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

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

 Part III

The first home I saw was just a little bit above Valiasr Square on Karim Khan Street. Even though I had specified that living in peace and quiet was of the utmost importance, the apartment is in an area just off one of the most congested and noisy parts of the city.

“Relax, buddy!” the agent reassured me when I asked why he bothered bringing me to such a noisy area. “First of all, you’re at the back of the building where there is less noise. Second, you’ve got double paned windows up there. And third...well, you’ll just get used to it!”

Karim Khan Street is one of Tehran’s commercial hubs, and the traffic there is so frenetic and unceasing that the area always finds itself the target of municipal traffic plans, meaning that only buses, taxis, and cars holding special traffic plan tickets can travel through the area. The street is also bursting at the seams with shops: the center of Iran’s gold exchange market calls it home, as do a number of large booksellers and confectioneries. One of the largest national pharmacies in the country, 13th of Aban, is also there. Many of Karim Khan Street’s residents are middle class, educated, and frequently employed in offices or as teachers.

Upon opening the front door, we walked into an old, dirty hallway and took a minute-long elevator ride to the fifth floor. The house was 70 square meters and, at first glance, didn’t inspire much confidence: the ceiling had numerous cracks, there was obviously no room for a washer and dryer, and the noise from the street filled the room, contrary to what the agent had just said downstairs. What’s more, the price was higher than similar places on Karim Khan: 2 million tomans monthly rent plus 30 million tomans up front. After seeing a few more places on Karim Khan and in nearby South Mofateh to no avail, I figured that the average rent in these areas had risen sharply since last year.

One apartment on the relatively well-to-do Mirdamad Street was so nice that I was all ready to sign the contract. Mirdamad has many of Iran’s biggest commercial buildings, meaning rents are pretty high. For example, a relatively new but otherwise average 65 square meter apartment on South Razan was going for 3 million tomans per month and 45 million tomans up front.

Still, I was able to find a quiet apartment on small Nesa Street just off Mirdamad, and the price wasn’t half bad either: 2.5 million toman per month and 30 million up front. The six-story, thirty-unit building had a mostly granite front, a big parking garage, and two elevators. The interior of the apartment was equally pleasing. It had parquet floors and bright wallpaper that brought the whole place together, a chic, open kitchen, MDF cabinets, and an advanced ventilation system. It had one 20 square meter bedroom with an ideally situated window and a 35 square meter living room with sofas and a dining table with enough room for six people. The apartment’s main drawback was the 2.5 by 1 meter bathroom, which had a toilet and a shower smashed up next to each other.

The agent told me he would try to get a good discount from the owner, a middle-aged woman, and negotiate the contract to 2.2 million tomans per month and 30 million up front. He called the owner to arrange a meeting between us at the real estate agency and we planned to meet at 8pm in Vanak Square. This was the fourth straight day that I had been out apartment hunting from 8 in the morning to 9 at night. I’d fallen behind in my work and my editors were giving me a hard time about deadlines, but I was nonetheless overjoyed to have found a place not only at a decent price, but in an area I knew I would really appreciate.

Just a few hours later my euphoria was shattered by a call from the real estate agent, who said that the owner wasn’t answering her phone to confirm the 8pm appointment in Vanak. He told me to wait for his call. After 24 hours, the agent finally got a hold of the owner, who said she was extremely sorry but she’d given the place to someone else. The news hit me like a sledgehammer. I shuddered at the thought that all of that schlepping around Tehran, suffering through the heat and breathing in all the exhaust, had been for naught. But there was nothing else to do; I had to go down the treacherous road once again. I ended up seeing between 10 and 15 more places in Molla Sadra, Yousef Abad, Vozara, Argentine, and Sanaei. Either the rents were astronomical or they were tolerable but the places were totally unsuitable.

Even when there were decent apartments with decent rents, I ran up against my one fatal problem: I’m a bachelor. Landlords and single people in Iran have a historical enmity towards each other, and the former typically prefer to rent homes out to families or young couples. Their main reasoning is that single men and women are only going to throw wild parties and “do nasty things” there. To my chagrin and outrage, many landowners wouldn’t even agree to show me the place in question upon learning that I was unmarried. Despite all of the love I have for my Iranian culture, it’s sometimes difficult to suppress the hate and frustration that bubbles up when I’m reminded that being single is depriving me of finding a place to live.