Christopher all the way from Cambridge, Massachusetts ("Ma shooft Yousef" bil Arabi), sent me a little e-mail recommending that I “write a few lines” about how to find an apartment in Kuwait. Well Christopher, it like dis: I can’t ever just write a FEW lines about anything, so here goes the entire deal on how to find a home in Kuwait. By the by, this goes for finding a villa also (pretty much).
What you will need
A good attitude: Patience. Lots of it; However you can get it, get it. A “happy place”
Chocolate (or whatever your crutch is)
Kleenex (incase it gets to be too much for you and you need a good sob).
A car (taxi) Lots of relaxing/tranquil music (maybe Yanni or Kenny G). Gas.
Someone who speaks Arabic
Copies of Waseet or Alhadaf classified papers
Remove all weapons and sharp objects from your vehicle and/or person. This will help avoid a prison sentence when dealing with realtors and building guards (called “hariss” here).
Ok, seriously, if you are an English-only speaker, you really do need someone to help you translate – either from the classified ads or by going around building-to-building and asking the guards if there are vacancies. Sometimes, you can find a mandoob (expeditor/gopher guy) where you work or you can ask them to refer you to someone who can translate for a small amount of money. If you can’t find someone at work, or don’t feel comfortable asking for personal favors, taxi offices can often help and they can play a dual role in driving you around to find a place if you are new.
Zero to 30 days in Kuwait
If someone is new to Kuwait, they probably won’t get their civil ID for the first 30 days, so the employer should provide accommodations during the first month.
30 days to 6 months in Kuwait
After the first 30 days in Kuwait, I strongly recommend getting into a short term or furnished place first, so you have the time to look for your ideal home. It isn’t a quick/easy process.
During this timeframe, you are still in culture shock, but you are beginning to get it. You have to look for a place to live, but you are still freaked out by the idea and don't really want to be locked into something permanent because it is all so new. AAA Housing and Frost Real Estate are the two most reputable companies in Kuwait. I see them as "halfway houses" for people who are new to Kuwait and transitioning into life here. They provide the comforts of home in familiar surroundings and se haba English.
AAA only does furnished accommodations; Frost will provide unfurnished with benefits (phone, satellite TV, maid and laundry services on request). Both AAA and Frost furnishings are to western standards (both have websites). Expect to pay more for both.
6 months plus in Kuwait
So you are ready to find your ideal place. You have a pretty good "lay of the land" since you've been here for 6 months. You know what the traffic is like. You have either seen or heard about the places that you want to live. You have several options: Realtors, classifieds, and “hoofing it” by driving around to places you might want to live and asking for vacancies.
Don’t expect miracles: Bait and switch is common. Untruths are common. It will be frustrating to say the least. You will make an appointment to meet and they will be late or send someone else. Some realtors will smoke and have poor personal hygiene. They will never ever have photos of their properties.
Finding a realtor: Ask questions of people you work with, check online and in the Kuwait Pocket Guide. Classified papers like Waseet and Alhadaf will have listings of available apartments and realtors (in English when/if you can find them).
Realtors generally work in specific areas: Seaside/Salmiya, Salwa/Rumaithia, Fahaheel/Mangaf. Ask what areas they work out of.
Work the list: Compile lists of realtors and go through the list to touch base. Don’t expect them to follow up; they’re generally not that professional. Don’t expect them to respond to you through their websites as many don’t ever check their e-mail. Call.
Realtors who commonly deal with Westerners: Target, Saba Real Estate, Eastern Homes, York Real Estate, Century 21. (There are more, but these are the ones I deal with.)
Commission: Note that realtors take a half month rent commission from you as the renter and another half month rent from the building owner. This is standard.
