The biggest decision we had to make in planning our move to Jordan was deciding what to take with us and how to ship it. The questions we had to ask ourselves were: What are the available modes of shipping? What are the costs involved? Is it more cost-effective to buy everything overseas? What type of housing is available? Can we get a furnished apartment and eliminate the need for shipping?
As we sorted through these questions, we realized that our first question should be whether we even needed to take our household items with us, or could we replace everything at reasonable prices overseas? The answer would be determined by the kind of housing that is available and the availability of replacement items.
In this article, I will be discussing housing, which ended up being the deciding factor for us.
HOUSING IN AQABA
There is a wide range of apartments and ‘villas’ (single-family homes) available in Aqaba – both furnished and unfurnished. Most are larger than American apartments and are quite comfortable. As in any city, apartments can be really nice or really bad; really cheap or really expensive; have great landlords or terrible landlords; etc. Our first recommendation is that you cover your decision-making process in PRAYER!!
The furnished dwellings can range from really scabby looking places (usually about 300-500 JD a month for a 3-bdrm, the most common type of apartment) to very nice modern places (550-1000 JD a month for a 3-bdrm). Remember that 1 JD (Jordanian Dinar) is equal to $1.40 US.
Unfurnished 3-bedroom places will run between 200-600 JD a month. Smaller and larger apartments are available and rent for proportionately smaller and larger amounts.
WARNING: Jordanians think all Americans are RICH and they will try to get an exorbitant rent from you. Try to work through a local Arab whenever possible. We have contacts who can help you. 🙂
The 3 bedroom apartments normally include two or two-and-a-half baths, a dining room, a living room (and sometimes a separate ‘saloon’, intended to give the ladies a meeting area apart from the men, in accord with custom), as well as the kitchen and bedrooms. A 3-bdrm apartment of 160 square meters is quite a large apartment. Our 3-bedroom apartment is about 140 sq meters and is very roomy with large bedrooms. (You can see photos of our apartment in my article: Aqaba, Jordan???)
I love the wide hallways, lovely doors, marble (or ceramic tile) floors and architectural detail that you will find in all the apartments. If you like archways, ceiling moldings, columns and such, you will enjoy these places!
Ground floor apartments will usually have a nice enclosed patio area with small trees and perhaps a garden area, while upper floor apartments will have a balcony area. (Most of the balconies are pretty small, but we know of a few with HUGE balconies – really nice!) Bougainvillea bushes often add bright splashes of color.
Here’s a recent ad for a 1-or-2 bedroom apartment that opened up in the Mahdood District, which is considered one of the poorer areas, but is still very livable:
2nd floor walk up [3rd-floor by American standards – no elevator]; new; never occupied, 2 br or 1 saloon [living room] and 1 br, 1 bath and kitchen–furnished or unfurnished. 2 of these apts. Owner lives on first floor (speaks English). Around 170 JD/mo
HOW DO I FIND AN APARTMENT?
The only property management company in town that we know of is called Khaberni. Their web site will show you lots of examples of the types of apartments available. I wish I could recommend Khaberni, but they have not earned the trust of our ex-pat community. They make promises and don’t keep them. The last three families that have rented from them have had nothing but trouble (with plumbing, water, electrical – necessities-of-life stuff), with no help coming from either the apartment owners or from Khaberni. You will also have to pay them a sizable commission – the apartment owners do not absorb it.
So what are your options?
- Ex-pat community members always keep watch for apartments opening up, and we will do our best to help you find what you need. 🙂
- Our taxi-driver knows everyone in town and he always keeps his ears open for apartments coming available for rent. He will even make the arrangements to meet with the owner and act as interpreter during the meeting. He is very reliable and honest. (Of course a nice tip is only reasonable considering all the trouble he goes to.)
- The local landlords are very anxious to rent to Americans because they have learned that (unlike the typical Arab tenant), Americans usually leave an apartment in better shape than they found it. Therefore, landlords try to use every contact they have to notify Americans of availabilities. Cleaning ladies, cabbies, store owners and others in contact with both Arabs and Americans will let their American friends know. (A tip of 5-10 JD encourages them to continue to keep us informed!)
There is a regular Thursday morning ex-pat coffee meeting at the Kempinski Hotel at which people exchange information about apartments (and even furnishings and appliances) available for rent or purchase. That’s how we found our own apartment.
