English notes by a Ukrainian woman. Part 8: The Real Estate Movement

At the outbreak of war, Irina Potanina, a Russian-speaking Ukrainian writer from Kharkov, moved from Ukraine to the UK to save her two sons. Now she works in a small cafe, believes in the imminent victory of her country and keeps a personal diary. By tradition, "Winter" shares excerpts from it with readers.

Irina Potanina
Irina Potanina

Lunch breaks in coffee shops like mine are only available after three, so I usually have to deal with all the bureaucratic stuff and pick up my kid from school at the same time in forty minutes. Of the bureaucracy today only another application to the real estate agency, but what, in general, should be done online and take no more than half an hour, now risks taking longer. I am sitting with a broad social smile in front of a gallant girl-agent and feverishly searching for the English equivalent of our “Do you want the checker or the ride?”.

It’s worth making a practical digression here.

I knew from the beginning that I would have to change my lovely studio above the garage for something more apartment-like: yes, it’s in the country, but it’s far from school; yes, it’s nice, but a little cramped; yes, it’s with awesome landlords (who have already become close friends), but it’s awkward to bother people every time you need a stove or a washing machine… So I asked about renting a full-fledged apartment as soon as I realized I could pay for it. But it turned out that agents who represent the tenant’s interests fairly were not interested in me. Besides, it wasn’t discovered right away.

– Need to pay three months rent in advance! – they said.
– I agree,” I replied and went to save up my money.

– Need to provide a guarantor from someone who has lived here for a long time! – they said.
– Will do,” I replied and sent emails to UK citizens who knew me.

– With two sons, it would be cramped in a one-bedroom apartment with a huge kitchen and living room,” they persisted.
Do you think that in response I told you that once, even before I bought my first apartment in Ukraine, I felt wonderful in a rented small apartment, but recently, during the renovation of our luxurious Euro-three, we moved the whole family into a one-room Khrushchevka apartment and perfectly accommodated there?
No, I agreed again, saved up, sent out emails, and stayed optimistic….

And then I was able to speak to one landlord personally, and the world of rose-colored glasses came to an end.
– Real estate is scarce and people are plentiful,” he admitted honestly. – Agents probably won’t tell you this, but all landlords follow three rules: no animals, no kids, no non-professional. A good agency probably won’t even tell me about your interest. And if he does, I’ll just sympathize. And you, and yourself, and them. You – it’s clear why, myself – since I’m basically a kind person and I’m terribly uncomfortable saying no in situations like this, them – because I’ll immediately change agencies to one that values the psyche of the landlord more.

This, of course, is where my hands went down.

I remembered how a girl I know, who, by the way, has much more financial resources than me, “for some reason” attached to applications to agencies a video in which she nods meaningfully, and her 14-year-old son in flawless English tells how wonderful and neat tenants will be she and her mother. I, too, could maybe forget about my fear of the camera and ask my older son to promote us, but you can’t hide 6-year-old Igoresh in a video….

I remembered how a friend in Europe “for some reason” bought expensive insurance promising to cover the damage her cat would do to someone’s apartment. But for children, I don’t think this kind of insurance is issued…..

I remembered one very nice Kiev woman who eventually spit and “for some reason” returned home. Kiev is also in a bad situation now, but it is impossible to return with children to my native Kharkiv, which is defenseless against the evil empire because of the proximity of the border and which is bombed daily….

The situation seemed so desperate that I decided that it couldn’t get any worse and went straight ahead: I told the agent everything as it was and told her that I would pester her until he (in this case she) got tired of me enough to solve the problem.
Alas, I lacked either assertiveness or vocabulary in executing this plan. This was the third agency (one a day), and I kept the conversation going, more simply because I had promised myself to have it, rather than out of hope for a positive outcome.

– I understand that landlords have the right to dictate their terms,” I ramble, myself getting off track, “the price of real estate goes up every year. Think about it, just a hundred years ago a good house cost 600 pounds, now it’s 600 thousand.
– Oh, really? – wondered the interviewee.
– A plaque in one of your parks says that the founder put 300 pounds into it, which in those days was half the cost of the house. That was in the 1920s.
– What are you, a historian?
– No, literary man,” I grasp at the fact that the agent herself has brought me back to the right topic as the last straw, “So, ask your landlord clients: are they in for a ride or are they out for a ride? – Finding no analogy, I say the last phrase without translation, but immediately clarify. – If they care more about regalia, then tell them I’m a writer and a mathematician. I can produce my two degrees and a long list of published solo novels on demand. But if they want to know what I do for rent, then yes, I am a cafeteria waitress. And frankly, I think the latter, coupled with a willingness to give a solid upfront payment, should outweigh their reluctance to board kids, animals and non-professional….

The girl makes round eyes, and I tell in detail about my communication with the honest landlord.
– Oh, my God! – she exclaims. – Just like that? It’s discrimination, actually. We don’t do that. If there is such an opinion, it is, well… rather, just as a belief… Superstition… It is surmountable, but when there are other applicants for the apartment….
– I see,” I said, unable to hide my sarcasm. – I’m like a black cat crossing the road for you. She is feared in general, but after getting to know her personally, takes specific black kittens into her home and is very loving. That’s a nice comparison…

It turns out that the girl doesn’t know the omen about black cats. But she tells about forty: to see one magpie – to misfortune, and two or more – already to joy. That’s why, upon spotting this bird, the English immediately start looking for more.

So suddenly I suddenly get the key to a mystery that has been troubling me for a long time.
– So that’s what this is about! – rejoicing. – The history of Magpie Lane is coming to light! He was still in your town twenty years ago. But the sign was stolen all the time. Someone must have believed in failure. Or, on the contrary, wanted to accumulate a lot of “forty” at home for good luck. The sign was torn down so many times that the alley eventually had to be renamed. The thefts stopped immediately. Now there’s Doomsday Lane,” I’m getting away from the right topic again and coming back very clumsily. – And it says a lot, by the way, that, like for me, any superstitions for the locals are complete nonsense. One of the city’s most prestigious neighborhoods consists of Doomsday Street, Doomsday Garden, Doomsday Alley, and even Doomsday Dead End. And everyone’s doing just fine there. How’s that sound?

– I didn’t even think about it,” laughs the interviewee. – And you know, I’m still going to write that you’re a historian. It’ll be more impressive that way,” she looks at something in the base files and sours. – Honestly, I can’t get your hopes up. We’ll keep you in mind, sign you up for the newsletter, but, uh.
– I work a stone’s throw from your office and I’ll stop by every day to see how I’m doing,” I turn to direct threats.
– I’m always happy to talk to you,” the girl doesn’t back down.
We look at each other smiling, with complete understanding and the realization that the situation, alas, has not changed a bit.

And then – you won’t believe it! – Like a slow motion movie, first three magpies land on the window ledge, and then my phone screen lights up, announcing a new message. My wonderful current landlords are well aware of my children and I’s adventures and, as always, eager to help. And I think after a dozen failures, they found me the right apartment. Right now, while I’m discussing my futility with the girl agent, they’ve already arranged a viewing… I reread the message three times and realize the problem is solved.

Of course, superstitions are pure nonsense, but I will not write here, so as not to jinx it, say, I am lucky. And I will only write that I am terribly glad and that, paradoxically, I will miss situations where I have to go next door because of the stove or the washing machine. Because there are wonderful people in this house.

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