February 6, 2015

housing in Yangon

it's quite grim at the moment.  the sanctions have isolated Myanmar from the rest of the world for so long finding housing either temporarily or longer term is a mess.  there just aren't enough hotel rooms or apartments available to accommodate the influx of visitors and expats coming to support development.

i know housing costs are relative to location and Southeast Asia has some of the lowest housing costs in the world.  in Thailand i paid $350US for a very clean and contemporary condo. 

another $40 or so a month for water, electric and cable.  there was 24 hour security and key card access.  the doorman would drop whatever he was doing when he saw me coming on my scooter so he could park it for me.  it is quite comfortable there.

so my first trip to Yangon was a bit of a shock.  the least expensive clean hotel room with ac, internet and hot water was $70US per night.  payable in cash - clean US notes accepted only.

when I was negotiating my contract i knew housing was going to be an issue.  the HR director at my company was tasked with helping me find accommodations.  being that he is a national I thought surely he would come up with some good options for me.  with a couple of friends for support I went with him to look at apartments that were available.  the first was a 3 bed 2 bath apartment on the ground floor.  Partially furnished with one horrible sofa. One western toilet and one Asian toilet (google it if you don't know what that is).  the shower was just a hose coming out of the wall in one of the toilets.  no hot water.  the second toilet - the one with the Asian toilet had a bucket shower.  let me elaborate although it's pretty self descriptive.  a bucket shower is a 50 gallon drum in the toilet room filled with tap water.  a bucket is supplied and the shower part happens when you scoop the water with the bucket and pour it over your head.  in the hallway outside the door was a stack of car tires and several bikes chained to a stairwell.  all were covered in a thick, thick layer of dirt. my HR Director fearlessly went to battle for me against the landlord agent (that just so happened to be his sister) to negotiate that they add a hot water unit in the price of $1200 per month.  oh, and he wanted me to pay the agent a commission of $1200 to secure the rental.  let me do the math for you.  that 48,000 we smiled and i said we'd need to keep looking.  as we are in the car getting ready to leave the 'agent' says there is another apartment in the same complex we could look at - because it was furnished it would be $1400.  we walk over to take a look.  the bizzare pink color of the walls and dirty uphostered furniture were a turn off and i was able to turn that one down really quickly.

three days later i saw the same apartment easily identifiable by the wall color and furniture advertised on the expat connection site for $1000/month.  let's just say the HR guy wasn't helping me.  i've gotten to know him a little better since then and turns out he's what we would call an 'asshole'.

oh, and lease terms are very unflexible.  landlords expect one year of rent plus deposit paid in advance in cash.  crisp, clean US bills only.  if something happens during the lease, a water pipe bursts or electrical problems, the landlord will say 'that is your business'.  it's pretty fucking crazy.  to get housing comparable in comfort and style to the condo in Thailand or my house in the US it would cost $3500US a month in Yangon.

in the end, the company i'm working for came up with a workable solution.  they own multiple properties on the same street.  they have a villa that has been used for training classes.  they are transitioning the classes into a new building that was being built so they converted one the rooms in the villa into an apartment for me.  i am a bit spoiled because i walk to work, have 24 hour security, generator and reliable high speed internet.  it's not fancy but i have tons of storage.   the cleaning staff comes in to clean and iron for me three times a week.



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