Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The (discouraging) search for an apartment without a bathroom in the kitchen: Part 1

We have spent the last few weeks looking for apartments and houses online. We were considering buying, but recently we decided to focus on renting and postpone buying. We will both be homeless as of June 30th and we don't want to buy out of desperation. The last few days we have been visiting apartments that sounded promising, based on hours and hours of scouring listings to find anything in our price range.

Before I describe our experiences, let me first explain the system here. People describe apartments as the number of rooms, plus the bathroom (which is designated as "and a half"). So, the normal "one bedroom" in U.S. terms is a "three and a half" here in Québec. Meaning there are 3.5 rooms: kitchen, living area, bedroom, plus the bathroom. We are looking for a five and a half or bigger.

Let me also explain that almost every apartment in Québec puts the bathroom in the kitchen. I am strongly against this, despite whatever practicalities might exist for whoever builds the building having to only run water pipes to one place. I think there should be a separation of more than three steps between the toilet seat and a seat at the kitchen table. (This is the awkward reality in my current apartment.) I prefer bathrooms that are in a hall or something so they are not immediately off of a living room area or a kitchen area, providing more privacy both for the people that live in the apartment and any guests that might come over for dinner and have an upset tummy.

Let me describe where we have visited so far, using X (what I paid in Chicago for a one bedroom in a good, but certainly not "most cool" neighborhood) as a cost comparison. We do not want to go over this price, which is more than we ideally want to spend but evidently is way less than most apartments rent for these days in Québec City. Which is not much less expensive than Montréal, shockingly. And also surprising is that most of the available apartments are three and half's or four and a half's. Right now Québec has very few larger apartments on the rental market. Maybe if people luck out and get a bigger one, they stay forever?

Apartment 1: Pretty good 5 and a half in a boring area that is close to our ideal neighborhood area. Nice space, but the rooms are not huge. There is a lot of storage though and this is a big plus. Bathroom is in the kitchen and small/cramped. Landlord is nice. I think there was a weird (smoke?) smell in the apartment, though it didn't bother S and he thinks we could get rid of it. He is probably right. Good parking. Price:  X (including heat)

Apartment 2: Loft downtown. AWESOME in theory; disappointing in reality. Much smaller than anticipated, which is probably too small for us. Run-down look, but they would repaint the scary walls that had weird and obscene paintings of women on them. Suspended ceiling. S could walk to work. Like in 2 minutes. Shower in the bathroom is literally just barely bigger than my body, height and circumference. And I am a petite 5 foot tall woman. I think I could not handle being in such a small space. S is convinced he would be fine with it, though he is taller than me. He did not see this apartment in person though. Difficult or no parking. Price: $125 less than X (including heat). Unheard of price for the location.

Apartment 3: Another loft downtown. Same building as the first one. This loft feels slightly larger (though still smaller than expected) and is pretty and well maintained. Does not have scary murals. High ceiling. The bathroom- get this-- there is NO DOOR and NO CEILING around the bathroom. Basically, in this nice looking apartment, there is only a partial wall as a (non) barrier between the apartment and the bathroom. I doubt I would like this if it were always only just S and I in the apartment. But I know I would not feel comfortable using the bathroom if we had company. I mean, there is no barrier. You might as well be going in the middle of the room. 'Cause you ARE. So...this one was out for me too, though S was pretty okay with the concept. Difficult or no parking. After this visit, our envisioning of our future urban loft life in the old historical, downtown part of town disintegrated. Price: $125 less than X (including heat).

Apartment 4: The most amazing perfect apartment for us ever. It is a 7 and a half. This is the one that I felt was right from the moment I saw the ad. I saw the ad and emailed immediately, I think only minutes after it was posted. I got an appointment to see it and we had the second appointment. It is HUGE. There is enough room that we could live there with a kid or two, if we wanted to. The kitchen is amazing and has an island. Tons of storage. Separate dining area. Large, pretty deck in back. Cool bathroom- in the hallway not near the living area or kitchen!- with 1920s era black and white tiling. Perfect spot in the bathroom for BooBoo's litter box. Double living room.  Good parking. Reminds me of my beloved former Chicago apartment in "feel" and era, only double the size, with washer and dryer hook-ups and a fabulous deck. Our ideal neighborhood. I could go on and on about the various wonderful qualities. Price: X (including heat). We said we were interested, filled out the credit check stuff and were second on the list. We left, giddy with the idea of living here.

Apartment 5: Five and a half in a okay part of town. Hundred year old building, newly renovated to the point of being boring. More-spacious-than-average the kitchen. Small, run down balcony in back. Two rooms are quite small, and the others aren't overwhelming either. Front door opens directly into the living room. This made me realize I definitely prefer a little entry area. The building is for sale, so our landlord would change when somebody bought it and we would possibly have to move next June when our lease would be up. Difficult parking. We were not excited about this place, but filled out the credit check anyways. Because, you know, we need some back up options. Price: X (heat included).

