Thursday, November 7, 2013

Looking for housing

I (Robyn) am in Astana for a kick-off to the project. This also means I have the opportunity to look for housing (as opposed to having housing found for us).

The process seems to be similar to what we're used to in the US.  I was shown twelve apartments by two different realtors, all of which are individually-owned units in large apartment buildings.

I looked at 1 or 2 bedroom apartments, plus a living room and kitchen. Apartments are described as a "4 room apartment," rather than by the number of bedrooms - and 1 bedrooms or no bedroom apartments are the most common; 2 bedrooms or larger units are unusual.   We have a housing allowance that works out to about $1500/month, and we will need to pay our own utilities in addition to that.  We are not sure if we will need a car or not, but parking seems to be included almost everywhere.

The housing has all been in large, multi-story buildings.  The smallest building I entered today was 10 stories.  Size-wise, the square footage feels comparable to US standards and some of the apartments are quite large by any standard.  Considering everything was about the same price point there was a huge range in quality, amenities and size.  I would guess that the smallest apartment I saw was about 750 ft2, and the largest about 2000 ft2.

Many apartments had sun porches - covered, unheated spaces with big windows that in practice seem to be mostly used for storage or drying clothes.  Kitchens are in the European style with appliances and storage smaller than US standards, and I suspect that when you move in you have to bring your own kitchen as well.  I was somewhat surprised to see electric stoves everywhere, and was told that gas stoves are perceived to not be safe - and that only electric stoves are allowed in buildings taller than 8 stories.  There are clothes washers but no dryers.  This has been my experience while living in Europe and Kevin's while living in Taiwan although he was surprised to learn this was the case here.

Everything has been well-heated, even overheated.  We will not be cold indoors!  Apartments have come with a variety of heated floors, heated towel racks, saunas in the unit.  I didn't see any wall-to-wall carpet, but Every.Single.Room has an area rug. And Every.Single.Window is covered with sheers - it was hard to get a clear look out the window!

I looked at all furnished apartments.  There's definitely no Pottery Barn in Kazakhstan.  The local taste runs much more into huge overstuffed, tufted, carved me it's the 1980's shoulder pads of furniture.  While Kevin and I have different taste in furniture, the local taste is definitely not to either of our choice.  Having said that, some furnishings were easier to imagine living with than others (hello, overstuffed purple tufted sofa with matching armchairs? Please no abstract dot brown and orange patterns on the 1980s-style sectional!!!).

Apartment in Triumph Astana
Could you live here? Neither could we.

Most of the construction has gone up in the last 8 years. These are all relatively new furnishings, just not to US taste!

Of the twelve places I saw there were three contenders, but one clear cut winner. I finally found a place today, on the third day of looking, that I think we will be happy to call home.

Want to see if for yourself? Come visit! We will have plenty of room, and will be close to Astana's iconic Baiterek monument (which will be the subject of a future post-stay tuned!).

Interestingly, every landlord except one has requested that the monthly rent be paid in cash. (I hear that many government employees received a free apartment/condo as an incentive to move here to Astana, and that many of the places I've seen are likely from that apartment stock.)

Also, to buy a 2 bedroom apartment the going price is about $500,000 which seems really high given how few people live here and how much land and space there is.  Perhaps it's due to the cost of transporting the building materials?


  1. Or the price cold reflect that the place is growing rapidly and a lot of money is flowing in, so the prices are set at windfall levels, assuming that sooner or later people will pay such a price, perhaps?

    1. Actually.... coming from it a different direction:

      Rental price point being largely fixed regardless of location -- as you said, probably reflects what the government allowance will pay for their employees. But since it is a fast-growing area with a lot of money coming in as a result, actual market value is far higher than one might expect.

      See also, rent-controlled apartments in Manhattan. Would be sold for millions, but are rented out for whatever the law/government specifies.

      Situation sounds similar to me, thuogh obviously Manhattan doesn't have room to grow like Astana does.

  2. Apartment hunting is always a puzzle. T1, T2, T3. Kitchen equipped / not equipped. What we do notice around these parts (frontier area of France-Switzerland) is, more and more kitchens are described as being "American style", usually meaning they have an American capacity fridge, a dishwasher, and an island or larger work area. As for furniture, we just gave up and went to IKEA. I'm guessing that's not an option in Kazakhstan? (And even if it was an option, I can't entirely recommend it, except from a convenience standpoint. Otherwise, ugh.)