Monday, August 18, 2008

Lessons in real estate

Assisting a friend with the search for an apartment took up most of the afternoon and evening. While landlord negotiations can be a bit tedious, I also felt useful because my friend doesn't speak Russian. And it was interesting seeing what sort of apartments are available for such sums of money. Baku is not cheap. The food isn't cheap. The clothes aren't cheap. The real estate isn't cheap. He finally got a very nice one bedroom apartment for 800 manat ($960) a month. Like most places, the common area of the building is quite run-down, but the interior is nicely restored. The building was constructed in 1856, and many of the original fixtures are still in place. Earlier, he had considered a place for what he thought was $1600. Then - the landlady said that she was talking about manat, not dollars. "Everybody does business in manat now. No one works in dollars, because the dollar changes around too much," she said.

Another observation: the real estate agent said the market right now tightening up considerably. Observers for the elections on Oct. 15 are already renting apartments. So are people who have fled the fighting in Georgia.

In the inevitable waiting periods that are part of the process, the real estate agent told us her own tale, of how she lost her own apartment when she took her son to safety in 1990. At the time, violence between Azerbaijanis and ethnic Russian was escalating. She took her son to her parents in Leningrad, where he would be safe. In her absence, a mob broke into her apartment and seized it, destroying the documents that proved her ownership.

Her family never did recover that apartment. But her son is safe - and is now studying to become a dentist.

(Above is a picture of some boys playing soccer (football) in the streets of Baku.)