Semi-useful guide to flat-hunting in Budapest

Flat-hunting is tiring and time consuming, but most of all nerve-wracking, especially when you’re a visual type and imagine the price soon to be spent in other currencies, such as chocolate. Here’s the scoop: I just got a 25g bar of chocolate for 69 shiny forints, which is in fact 70 forints (lacking one and two forint coins as legal tender – another blog). Right. We’ve just looked at a reasonably priced flat for 16 million forints. That is 228571.4 bars of said chocolate. A whopping 5.7 metric tons of the stuff. Would that even fit that flat? An exciting thought.

Of course, the best bit of flat-hunting is that it is the best way to get to know or get re-acquainted with your new city. First of all, you’re running around in streets you would never go to otherwise. And, of course, there are plenty that you should never go to either. Secondly, a week of flat-hunting should give you enough credit to complete a Sociography 101 module, as you will be spending hours of looking at other people’s lives every day. This is especially true in Budapest, where dolling up your home for selling seems to be almost unknown. Phil Spencer would be virtually unemployed and probably homeless here.

So here is local flavour Number 1: pretty much ninety percent of the flats will be advertised with extremely unflattering photographs, which invariably feature dirty mops drying in the loo. I have a theory that these mops are actually lent to the owners by the estate agents as a tribal symbol of ‘flat for sale’. Even in empty flats there are some unsavoury objects left next to the ladder as a token gesture; rags, DIY bits and bobs and buckets of rubble to name a few. My fave so far was the bedpan in an otherwise grandiose and vacant downtown flat of epic proportions. It looked unused, almost like a theatre prop.  These flats are usually not dirty, they just lack storage space (see No. 3) and the will to remove them from the frame when the maladroit estate agent arrives with the camera. A dear friend of mine takes delight in documenting special gems in her evil blog, which makes me laugh real hard in my more malicious moments.

Number 2: Number of rooms. When Hungarian ads say that a flat has two rooms, they mean that the flat has two rooms that are NOT the hallway, kitchen or bathroom. They do not mean bedrooms though, as Hungarian rooms tend to be multifunctional. In a ‘two-room’ flat, the bigger one is normally what is ideally used as a living room with a bedroom next to it. In reality, a lot of Hungarian families live in ‘two-room’ flats, so the bigger room with an entrance from the hallway is the living room cum parent’s bedroom, and the bedroom opening from it is the kids’ room. These rooms are normally more spacious than an average English bedroom in a terraced house, but they also suppose that the dwellers are okay living in and walking across each others’ personal space. There are of course millions of flats out there that have more rooms or different layouts, but a surprisingly high number of flats have all the rooms opening from one another, rather than having separate access from a hallway or living room.

Number 3: No storage. It may be because Hungarian interiors as we know them grew out of an object-poor agrarian lifestyle or there is some other mysterious explanation… The fact remains that it is very rare to find flats, which give a damn about how and where you will store your scuba diving equipment, diaries between 1987 and 2004, and clothes you never wear. Or even sensible stuff, such as clothes you do actually wear, linen, vacuum cleaner, etc. This is especially true in turn-of-the-century flats, where I imagine these things used to be kept in sturdy free-standing wooden furniture in the bedrooms. You will either have to do some dry wall magic to build a walk-in closet in one of your rooms, sacrifice the pantry, or get a joiner and have built-in wardrobes made in your hallway.

Number 4: Get home-savvy and know your way around utilities and basic common sense questions, which can be deal-breakers. The following tips are minimum essential knowledge for bog-standard downtown turn-of-the-century buildings:

  • Look for somewhere with a decent central heating as winters are cold and high-ceilings as summers are hot. Local gas heaters (konvektor) are very common, they can be cheaper, but it may require a steep learning curve to develop a routine to achieve even temperatures across the flat.
  • Check if the blinds work or if you have internal boards you can darken the room with: you will need them in the summer.
  • Most flats are double glazed by default, normally the old-school way, which means you have two sets of windows – one inside, one outside with some room in between to keep cacti and dust bunnies. If you still have the old windows: awesome, but do check if the windows have been insulated with more than adhesive spongy thingies.
  • Creaky parquet flooring is okay, you will need to set aside some money and time to seal the gaps, sand and varnish, but not more. However, creaky and uneven/bumpy parquet flooring probably has broken, rotting or worn slats beneath and has to be torn up and re-laid, or replaced altogether.
  • What do you see when you look out the windows? Flats overlooking the inner courtyard may be dark, street-view flats may be noisy. Check how many people will pass your window getting to and from their own flats.
  • How much is the ‘közös költség’ (common charges)? This is a monthly bill you will have to pay whatever the weather: waste management, staircase and courtyard cleaning and electricity, lift maintenance and in some cases contribution to the development fund to cover future works in the building.
  • Check for the usual signs for damp – much less frequent than in northern England, but ground floor flats sometimes have a nitric problem, with saltpetre breaking through the paintwork.
  • Budapest has no rat problem, which is one less thing to worry about! Yay!

So if you’ve done all your flat-hunting in England or the States… unlearn it. You will not find families on their best behaviour, putting all their stuff into storage and redecorating before the property enters the market. While some look really great and have just been refurbished, most flats look like fixer-uppers. Most of them actually are. After the first few I also became leery of ‘recently refurbished’, anyway: they normally look absolutely horrendous and make you wish they’d left them as they were. ‘Recently’ normally means 2001: terracotta kitchen walls (also known as ‘Romantic Mediterranean’ in real estate lingo), lime green living rooms (‘youthful’), shiny large navy bathroom tiles, and laminate flooring belong in this category.

The most important thing, however, is to get the location right. Look around, drive around, ask around.

Now that I have imparted so much knowledge, I shall retreat into my shell of uncertainty and fear of choosing something blatantly awful.  To ease the pain, I will probably watch ‘Money Pit’ again and harbour pleasant thoughts of 5.7 metric tons of chocolate. Another day of flat-hunting awaits us tomorrow.

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One Response to “Semi-useful guide to flat-hunting in Budapest”

  1. Busy busy busy! | Street & River Says:

    […] the post when I was going on about mops and ladders? Here’s a good […]

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