Now for the second installment of our story. If you need to get caught up, read the first chapter here.
By the second week of working on housing, Jenny and Steve were growing weary. They checked out of the hotel and into an Airbnb that they felt would be more comfortable and have fewer thieving maids while they waited for the housing drama to be resolved. They followed up with Unhelpful Elmer yet again and out of exasperation with us, he sent back a copy of the text he had sent to the owner, trying to show us that, indeed, he had been trying to reach her. What he didn’t realize was that he inadvertently gave us the name of the company he worked for. Since he was being super unhelpful, Jenny did what gringas do: she went to Google and went around him. Within 15 minutes she had found the website of the company that provided the management of 1435, she submitted an interest form, she connected with someone at the company and made an appointment to submit the application the next day. This is how you Get Sh!t Done. Elmer was definitely holding Jenny’s beer on that one.
So now the roller coaster of 1435 is back up. It was UP at the touring and first meeting with Elmer, then DOWN at his complete uselessness, now it’s UP again! This is happening! Way to go Jenny! Despite having sh!tty WiFi at the sh!tty Airbnb that was so far north of us that she called it “in Panamá”, she was making sh!t happen!
At this exact moment, in a completely unrelated time and space, Elmer calls me to say that he has another idea for how we could make 1435 work. I’m all ears! Except, you are speaking in Spanish, on the phone, you mumble and you speak WAY too fast. So therefore, I’m not all ears. But Elmer seems to be one of the paths to this apartment so I decided I really needed to hear what he had to say. I call my school transportation taxi dude, who is bilingual, and begged him to take this call from Elmer and call me back and tell me what he says. He’s a Super Helpful Taxi Guy so he does exactly that – twice. Taxi Guy tells me that Elmer is proposing some idea that involves us giving him a financial tip and in exchange he gives us the number of the apartment owner. HUH? The owner that you yourself said is not responding to texts, is in China or some far away place and now you want MONEY for this information? Yeah, gracias but no gracias.
I’ll tell you who did get a tip, though: the taxi guy. He’s super cool and helpful on the spot so he got lunch on me that day. Jenny has a restaurant recommendation if he needs it. #crepesandwaffles But keep the Super Helpful Taxi Guy in your mind because we aren’t done with him yet.
As Jenny is navigating the application process via WhatsApp with her new amiga at the property management company, she does full disclosure and says, “We are tourists here, we don’t speak a lot of Spanish”. The lady says “No problem, it’s easy and we will help you”. That statement turned out to be about 25% true.
Now I need to pause for a minute to give you the context for how it is to rent an apartment here. For one, there is no exclusivity with realtors. If you are putting your apartment up for rent you tend to list it far and wide with as many people as possible. There is also no advocacy for the tenant. All realtors work for the owner or property management company. So when you are looking for an apartment, you kind of have to cast a wide net and be your own best advocate. I tried to play the role of Tenant Advocate for Jenny and Steve as best I could without knowing the system. In addition, when Dan and I looked at apartments, we toured our apartment on a Monday, said we wanted it and moved in with a $300 deposit Tuesday at noon. Our apartment is furnished from beach towels to hot chocolate maker and everything in between. So I had no idea the difficulty that could come with renting an apartment because it was such smooth sailing for us.
What’s more, if you are to rent an unfurnished apartment in Colombia, the contract is written entirely differently and favors the tenant. In fact, squatter’s rights are so strong here that if someone were to move into an unfurnished place, pay no rent and not leave, they had that right and could not be kicked out for at least a year. After that it takes a very lengthy and expensive process to get someone kicked out. That’s what we learned from our research anyway. The expat Facebook pages are filled with people moaning about trying to rent an unfurnished apartment and needing to submit all kinds of co-signers, Colombian bank accounts and massive deposits. Not only were the Bates trying to avoid all that, they were also trying to avoid buying an entire apartment-worth of furniture for an undefined but surely-less-than-1-year stay in Medellin. But still, 1435 is so convenient! So they kept working on it and decided to see how far they could get in the application process, even if, maybe, they ended up with an unfurnished apartment.
Now back to our story… the Moderately Helpful Application Gal arranged to meet the Bates the next morning at 9 a.m. to sign papers on 1435. Could it be? The Shermanos await with bated breath.
At this point we all decided to pretend we’d never met Elmer. We actually didn’t even know where he fit into the picture. For all the unhelpful clues stated above, we assumed that he was not on our team so it’s better to work around him. Jenny and Steve show up at the property management company office the next morning at 9, which is conveniently located just down the hill from our apartment. No sighting of Elmer, so all is well. Jenny starts live-blogging with me on WhatsApp and I skip Pilates in order to get the updates. My abs and their workout can wait, we’ve got to find a place for Jenny to live that’s closer than Panamá.
