House-Hunting in Mobay: Part Deux

If you haven’t already, start with Part One here!

Now that you have your game plan, it’s time to dive into the apartment search. But where do you even start?

Scour rental ads in the newspaper classifieds

Western Jamaica, the Mirror is your new best friend. With three publications per week, the Western Mirror is replete with ads from landlords all over St. James, Hanover and Trelawny looking for prospective tenants. Some days (like Wednesdays and Fridays) and some months (like September/January) carry more listings than average. So grab that red pen and start circling because these apartments and homes move faster than Time and Patience bread.

Don’t be afraid to look online

In the beginning I was skeptical about finding a place to live online in Jamaica, let alone Montego Bay. But the top real estate companies have outdone themselves, and the online offerings from the websites of Coldwell Bankers, Victor Brown & Associates, Century 21, and Hoshing Realtors among others are usually quite extensive. Just make sure to sort by price from ‘low’ to ‘high’.

Keep your eyes peeled

Bulletin boards and notice boards are usually filled with boring ads and weird services but it’s possible to find a gem underneath all the irrelevant papers. I found my first apartment in Mobay on a bulletin board at work – very lucky!

Call and/or talk to people

Word of mouth is one of the best ways to find a new home. Put your social media to good use and crowd-source some apartment or house options. Chances are someone in your friend group knows someone who knows someone who can hook you up. Whatsapp groups can be invaluable in this respect – if the group is somewhat professional members will sometimes share helpful information like rental offerings.

Think slow but move fast

Because listings can appear and disappear in less than 24 hours, it can be tempting to make snap decisions just to secure a spot. But this is generally impractical (especially if you’re house-hunting for more than) and will almost always lead to regret. I often hear stories about tenants who stay for just a few months then pack up and leave because the rent was too high, or the situation was inconvenient.

If there’s no penalty for breaking your rental agreement (which usually lasts at least a year) and if you love the hassle and stress of moving then apartment hopping might be just up your alley. For the rest of us who plan to remain stationary for a year or so, it pays to look twice before you leap. If your current situation is uncomfortable but not life-threatening (whether your life or the life of the landlord who you want to murder) it can be more beneficial to stay put until something that fits your needs comes along.

Having said all of that, as much as I love house-hunting and living on my own (with partner and cat in tow), I understand that we’re all at different stages. I’ve been lucky enough to have a job that lets me live where I want to live, and still put food on the table. (not Mango Walk Country Club money but I really can’t complain). I’ve also been lucky to have a partner who shares the financial burden. I’ve been lucky to find places to live that I have enjoyed, rented by people who were actually kind, if not 100% reliable.

You might have worse luck or you might have it better, but since luck is when preparation meets opportunity I hope these posts help you to prepare for whatever living opportunity comes your way.

Pax.

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House-Hunting: the Mobay Edition

Finding somewhere to live is hard, whether you’re in university, freshly graduated or bouncing around with three kids and a stable career. Fortunately or unfortunately house hunting is something I love to do (is that weird? It’s probably weird), and I’ve picked up a few lessons over the years that I think can be useful to my fellow 20-something Montegonians (all five of you who read this blog, if so much).

I only hope that this two-part series will make wading into the waters of independent living a little less scary, and that it will be a guidepost along a path that can be confusing and muddled. If it’s not time for you to leave the nest for one reason or another, that’s okay. Work hard and save. Living with parents is by far the cheapest option – no rent, free food and your mom will probably do your laundry too. But if you absolutely have to get out there on your own, then maybe this little blog will help you do it.

General rules:
  • Be prepared to pay at least two month’s worth of rent up front (sometimes three). This is the rent for your first month plus a security deposit in case you ruin the place and don’t pay bills.
  • Take everything with a grain of salt. I’ve been told an apartment was on Brandon Hill and after following the directions ended up, disgruntled, in the middle of Farm Heights.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it definitely is. Look for the catch.
  • Read that rental agreement cover to cover. Get any promises to fix things in writing before you sign. Document any pre-existing damage and make sure the landlord knows about it.

Once you’re ready with that rent money and a healthy dose of skepticism, it’s time to plot your game plan.

Pick an area and know your budget

The first step is to know how much money you can feasibly spend on rent. Be realistic here not ambitious. One of the awesome things about Montego Bay is that you can find a home for any budget, especially if you’re flexible. If you’ve only got $10,000 to spare you can still find a place to live. It will probably be a shoe-box but it will be your shoe-box.

A good rule of thumb is that your budget for rent and household expenses shouldn’t exceed 30% of your total income. Like the pirate code, this is more of a guideline. To find a more exact number, once you’ve figured out 30% of your monthly salary go ahead and subtract an estimate for your utility bills (if not included in the rent) and any associated costs of the rental home like maintenance fees and such.

Once you know what your budget looks like, go ahead and pick an area (or a few) where you’d like to live. Bear in mind that location is everything in real estate and nice areas usually come with really nice price tags. There are ways around this, like smaller homes in uptown areas, or sharing common spaces. Which brings me to my next piece of advice. . .

Be cautious about sharing utilities and common spaces

The first rule will help you in weeding out your prospects. Once you have an amount and a location in mind, you’ll quickly skip those listings that don’t match your specifications. But even though you might want to compromise on that one bedroom apartment in Westgate Hills where you ‘only share a kitchen and the light bill’ take a minute to think about what sharing a kitchen means: dirty dishes in the sink all the time, and people eating your food from the refrigerator. Sharing the electricity bill means constantly arguing over who burns more current. And if you’re anything like me 2AM on a weekday morning will find you angrily trying to calculate the estimated energy consumption of your toaster oven vs her microwave.

Just don’t give yourself the headache.