- There is a Facebook page called Aqaba Friends that posts apartments, furnishing, appliances and even pets available, plus local news and items of interest. It is a closed group, but if you explain that you are considering moving to Aqaba, they will approve you for membership. It’s a nice way to get to know people even before you arrive! (This group consists of ‘foreigners’ of every stripe and description, so you will see posts from many people outside of the Hebrew Roots community.)
TIPS FOR APARTMENT HUNTING
Aqaba is divided into ‘areas’, and each area is known for its own character. Learn about the areas and let the Ruach lead you as to what area He wants you in.
Many ex-pats live in Area 8, which is pretty central. Area 3 is older and cheaper, but also deals with vandalism and rude/destructive behavior from local children. We live in Nakhil Area (in an area along the coast to the left but not shown on the map), in which the only golf course in the area is being built, so prices will probably skyrocket once the golf course opens next year. Area 5 lies at the foot of the mountains but has some newer apartments and fabulous views of both the mountains and the Red Sea. You get the idea. It would be wise to learn all you can about each area before considering it.
Don’t Have High Expectations
Arab/Bedouin tenants are infamous for leaving their rented apartments pretty well trashed, and landlords are reluctant to spend the money to clean them up or make repairs until they are assured of new tenants. It’s kind of a Catch-22 situation for the new tenant, because he can’t be SURE that his new landlord will fix all the issues. Caution is called for. It’s a good sign if the apartment is in pretty decent condition when you first view it.
Almost without exception, the walls of the buildings are constructed of a single thickness of hollow cement bricks that have been plastered on the inside and faced with marble or stone on the outside. In this photo, you can see the shell. Nothing more will be added to the walls other than some plaster. There is NO insulation. Wiring and plumbing are laid in pipes that run through the cement bricks. Floors are marble or ceramic tile laid over a thick cement base. (You will not see wall-to-wall carpeting in the vast majority of apartments, nor would you want it in this environment.) Workmanship tends to be sloppy, so do not expect neatly painted walls or trim, evenly laid caulking, or tidy window, floor and door installation. Floor tiles may be loose.
- Most dwellings are multi-story apartment buildings, and elevators are rare – it’s even rarer that they work!
- In Jordan, the first floor is called the “ground floor”, while the floor above, which in America would be the second floor, is called the “first floor.” If you visit a “first floor apartment”, expect a couple flights of stairs.
- The stairwells often have no stair rails! Safety is not a big priority in Jordan… 🙂
- Ground floor apartments, especially those with gardens and a lot of plants, are more prone to roach and ant infestations (those big roaches that live outdoors in trees, and little tiny sugar ants), but people love to get ground floor gardens so they can grow some vegetables and flowers. (This can be involved – don’t plan on it until you get additional information.) This is a view of a pretty typical patio area. Some are larger, some are smaller, some wrap around the building, but all are paved and walled in, and many have planting areas. Folks often add a covered area to provide protection from the sun. Sitting with friends on your patio on a typical lovely Aqaba evening can be a little piece of Heaven!
- Be observant as to sun exposure. Do a lot of windows face west or south? That apartment will be more expensive to cool during the long hot summer. Are there windows on more than one side so that you can get a cross breeze? Are there shutters to block sun (and dust during sandstorms)? Keep in mind that top floor apartments, which often have stunning views, will also get the brunt of the hot sun during the summer months, greatly increasing the cost of air conditioning. It’s more cost-effective to have at least one apartment above yours. Air-conditioning options and costs will be discussed in another article. It’s a complicated subject …. 😉
- If there is an area that could be accessed by thieves, is it protected by a grill or other protective measures? Is the main door to the apartment building protected by an electronic lock? Do people actually CLOSE the door, or is it left open to intruders?
- If you want to have a car, is there somewhere to park it? Many apartments have private carports or underground parking, but many don’t, and parking on the street can be very problematic, what with crazy drivers and destructive kids. Just last week, a friend’s car was properly
parked along the curb but was ‘totaled’ by a driver who zoomed around the corner at high speed and lost control of her car. A few weeks ago, another friend found her neighbor’s car on fire at the curb – probably from vandalism. (The topic of cars in general is also complicated and will be discussed in more detail in another article.)