First step in the application process is to get a copy of their passports. The guy takes one look at their tourist visa which is a mere 10 days old and says “Nope”. Jenny and Steve get up to leave, but another guy says, “Well, wait.”. So they sit back down. There was a lot of talking in Spanish, some gesticulating and finally someone said, “We can work around it”. So Jenny and Steve proceed to fill out 8,293 pieces of paper asking for everything from blood type to mother’s dog’s birthdate. But they said that since Jenny was not employed, only Steve needed to fill out the form. OK then!
They were done by lunch, they celebrated the successful completion of one more step in the apartment chain and were told they’d hear back something after lunch. #dejavu #crepesandwaffles
By mid afternoon there was still no word but everyone was standing by. I was ready to be a reference and exaggerate how long I’ve known Jenny and how much money I’d be willing to loan her, Steve’s employer was ready to say “si” at anything involving “does he work there?” and bank statements and W-2s were ready to be emailed at a moment’s notice. Steve has a good job with a well known American company so he was practically begging them to call his boss. We were just waiting for word from the insurance company, who somehow had the final say on whether the Bates were worth the gamble. Meanwhile, we keep thinking “You know the apartment is EMPTY, right? Like, what kind of damage do you think we could do that warrants all this paperwork????”
Mid afternoon arrived and the application people now said they needed Jenny to come and sign some papers too. Really? Weren’t we just there? And by “we” I mean “them” but still, I’m there in spirit. And by “spirit” I mean “WhatsApp”.
So the next day they saunter back in there, Jenny and Steve explain yet again that Jenny is not employed but they have her sign some papers anyway and off they go. “We’ll get back to you this afternoon.” OK, right. #dejavu #again #samesame
While all this is going on, the Shermanos are proceeding with life as usual. The Shermanitas are going off to school every day, I’m going to Pilates, the guards are laughing at all the comings and goings of the Shermanos and their new Amigos, and our fabulous delivery guys are delivering everything from Diet Coke to rice to dinner. In other words, it’s just normal. But at one point in the process, School Transport Helpful Taxi Guy says “Elmer called me.” Oh? I’m listening. Taxi Guy says, “Elmer saw the foreigners in the office and says to please please not make any mention that they know him.” Turns out on Application Day 2, Scott and Jenny had seen him too and got the distinct “do not know me” look from him, so they did just that. We are speculating wildly about why Elmer would not want anyone to know they talked previously and so far haven’t come up with any theories that are super strong. If you have any ideas, please leave them in comments.
Back to the story… this time they did hear back that afternoon, and it went something like this: “We’d be happy to let you rent the apartment. We just need to hear from our insurance company on your application. Wait one moment.” And by “one moment” they meant “24 hours”. #notimpressed
The next day the insurance company called the Bates to confirm their application. The full scope of the interview went something like this:
Insurance company: “Why do you want to live in Colombia?”
Bates: “We want our kids to learn Spanish and we love Medellin.”
Insurance Company: “How lovely, welcome.”
Bates: “Thank you! [pause] Wait. What does that mean? Are we accepted? Can we rent 1435? What’s happening?”
Insert another 24 hour wait here, while we all continued to hold our breath.
The next day went something like this:
Insurance company: “Congratulations! You can rent that apartment.”
Bates: “Great! When can we move in?”
Insurance company: “Oh, just one more thing. We’re going to need a $20,000 (USD) deposit on that apartment. When you’re done renting you can get that deposit back.”
Bates: “Hard pass.”
It was at this moment, for about 3 hours, that there may or may not have been airline reservations secured with the last name of Bates to leave Colombia the next day. I may or may not have emotionally purchased 2 puzzles and one unnecessary water bottle upon hearing such news, and Jenny may or may not have consumed a massive amount of cookies, all in this 3 hour period. Spoiler alert: All those things did happen.
But the conversation was not over.
Insurance company: “Oh did we say $20,000 USD? We meant $16,000 USD. Our mistake.”
Bates: “Still no”
Insurance company: “Oh we misspoke. $12,000 USD would be fine.”
Are we putting down a deposit or buying a used car? I mean, really!
At this point we are so close we can taste it, or at least taste the yummy meat from the shared Instapot. So Jenny hits the internet yet again and finds that the 6-months deposit is a pretty standard thing in rental contracts here and many expats had paid said deposit and had it returned to them successfully. Steve then stumbles across a bilingual lawyer based in Bogota who works for his same employer. She reviews the contract and reassures him that it’s a standard contract, the insurance company and the property management company are both extremely well known and are the biggest in the country. Bilingual Lawyer gives the process her stamp of approval. Jenny and I are already stamping massive approval, along with the kids. Even Dan gets into the approval-stamping at this point.
Jenny and Steve to the insurance company: “$12,000 deposit, OK, let’s do this.”
By now you’re probably celebrating along with us, thinking “This is great news! The Bates got their apartment!”. You might also be thinking “Great! There are only two parts to this blog!” Well, not so fast, Little Missy. Life in Colombia has more in store for you…