Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Apartment hunting, Finnish style

It has been years since Jeremy and I have been in charge of finding our own place to live. We were handed this villa on a silver platter when we moved to the UAE five years ago, and despite some things that we don't like about our free house, it was a relief to not have to worry about finding it in the first place.

Not so with Finland. The apartment hunt is in full force right now, even though most listings show an available move-in date that is too early for us. But I keep looking because the more I look, the more I know exactly what we're looking for. And then when a suitable place gets listed, we can pounce on it right away.

The website we're using to peruse listings is Here are some of the things I've learned about Finnish apartments.

1. Even tiny apartments have saunas. We will probably be in a 80-90sqm apartment - that's 860-960 square feet. There are a lot of things I would do with a spare corner or closet-sized area in a smallish apartment, and put in a sauna is not high on the list. But these places almost all have them - probably 80%! And since we will probably only have two bedrooms, I keep joking with people who say they're going to come visit us that they'll have to sleep in the sauna. But the joke is, they literally will have to because it will be the only free space available.

2. Almost all the apartments have balconies. And these are not token, tiny balconies that allow enough room to step outside and turn around - no. They are often glassed-in, with quality flooring. I don't think they're counted in the area of the house, but some of them should because they offer a chance for additional living space.

3. High-speed internet is wired into the apartment and included in the rent. Almost always.

4. Water is dang expensive. Charges are estimated up front and then your payment is adjusted if you use more or less. We will be paying at least 100€ per month for water, according to the rates listed. I'm hoping I'm misunderstanding something but I actually asked an agent and she seemed to confirm that.

5. We could live in an old wooden house. Jeremy is not a fan of this possibility, but I confess I find it appealing. They are all over the center of the city, especially toward the port area, and they date from the turn of the century. The interiors have been updated, of course, but there are still cool things like brick walls and old fireplaces. Here's a pink one:

6. Most of the places have washing machine hookups, but many also have communal laundry facilities on site. And guess what? You sign up for the time you want to use them! I think that is the best! Because one of the worst things about gearing yourself up to do laundry and trekking it all down to the machines is then finding them all in use. UGH.

7. Turku's municipal websites are so helpful. If I find a place we'd hypothetically be interested in (if it were available during our move-in period), then I head over to Turku's map system and start looking at things like nearby schools, bus routes, bus stops, parks, etc., all of which I can set to show up as layers on the map.

8. There are almost no bathtubs. I think in all the dozens of listings I've looked at, I've only seen one bathtub. Those telephone-shower things are the norm.

9. Finally, the most confusing thing about apartment hunting online is that in Finnish real estate listings, a living room is counted as a room. So a "3-room" apartment only has two BEDrooms. Or, even more confusingly (and disappointingly), it could only have one bedroom, but have a dining room and a living room. I find this annoying because when I am wondering about how many rooms an apartment has, I am specifically wondering about bedrooms. Oh well.

I'm anxiously awaiting the next few weeks as apartments in our time frame start showing up! For now, it's lots of fun looking at listings with no thought of commitment, but the stakes are about to get higher.


Susanne said...

I enjoy posts like this. I wonder why Jeremy doesn't like the old wooden house option, though.

I've heard a bit about the sauna culture, but didn't realize every apartment had one!

Whoa, water IS high! We pay about $22 per month now that we are in the city. The 13 years we lived in the country, we had a well, and paid nothing.

Are you keeping your place in Sharjah just in case you actually go back to the UAE after this year is finished?

Crys said...

I wonder if people use the communal so they don't have yo pay for water. We are looking for rentals right now and it is super stressful. I think we should have found one already but apparently most that will be available when you need them don't come up until right before. So weird and stressful. I actually hate taking baths but I think if we didn't have one the kids would freak ;). Hope you find something that fits your needs soon!

Susanne said...

Re: saunas...OK, not every apartment, but many.

(I was rereading the post.)

That's great about high speed internet being included, and the balconies sound great! I like bathtubs.

How does the size compare to what you have now? Seems considerably less, but much more European!

Amira said...

This reminds me a lot of apartment hunting in Bishkek. But I'm imagining Finns have better decorating sense since you can't not comment on the decor when you're searching for an apartment in Bishkek.

I have really mixed feelings about the whole house on a silver platter thing. It was so nice to not have to deal with finding a place when we moved to Mexico, but I NEVER would have chosen this house and it's had a negative effect on me the whole time I've lived here. We lived in some difficult places in Kyrgyzstan but at least I was in control of the choice and could move if I wanted to.

Bridget said...

Jeremy is wary of the old wooden houses because he thinks that underneath the sheen of remodel, there will be issues with bugs or rodents or who knows what. And he may be right - rent tends to be cheaper. We'll have to wait and see what's available in our time period!

Crys, the communal laundries are still for pay, so I don't think you'd actually save any money. At least I assume they're for pay...

Amira, if you can believe it, almost all of the listing pictures show unfurnished rooms! It's nice for envisioning your own style, but it also makes the apartments look deceptively big - any living room looks huge without a couch in it, you know? The few that are furnished vary from IKEA chic to what I would call fusty Russian grandma style. When I was in Vaasa, the whole town was fusty Russian grandma, it was bizarre.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

If one of the old wooden houses is available, you could try it out and if it's substandard, look for something else. Moving is a hassle but a place with history is appealing enough to give it a try.

Jen and Joe. said...

I know lots of people who live in old, wooden houses. The secret is this: if there are bugs and rodents, they don't discriminate between old houses and new houses. So don't say no to an old house because of those reasons! (Paying for heat, however, IS a valid reason to say no to an old house. It's SUPER valid.) Rodents? They'll go anywhere.

Also? These posts are THE> BEST> THING> EVER.

Eevi said...

Does Jeremy think you are moving to Russia, instead of FInland when he worries about rodents?:) We were just checking out houses on with my sister who is visiting. It is so expensive to live in Finland. And I agree why do they say "three rooms plus a kitchen" rather than x number of bedrooms. I hope you do get a sauna and learn to love it AND have your guests sleep in there:) We are in the process of finding rentals for our next place, but at least we aren't doing it in a foreign country...
And people dont do baths because they do sauna in least that is my FInnish perspective on it.

Bridget said...

Eevi, that's what I assumed about saunas vs. baths. The saunas are certainly more water efficient when it comes to relaxing and getting warm. But can you read a book in the sauna??

Thanks for the thoughts on wooden houses. We'll see if we can make it happen!

Susanne, the place we live in now is around twice as big as the apartments we're looking at in Finland.


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