- Is the water pressure acceptable? Don’t expect good water pressure even under the best of circumstances, because the water pressure is generally created by gravity alone. Since the water tanks are on the roofs of the buildings, top floor apartments will often have essentially NO water pressure and you may need to install a pump (approx 140 JD – $196 US). Ground floor apartments will have the best water pressure. (Also, expect to clean out your faucets and washing machine regularly – the water is entirely drinkable, but the calcium content of the water is very high.)
- Will the stove operate on electricity or gas? If gas, you will have to purchase propane periodically from the propane man who comes around each week in his truck (which plays music just like an ice cream truck!). What arrangements have been made for the propane tank? Is there a safe place away from the stove where it can be hooked up? Ideally, is there an outdoor hookup in a theft-proof cage?
- Some buildings hire someone to come in and clean the stairwells and other common property – find out if there will be an additional charge to you for this service. How often and to whom is it paid?
- The only trash service will be a big dumpster along the curb in front of your building. The city comes by and empties it every day! I am not aware of any separate charge for this service.
- Your lease will probably include an agreement to pay a small ‘foreigners tax’ in the neighborhood of $35-$100 and an annual sewage fee of about $45.
Furnished vs Unfurnished
- You will essentially eliminate the bulk of concern and expense regarding what to bring and how to ship it.
- You will have minimal move-in costs, leaving your bank account available for meeting residency requirements.
- Moving to a new apartment at a later date will be a relatively uncomplicated and inexpensive process.
- You will spend your first weeks meeting the people and learning the area and culture rather than dealing with cleanup and renovations and having misunderstandings with the locals.
- You will have a smaller pool of apartments to choose from.
- The rent will be considerably higher than for an unfurnished place. Since many landlords require 3-12 months rent paid IN ADVANCE, this can severely affect your bank account, which can possibly affect your residency application. (However, it appears that Jordan is becoming more interested in assuring itself of your steady monthly income rather than your large bank account, so this may become less of a “con” in the coming months.)
- The furnishings may not be the most comfortable, the cleanest or the most attractive that you’ve ever used.
- You will have to be satisfied with a decor that will probably differ pretty drastically from your own taste. But HEY! You’re in a foreign country, after all! This can be part of the charm!
- If you rent an older place, the appliances may give out on you, and it will be your responsibility to replace them at your own expense (and leave them there when you move out).
- You will have a larger pool of apartments to choose from.
- The rent will be considerably lower than for furnished, which can be a huge benefit since many (most) landlords require 3-12 months rent paid UP FRONT. This is an important consideration since one of the current residency requirements involves the balance of your bank account. (However, this benefit will be offset by the cost of shipping or replacing your household goods; and if Jordan continues to honor monthly income over bank accounts, the lower rent will become less of a benefit.)
- You will get to live with your own furnishings, which can be very comforting in a foreign culture.
- Your American appliances will not work over here (or their life spans will be drastically reduced), so it may be wiser to replace them with local versions. If you keep your own appliances, you will also need to bring heavy duty converters with you – they are not available here. If you bring a gas stove/oven or washing machine, be sure to also bring a means of converting it from natural gas to bottled propane (the only gas available in town).
- If you choose to buy local appliances, prices here are pretty comparable to American prices, while quality and even design features are at much lower standards.
- You will also have to install your own air conditioner/heating units and overhead fans, a very expensive and time-consuming process, but pretty essential in this environment. (These appliances are almost never included with the apartment.)
- If you want a clothes dryer or a dishwasher, the odds are that you will be facing the need to make major renovations to the apartment at considerable out-of-pocket expense, since your landlord will not pay anything toward it. (The apartments are not usually set up for dryers or dishwashers, and sometimes even installing a washing machine can be a very involved project.)
- It is very likely that you will need to install additional electrical outlets at additional cost.
WHAT’S INVOLVED IN RENTING A FURNISHED PLACE?
‘Furnished’ – Different landlords have different definitions of ‘furnished’ apartments/villas! Some will be well-equipped with (mis-matched) dishes, pots & pans, linens, etc. Others will provide 2 forks, one pan and bare mattresses. It is the renter’s duty to examine everything carefully and decide if what is provided will meet his needs and if he can provide the rest for himself.