Be cautious about living with a landlord

People can be . . . sensitive about their homes. Which is understandable. But as a tenant it can be frustrating to have someone constantly looking over your shoulder. This might be okay if you’re a fledgling graduate just starting out in the world of independent living (almost like having a surrogate parental figure – if you have a good relationship!) but gets much more tedious once the independence really settles in. Their ‘friendly advice’ turns into nagging, and all of a sudden you’re desperate to move. My advice would be to avoid living with the landlord altogether.

In the same vein, try to find landlords that are reliable and respectful. Avoid the ones who flake on fixing infrastructural problems, or go into your home when you’re not around. Ask other tenants (if you can) what their experience is like, and when you meet the landlord make sure their temperament is one you can work with.

Make a list of your preferences/needs

This helps to refine your search, and comes in handy when you’ve viewed a prospective home. After you’ve done your ooh’s and aah’s on the walk-through it’s important to drill the landlord with some hard-hitting questions. How stable are utilities? Is there parking available? How do you feel about extra guests or loud noise? Pets? Smoking? The list is endless and subjective. Knowing what’s important to you comes with time and sadly a little trial and error. The awesome thing about moving is if you absolutely hated something about your last apartment you can make it a definite deal-breaker with your next one. Hurrah for starting over!

***

That’s it for part one! The second installation, where I talk about how to find these elusive apartments, will be posted tomorrow. Stay tuned, and feel free to share your strategies for house hunting. Do you agree with me on the shared spaces? What was your worst landlord experience? Let me know in the comments!

 

Housing at UWI – where do you turn?

This post is about homelessness. No, scratch that. It’s about finding a home. Not the metaphorical place where your heart is, just a roof and two walls where you will be (relatively) safe and sheltered.

In some ways I have so much experience figuring out where to live and in some ways I have none at all. It depends on who you talk to. Whatever amount of advice I have I’ll be dispensing here, and you can use it as you see fit. Just to be clear, this is about finding college accommodations for students specifically for limited time periods, though I suppose my methods could be applied to more grown up living needs as well. You’ll see for yourself.

Real estate is such a scary topic. At least it was for me. And I guess it’s scary for any high school graduate who has decided to leave home and pursue the university dream but who (gosh darnit) just couldn’t get on hall. More on that in a second. I like to break down scary topics into smaller steps. Bite-sized chunks like

  • Options
  • Where to go for help and
  • How to do it on your own

Your two most obvious options for housing when you’re a university student are, of course: on campus and off campus. As cool and exciting as hall life seems, the reality is that only a small percentage of university students actually live there. The majority commute from home or other places either by choice or because they couldn’t afford the fees/got kicked off hall.

UWI (it’s always UWI on this blog, sorry UTECH) has so many halls of residence. And they keep adding more. The quick and dirty list in order of awesomeness (uh, personal preference? More detailed assessment will probably follow when I muster up the research effort):

  • New Postgrad (Marlene Hamilton Hall)
  • Towers (Elsa Leo Rhynie Hall)
  • Mary Seacole
  • A. Z. Preston
  • Rex Nettleford
  • Taylor, Irvine, Chancellor

That’s eight (well seven, MSH and Chancellor are gender-specific) fantastic moderately livable places to choose from all within walking distance of your 8AM and 6PM classes.

There are many advantages to living on hall. It’s also a lot safer to get used to an unfamiliar city when “home” is somewhere that it matters to people when you don’t show up.

advantages

But for the rest of us who love jumping in and getting our feet wet, who get a thrill from adult-type independence, there is the off campus route.  Be the master of your own affairs! Pay those bills! Cook those meals! And yes, invite whoever the hell you want to invite over for however long you want (subject to the terms set out by your landlord/lady).

For those of us thinking about living off campus, this is where you start.

The UWI Lodgings Office

I cannot stress how helpful this place is. It took some warming up to their methods (and you better not be in a rush) but they’re great at matching you to a place that fits your budget. Added bonus: they vet all the accommodations that they recommend to students. They’re big on location, so they won’t drop you somewhere in the middle of Tavern Drive or Mona Commons without warning. You’re far more likely to find a Mona Heights address if you go this route (whether or not this is up your alley).

Flyers, Flyers everywhere.

Read the noticeboards. All of them. All the time. I have gotten so good at this that Kat takes a firm grip on my elbow whenever we pass one, just so that I won’t slow down. Seriously. There’s always some place for rent. Also? Know your crowd. The apartments advertising at the Faculty of Medicine are not the same as the ones advertised in the Faculty of Humanities.

Google is Your Friend

Once upon a time I used to think that nothing we ever did in Jamaica was easy to find on the internet. I still think that, for the most part, but a lot of the time I am pleasantly surprised. Don’t be shy about searching the websites of real estate agencies for rentals you want. Something might be out there. Pitch in with a friend or two and rent a fully furnished house. (They are not all heart attackingly expensive). Real estate agents do open houses on Youtube now. It’s a brave new world out there, kids.

Useful Websites:

Know Your Own Mind

Before you go house-hunting it’s good to have a list of questions to ask your prospective landlord/lady. Simple stuff like whether bills are included in the rent, if there are frequent water or power outages in the area, if there is wifi, if they have any rules for tenants (most will). Think about your own lifestyle and what you can and cannot put up with.

Just Go For It

The way to feel like you actually know what you’re doing is just to do it. Call the number on the ad, go to the places you want to see, ask questions, take pictures, consult with everyone you know. For every 20 places you inquire about at least one might be sublimely perfect for you in a way you will probably appreciate more when you have been house-hunting for nearly two years. Or maybe they will all suck. But either way you’re getting knowledge that is pretty much invaluable to you as an adult.

Because that’s what you are now: a rent paying, meal-cooking, house-hunting adult. So go out there are be wonderfully, smashingly, amazingly terrible at it.