20 March 2014

house hunter's international: tanzania.

Hello again! You may not have noticed, since we stealthily kept blogging away last week, but we just returned from a week of "spring break" in Mwanza. Before you get carried away with images of us lounging on a nice beach or trotting around Europe, let me tell you what the real deal was over the course of the last week: house hunting.

Spoiler Alert: We did not manage to convince HGTV to come and film our house hunting explorations in Mwanza. Surprise surprise, Mwanza has never been featured on House Hunter's International. (Although one measly episode does feature Dar es Salaam, so I guess that's saying something.)

Michael and I were lucky enough to see ten homes over the course of the eight days or so that we were in Mwanza. This is no easy task, seeing as real estate agents or apartment finders don't exist in Mwanza.

In addition, a bit of difficulty lies in the fact that we came to Tanzania to live with Tanzanians. You see, when people see or hear that we're Americans, they assume we want to live in a really nice home in an exclusive neighborhood. But we don't. We want to live with Tanzanians. However, we also want electricity, running water, and a Western-style toilet - "amenities" that can't be found in the majority of locals' homes. So we found ourselves being shown many homes which, while very nice, were not appealing to us, because we they were located in exclusive neighborhoods, sitting far from the scenes of Tanzanian life.

Not to worry! There's no challenge this couple won't take on, so let's delve in and see what we found.

House #1: Living With the People

This house came to us via a parishioner at the Maryknoll parish in Mwanza. He told us it was located close to the church, which also means it's close to where four of our other Maryknoll Lay Missioners live, and it was right in the middle of local life, which sounded good to us.

this would be the view from our front door. notice how close the neighbors are! the brick structure in the middle is where tanzanians would typically do their cooking.
Pros: The space was perfect for us with three bedrooms and a bath, although the lay-out was a bit wonky. Since no one had lived in the space yet, the house was in great condition. The cost to rent wasn't too bad either.

Cons: This home is a traditional Tanzanian home, meaning it shares walls and a compound with neighbors. While we want to be in close proximity with a lot o' locals, we also have to think about our security. Unfortunately, the straw that really broke the camel's back was the fact that there was no drive-able road near the home. Since we know we will have access to a car from time to time, we had to instantly check this house off the list.

House #2: The Four Seasons

We heard about the next two homes from a young guy who's probably the closest thing to a real estate agent you can find in the city of Mwanza. And boy, were they nice!

Pros: The grounds surrounding this house were absolutely gorgeous. Michael and I truly felt as though we had walked onto the property of the Four Seasons. The house was immaculate and with two other houses in the compound, it could be nice to have a little built-in community.

Cons: Although beautiful, the house would be a tight squeeze, even for just two of us. It only had one bedroom and one bath with quite a tiny kitchen. But more than that, this place was just too nice for us. To live here did not feel congruent with our reasons for moving to Tanzania in the first place. We'll probably pass this one up.

House #3: The Contender

Located in the same neighborhood as the Four Seasons, this house had us at "Hujambo!" (Gotta love that Kiswahili humor.)

Pros: This house was the perfect size for us. There's really not too much to complain about. We saw two bedrooms, 1.5 bathrooms (with Western-style toilets!), a carport, and a really beautiful yard. We almost couldn't believe the cost to rent. It was so reasonable!

Cons: Because it is such a nice house, it's set in one of the more exclusive neighborhoods of Mwanza. When we asked about the neighbors, all we heard was that a bunch of foreigners lived nearby. Since most foreigners are able to afford cars, we also didn't see much in the way of street traffic in front of the house. Of course, this place would be perfect for those who want some serious privacy but that's not what we're looking for. But it sure did have us doing a double take...

House #4: The Hot Mess, Part I

We were quite hopeful about the next three homes we saw. All are located in a neighborhood that we really like in the city - relatively close to my office and not to far from our Regional Coordinator here in Tanzania. But the first house in the area didn't give us the best of impressions.

this was the so-called kitchen.
Pros: Like I said, we loved the neighborhood. As we were walking up to the house, we both looked at each other and telepathically said, "We can see ourselves living here." (Yes, we are that attuned as a couple.) We saw children playing out in the street and people sitting outside in the shade of their homes, talking. Just we what envision ourselves becoming involved in!

Cons: Well, with any hot mess, there are too many to mention. To put it lightly, the house was in disarray. Although it had three bedrooms, we weren't able to see any of them because they were blocked with various rotting boards and pieces of construction materials. There was a half built home on the property, which seemed to welcome intruders. And in the back of the house, instead of a yard, there were more homes. Again, we want to live with locals, but aren't sure about the extreme lack of privacy when they live within ten feet of your back door. Sadly, there are too many "fixes" to be made on this one, despite its great location.

House #5: The Pit

Any house that we affectionately name 'The Pit' is going to be a winner, right? It looked tall from the outside, which is odd, given that the vast majority of homes in Tanzanian are one-level. We should have known the jig was up.

Pros: I'm looking back at our notes as I write this post, and I honestly didn't write down any pros. Which was wrong. Because there is a major pro. And it's called Ashley and Michael's Recreation of Any McDonald's Playhouse.

