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Personal experience: how an immigrant to rent a house in the USA and not become a victim of fraudsters

It was the perfect apartment. Everything suited me: location, price, conditions. The only thing - I looked at this apartment on the Internet. The owner asked to send her money for the card, and only after that she would hand over the keys. It's good that I didn't.

Photo: Shutterstock

Finding housing is one of the first challenges people face when moving to another country. Finally, I found an apartment in Washington. And surprisingly, it turned out to be easier to do than in Kiev, - writes Ostap Yarish for VOA.

First steps

In Washington, I practically did not know anyone, so the task of finding accommodation here for me was “with an asterisk”. I started my search back in Ukraine: I wanted to sort out the prices, study the city map, understand what is offered here in general. Where to looking for? Friends from America suggested several options. The first and most obvious is Airbnb, as well as Craigslist and Zillow. I was also advised to add to local Facebook-groups (something like Kiev "Search for housing without realtors"), where you can find a room or apartment without intermediaries.

In the end, for the first period, I decided to rent a room. In Washington, her monthly rent costs an average of $ 800 to $ 1200, and a one-room studio apartment can be found for $ 1500-2000. The connection to the capital was not so important - here many people live in the suburbs, in the states of Virginia or Maryland, but the distances are not so great - there is even a subway there. To make it clearer, it's like Irpin, Vyshgorod or Brovary near Kiev.

Often, owners prefer signing a contract for six months or a year, but I did not want to be attached to one place for such a long time and was looking for a monthly rent. And what if in a month I realize that I don’t like the area? Or it turns out that housing conditions are not as comfortable as it seemed at first? Or a roommate will be annoying or untidy? In the new city, it was important for me to leave room for maneuver for myself.

After I decided on the main criteria, I began a real search. In the Facebook group itself, I wrote that I was looking for a room. On Craigslist revised all before the last announcement and sent messages to those who interested me. And on the first day I received several offers.

The best option

At first I was convinced that it was very important to find permanent housing even before I moved - but in the end I realized that it was useless. In fact, I flew to the United States without having an apartment yet. This uncertainty was a little scary - but better than buying a pig in a poke. Actually, I almost did it.

One of the first to write was the owner of a two-room apartment - of all the ads I liked her the most. Center of Washington, new building, to the White House - 10 minutes walk, to work - 15. Price per room - 900 dollars, including a communal apartment, a very advantageous offer for such conditions.

The letter was painted in great detail. I would say too detailed. The owner said that earlier she trusted the question of rent to her realtor, but he was dishonest and deceived her, so she decided to do it herself. The woman said she now lives in a neighboring state and is engaged in restoring a family business that in the past has suffered from a hurricane. At first she wanted to sell her apartment in Washington, but then decided to rent it out to someone decent. For this, she asked to tell in detail about herself. All this at first caused confidence, but at the same time it was surprising. Why so much information that is not directly related to the case?

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After I talked about myself, the correspondence continued. The woman said that in the other room there will be a girl who plans to check into the apartment two weeks later. By a pleasant coincidence, she was also a journalist, besides my age. The tenant said she was very neat and suggested that we would have many common interests with her. So far, everything looked very good.

Then the landlady offered to sign the contract by e-mail. But with the only condition: after that I have to send her the 900 card for the first month + the same amount of deposit, and then she will send the keys to the apartment to any convenient address. She said that I can look at the apartment in the photographs, or come into the house and inspect the new building from the outside. No, it’s impossible to see the room inside with your own eyes until I drop the money.

Puss in the bag

This alarmed me. On the one hand, it is very risky to transfer such an amount in advance. On the other hand, I did not know how it works in the USA. Perhaps this is normal practice here and you shouldn't worry? Moreover, we will sign an agreement, I will have all her data. Well, the Americans, apparently, are decent people, and the law enforcement system works differently here. In a word, I found myself in a situation in which I had to make a choice: either to take a risk for the sake of an ideal option, or to continue searching for housing, which could drag on for an unknown amount of time.

Nevertheless, I decided to offer the owner of the apartment a compromise. I'm ready to rent a room, but with a preview. I asked if she could send the keys to her friends or neighbors to show me the apartment. Or as a last resort, I can wait for a neighbor to move in there - and come to watch then.

Usually the woman answered my letters within a few hours. But after this message she just disappeared. Two days later I wrote again. No reaction. My friend, who has been living in the USA for many years and who leases apartments himself, decided to take a look at the announcement.

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“The address of the apartment is in a new building, but this building cannot have such a layout and interior. The photographs show a private house or an older house, and it is definitely not at the right address. This is most likely a scam, ”he said.

The “mistress” of the apartment never wrote: the ad turned out to be a fake. As I was explained later, this can happen in the United States. Fraudsters specifically offer attractive conditions at a very reasonable price - they throw a fishing rod with bait. The ideal candidates for them are foreigners who move to America, and having no experience in finding housing here, are pecking at a lucrative offer. Fortunately, I didn't become one of them. He saved $ 1800 and his nerves.


What else should you pay attention to to avoid unpleasant surprises? First of all, always come to inspect the apartment in person. This means that it is better to look for housing on the spot. Moreover, this way you can see not only the premises, but also the area - and here it often plays a greater role than in Ukraine.

So it was with me during my searches: the photographs show a very cozy apartment, and the quarter turned out to be one of the most criminogenic in Washington. In the United States, there are databases describing each area. The information can be checked, for example, by the postal code. Demographics, crime rates, prices - in a completely unfamiliar city, these data helped to understand which place is good for living and which is better to bypass.

The designation of the number of rooms in the US differs from the Ukrainian one. The one-room apartment is called studio. Two-room - one bedroom apartment, three-room - two bedroom apartment, and so on. People here are generally more mobile than in Ukraine and do not take root in one place: they often move from state to state and from apartment to apartment. Therefore, housing can be unfurnished - the previous tenants, when leaving, can take their bed, armchairs, wardrobe, table from there. Moreover, this is taken for granted and is not always mentioned in the ads. And already when you come to the viewing, they tell you: “Oh, and by the way, we take all this furniture, so the room will be empty. We leave only the bedside table. No, the rental price will not change. ”

A separate point is utilities. Usually for a room or small apartment in Washington, it costs an additional $ 100-150. In other words, about 10% of the rental price - in Kiev I paid about the same part for a communal apartment.

If in Ukraine tenants often demand payment for the first and last month at once, here it works a little differently. In the United States, they are asked to pay a deposit, that is, a deposit that is returned after leaving the apartment. Usually it is equal to the amount of the monthly rent. So, if the price indicates $ 1000, you will need to pay about two thousand for the first month. Of course, all this is individual, and there are exceptions. In general, tenants look at your bank's credit rating: the higher it is, the lower the amount of the deposit will be, and vice versa.

But despite all these moments, finding accommodation in Washington turned out to be easier than in Kiev. Upon arrival in the United States, I spent four days on this - during this time I visited six apartments in different parts of the city, and on the fifth day I had already moved in. In Kiev, some of my friends could not find a room for a whole month, or even two. Either there were no good offers, or the excitement was too high, or the owners set inadequate conditions and prices. During this period, they had to live in hostels. In the States, it would have turned out to be significantly more expensive than in Europe - in Washington, a night in a six-bed room costs about $ 30, in New York at least $ 50.

Before moving to the United States, the mere thought that I would have to look for accommodation myself had caused discomfort in me. But it turned out, not everything is so scary. If you look, be prepared and do not rush to the first good option.

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