Buying a Flat in Krakow: Part I
Being quite satisfied with my three years in Poland and feeling the Cancerian need to put down a few roots, I decided last January to put things on a more permanent footing. Having recently sold my house in England I was looking for a good home for my money. Now, being a stereotypical Englishman semi-obsessed with property ownership and with a healthy distrust of banks, there was only one solution: buy a flat – both to live in and, possibly, as an investment.
Now, I can see some of the more longer-serving ex-pats already shaking their heads. “Oh, you should have bought a few years ago, John.” You see? “A friend of mine had the chance to buy the Wawel and St Mary?s Church not three years ago for only ninety-five thousand…”. You get the picture.
Yes, property in Poland has risen two or three-fold over the last five years, particularly in the desirable areas of the larger cities. So much so that the market has, in many areas, peaked. In Krakow at least, prices have stagnated for the past year and there has even been a general reduction in asking prices, of at least 10 percent. It is a buyer’s market right now and will continue to be so for the rest of the year. (Ahem: This would seem to be the right point to declare that, as an English teacher and writer, all my business knowledge has been gathered from old reruns of “The Apprentice” and snatched episodes of “Location Location Location,” glimpsed in moments of weakness.)
And so, more through intuition than any penetrating market knowledge, another bold statement: prices are set to rise again. Why? Because the Polish economy (and the zloty) is booming, British and Irish property prices have peaked (encouraging foreign investment), and, most importantly, many emigrant Poles are starting to return home intent on developing land or putting a deposit on their own flat. And, whilst primarily seeking somewhere to live rather than to invest in, I was encouraged to try my luck in this buyer?s market.
Of course, anticipated problems with language, bureaucracy and doing business in a different culture were all to play their part. But the first question was: where to live? Now, on my budget the choices were rather limited: a two-roomed fairly modern flat in a middling district. Well, ok, it?s not the Wawel, but then again who wants to pay the administration on that?
As we all know, buying somewhere to live is, for most of us, the biggest financial decision of our lives – and I’m very picky. Frankly, I was not impressed with what I regarded as different variations on the “box in the sky” theme. In England there is a wide range of styles to be had, for all but the smallest budget: flat, semi-detached, terraces, bungalow, for example. I’m not making value judgements here: thirty-odd years surrounded by certain styles of architecture and built environment can’t help but form, or even skew, your opinions. So I kept going: checking out estate agents windows, listening to each new agent telling me s/he has exactly what I want (which always amazed me, considering I hadn’t a clue myself), and generally seeing more new streets than a London cabbie doing “the knowledge.”
I wanted character (budget allowing, of course) and perhaps a park, if possible (to walk in, not to own). A tall order but not insurmountable As an unmarried man, I’m generally able to disregard the well-rehearsed dinner-party conversations regarding the absolute minimum number of bedrooms, distances to the local shops and school league tables, and concentrate instead on actually finding somewhere that I know I’m going to enjoy living and spending time in (there’s the Cancer again, you see).
And now I’ve found it; my very own flat. I can relax, kick back, make myself at home! No more schlepping around town, picking up out-of-date Post Office messages from ex-girlfriends’ flats, trying to remember if I’m registered or not and just who the hell is supposed to change the light bulbs in the hall, anyway? From now on, life seems set to be much simpler.
Of course, nobody ever said it would be easy, right? And between incompetent (yet expensive) banks, an elusive financial adviser, unavoidable (yet all too common) trips to urzad miasta (local government offices) and the signing of seemingly hundreds of documents, it nearly didn’t happen. But it did. And, in part two next month, I’ll tell you how I did it.