And we stopped visiting here, holding our breath, both of us in love with apartment 4. Hoping that we would get this perfect-for-us, most amazing apartment either of us have ever seen, which was renting for at least a couple hundred less than what comparable apartments rent for. And there are almost no available apartments in Québec City that are larger than a 5 and a half. And now that we have seen The Perfect Apartment, we were having a hard time thinking of spending the same amount of money (or more!) on an apartment half the size and markedly less interesting.

And tonight S got the call. The I'm-sorry-you-didn't-get-the-apartment-because-the-first-people-on-the-list-got-it call. We are both deeply disappointed. I am so upset by not being able to make the home I had been imagining for us here in this apartment. It all is made worse by the fact that we now know this apartment exists, recognize that it is exceptional, and have to admit we will most likely never find another one that even comes close. I know because I have been reading the rental listings for weeks and know what is out there and what things cost. We have seen the best and almost had it, and now nothing else can compare. At least not anything in our price bracket.

I had been envisioning throwing large dinner parties (that apartment could easily comfortably host 15-20 people at a gathering) and thought about how we could set up rooms (we could each have an office and still have a guest room!), and loved the fact that we could even raise a couple kids there. I guess the lesson here is, "Don't count your chickens..."...well, no. The lesson learned here is that I deeply care about where I live. We do not want a luxury apartment, and don't care about living in the "nicest" areas. We like interesting places, which for us, usually means old apartments or houses that have some character (like 1920s or earlier, preferably). With this upcoming move, I was hoping to be able to settle in for more than a year and make a home together. I have been looking forward to idea of a joint home during this year of back and forth between two apartments in two cities. I want an apartment that truly feels like "home," especially living in a new city and new country. Apartment 4 was our dream version of our future apartment and we lost it. All because we were the second appointment and second on the list of people who wanted it. It all comes down to a matter of minutes. Now we are left apartment-less and disheartened by not getting this one. I hope something works out in the next seven days. After that, all sorts of complications ensue with S being out of the country for many weeks, and us only having a two week window to move after he gets back before he is off again for three more weeks for work.

And I guess I need deal and to think positively. After all, it is just an apartment. And wherever S is, home is. But still. This stinks.


  1. Oh man, I'm sorry you're having such a hard time finding a place, but I have to admit that I have NO idea what you are talking about re: bathrooms in the kitchen! Is this really a Quebec thing, because I'm not sure I've ever seen it? Our bathroom is right across the hall from our kitchen...

    In any case if Quebec City is anything like Montreal, you are MEGA-early in your apartment hunting--most places advertize with less than a month's notice. So stressed as I'm sure you are (apartment-hunting sucks at the best of times) you have PLENTY of time and likely the listings won't become plentiful until late May at the earliest. You'll find something!

  2. Oh, good. I was thinking we might be early in the process, but didn't know for sure how things work here. At least there is still hope...

    And by the bathroom in the kitchen thing, I mean that the bathroom door entry is in the kitchen area. When I take 3 steps from our kitchen table, I am standing by the toilet. Our Montréal apartment is like this, S's mom's is the same, and most of the ones I have seen thus far in apartment searches are also like this. Maybe I fell through the Québec rabbit hole where bathrooms are in kitchens???

  3. You're not alone, I've definitely had the washroom in the kitchen issue in Montreal. I did also live in several apartments without that issue, so have hope!

    I agree, most places aren't posted more than a month out, at least in Montreal.

    Good luck!

  4. that's the yuckiest thing i've read in awhile.

    at least you can toast a bagel while you poo?

  5. @Olivia- Thanks for the encouragement. Hopefully we will find something we are excited about in the coming week(s).

    @Liz- Yes, this set-up does not make for much privacy. But perhaps I can focus on how efficient it is to have a bathroom so close-by to the table we usually work and eat at. :) But yeah, far from ideal, in my opinion...

  6. Aww, it sucks that you guys didn't get #4. I was totally holding my breath for you as I read your post.

    Like others said, you still have lots of time. But I can imagine being in your situation and wanting to know where "home" was going to be asap!

    We had the sucky MB-out-of-country (well, city) right when we moved. In fact, he had to fly out the DAY we got the keys to the apartment, and didn't come home until a month after I had been living there alone. Definitely not ideal. But we're super happy now, as I'm sure you guys will be soon!!

    Sending positive home-finding thoughts your way. :)

  7. Ah, sorry about everything...

    And it's funny, I've had like 7 different apartments in Mtl before our current house and only one had a bathroom in the kitchen. But it's true that different places have vernacular peculiarities in constructions and style...

    Good luck!

  8. Good luck on everything! Living in DC I totally feel you on the apartment troubles.