Looking For An Apartment In The Big City
Although Manila does have a thriving real estate industry, many of whom advertise rentals on weekends in the Manila Bulletin, the tried and tested local method of finding a place to rent is still to wander the streets of your chosen neighbourhood and look for those small signs. Doing this ensures you don’t waste time chasing properties too far from where you work, as the traffic is truly in charge of things in Manila! Additionally, it allows you and the owner to meet and assess one another, something that is vital given the nature of the relationship of landlord/tenant in the Philippines.
The Filipino landlord will generally take things a little more personally regarding the place you rent than would a landlord back home. The tenant often views themselves as being lower on the totem pole in the relationship, rather than as a customer the landlord needs for his business. Consequently, getting anything repaired or changed if you haven’t the right relationship with the landlord can be challenging. Landlords will often cut off their nose to spite their face to show you, the lucky tenant who they have put a roof over your head, how fortunate you are they have allowed you to live there. The tenant will often accept and feed this relationship status because they feel inferior that they don’t own property. Anyone richer than them deserves their obsequiousness, as they expect it from those they see as their economic and social inferiors.
Walking the streets also gives you a good feel for the neighbourhood, although cruising along at walking pace in an air conditioned vehicle is just as telling and far less sweaty! Very often there will be a telephone number and the annoying direction to “look for” someone particular when you call. How you can look for someone over a telephone beats me, just another example of the worsening standard of English in this once literate country.
Once you find a place you may be able to inspect right away. Often the security guard or helper will show you the property. Unprofessional perhaps, but it saves the very important landlord from having to hang around waiting for someone to respond to the obscure minute sign on the gate. After all, that is what the help are there for.
If you can’t get in to view the place, it might pay to have a local call the number and chat with the owner in the first instance. Don’t expect logical questions to be asked or answered. Rather the passage of information might well be more about who you are and who you know and why you are here more than the features of the property and the monthly rental etc. Remember this is Asia and relationships are more important than details! Knowing the place has two C.R.s won’t make them three or only one or cleaner or more modern or suddenly fitted with hot water, will it? Isn’t it more important that the owner knows you know some of the same people or that your Asawa graduated from the same college as the owner’s second cousin’s daughter?
Once the pleasantries are over with it can be down to business and expect it all to be in the favour of the owner. After all, they have the property you want to rent. Forget thinking they may want the income from the rental. Of course they do and they might very well be desperate for it but you must keep things in perspective. They own a property, you don’t, thus they are higher up the socio-economic ladder than you and if you don’t like it then too bad! Owners of rental properties can’t be changing their policies or improving their properties because a potential tenant wants them to! Where would it end? Probably with the tenant thinking they are at least as good as the owner!
I’m not over dramatising this, the attitude is very real and very much a part of the rental scene here. You won’t change it so rail against it in private, then accept it and then turn it to your advantage whenever you can because that is how an Asian would handle the situation. Don’t forget, if you play the game by their rules then they have to do a few things for you, too. Once the right relationship is formed, the owner has a certain obligation towards your welfare, like a “patron” or fatherly (or motherly) figure. You are now one of the family so to speak and like a small child must be looked after and taken care of. Not because you are paying rent which may form a major part of their income. No, it is because a relationship has been formed, there is “utang an loob” involved. (literally “a debt of honour”)
This is why you can hear of people being months and in a few cases I know of personally, even years behind in the rent! Once the relationship is formed then usually you are guaranteed to be well looked after, although don’t expect things to happen with any speed and be careful how you ask for repairs and improvements. Always ask for things by being humble and not wanting to bother them with the trivial details, especially as you are really there to hand over the rent, which of course is more important than any dripping tap or unhinged door. If there is something embarrassing like a bad smell from an overflowing septic tank, invite the owner around for a coffee and let them notice it themselves. Make sure you apologise for the smell as if it is your fault their house is so poorly maintained!
Be aware of the practise of PDC, or Post Dated Check. Most owners will want these for the term of the (usually 12 months) contract. Some ask for a months rent in advance and two months rent as security deposit, others one month each and some demand as much as three months rent as security plus a month or two up front plus PDC for the rest! Like anything and everything in Asia this is negotiable, so negotiate!
Don’t be afraid to negotiate hard! Be polite and even fawning but stick to your guns! That’s how they do it to us, with that “inscrutable oriental” approach that never stops them smiling but they won’t budge an inch. Well Dorothy you ain’t in Kansas now, you are in Asia so work the angles the Asian way! Smile all the time, keep your voice down and never lose your temper and simply never give an inch. Don’t ever feel sorry for them, they are after all, your socio-economic superiors. You are the poor relation without any property and since they are the rich relation with so much more than you have, they can give you more of it than they may be offering. Hey! We always whine about how we are taken for walking ATM machines, the rich, fat Kano etc! Now turn about is fair play so when in Rome, or Manila…….
If you think you are going to miss out on this one of a kind property that is just so perfect, think of this. In Makati alone there are, at most recent count, over 9,000 vacant residential units. Over 9,000 in Makati alone. The report in the newspaper did say property values, rents and so on would increase as vacancies dropped but it will take a long time to fill 9,000 units! And that is just in Makati! When you include the other nine cities and municipalities that make up Metro Manila, there is always going to be at least one other property that is just perfect!