Be Aware of Con Artist Realtors: I met with a building owner and discovered something quite scary: Harisses who work with realtors to dupe you into paying a commission that they don't deserve. What happens is that YOU go to see a building and the hariss tells you that the building is being managed by a third-party realtor and that even though YOU have gone to the building and found it yourself, you must pay the commission to the realtor handling the building rental/management. I have had 2 experiences with this lately. At one building, the hariss didn't speak English and a bee-bop man walked right past the hariss and told me that I had to pay a commission to him. Thankfully, I knew the building owner and dropped his name. Just heard a story about a management company that rented a complex with 4 buildings for 3 months. They turned around and rented out every apartment in the complex and got tenants to pay 6 months in advance plus a security deposit. Then, skipped the country. Here's the skinny: They may ask you to sign a rental agreement with the realtor and you might not know that you actually have to sign with the building owner. Since the hariss is the one working the deal, you wouldn't know it. The building owner told me that this is a very dangerous con because then you are out not only your deposit but you don't have a valid rental agreement. So, how do you find out what is real and what isn't? The hariss should immediately tell you who the building owner is: if the realtor commission is legitimate, then they will have no problem with you contacting the building owner's office. If they are hesitant, then you know something is hinky. I'll write more about this when I find out more.
Write to me (mailto:email@example.com) you would like to get my personal list of favorite realtors. I'm not going to post it as it is subject to change and I'm too damn lazy to update it all the time.
Hoofing it – going building-to-building
Driving around in an area where you might want to live is probably the best way to find a good deal in the exact area you want to live. This is where your interpreter/cabbie comes in handy. “Fee shuqqa fathi?” means “Is there an apartment available?” Kuwaitis generally drive around Kuwait looking for apartments because landlords often don’t advertise or use realtors (both cost money). Wear comfortable shoes because there will be lots of running in/out of places. Most apartments in villas won't have elevators.
Note: if you find a place you LOVE and it is completely occupied, make friends with the hariss and offer to give him some money (I recommend 30 to 50 kd) to get you in as soon as one becomes available. I take this money to be an investment. Get the guy's number and call him back every now and then to see if anyone has moved. Take him some cookies. (I have my eye on 3 properties for both myself and The Romanian right now.)
Dreams of grandeur
Please don’t expect to find what you are used to in the West in Kuwait’s local apartment market. Aint gonna happen. Many buildings don’t even use interior designers for placement of walls. Most places do not require occupants to re-paint or even clean the apartments once they have vacated. Many landlords won’t even sweep the floors before showing the apartments to potential tenants. Some apartments still have squat toilets (which you can ask the landlords to remove/replace; they are stinky. Purchasing your own sanitary equipment is not expensive either.) Landlords often won’t change water boilers, so that is an expense you may have – don’t freak out. They aren’t expensive compared to the West (around 70 kd). The building guard can generally get you another and have it installed.
Zoning - We Don't Need No Stinkin' Zoning!
If you live on a farm (in Western countries), you might hear roosters crowing in the morning. If you live in a high-rise residential complex in Kuwait you might hear roosters crowing in the morning. You might see a sheep tied to a lamp post in your neighborhood (means that it will be slaughtered by homeowners/landlord - take your children away from windows). Get used to it. "Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore."
Unfurnished apartments in Kuwait often do not have kitchen appliances or closets. If you have a lot of clothes and are a single occupant, consider getting a 2 bedroom so you can create your own walk-in closet (SHOOOOOES!). Many apartments here also have a “maids” room (which is more like a cell) that can be used for storage (I had shelves put in). (Large wardrobe closets can be found at the Friday Market for around 85 KD each. There are also lots of carpenters (inexpensive) if you have something special in mind (Carrie Bradshaw, eat your heart out!)
The good thing is that many places in the local market don’t ask you for a security deposit – although that trend is changing.
Things to look for/things to ask
Who are the neighbors? If a building is full of single guys, it will most likely be used as a party place only on the weekends. “F flats” as they are known is where many a married guy will bring his mistress on the weekend for a drink and more. If the apartment has 2 doors and the windows are covered by either aluminum foil or lining sticker rolls, for sure, it has been used for either a party or an F flat. Be cautious as you may have unwanted visitors at night if they don't know that the former occupant has moved. The best way to find out what is going on in a building is to go back and visit on a weekend night after 10:30 pm. Keep in mind that the audio systems used for parties here can be heard from passing planes (I jammed out on a BA flight leaving Kuwait one night, flying over a party in the desert playing 50 Cent…)
Something to consider: While you think it might be nice to be in a complex with 100% Westerners, know that the company housing the majority of Western employees in Kuwait (CSA) has a policy specifically against this. They house their employees in buildings with a percentage of westerners to a percentage of occupants of other countries (locals, etc.) for security purposes. Don't make yourself an easy target, even though I personally have never found this to be a big concern (it may be to others). (I've always lived in multi-national buildings/areas in the US.)
