By Kate Minogue

After four months in my (very impressive) house in Libya, I’m beginning to wish that I had been trained as an electrician or plumber or air conditioner engineer. We live in a very well constructed house so are lucky not to suffer from leaking roofs or windows. Nonetheless, there are still many teething troubles, as it is a new house, and several problems which were supposedly fixed have already reappeared.

The process of choosing your house once you arrive is something of a roller-coaster ride, as you realise this may be the biggest and grandest house you’ll ever live in, but it could nevertheless keep you continually busy on the maintenance front. And put aside any thoughts of living in an eco-friendly house, because there aren’t any as far as I can see. I haven’t even spotted a solar panel.

Before you ever visit Libya, a look on one of the real estate agent’s websites will give you an idea of what to expect: www.daleal.com. Libyan houses are often built for several branches of one family to share, hence the ’splits’ with multiple bathrooms and kitchens. It is also common to have a salon for visiting males which may even have its own entrance. At present, large villas are being built on farm land and orchards. Many of us are lucky enough to have a view of a citrus orchard or olive grove, but of course this carries the risk that building work could begin in the near future. Or not …

It is certain that most ‘westerners’ will not appreciate Libyan interior design, but wouldn’t you put up with gaudy bathrooms if you knew there would be a reliable internet connection?  Some landlords go for a compromise and try to build a house which will appeal to foreigners but which can later be adapted to the needs of the family. Of course you won’t really know whether or not things work until you move in. We moved in before our freight was delivered. Had we known that it had only just left the Netherlands, we might have stayed a little longer in the guest house. Once installed, we quickly discovered problems with the water pump, the wiring, leaking water heaters, etc. etc.

The estate agents came up with a good mix of houses for us to view (my husband viewed two dozen in two days!), and as the prices are fixed in an apparently arbitrary fashion, it is worth investigating all houses that appeal, even if they seem suspiciously cheap. Other houses are ridiculously overpriced. The attractiveness (or otherwise) of the surroundings seem to be irrelevant. New houses are very unfurnished, and it wasn’t until we moved in that we noticed only one bathroom had a mirror, and none had towel rails or any of the usual bathroom fittings.

You can specify improvements in the contract, but of course you have to get a balance between getting what you want and avoiding making the landlord fed up and irritated with you. It’s probably better to do smaller jobs yourself after you’ve moved in, but I think good to get, for example, all the white goods installed as you then save yourself the trouble of disposing of them when you leave.

The number of available houses varies greatly. If there are not many on offer when you first look, it may be worth asking around to see if any companies are planning on reducing their staff numbers, for example. In that case more houses will be coming on to the market. There are of course great advantages to be had in taking on a ’second-hand’ house where, you would hope, all the initial problems have been sorted out.

Ask other people what they looked for in their house, but remember everybody has different priorities. We wanted to be near the International School, to have a pool and garden, and to feel secure.  Other people wanted to be close to shops and restaurants, or to be out in the country for their dog, or to have large picture windows.

The landlord should be aware that he has to pay tax on the rental income and it is worth showing him a blank Shell contract right at the start. If he has any problems with this, then look elsewhere. If the landlord seems unfriendly or unhelpful, then you should perhaps trust your instincts and keep looking. Get the estate agent to check that it is indeed the landlord you are meeting and not some relative/friend/agent.

We inherited a guard with our house. As he had been there during the construction phase it seemed a good idea because he knew the idiosyncrasies of the house. He was from Niger and our landlord assured us that he spoke French, although any French word from us was met with a look of astonishment. Once we had moved in it became clear that he did not speak French and his Arabic wasn’t up to much either, which meant that workmen and drivers had difficulty communicating with him too. We were very relieved when he announced his departure and we were able to take on someone who spoke English (although not, unfortunately, Arabic). When you employ a guard you should also expect that he will do odd jobs such as pool maintenance, watering of the garden and car cleaning. Ensure that adequate accommodation is available for your guard and ask for improvements to be made if necessary (as is often the case).

Take your time when choosing your house and try to look at houses of acquaintances and colleagues. Remember that having cosmetic alterations made on your own account is relatively cheap, so consider carefully factors which cannot be changed, such as location, size of house and garden and external noise. You’ll probably be spending quite a lot of time in your house, so be sure you will like it!

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