“I hope there aren’t any bugs!” said the landlord as she handed me the keys to my new apartment.
“I beg your pardon?” I said, a trifle dismayed that the apartment I would be renting with my girlfriend could be home to “bugs.”
“Oh, it’s nothing really,” said the landlord, “it’s just that there might be bugs in your apartment.”
An awkward silence ensued.
“I’m not saying there definitely are bugs,” said the landlord with a forced laugh, the kind family members might use at Christmas dinner when crazy Uncle Ernie starts telling inappropriate stories. “It’s just that there might be.”
More silence. I had a brief vision of the scene from the last Indiana Jones movie when one of the bad guys falls into an anthill and is eaten alive by its inhabitants.
“Anyhoo,” the landlord said, clearing her throat, “who wants a cup of coffee?”
There were bugs, as it turned out. I discovered one after wrestling three suitcases, two bicycles, and a box stuffed with approximately twelve pairs of flip-flops through the front door of our new apartment. As I prepared to unload my burden and collapse onto the carpet of the living room floor, I found the space already occupied by the unwelcome intrusion of several cockroaches. Placing hands on either side of my face à la Munch’s The Scream, I emitted a falsetto screech, performed a cartoonish, woozy twirl, and passed out for an indeterminate period of time. When I came to, I wasn’t sure how I came to be buried under a pair of bikes and a mountain of bejeweled sandals, but I knew without a shadow of a doubt that my apartment had bugs. Even worse, I knew I was to blame.
I found the apartment on Craigslist, you see, and that’s where all the trouble started. Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with Craigslist per se (where else am I going to find a collected set of Brendan Frasier DVDs at a moment’s notice?), but it’s no use denying that the site hosts some seriously strange offers, and the housing ads are no exception. As such, my virtual, independent housing search was peppered with all kinds of off-putting interactions:
“Hello,” I wrote in an email reply to an advertisement, “my name is Ian Clark and I’m very interested in your recently advertised property. Do you have any more information about the apartment, or any pertinent application materials?”
“Hello my name is gerald FIGBY of PLUMPLYFORDSHIRE,” replied the advertiser, “and i am currently a MISSIONARY in a very DISTANT country. i am looking for a qualified and GOD-FEARING individual to care for this one-of-a-kind APARTMENT. i am confident that you will love my apartment with all your HEART and so i am willing to give it to you for a one-time fee of FIVE HUNDRED and SEVENTY-SEVEN dollars so if you will please email me the pertinent ROUTING & BANK ACCOUNT & SOCIAL SECURITY numbers i will gladly mail you the apartment keyes in 6 WEEKS or less or possibly more.”
And so on. It didn’t take me long to realize that navigating the world of real estate without professional help was entirely foolish, and I had no business trying to find a home through completely online methods. However, being the stubborn fellow that I am, I pressed on, and that is how I found myself renting a cockroach-infested apartment and wondering whether avoiding genuine interactions with bona fide real estate agents might have been a mistake.
My girlfriend and I toughed it out for a few weeks before deciding we needed to move. We came to this conclusion after a particularly distressing run-in with our cockroach roommates (I’d spent the better part of an hour bashing the little villains to death with our seemingly inexhaustible supply of flip-flops), and this decision also entailed a commitment to working with professional leasing agents. While moving is never fun, my experience working with actual human beings was positively blissful compared to my original housing search. Rather than wading through questionable email exchanges and vague, noncommittal offers, I had the privilege of attending in-person viewings with professional agents who knew their properties inside and out. Even better, these agents went out of their way to describe all fees involved with the transaction, so I knew exactly what I was paying for before I paid for it. In the end, my girlfriend and I easily secured a stately yet modestly priced apartment with nary a “bug” in sight.
From this experience, I’ve learned three things: 1) In real estate transactions, working with professional agents always trumps relying on free or discounted services; 2) Flip-flops are surprisingly useful, even if you don’t put them on your feet; and 3) Never answer emails from a man named Figby, especially if he’s from Plumplyfordshire.