Monday, July 5, 2010

Choosing a Place to Live in Kiev

Two months ago my wife and I needed to find a new place to live in Kiev. Here's how I approached the task of choosing a location and finding an apartment.

First, we considered the parts of the city where it would be reasonably practical to live based on where each of us works or spends much of their time. Not all of those places fit our expectations for clean air and open space, so we ultimately settled on Vinogradar, an area on the NW edge of Kiev next to a large forested area that extends to the north, west, and east.

Next, I spent some time at Vinogradar to identify the best area within that neighborhood. I considered such factors as bus stops along the routes that we would use frequently, proximity to outdoor markets, the forest, and the nearby lake. I put all the relevant information on a map that I created using Google Map and a graphics program and got the following (notes on the map are in Russian).

Yellow dots indicate key bus stops, green indicates supermarkets and outdoor markets, red indicates the lake, pedestrian bridges or crosswalks across the highway, and also important crosswalks within the most interesting zone. Blue dots mark apartments that we viewed. The white region I have called the "ideal zone" where we are close enough to the forest to enjoy it on a daily basis, very close to our most important bus stop, close to a supermarket and reasonably close to the other places we expect to visit on foot.

Then I went to and began searching for apartments along the street we had settled on. I started calling all the agencies that had something interesting to offer. Many of the recent offerings had already been taken, so I told them what we were looking for and gave them my number.

At there is a category for direct offerings from apartment owners, and I was hoping to find an apartment this way instead of having to pay a real estate agency a standard commission of 50% of the first month's rent.

However, because our search was so narrow, I ended up calling whatever I could find. Agents tended to want us to widen our range of streets and geography (to increase the chances that they'd earn money off us), but the logistics just did not seem good from the apartments that I considered outside of our ideal range.

It took us a little more than a week of looking to find something that finally satisfied us, where the apartment itself was in good enough shape, was not too cluttered with the owners' stuff, and within the "ideal zone" we had identified. It had taken a lot of phone calls and checking new offerings several times a day to be the first person to view the apartment.

Apartments often go in just a day or two, and if you arrange a viewing, there is no guarantee that it'll even be available when you get there. Once I was assured that I was the first viewer, only to find the apartment had been rented out through another agency. Apartment owners sometimes approach (or are approached by) multiple agents, when can lead to minor conflicts between the agencies.

Another time we arranged for a viewing of two apartments in the same building through two different agencies, only to discover that we were about to view the same apartment twice!

Some tips for choosing an apartment location

1. The main or one of the main factors should be proximity (in minutes, not distance!!) to your place of work or main activity.

2. Just because the apartment is close to a metro station or located in the center doesn't mean that it'll be quick to get to your work or main activity. If you're living in the center and have to walk 8 minutes to the metro station, ride one stop, transfer to another station, and ride one stop more, then exit and walk 4 minutes to work (also in the center), your total commute will end up being between 25 and 30 minutes.

3. Regarding the above situation, consider minibus ("marshrutka") lines as well. Perhaps there is a minibus that goes directly to your work from a location further out from the center that would provide the same commuting time?

4. Consider the advantage of living near the final bus stop along the line you need. This way you can be guaranteed a seat when leaving home. People who live closer to the center but in the middle of the bus line will always commute standing up. If you are sitting, you can pass the time productively (reading, etc.).

5. If there is an important place for you such as a forest, lake, gym, etc., consider trying to live just 2 or 3 minutes from that place. If it's a 5 minute walk to the forest from where you live, you will visit it significantly less often than if it's just a 2 minute walk.

6. Forests and parks aren't created equal. Some forests are hangouts for drunks and druggies, while others have wide trails through them and are used by joggers, mothers with baby strollers, cyclists, and people communing with nature. Likewise, not all lakes are swimmable, and not all recreation sites are actually pleasant to visit.

Location really is everything! It will end up determining much of your lifestyle and perhaps even how you feel about your city in general.

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