in Hamshahri are by size: there are categories for 50 square meters, 50-70 square meters, over 70 square meters, over 90 square meters, and over 100 square meters. I found only a few suitable apartments in the 50-70 category, and most of the listings advertised places far to the west, like Jannat Abad, or very far south, like Pirouzi. The only two or three in the areas I wanted asked for too much up front, plus a monthly rent, so they were out of the question.

Many of the ads don’t even publish the prices in hopes that more people will call in to inquire. Contrary to what I’d expected, most of the numbers I called didn’t connect me to building owners, but to real estate rental agencies. Building owners hand over the job of renting out their apartments to these places, which publish the ads with the rents in Hamshahri in hopes of renting them out faster. Calling these agents on the phone can be a stressful and ultimately fruitless affair: at any moment, they can put a caller on hold and start chatting with someone else, only to forget the first caller altogether. And even if you’re lucky enough to get through an entire conversation without being cut off, you still won’t walk away with a great deal of information. For example, when you ask about the specifics of an apartment, an agent might respond, “Well, I can’t discuss that over the phone; you’ll need to come down and see the place for yourself. Here, write down our business address...” They also seem too hurried to answer many basic questions that people might have about an apartment, such as the age of the building, the unit floor, elevator, parking, and storage space.

Tehran’s 3.5 million vehicles are engaged in an unending search for a place to park. Even though people now park on Tehran’s narrowest streets, and many other streets have been turned into free or paid parking zones by the municipality, finding parking near one’s home is still a constant struggle. My old place didn’t have parking, so I paid 100,000 tomans a month to the guard at the municipal parking lot to let me park across the street. For my new apartment, I’ll need a place with secure parking, as I’m not looking to add a stolen car to my list of potential troubles.

After a while, it starts to seem like calling the agencies is a waste of time and that simply showing up at their offices might be the best option. There are also numerous apartment hunting websites that promise more information on available apartments, such as “Iran File,” “The Wall,” and “Home Bazaar,” but even the phone numbers there often lead right back to one of the agencies.

Iran has two major types of real estate agencies: old-school and modern. The agencies operating the old fashioned way are generally 20-30 square meter operations run by people over 50 and featuring only one or two desks, and a handful of chairs arranged around the office. When you ask about the size and price of a home, they refer to thick tomes containing the desired information.

The modern offices are typically much bigger - 100 square meters of open space - and they inevitably have an attractive young lady greeting guests at the front door. After asking whether the potential client is looking to rent, buy, or sell, she directs them to a commensurately young, attractive and well-dressed man. There are generally around ten desks in such offices and as many real estate brokers. They adhere to the practice of introducing themselves by their first names and have clients fill out and sign a lengthy intake form. The form even has a place for “level of education” and “occupation,” and it asks customers’ preferences in terms of location and a variety of other factors, although desired rent and area are notably absent.