Appliances: Furnished apartments and villas (almost) always have a small refrigerator, a stove (usually fueled by a tank of propane gas), combo air conditioners/heaters (in most rooms, but not necessarily in every room), and overhead fans (or at least wiring for fans). Some will have a small (5-7 kilo) front-loading washing machine (though almost never a dryer or dishwasher). Do not expect pristine condition, but do insist on ‘clean and in operating order.’ RUN EVERY APPLIANCE BEFORE YOU SIGN THE LEASE to make sure that each is in operating order.
The furniture ranges from old and shabby to brand new and very modern. If it’s new, the plastic protective wrappers will probably still be on it!
Expect a LOT of furniture. Each bedroom will have two twin beds, at least one nightstand, a chest of drawers, a large wardrobe and probably a chair. The living room will be filled to capacity (and beyond) with sofas and chairs, usually ranged stiffly around the walls with a few tables interspersed and a coffee table in the middle. There will probably NOT be room for any additional furniture that you might wish to purchase (like a recliner or a desk, neither of which will be provided), so be sure to check with the landlord to see if he can remove some of the furniture to make space. He will probably say “no”, and there are no storage units available in Aqaba. The likelihood is that you will be stuck with whatever is in the apartment. We’re still living with a daybed in our dining room. 🙂
Repairs: It will be the renter’s responsibility to verify that everything is in working order before they sign the agreement. Run the water and flush all the toilets!!! – it’s amazing how often there is no running water, or almost no water pressure, or the toilets can’t flush because of pipe blockages. One family’s toilets never flushed because a lazy construction worker had poured leftover concrete down the pipes! Other people have found rocks or trash in their pipes. One lady discovered that her landlord had ‘borrowed’ her water tank and was using it for a new apartment he was building on the roof – she had no water at all! (The good news is that most of these issues were finally resolved, but only after LOTS of time and effort. This is not America.)
Check the electrical outlets to verify that they are working. (Bring a small lamp or other appliance to test the outlets with.)
Speaking of lamps, do not expect to find any table lamps in a furnished apartment. Every one I have seen has provided only overhead lighting, which consists of large bare halogen bulbs suspended from the ceiling. IKEA has nice covers for such bulbs, and there is an IKEA outlet in Amman. Someday I will get there…. lol. You might want to bring some bulb covers with you.
Table lamps are available for purchase at some of the local stores. They are a little pricey, but pretty. Do not buy any that were made in China!!!!
Pull the shutters up and down and make sure they are operating properly.
Plumbing tends to be rather slipshod, so many of the older apartments have had water damage – check for evidence of water leakage and mold. If you find mold, do not rent that apartment!! This indicates a long-standing issue, and it will NOT change after you move in!
- Most landlords will allow a week to report things like leaks, broken toilets, etc. If you’re very fortunate, your landlord will actually repair the items you report! (I recommend having them taken care of BEFORE you sign the lease agreement.) Often a landlord will agree to make a repair during that first week, but then he will delay so long that you finally give up and have it done yourself. Accept it and go on with life. This is Jordan, and Arabs don’t do things the way we do them in the States! Thankfully, most repair jobs are cheap here and we can recommend some acceptable workmen.
- IMPORTANT: After the first week, all repairs are at the expense of the renter. Like I said, this is not America!
- If you break something or an appliance ‘dies a natural death’ during your tenancy, you will be expected to replace the item with a NEW one of equal value, and it will remain with the apartment when you leave. This is not America.
- The upside is that landlords will often let you do whatever you want to the apartment: paint, decorate, even move walls and combine or divide rooms! Discuss your plans before signing the lease and get the permission included in the lease, but you will find many landlords being quite willing to let you ‘improve’ their property. Do not expect a reduction in rent to compensate you for cost. They might even try to raise your rent next year because you have made the apartment more valuable! (Arab logic: Since you have the money to make the changes, you must also be able to afford more rent, therefore you should pay more rent.)
- Another interesting occurrence based on ‘Arab logic’ happened to some friends of ours. They were always prompt in paying their rent so that the landlord would value them as tenants and NOT increase their rent. When the lease came up for renewal, the landlord was asking for more rent! When our friends asked why, they were told, “You pay your rent on time every month, so you must be able to easily afford the rent. So you should pay more!” This kind of ‘logic’ appears to come from the Muslim doctrine of the obligation of the rich to share their possessions with those who are poorer.)
