Sunday, January 17, 2016


The final quest, deliberation and decision concerning the acquisition of a Warsaw apartment happened soon after my sister and I left Lazienki Park -- that place of tremendous beauty, enhanced even more by the snowfall of the previous day. We were on Pulawska Street -- a broad boulevard that slopes down to the south of the city. The third apartment that I had wanted to see was at the corner of this street, but about four kilometers away from the park. The question for me was this: has the neighborhood changed here in the past decade? Has it improved? Is there a sense of community? Would I enjoy walking these blocks in the future, or would I just want to hop on the metro and get away?

As we neared the apartment building, we came across this cafe. It's part of a bakery with very traditional Polish cakes. We had some time before the appointment with the agent and the owner (in Poland, you tour the place with both) and so we sat down for a coffee. I couldn't resist a poppyseed cake.


I let out a deep sigh of relief. Maybe it was the poppyseed cake, but for whatever reason, it felt good to be there. The neighborhood passed the inspection. If the apartment lives up to its description, it will be the place of choice and my future home for travels to Poland.

And now we come to the block with the building that houses the one bedroom apartment. The listing refers to it as a building of historic interest and I think that is quite correct. It's one of the not too many prewar buildings in the city (and in Poland, "prewar" refers to only one war -- the war, the one that toward its conclusion left most of Warsaw in rubble) -- date of construction: 1934.

(Here, you see the corner. By allowing an ad agency to place an advertisement on its facade, the housing coop brings in extra money to the coop pool for repairs and improvements.)


The entrance is around the corner and by American standards, it's very bleak. In Poland, most people would not give it a second thought. They'd merely look to see what's beyond the gate (there'll be a second entrance inside).


This particular building privatized quite recently -- five years ago I'm told. The coop that formed is invested in its future and they have improvement project lined up, one of which is revamping the stairwell. I am used to very rundown stairwells in this city and so I was pleasantly surprised. I thought it was quite adequate. The mosaic tiles at the landing appear to be again "of historic interest" and they will be preserved after the renovation.


The unit I'm to view is on the top floor -- fourth by American standards -- and the building has no elevator. Again, this is not unusual. One of my Polish friends commented that not having an elevator probably added ten years to his aging parents' lives.

Because it's a high floor (with higher than average ceilings), the noise from the streets is barely perceptible.

The windows face south and on a day like this, the sunshine overwhelms the spaces. Here's a view of the open plan living room, leading back into a kitchen nook and forward toward the bedroom.


The apartment, I'm told, was gutted and redone a year ago and since then, the young owners have used it as an investment: they operate an AirBnB out of it.

And this was an eye opener for me: The photo doesn't show it, but parts of the spaces, the walls, the bathroom are already looking warn. What's with people?! The shower leaks, the cabinets are chipped, the door frame is rotting, there are smudges and stains on the wall. Cosmetic, but still. I mentally calculate to deduct costs of repair from my offer.

I consult with my sister. She's willing to oversee the work. And so I enter into negotiations with the owner and agent.

The bargaining continues throughout the rest of the afternoon. By phone on the street. Quickly ducking into a tea shop to warm up and continue (by phone) from there. (I thought it was opportune to stare at the sign on the well about, effectively, taking it all in stride.)


On and on, back and forth, but by the time I have to leave for my friends' house for a dinner party, we have a deal! Negotiations switched to how and when we should enter into a preliminary and then final agreement. Everyone is in a rush: if I am to let go of the other apartments, I dont want to lose this one to a more moneyed buyer. The agent obviously doesnt want to lose the sale. The owners badly want the cash, as their other investment -- the sale of green teas (yes, Poland is changing!) needs a capital boost. And so we work quickly toward the deal, to be notarized, deposits made, etc etc on Monday. (My sister, sweet person that she is, will do all this for me.)

We ride the metro to my friends' place now for dinner. [My sister is invited as well -- my Warsaw friends were like family to me once and perhaps they still are. My real family -- sister, daughter, granddaughter, partner -- is always of concern to them and it is always welcome.]  I reflected how, in the end, my warm feelings toward the apartment come not only from the sunshine that pours into the rooms, but also from knowing that this spot survived a tumultuous period of war and reconstruction and now, more recently, it proudly holds its own in Warsaw's complicated real estate market.

On a more practical level, I love that at the side of the entrance, there is retail space that has been taken over, I'm told, by someone who wants to put a restaurant-cafe-bar at the ground level. Talk about having a neighborhood bistro right at your doorstep!

And now we come to the social part of the evening. I wont spend many words on it. My friend is a great cook and so the food is fantastic... (Here: a fish pate on arugula for starters.)


In a corner, a female subset reflects on the difficulties of the year gone by. It was a great year for me, but a terrible year for some of the others. There is a lot to talk about.


Someone finds a laptop and these guys examine photos of my new apartment.


Below,  a photo of our whole group. Oh, there are a handful of others who are missing, but these guys are the essentials. They are my closest and beloved Warsaw friends.


It's terrible to watch the clock tick down the hours. My flight back home leaves at 6 and so by 4 a.m., I'll have to leave for the airport. I haven't had a decent night's sleep since I left Madison on Wednesday. And yet we stay and talk until someone realizes that her dog needs to be let out and so we slowly allow the evening to come to an end.

I return to my sister's and use the remaining hours of the night to draw up lists of things that need to be done with respect to the apartment. It's not a short list. We talk about what should happen when. We talk about where I can buy a bed -- the one essential piece of furniture before I can stay there. And I catch up with email, with blogging, with packing, with reaching Ed back home and making up additional lists of things to do after reviewing the apartment purchase with him.

By the time I'm done, it's pretty much time for me to leave.

The taxi takes me to the airport, I catch the flight to Amsterdam. I eat my breakfast at the airport. Same one as last time! I relax. I am counting on sleeping on the plane. I am absolutely exhausted.

The Amsterdam layover is long, but I'm okay with that. I stretch out and having done all that needs to be done, I surf the Net.

It strikes me that I could look at how the Airbnb unit fared -- remember, the apartment I am buying was, for the past year, hosting paid guests.

I read the reviews. 4.5 stars out of 5. You think that's good? I'm not at all convinced. AirBnB reviews are, for whatever reason, terribly inflated. I read on. There are dozens of reviews. For once I dont care about the ones that grouse about the occasional lack of neatness. But I do care about the ones that talk about the flooded shower. Again and again.  About the scars -- nicks, cracks, unhinged that, broken that -- which come from a hard use.

Have I been lied to? About the active co-op? About the restoration itself? About the quality of workmanship? In the end, what's true and what's fiction?

I call my sister and tell her to call the deal off.

I'm back to agonizing in a state of no sleep and not insignificant time pressures over the virtues of primarily residential versus primarily commercial neighborhoods. Over beautiful interiors as opposed to beautiful neighborhoods.

I get on the plane from Amsterdam to Detroit in a daze. My real estate venture has blown up in my face. I am such a bad capitalist.

Detroit now. A five hour layover. Soon I'll be boarding for Madison where the air is as cold as its been this year. Ed will be waiting in the car. I'll exhale once more.

But I'll leave you with another Warsaw winter photo -- from yesterday's walk in the park. Decisions about apartments are insignificant as compared to the beauty of that walk through Lazienki and the prospect of many more such walks in the years to come. One must remember that.