I love International House Hunters. I love seeing what people’s houses look like around the world. I enjoy watching the entire process people go through finding the perfect place to call home in a new country. If you keep up with me on Instagram, then you know we recently moved to a new neighborhood. What you might not know is all the drama we had to wade through to get there…!
Figuring out how to navigate life and basic things like moving in a different culture isn’t always easy. And honestly, it can be incredibly frustrating. Partly because of the fact that it’s obvious we aren’t from around here. If I had a penny for the number of times people have tried to take advantage of the fact that I’m American by raising the prices of things, or not being completely honest about normal processes and procedures, well, I’d be doing pretty good! It’s just the way it is unfortunately, and while I give people a hard time when I know I’m getting scammed, I’ve also had to come to accept and expect it. The other thing that is a major challenge living overseas, whether you are a local or a foreigner, is that all too often landlords will do whatever they want (regardless of what’s been agreed upon) and there is little to no recourse. We just experienced this firsthand, and while we can laugh about it now, it was pretty maddening at the time.
We’d been discussing the possibility of moving away from Karen, the neighborhood we’ve been in since we arrived in Nairobi last year, to Kilimani, a neighborhood closer to where my husband offices. Most people around these parts think it’s a little strange that we were considering this, because it seems like Karen is a pretty desirable part of town to call home. And it really is lovely. We enjoyed the quite, “country” feel that Karen has to offer. At the same time, there were so many wonderful restaurant options and shopping malls a stone’s throw away… But for us, it all really came down to one big thing- the traffic. Shawn was driving a short distance of six miles one-way, but it was taking anywhere from an hour to, at times, three hours! It was just insane. Blame it on matatus (public transport), buses, or just bad driving… at this point I can’t really pin point what the exact cause of the crazy traffic around here is… but I can tell you that it is just ridiculous. I love so many things about living here in Kenya, but the traffic is without a doubt not one of them.
So, around eight months ago, we started talking about making a change. I was online just about every day looking at different rental properties and quickly realized that if we were serious about moving, we were going to have to say good bye to the idea of a stand alone house with green space. Something similar to what we had in Karen was easily two or three times the price in neighborhoods like Lavington or Kilimani. We had definitely been spoiled the last year in our cute little furnished cottage!
It looked like an apartment was the most realistic option for us. So, imagine our shock when we found a four bedroom, stand-alone house in our ideal neighborhood with it’s own private yard and guesthouse for less than what we were currently paying! We were so excited about the idea of moving closer to work and friends (This house was in the same estate Shawn lived in during his time in Kenya in 2002 and many of the neighbors were the same). We met with the landlord, worked up an agreement, and were scheduled to move in after they were done renovating it in two weeks time. Everything seemed perfect. We gave the Karen cottage landlord our notice, and started shopping for second-hand furniture and appliances. Two weeks before our move in day, everything came to a screeching halt. We found out that, despite our agreement, the landlord had rented the house to someone else, and didn’t even bother to tell us! I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little sad… I’d already decorated every room in my mind and was planning hosting weekly girl’s get together’s in the big living room. Thankfully, we hadn’t given our deposit, so we hadn’t lost anything but our time.
We now faced the challenge of finding a new place to live in just two weeks time (remember, we had turned in our notice and had to be out of our current place!). It was back to the drawing board. Between trolling the internet and driving all over town stopping anywhere we saw “To Let” signs, we were very excited to find a great apartment within our budget that was also walking distance to Shawn’s office. In addition, it had a great garden that Shiloh would be able to run and play in, a swimming pool, tons of mature trees (a selfish wish of mine since we are surrounded by so many buildings and pollution here in the city…), and a working fireplace! We were sold. We met with the landlord and she agreed to make us her new tenants. We filled out all the paperwork and settled on a move in date. We were so excited, we snapped a spontneous selfie on our way out and breathed a deep sigh of relief. I didn’t realize how stressed this whole ordeal had made me…
Two days before our move in date, the landlord called Shawn. She was suddenly demanding five months rent cash upfront! The whole conversation was just strange… and we were very uncomfortable. Obviously, we didn’t have that much cash just laying around. But even if we did, we would have never agreed to giving her that much upfront. Everything suddenly felt wrong. So, we backed out.
I was frustrated. Of course we knew we wouldn’t be “homeless”. If worse came to worse, we could always stay with friends until we were able to work something else out. But that’s not as easy when you have a toddler and a pile of second hand furniture and large household appliances you’ve been slowly accumulating! I decided I could be worried and play out every “worst case scenario”, or I could just trust that God had something for us and leave it in His more than capable hands.
Shawn and I did more driving up and down the neighborhood, looking for apartments advertising empty units. Most were too expensive, or didn’t have enough space (our biggest priorities were good security, a good location and something with enough room to host guests since we have a lot of friends and family who come through). We even had a friend of ours call up his buddy who is a real estate agent and spend the entire next day looking at apartments.
But, just before our lease was up, we found a place. And it was perfect. It ticked every requirement and then some. My favorite feature was the green space Shiloh could play in.
Best of all, it was move in ready! We didn’t waste any time in contacting the management and signing a lease. And just like that, the very next day we were moving out. Friends really helped us out by giving up their day.
Of course, our moving truck showed up about five hours late (oh the joy!) so by the time we got everything moved in it was really late. We were too exhausted to put the bed together and ended up just crashing on the living room floor. We didn’t mind though. We were just so happy and thankful to have this new place to call home.
We’ve been here for about two months now and it’s starting to feel more and more like home. We have had to pace ourselves in purchasing appliances and furniture, but it will get there eventually! Being on this side of town was without a doubt a very good decision for our family. Less time sitting in traffic, more time with the people we love. Win, win!