What do you look for in an apartment?

What do you look for in an apartment? How do you turn a physical space into a home?

Everybody lives somewhere. Yet, as we know, not all homes are created equal – especially in the developing world with vast inequalities. Since I don’t speak the local language in Ho Chi Minh City, I have become far more reliant on fellow English teachers, co-workers, new friends, and real estate experts than usual in finding housing.

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So following my philosophy of seeking information through conversation, I’ve been asking many Vietnamese for advice as I hunt for a new apartment. Here are some useful questions.

– What districts/neighborhoods do you suggest? Why?

– What seems like a reasonable price for a two-bedroom?

– Can I walk around at night?

– Is the area safe?

– Should I pay in dollars or Vietnamese Dong? Why?

– What do you look for in an apartment? Why?

– Do you have a checklist of essential services? What’s on that checklist?

These last questions, by far, have lead to the most interesting conversations. One young office assistant instantly blurted out “money!” emphasizing the importance of price in her decision. Another young assistant focused on “privacy” and warned against renting a room with a family. “What if you come back late at night? Will they give you a key? Will they say you make too much noise?” She proceeded to share some personal stories emphasizing the advantages of a private apartment. Note: she lives with her cousin now and can’t imagine living with her nuclear family or non-relatives. Interesting.

A rental agent offered some other advice. “You can change a home, but you can’t change a neighborhood so you choose the neighborhood first.” This agent, a friendly upworldly, mobile woman felt safety, quiet, and the comfort of living with international workers and “high class people”  were most important.  I agreed about safety, but observed that not all wealthy people were good people. “Yes, but they safe.”  I later noted the luxury hi-rise seemed quite quiet. “Are you afraid of quiet?” she asked in surprise.  In noisy Saigon, the idea seemed absurd. The sales agent asserted that this building complex is Vietnam’s future.

Given the humidity and tropical heat, air-conditioning remains a must too. Cable television, providing access to international channels and English language programs from around the world and adequate internet cable access have become defacto requirements too. These modern luxuries were added to my actual housing checklist as I visited more potential homes away from home.

I also like space and often miss the view from my father’s New York fantastic apartment.  So I’ve retained a soft spot for terraces overlooking urban areas. The hi-rise resembles Century City skyscraper in a crowded neighborhood of “traditional” buildings with narrow streets. The second apartment that I saw in the hi-rise offers magnificent views and a warm breeze. The attractive price remains only 10% of my monthly salary. I took the apartment. The place evokes, in an odd sense, a familiar feeling. This could become my home away from home.

What do you look for in an apartment?

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“They know enough who know how to learn.”

– Henry Adams (1838-1918), American historian and educator

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