Quick digression: As you can see from the photo, the living room of 'The Pit' is sitting about eight feet below the rest of the house, complete with uneven steps leading up to both a dining room and a separate hallway. To the cynical home-owner to be, this looks like a lawsuit waiting to happen, along with broken bones and traumatized walks to the bathroom at night that turn into emergency room hospital visits. But to us, this looks like something we could turn into endless amounts of fun. We've already ordered a ton, literally, of those plastic colored balls that we all loved during our childhood visits to Ronald McDonald's Playhouses to put in 'The Pit,' thereby making it the funnest house East Africa has ever seen.

Cons: This house is a lawsuit waiting to happen. 'Nuff said.

House #6: The Ivory Tower

In contrast to what I just said, this is one of those few homes in Tanzania that does have two stories. If we were to rent this place, we would only rent the second floor, which believe me, would be enough.

Pros: With an ideal location and a beautiful layout, this house should have been a shoo-in. It was clearly brand spankin' new, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms.

Cons: The house looked great from above, but once we went down to the ground level, we realized there was a huge, awkward empty space that the owner planned to rent out as "storage space." Now, in the United States, I'm sure there are laws which keep renters from making it anything other than the intended storage space. But in Tanzania... not so much. It could be a bar, a church, or anything the renter wants it to be by the time we would move into it. Coupled with the fact that the house was located on a street known for its night noise, this property got knocked to the bottom of the pile.

House #7: Better for a Fellow Maryknoller

For this house, we returned back to the neighborhood called Mabatini, which is where four Maryknoll Lay Missioners currently live. The house is situated on a great compound and provides the kind of community we hope to find.

Pros: The house has been really well-maintained and because we know the neighbors, it would be an easy transition into Tanzanian life on our own.

Cons: With only one bedroom, it's a bit too tight for us but for our fellow MKLMer, Kristle, it could be the perfect fit! We're crossing it off our list in hopes that she gets to settle there.

House #8: The Flirt

These last three houses were shown to us through some connections at Michael's new office. We were (and are!) so thankful for any help we can get on this house hunting biz, so with little information about the homes, we agreed to see three places they had scoped out for us.

don't mind the funny dude in the middle of the picture! that's our trusty co-hort, chris, who enjoys photo-bombing during house hunting trips.
Pros: This house... yeah. It was amazing. With three gorgeous bedrooms, two bathrooms, and awesome built-in counter tops, (yes, those are a novelty in Tanzania), we were willing to overlook the weird tile flooring. Oh, and did I mention the yard was beautiful as well?

Cons: After done touring the house, we got hit with the price tag: three times what we were willing to pay! Say what? We knew this was high, given the prices we had seen on the last seven houses. More than that, no locals would likely share the compound with us, putting it in that "exclusive neighborhood" category again. Not what we're hoping for.

House #9: The Hot Mess, Part II

This house was a tease, too. When we drove up, we suddenly realized we were within a five-minute walk from my office. Score! Set right off the road, it could make for an easy commute for Michael as well.

Pros: The house was big, almost too big. We loved the lay-out we found when we walked into the front door: a big living room where we could easily host friends and hang out.

Cons: The house was in serious disrepair. Michael quickly spotted numerous water spots on the ceiling and it was sorely in need of a paint job. It also had a great draft... because the windows had no glass! Eek! While it's normal to request some upgrades from homeowners, glass in the windows and a new roof would probably be too big of a request. Similar to 'The Hot Mess, Part I,' we decided the hassle likely wouldn't be worth it.

House #10: Donald Trump's Rental

Ugh, Tanzania, you torture me. This house was in just the right neighborhood. A string of three or four small shops sat right outside the gate and pedestrian traffic was heavy. Before seeing the house, we again got that tingly feeling. "This could be it!" we told each other through ESP. Alas, once we saw the building, we knew the tour would just be for fun, as we're pretty sure Trump rents this place when he comes to Mwanza. Seriously.

Pros: So. Beautiful. And. Big. At least three couples could live here and be perfectly happy.

Cons: The homeowner was asking for a zillion dollars to live in this place. Okay, I exaggerate, but still. Plus, we reminded ourselves, we didn't come to Tanzania to live like Donald Trump. Although it does look like a nice life.

What's the verdict?

As you can probably guess, nothing screamed, "I'm your home! Take me! Take me!" While parts of 'The Contender' and 'The Flirt' sat really well with us, we haven't fallen in love. We've now returned to Musoma for the last month of our language school (huzzah!), but our friends back in Mwanza are continuing to sniff out our future home for us. We're a little disappointed, seeing as we were hoping to find a place this time around, but hey, look on the bright side! This just gives us another chance to convince HGTV to make us the star of their next episode of House Hunter's International.


  1. This is kind of funny, because House Hunters Int'l really did reach out to me! Haha! I had to turn them down for personal reasons, but I referred them to a friend here in Dar. Stay tuned for an episode near you....

  2. Jessie, that basically makes you a celebrity in my book! Guess I'll have to give HGTV a bit more credit when it comes to featuring Tanzania.

  3. I see why none of the houses checked out look promising to you. Either it’s the neighborhood or the price issue that didn’t suit you. Anyway, I hope you were able to find one that’s considerably fine in both aspects. Have a nice day!

    Willard Evans @ Wow Homes


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