Thursday, July 17, 2008

Only in China II (A Real Estate Story)

Since Marilyn and I have to move out of the dorms on the 27th, we've been frantically looking for a place to live for the year. However, with the shadow of the Olympics loming overhead, finding a decent place to live has proved quite difficult. Thankfully, yesterday, with the help of a family friend, we might have found something, but first, the bad news.

On Sunday, Marilyn and I saw our first place. We met the realtor at the subway station and then walked over to meet some of his realtor friends at a highrise. When we arrived, the place was clearly still under construction, as workers were busily coming and going with planks, drywall, etc. We stepped into an elevator that was still lined with wood. The apartment was a small, supposedly brand new, studio for about $440usd. As we walked in, another realtor was lying asleep on the bed (most apartments in China come furnished). When one of the 4 realtors standing around kicked the sleeping realtor's foot, he groggily sat up and stared blearily out the window. We didn't want to be too picky, but the place was clearly put up in a hurry, as the floor wasn't done properly, and the bathroom seemed like a bit of an afterthought. Our real estate warned us this was the best he could find, but we left, deciding to hold out for better.

Needless to say, the process thus far had been a bit traumatic for us. So, when we had dinner that night with one of Marilyn's parent's friends and his family, they offered to help us look. After dinner, as the daughter (who we'll call Jiejie) and her husband were walking us back to the bus stop, we passed a row of real estate shops. I made the mistake of checking the listings in the window; a realtor was immediately by my side rapidly speaking to me in Chinese. Marilyn, Jiejie, and her husband stopped and came back to ask the realtor some questions. After some discussion, the realtor offered to take us to a place nearby. We arrived at a decent looking, albeit poorly lit, apartment complex. One of the realtor's coworkers dropped off the key on his bike and waited downstairs as we headed up. We step out of the elevator into almost pitch black darkness. Apparently, all the hall lights in apartment buildings are on a roughly 3 second motion/sound sensor, so you play this game of: dark, stomp/clap/dance, light, dark, stomp/clap/dance, light. Anyway, so we're stomping and waving our arms while the realtor puts the key in the door. Immediately, from inside the apartment, we hear someone banging on the door yelling, "Who's there??????" An older Chinese lady opens the door, grabs the key, and starts yelling at the realtor, who yells back. I have no idea what's going on (later I find out that the old lady says she's the owner and she never left her key with the real estate office), but Jiejie quickly herds us back into the elevator and we leave. As we're leaving, the realtor calls Jiejie's cell phone and says it's okay to come back, it was just a misunderstanding. However, when we get back, the lady's gone and no one will answer the door. The motion sensor's going on and off, the lights are flickering, and we're peering down a dark staircase, with no idea what just happened. As we leave, the realtor runs to her coworker on a bike and tells him, "Did you see an old lady come down the stairs??? Go get her! She took the key!"

We're still not really sure what happened, but we think that the old lady might have been a squatter or an evictee or something, pretending to be the owner so she could take the key back...

The whole experience was cinematic and surreal, like some kind of episode out of the Twilight Zone. I'll let Marilyn tell you about the place we did like, but for now, you get the crazy Only in China real estate story.

3 comments:

Jirat said...

Wow...that was amazing. We just finished watching our favorite movie again (Chocolat), and your story is just as good. I don't know what to say, but wow. Did they find the old lady with the key? I want to know the whole story! Can you find out or else I might go crazy wondering why she got evicted. Poor old lady.

J.Dou said...

I'm not even sure where to begin finding out what happened. If the realtor calls Jiejie, I'll try and find out the scoop...

tamela said...

woah! crazy story... glad to hear you guys found a place you like!