Where is the mosque? If the mosque minaret is next to the bedroom window, you might want to consider another place unless you like to be woken up at dawn and reminded to pray. Westerners usually aren’t accustomed to the call to prayer; No disrespect to anyone's religious beliefs.
Where is the pool? Little people can be mighty noisy and you are in a country where parents believe that it is ok for children to be up all night without a bedtime. Check out what the pool sounds like at night or on the weekends when the kids are there. (Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Anonymous 11/6)
Does the apartment have both central A/C and heat? Lots of apartments here won’t have heat in the winter and it gets coooooold. When they tell you that you don’t need it, consider getting out of the shower in the morning when the temperature is down around zero (not saying that it will actually get that cold in Kuwait – but it has).
Do the windows have double-paned glass? A big selling point for apartments in Kuwait is that they are “on the main road”. As Westerners, we might not like the fact that the place is 5 feet from a highway. People like to honk their horns in the morning – especially when they are picking up kids for school. Double-paned glass is also important when the temperature gets up to holy-shit-that’s-hot.
Are there temperature controls on the water? This is kind of a trick question because most realtors and building guards won’t know the answer. Consider this – it is holy-shit-that’s-hot degrees outside and you want a cold shower: if there is no temp control on the water, you gonna boil like a lobster at a Cape Cod outing and there is nothing you can do to get cold (turning off the water boiler and using the hot for cold in the summer sometimes resolves this issue).
Does the apartment have internet/DSL and satellite TV? If not, no big deal. There are lots of places who will install it for you, but that means additional running around and cost.
Who pays for electricity and water? Often, the landlord will pay or you can pay slightly extra per month (around 5 kd) and they will take care of it for you. If not, refer to "Utilities" section below.
Is parking provided? Believe it or not, I know of 3 new buildings with a maximum of seven spaces to each building. Don't assume that there will be underground parking. Don't assume that there will be any parking! If you are looking for an apartment during the day, go back there at night to see how people are parked. Drive by and see what the traffic conditions are. Also, it gets holy-shit-that’s-hot here and shaded parking is a factor.
Responsibilities of the building guard (hariss)
Takes out your trash. Kuwait buildings are not equipped with something as simple as a trash shoot. Trash is generally left in the stairwell and the hariss collects it at night.
Washes your car. If you drive a high-end car, you might want to consider buying and providing cleaning equipment to your hariss and asking him to wash it only with water. Sometimes they will just wipe it down with a rag and your paint job suffers tiny little scratches.
Porter: Assists you in carrying items to your apartment.
Assists in small handyman jobs.
Brings cooking gas.
Payment to the hariss: For washing the car and taking out the trash, the standard payment is 5 kd per month (required or your trash will pile up). If he demands 10kd (1. too much and b. he shouldn't demand), then there is a problem, Houston; unless it is your decision to pay him extra. I’ve found that if you bring your hariss a covered plate once in a while, tip a little extra, or maybe even bring him some used/new clothing, he will do just about anything in the world for you.
You will need a civil ID in your name for the lease and perhaps a copy of your passport. Make sure that they provide you a copy in English.
I freaked out when I came to Kuwait because I didn’t know if I was going to like the place that I selected after a few months. I was new and I couldn’t tell, so I was worried about breaking the lease and having to pay up (as it is in the US). Not so in Kuwait. You have a 1 year lease, but you can leave by giving your landlord 30 days written notice.
There are lots of furniture stores in Kuwait: Ikea, Midas, Safat Al-Ghanim, The One (the cheapest I've found is Banta in Dajeej). Kuwaitis like to change furniture all the time, so there is lots of competition. However, the prices are high compared to the US (dunno about the UK cause I’m ‘merican). Dhajeej area (between 6th Ring Road and the airport) has lots of small places that will build furniture for you. I brought one of these guys a photo of a Roche Bobois sofa and Crate & Barrel table and I had both of them made within 2 weeks at 1/3 of the price. After 5 years, both pieces have weathered very well. The cool thing is that I’m indecisive and so I had 3 sets of sofa covers made. These shops will also coordinate curtains to furniture. If you are into decorating, it can be a lot of fun.
