Why finding a flat in Tehran is as hard as in London and NYC - Part IV [Final]

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

 Part IV [Final]

The real estate agents assume almost no responsibility either; after all, their main job is pulling the wool over people’s eyes. You can now count me among the many Tehranis who have a negative view of these real estate agents. Some of the listings they sent made me wonder if they’d even bothered to look at my intake form. The supervisor at an agency on Shariati Street set up an appointment for me to check out a building on Farid Afshar in a pretty fancy area called Zafar. The rent was 2 million tomans per month with 10 million up front, and the apartment was 90 square meters. I arrived to see the place at 11am. It was old, had no private parking, and was on a dead end with very little room for parking on the street.

An attractive, well-dressed woman of about 50 opened the door for me. I could tell by the endless ceremonial hellos she was giving me that my bachelorhood would pose no problem for her. Contrary to what I’d been expecting, the apartment was actually underground. I hate living in a basement apartment, and as we trudged down through what felt like a dusty, musty garage, I remembered exactly why that is.

Meanwhile, the woman did her best to try to rent the place out to me. “I have only one condition for you if you rent the place: You have to have at least two parties a week,” she said at one point with a hearty laugh. “Otherwise, what good are you?” I forced my own laugh, but my gut told me that she was preparing me for a real eyesore of an apartment. Even listening to my gut wasn’t enough warning. When she opened the door, my heart sank. It had a big living room, but with the oldest and dirtiest walls I had probably seen since the Iran-Iraq war. The floors were an oily, muddy stone, and the cabinets in the kitchen were literally falling apart. Even at 11am, so little light made it into the apartment that the place looked like a dank cave. The adjacent bedroom was even filthier than the living room and so dark that I had to use the light from my mobile phone just to look around a little bit, and the toilet was full of broken tile. The scene reminded me of stuff I’d imagined while reading Oliver Twist at a young age.

As I reeled from taking the place in, I heard the woman’s muffled voice from the other room. “You can hang your whiskey glasses up here if you want,” she said. “Rent here and I’ll give you a great discount because you’re such a nice young man.”

After hurriedly bidding her farewell, I called the agent who had referred me there and took out all of my anger and frustration from the past several days.
“I told you I wanted a place with light and you sent me to a mausoleum!” I yelled. The agent was about to start explaining when I hung up the phone. I was disappointed and hopeless and had nearly lost all my patience. I decided that I would have to rent a slightly more expensive home if I was going to be happy. I was willing to pay 3 million tomans a month for one of the decent apartments I’d seen earlier. Sure, that amounted to about 80% of my monthly income, but my common sense had basically run out too.

As I walked farther and farther away from the apartment that had so sharply resembled the Dickensian soup kitchens, I turned toward Molla Sadra, near Vanak Square, a relatively calm area near the Kurdestan Freeway that has mostly new apartments. There a miracle occurred in the form of a 75 square meter apartment that fell right into my lap. It had white ceramic floors, beautiful wallpaper, a western toilet, a large living room and bedroom, plenty of light, parking, and storage.

The final stage in the process is signing the contract back at the rental agency, and the final moments leading up to it provide the best opportunity to get a last minute discount from the landlord. The landlord in my case was a retired high school teacher who bought the remodeled apartment in 1997 with a government loan.

“I’ve got a duty to help you out,” she said upon hearing that I was a journalist. “I’ll be really flexible with you. Here, I’ll even knock a million rials off your rent.” Even when I ask for a bigger discount a moment later, she obliges me. When all is said and done, the year-long lease comes out to 30 million tomans up front and 2.2 million a month. I was even able to score a major victory in the form of a roughly 200,000 tomans a month discount.

In order to finalize the contract, I have to sign and date twelve checks, one for each month of the year, up front. The rental agent also gets the equivalent of the first month’s rent from both parties; in addition to that commission, I also have to deposit 1.1 million tomans into the account of the agency’s owner. As I was thinking to myself what a sweet gig those real estate agents had - all that pay for so little work, after all - I overheard two of them speaking near the exit about a colleague’s income.

“You can bag twenty billion rials a month from that complex,” one of them said. “Even someone building high rises doesn’t make that much money.”