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How to rent an apartment in Samara by yourself.

Jim from the USA visited Samara many times and usually stayed with us, but he decided to enlarge his experience in Samara.
Jim's story (Summer 2004):
I wanted to have an apartment so I started by looking in the local "want-ads" newspaper, Iz-Ruk-Vi-Ryki ("From Hand to Hand"). There is a scarcity of apartments in Russia , but there were many listings in the newspaper, as well as several agencies. Some of them have web sites and e-mail (in Russian only). There were two types of apartments - those available for a short stay - a day, a week, (even an hour) - and those offered for long term. It is difficult for a foreigner, not speaking Russian, to call on the phone, so I went to the agency. At some agencies there may be someone who can speak some English. For example, I went to agency on Podshipnikavaya Street (because it was closest to where I was staying). No one in the office spoke English, and they were impatient with my Russian. One of them made a phone call, and half a minute later Vladimir appeared who announced he would translate for me. He stood by and his English was better than many Americans' English, so it was easy from then on. I told them I only needed a place for three weeks. They made many phone calls and I liked the location of one (5 blocks from the beach, on the busy main street with banks, buses pretty girls.), so they called there, confirmed the price as 10,000 Rubles for the month and set up an appointment for 6 that evening. I met Valera and his wife, who teaches English, however there was a communication problem at the appointment. Valera demanded $500 for a short stay. I thought they were trying to cheat me, but I didn't have anything better at that moment so I offered $300 and we settled on $400. I liked that he would provide telephone (wait till the Russians find out some Americans have no respect for other peoples' telephones) and internet service. However there was an old rug on the bed (they said it was a blanket) and used rugs on the chairs, too. They said many Russians use rugs on the bed. I did pay a deposit. Later on, I started to rethink the deal (stupid me, I always do something impulsively, then regret it later). Also, I was thinking, we told him I only wanted to stay for one month, when we had called from the agency. When I met Valera, though, he said since I only wanted to stay one month, the price would be higher (15,000 instead of 10,000 rubles). This didn't make any sense to me. Later on, I figured out that his mother or aunt or someone else must have answered the phone when the agency had called and failed to relay the information to him, creating a misunderstanding. When I returned the next day to pay the rest of the rent, I noticed the hot water was not working. Valera banged on the pipes for an hour and finally got it working. The stores are being refurbished on the first floor and the water throughout the entire building is not working properly, and the pipes in Valera's apartment are old iron and they are rusted inside. He said they were replacing the pipes with copper, and indeed the pipes in the kitchen had already been done. Anyway, I complained about the water and the bed-rugs and Valera said he would give me my money back and his wife asked me if that is what I wished. I said yes. I was taken aback by their honesty. I had not trusted them and was totally surprised (mainly at my own lack of trust). I made an offer to stay at $350 but Valera (pride was in the mix now) refused. The next day, Mikhail called another agency, "Brosnecka," and we went through more listings. There was a suitable apartment on Lenin Street, so Sergei gave a me a ride in his car to have a look. It was typical (small). Bathroom, Kitchen and a Living Room where the couch folds down and the space becomes a Bedroom. Always remember to take off your shoes in the apartment, even if it looks like the dust hasn't been disturbed since Jimmy Carter was President. I walked into the kitchen without shoes, earning a reprimand from the owner, and she muttered something about "Americans" when I didn't accept the apartment. I didn't like it because it seemed hot, and for some reason, I disliked it being on the first floor (there are industrial-strength burglar bars on the windows, so break-ins are not a worry). Sergei and I pored over some more listings. Finally I noticed an expensive one-bedroom flat next to the beach, but it was a big apartment, and on the tenth floor. I met Marina, the owner, and the inside was very clean and furnished with a modern living room suite. From the terrace, the Volga stretched for miles and miles. The bathroom and kitchen were also well-furnished and clean. This was $200 a week (6000 rubles) slightly more than Valera's, but so much nicer, and the location was perfect. I couldn't get the money into Marina's hands soon enough. There was some problem and I thought I understand her Russian (psychologists have a nice way of speaking clearly and slowly) but I called Mikhail on the cell anyway. He said what I thought - that one week was okay, but she had promised it would be available the second week to someone, else, but she wasn't sure if the other party was coming or not. Anyway, I wanted it, because I never had a beachfront apartment before and I did get the money into her hands - $200 for one week, with a possible second week. Overall, renting an apartment for a short term in Russia is extremely convenient for the traveler. You not only get free phone service (local calls only), but there can be plates, dishes, silverware, pots and pans in the kitchen, free linen, blankets an pillows, television, perhaps even a modern sound system. Usually, there is a small washer. You only have to buy your own food, drink and laundry detergent, shampoo, soap, etc. What more can you want? I am worried that this sweetheart arrangement will fall apart when boatloads of tourists start arriving. Imagine what will happen when someone rents an apartment and the owner returns to receive a $1000 telephone bill (I had a immigrant tenant in the US who ran up a $5000 phone bill somewhere else - I had already put a block on long-distance calls) After a few reports of telephone abuse, that will be the end of the free phone service. No security deposit. Can you imagine any US landlord allowing anyone (let alone a foreigner, whom you can never contact nor prosecute) into his housing unit without at least a full month's deposit? Alas, this wonderful trust may dissolve, after a few owners arrive to find their apartments trashed by groups of weekend party people. No security deposit- No respect. But for now, it's a different world and a different culture, and this is one of the more wonderful aspects of that difference, so enjoy it and take advantage of it. Overall, the short-term apartment rental, in so many respects, is much nicer than the sterile hotel stay. Lessons learned - Don't immediately accept what's first offered. In a big city, you can usually find exactly what you're looking for, and Samara is a big city, and you will regret compromising with yourself.