There are also antiques places around Kuwait, but most of the treasures aren't Kuwaiti, they're Indian. Write to me for info on antiques places around Kuwait.
Now, this is something that you might not think about right away, but in the US, most landlords are very particular about what you can and can not do to decorate apartments. I lived in one building where they wouldn't even allow you to hang pictures on the wall. Kuwait is a free for all on interior decor. Don't like the flooring? Change it. Don't like the kitchen tiles? Change them. I'm leaving my apartment now after 11 years and I have changed just about everything. It was fun. Consider this: There is no minimum wage in Kuwait, so anything labor-intensive will be less. You can have things done cheaper than in the US.
Xcite (Alghanim electronics) is the biggest and most reputable. Their service is pretty good and they pick up/deliver. You can purchase appliances through them on monthly installments and online (they'll deliver to your house and install.)
Considerations: If you are buying a refrigerator with an ice maker, check the water hook up in the apartment first. Most stoves ("cookers") are heated with propane gas. Tanks are switched out once they are used. The hariss or the neighborhood convenience store (called "dikan" or "baqala") will deliver for less than a dinar.
Landline phone: Ask your company's mandoob for his help. You can get a landline for 100 kd per year and all local calls are free. You will need your civil ID. You will not receive a bill or notification when payment is due. You should go to the ministry of communications in the area where you live (or have a mandoob go for you) annually to pay up.
Electrity and Water: Often provided by the landlord. If it isn't, again ask the mandoob for his assistance. You will need to go to the Ministry of Electricity & Water in your area with your civil ID and 100 KD deposit to have the electricity put on. 90% of the time, you will never receive an electricity bill. The average is 5KD per month on an apartment. You should have your mandoob (if possible) go to check with the ministry annually to see how much you owe and to pay up. (Personal note, I got busted after 11 years with an 800 KD bill. I giggle.)
Convenience stores: Lots of neighborhoods have convenience stores that you can call and they will deliver just about anything (including propane for the stove)
Addresses in Kuwait are almost non-existent. Until very recently, most streets weren't named/identified. Note your address on your lease. Mail will usually NOT be delivered to your residence. Consider a post office box (at your areas Ministry of Communications for 4 kd per year) or having mail delivered to your office.
Emergency Services: 112. They may/may not answer. Have a plan. Know where the closest ER is (this goes by area where you live also, so know what hospital services the area where you reside/what address is on the back of your Civil ID. Know who to call (your employer, a friend, etc.)
Security: If your apartment doesn't have a peep-hole in the front door, have one installed. Beggars often find out where a Westerner lives, and will knock on your door relentlessly. Inform your hariss. Security cams are available at some places in Hawalli and you can have them installed over your door. Consider an apartment starting on the 2nd floor and up because thieves can break in through windows while you are out. If you are away for a long time, put your valuables in a bank safe deposit box. Break ins are becomming more common in Kuwait.
DG List of Realtors
(Almost all realtors ask for 50% of the first month's rent.)
#1 Realtor on my list is Zamina of Comfort Real Estate. EVERYBODY is happy with her. Phone 99464866.
Dana, 2468388, 2406582
Wael Sulaiman, York, 9930-1217
Marty, Frost Real Estate, 9972-3196 (furnished and unfurnished)
AAA Housing (furnished ONLY) 2246-5888
Mojgen, Target, 6661-9151.
Joey, 6670-5800 (mostly Salmiya)
Joanna, Capital Real Estate, 99136410
Spanish Villas (multiple properties) 25658983, 99826883
Northern Star 25639183
Wael Sulaiman, York, 9930-1217
Amr, Al Kawthar, 9901-0315 or 243-3325
Abu Ahmed, 66920123
Dana, 2468388, 2406582
The Accommodators - 99746024 or Fax: 25630918
I love this service: www.masahati.com/ - They have an interactive map with photos.
Q8Realtors (properties with photos): www.q8realtor.com/
If you have any questions, you can always feel free to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org an I will try to assist.