Monday, October 09, 2006

Not so happy hunting
Guest writer Johnny Nguyen offers his tuppence worth on the dreaded house hunt in Hanoi

You might think looking for a house in Hanoi would be an exciting time, as you dream of that perfect lakeside mansion with the mild mannered and non-interfering landlord and a swimming pool in a hither-to undiscovered neighbourhood where everyone sleeps in on Sunday morning and no construction ever happens.

But let’s face it, moving house is a drag. Finding that dream house is worth celebrating, for sure, but until then, you’ll have to search the length and breadth of the city, traipse up a thousand steps while feigning interest in houses you know you don’t want as soon as you step inside.

After years of wild goose chases into areas I had already said I didn’t want to live in, I believe it’s best to be strict with a lot of local agents. Send an email, prior to meeting up, stating your preferences or shall we say demands, particularly the price and the areas you’re happy to live in.

For those of you who are new to town and don’t know the difference between Bach Khoa quarter and Truc Bach village, try to ask a colleague for some helpful parameters to work within. Otherwise you’ll end up with the worst kind of city tour, one dominated by traffic jams in the suburbs as you’re dragged from one ‘villa’ to another.

You’ll be doing well to score the perfect combination of a great area, great price and great landlord. So don’t set your hopes too high as two out of those three is not bad.
Landlords and agents may also very well tell you what you want to hear – concerned about security? Why this area is as safe as ... houses! Can’t stand construction, why nothing is going to built near here ever again! (Apart from that about-to-be-built multi-story abomination across the road, of course.)

My advice, come back after the guided visit and ask the neighbours these questions yourself. Have a look out for hidden karaoke bars or late night pho stalls that might end up hacking into your precious sleeping time, or the infernal loudspeaker, which is used for community announcements, generally at 6-million-am on certain streets. Any one of the above can ruin a perfectly good house.

For those with initiative, or time on their hands, you can go solo. You can try and drive around town and again, ask locals if they know of any houses for rent, or look for ‘house for rent’ signs, which are common enough in areas where a lot of foreigners live already, such as Nghi Tam village, Van Ho or around West Lake.

You can even look up the classifieds in Vietnamese papers (Mua Ban) or online papers (, though you’ll need a helpful translator for this. (For English language listings check out

Finding a house by yourself means you have more chance of getting a better price by cutting out the middleman. In general as well, don’t be afraid to ask for household items to be included in the rental price – chairs, tables or even a TV – to be provided. Most landlords, or landladies, will be happy to negotiate the terms of the lease.

In terms of signing contracts and the small print, don’t be afraid to assert any quasi-legal deals you might think of (admittedly you learn what these might be the hard way, once bitten, twice shy). A close friend recently had the nasty experience of finding that “dream house” then quickly losing it. She moved in after shipping everything she owned over, then one week later the landlord told her that he’d sold the house and she had to move out by the end of the month. Moving had been a complete waste of time, energy and money and, as you might have guessed, there’s little chance of compensation.

Finally, for those of you who are fortunate enough to have people to look for houses for you and companies or embassies to pay for the rent, please do us little people a favour and encourage your staff to haggle on your behalf – it helps keep prices down all over town!

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