Moving Day in Vienna

Finding a Student Flat Becomes and Exercise in Sleuth, Subterfuge and Dumb Luck

„Sind sie eine Studenten WG?“ is the question that has haunted me for the past couple of weeks. A trick question, a secret door that will slam shut should you supply the wrong answer. Yes, we are a “Studenten – WG (Wohngemeinschaft),” even worse, we’re four young men in their twenties bound to cause trouble. It’s in our genes. At least that seems to be the attitude of every landlord and real-estate agent we’ve met.

Looking for an apartment began with the rather cushy task of opening that real-estate section in the papers or browsing through it online. The online way comes with a “search agent” allowing you to filter through the vast amounts of available habitat. The print version blabbers on with pages and pages of ciphered text. Who can tell me how “111m_, AB, Blk., v. Priv, Pro. frei, PB, GEH, Bad, MM 1,200€“ would be read out loud? The origin of Dadaism? And when we had finally mastered the language of real-estate ads, we realized that those vast numbers of available flats shrank drastically once four exigent boys had articulated their needs.

Four separately accessible rooms had been defined as a minimum, five was the aim. They had to be equal size, and of course the location had to be one of Vienna’s vibrant student romping grounds. We were flexible with kitchen dimensions and even the total sum of square meters, but we knew we wouldn’t want to pay the overpriced agents fee. We flipped through the Immobazaar, and found only three ads worth a call.

Online was worse. The search agents’ smiley face reported the bad news: “0 hits for your search. Please try modifying search criteria.”

Although already disillusioned, the biggest obstacles were yet to come; meeting the landlords. Originally, we’d excluded real estate agents entirely, yet when we appeared, most landowners couldn’t help but be startled by the fact that there were four of us.

After a while, you could predict reactions simply from the demographics of a person; the moneyed elderly woman displayed sheer ignorance. Her tactic was looking the other way, hoping it would make us stop asking questions and go away. Believe it or not, the strategy worked.

The male landlords at least had the guts to greet us but couldn’t help being intimidated — not personally, but out of sympathy for the apartments.  True, we did theoretically have the potential to turn their beloved suite of rooms into a “flat” in its literal sense, but we in reality were just not the types. How could I communicate that?

We began sending out CV’s and offering some extra bucks, as “our share” of the tedious renovation work done prior to our entry. Eventually, the strategy landed up a juicy option in the middle of the ninth district. A landlady (who had only seen our CV’s) promised all the best:

“There is a young lady just a nudge in front of you on the waiting list, but should she not comply with the lease demands, you’re in!”

Of course the young lady complied. Soon the option of paying the agents fee merged into the picture. After all, inhabiting an apartment that met all our requirements had to come at a price, right? Opinions had clearly shifted. Yet the broader “search criteria”, as our search agent would have put it, didn’t produce the desired effects. There was a hook to every potential find.

By now a substantial portion of our seven day week had been dominated by the intricacies of apartment hunting. One optimistic member of our group had cancelled his lease contract months ago thinking we would’ve long succeeded by the time he had to move out; he was forced to move in with a friend.

But life wouldn’t be what it is if possibilities didn’t arise out of nowhere, and when you least expected them. The situation in my current five-room apartment suddenly changed and I had a shiny flat to offer just around the corner from the Stadtpark in the 3rd District. We finally had a matching shelter. Even the kitchen was fully equipped.

What I learned from these last couple of weeks is that optimism is directly linked to open-mindedness, and that an apparent plenitude of offerings can quickly turn into a corpse-strewn battlefield when your requirements are understood.  This ultimate solution to our “problem” was unexpected and still left some unsettled compromises.

But inhabiting an apartment which suits all your expectations always comes with a price, right?

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