answers all your questions about Egypt. Ask him your question here.
House Hunting 101
Of all the requests for wisdom and guidance spilling from Al
Zaieem's overflowing mail sacks, a healthy chunk seems to come from
folks overseas thinking of moving to Egypt and looking for a
hassle-free way of securing housing in advance. Unfortunately, as
explore in detail at the end of the column, some tasks are too
difficult for even Al Zaieem to really help all that much with.
Here's a brief sampling of some of the questions.
I live in Michigan & am looking for an unfurnished apartment
in Heliopolis, Cairo. Can you refer me to any websites that can help
I was just wondering how much a flat would cost in Egypt. I would
like one in Haram/pyramids or somewhere Downtown. I haven't been to
Egypt since I was 10 yrs old and I don't know many people to ask, so
if you can give me some numbers I can call, too, if that is
possible. Also, during my stay in Egypt I would like to know if I
can rent a flat for a month, and if there is a possible way I can
find out by calling instead of looking for one when I'm there.
I want to know how I can find information about apartment rentals in
Cairo especially in the Heliopolis area. Any recommendations?
Was wondering about the best internet site for locating potential
housing in Cairo. Specifically in Zamalek area? Also, what should I
expect to have to pay for a luxury, roomy, place there. (U.S.
dollars) and what should I expect to get for it? Also, any do's and
don'ts when it comes to securing housing needs?
OK, here's the deal. Apartment hunting in Cairo usually takes place
through an almost mystical combination of word-of-mouth, luck and
persistence. Veteran Cairo apartment hunters offer a lot of tips --
but nothing that really applies to someone looking from overseas.
There ARE a number of Cairo-based home-search websites in operation,
But be warned, Al Zaieem personally knows several people who have
tried these sites FROM Cairo, and none who have actually succeeded.
The sites tend to be geared more toward home buyers than renters,
and in the end there's only so much you can arrange from abroad.
A brief survey of veteran Cairo apartment hunters yielded a clear
consensus opinion—that there's simply no substitute for personal
footwork. "Pick a building that you like or an area that
you like and just ask around," said one. The keys to this
informal network of housing information are the "bowabs"
(doormen) that can be found lurking in the entrances of most
middle-class-and-up buildings. These
guys may not often look like much, but Al Zaieem has come to the
conclusion that they're the ones who are really running this city.
There are a number of professional real estate brokers called "simsaars",
many of whom specialize in helping befuddled outsiders navigate the
local waters. But once again, this is something that can't exactly
be handled with an overseas phone call. As an example, one Cairo
resident recommended a guy called "Doqdoq" who posesses no
office and no known number. Doqdoq is a local legend in the fairly
upscale foreigner-intensive Nile island of Zamalek and he can
usually be found sitting in a chair by the Um Kulthoum Tower office
Like Al Zaieem said, it's
probably better to just come and start asking. The best locations
for rentals tend to be in Zamalek, Downtown near Tahrir Square and
in Mohandessin. As for price range, well that depends on how much
you're willing to spend. For around LE1000 (about $200) per month
you can get a livable furnished place
without a lot of frills -- think used furniture and a general air of
romantic student poverty. But prices can shoot up to the $2000 per
month range for the "luxury, roomy" place that Greg was
A few other tips:
*For those Egyptians coming from overseas (such as Ms Elhamy) if
you're looking to rent a place, try to de-emphasize your
Egyptian-ness. For a variety of cultural and legal reasons, the vast
majority of Cairo landlords are extremely reluctant to rent to
Egyptians. Stick with the foreign passport, and pay the foreign
price if you want to find a place.
*Make sure to get a signed contract and a receipt for every rent
payment. Sounds obvious, but a lot of landlords dodge the taxman by
keeping their lodgers off the books. This can put you in a bad legal
position down the road. Al Zaieem has personally witnessed
situations where the tenants had a falling out with the
landlord—who then changed the locks and claimed to the police that
the tenants had never lived there in the first place. Tread
*Do's and Don'ts: If you're a foreign man and you pay your rent on
time, almost anything goes. It gets a little more complicated for
women and for those of Arab descent. The idea of an unmarried young
person not living with their parents is still little weird by
Egyptian standards, so keep that in mind. As far as guests, parties,
people sleeping over etc, one Egyptian woman who DID manage to find
a nice place advises that you set the tone for your lifestyle
immediately. "If they're the kind of people that are going to
having people over late, they should have a gathering in the first
week," she said.
*Keep the bowab (porter) on your side. As mentioned previously, the
bowabs of Cairo wield significant power, and should be dealt with
accordingly. A hostile bowab can seriously affect the quality of
your life. Make sure to tip your building's bowabs on major holidays
and any time that they run errands for you. But not too much or
you're a sucker.
So good luck and happy hunting. Those of you who wrote in with
questions, make sure to keep Al Zaieem updated on your progress.
Same goes for anyone who has any further advice or memorable
apartment-search stories to share with the rest of the class.
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