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How to find killer (design) accommodation in 5 days?

We have a beautifully designed house in Belgium; and being on the road doesn’t mean we wanted to settle for less. So finding affordable, beautiful temporary accommodation in Cape Town was at the top of our nunomad ‘wanted’ list.

‘Affordable’ being as important as ‘beautiful’, we set ourselves a monthly accommodation budget of  around €500.*

Since this was our first ‘stop’, we didn’t really have a plan of how to go about it. When you don’t have a plan, you usually have to rely on your gut feeling. Which must have been on top of it’s game on this occasion… since, only a few days later, we had these two killer apartments confirmed. And more or less within budget too. :)

* This is our Cape Town budget. Our budget varies depending on where we are.

20100319-155704-CVA-Cape Town 20100319-145606-CVA-Cape Town

When ‘gut feeling’ leads to ‘success’, it becomes ‘a good strategy’ :). So, time to share it.

(This ia a rather long post, but please bear with me, since every word is crucial to the story.)

1. Know where to search (sources & neighborhoods)

There’s no better guide than a local guide. As well as many other things, locals have given us extremely valuable information about the neighborhoods in which we’d most likely (not) want to live. This gave us a starting point from which to start exploring the city and a method of navigating around the many possible locations.

Information about where to start looking for our ‘home’ is the other thing locals helped us out with. They pointed out some websites, local newspapers, etc…

Having answers to these two simple questions immediately narrowed down our search, and saved us a lot of time and energy.

2. Be Open to all possibilities and aim high

When we started looking, we checked all the different accommodation options available. Which ones would we feel comfortable with? Which ones were not our ‘cup of tea’? We didn’t exclude anything. Dream high and aim high. You’ll find out later whether or not they are possible.

Here’s what we decided:**

– We didn’t want a hostel or hotel
– We didn’t mind having roommates
– A house was ok, but we didn’t need anything bigger than a studio/apartment
Design was more important than space

** These criteria may change depending on your location. In Cape Town, we didn’t want to live in a hotel because it was too expensive to eat in a restaurant every day. In Thailand, on the other hand, we wouldn’t mind living in a hotel because you can get an awesome dinner for only a few euros, which is tastier than the equivalent prepared by yourself. So we won’t be needing a kitchen there.

3. Put yourself out there

We combined our own search with putting an ad on one of the ‘local ad’ websites. We wrote a few lines explaining who we were and what we were looking for, and added a link to our website for more information about our trip and project.

So now, instead of just searching ourselves, other people could find us as well. This multiplied our chances. We got different landlords/ladies contacting us, sending us pictures of their properties. Many of them were crap; but hidden amongst them was this one particular gem.

This is how we found Lamu House, the second of our Cape Town apartments. The landlady read our ad and offered her apartment at a very reasonable monthly rate. Partly because the high-season was over, partly because we would be staying for a long time, and partly because she really liked our story.

4. Follow up on various opportunities. Don’t get upset if they turn you down

We combined looking through the different channels pointed out by our local sources with a basic google search. We contacted all the potentially interesting places we came across. Some of them were house-shares, some were holiday apartments, and others were plain short-term furnished rentals aimed at locals.

When contacting holiday apartments, we didn’t look at the quoted price. Whilst in Thailand, we discovered that reduced monthly rentals can sometimes cost you about the same as one or two weeks‘ rental. So when approaching a holiday apartment, we just sent them an email inquiring about their monthly rental fees.

We got a lot of “no’s” and “non-responses” in the process. Also people who only wanted one room mate and not two, holiday rentals telling us they didn’t have monthly rates or just giving a small reduction, and so on…

4. Get out of that box

After a few days, we had selected a few different places we really liked. But none of them seemed to fit the picture.

There was the Lamu apartment, which was beautiful (although not minimal design), located in one of our preferred areas, and within budget. But it was only available three weeks later and already rented out for a week somewhere in the middle of our required rental period; so we would have to look for another place to stay during that week.

There were a few very beautifully designed holiday apartments, but all of them were way over budget. (No affordable monthly fees like in Thailand). So I sent them an email thanking them for their offer and explaining that they were not within the budget of two freelancers on their trip around the world. And… I suggested the possibility of trying to strike a deal which suited the both of us – taking pictures, setting up a small website, working on their online communication, etc … to cover the remaining amount of money that wasn’t within our budget. And we got lucky, we received a ‘we might be interested mail’ back. So we set up a meeting to talk things through.

Now we had two apartments in the running. Better still, except for the first week, combining the two apartments would give us a solution to the Lamu House rental period problem. It would also keep the extra workload incurred in order to afford the other under control.

So there was just the problem of that first week left. I realized very quickly that this wasn’t a problem, but an opportunity. This was the perfect time to meet some interesting locals through ‘couchsurfing’. (Something we were planning on doing anyway.)

5. Get lucky

After a successful meeting, we confirmed both apartments. We then sent a few emails to couch surfers and within two days we had surfed the first couch. Both apartments turned out to be brilliant, and we made a good friend through couchsurfing. So, all in all we got really lucky! I don’t think it’ll always turn out like this. But I do believe this strategy helped us a lot along the way. So, for all of you giving this strategy a try: good luck!

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