- Carefully inventory EVERYTHING in the apartment upon taking possession, and give the landlord a copy – then you cannot be held accountable later for anything additional. Take photos, too.
- Landlords often (OK, usually) expect foreigners to pay the full year’s rent IN ADVANCE. In their experience, foreigners sometimes default on leases because they have to go home for one reason or another. The advance payment protects the landlord, and they will NOT feel obligated to return any of the payment.
- Most will also ask for some kind of deposit, usually equal to one month’s rent. It can be used as your last month’s rent.
- Respectful bargaining is always permitted: Try asking for month-to-month payments; if that isn’t accepted, ask for
quarterly payments, etc. HOWEVER, don’t even broach the topic unless the apartment is one that you WILL definitely rent if the payments are manageable: If you ask for a concession and it is granted, then you are honor-bound to accept the agreement. It is extremely insulting to an Arab if you ask him for what he considers to be a favor or a concession and he agrees to it, and then you back out. Be careful! Make no promises – keep everything on the “IF I were to take it” basis and be very polite and appreciative. This is a small town and everyone is related to everyone else – If you are perceived as unpleasant, critical or insulting, the word WILL get around and no one will rent to you! (or they’ll gouge the heck out of you.)
- You will know that you are ‘approved’ when the landlord or landlady invites you to their own home (usually right next door) for a cup of tea! ACCEPT! ENJOY!
WHAT ABOUT UNFURNISHED?
‘Unfurnished’ is a generous word for these homes and apartments. Unfurnished dwellings are empty shells.
There will be no appliances (no fridge, no stove, no air conditioners, no heating, no fans, no washing machine, no anything).
There will be NO CLOSETS – you will provide your own clothes storage. Most people use wardrobes like the one to the right – they are not cheap.
There are usually at least some bare bulb overhead light fixtures, but don’t expect pretty ones.
Kitchens may or may not have cabinets – most (but not all) have lower cabinets, but some will NOT have upper cabinets. The upside is that the owner will have no objection to you putting cabinets in, and you can take them with you when you leave. You can also take with you any air conditioners/heaters, overhead fans, or other appliances that you install.
Another kitchen ‘upside’ is that EVERYBODY HAS MARBLE COUNTER TOPS! In fact, in some kitchens, even the cabinets are made of marble! The walls are covered in marble, the floors are covered in marble or ceramic tile….. It is so pretty and easy to care for! (Bathrooms also tend to be completely covered in marble and lovely decorative ceramic tiles.)
Check to see if there is wiring available for any appliances you want to install. You may find it necessary to have additional wiring installed.
- The apartment may be in pretty sad shape when you see it. Arab renters tend to trash apartments, and landlords here do not want to invest in repairs until they are assured of a new renter. It’s sort of a Catch 22 because unfortunately, landlords can’t be depended upon to complete repairs AFTER you rent the apartment, either.
- The best approach is to be honest and tell them that you are just not interested in renting anything that is in bad repair, and leave. (“We need a place that’s ready to move into.”)
- We viewed an apartment with a great layout and lots of room, but also with a lot of damage and repair issues. We made the mistake of telling the landlord that we were ‘interested’ in the apartment, but would not make a decision until after we saw the repairs. He didn’t hear the part about us not being willing to make a decision – he just heard that we were ‘interested’, and in his view, that meant that we wanted the apartment! A whole MONTH later, after he had completed the repairs, he called us to come and sign the lease! Unfortunately we had already rented another apartment by then. He was pretty shocked. We were blessed to be able to refer another lady to him, and she rented the apartment instead. Moral: Make no promises and walk away politely saying “no” if you don’t like what you see right now.
- Be prepared to do a considerable amount of cleaning to get things livable before moving in. The Aqabawis are truly delightful people, but many Aqabawi housewives and landlords grew up in Bedouin tents or were trained by mothers who grew up in tents, so their housekeeping skills are sometimes lacking by American standards. Try not to be critical – urban living is a whole new experience to many Jordanians! You will be charmed to see them gathered around outdoor fires every evening telling tales and chatting, as they were accustomed to do in the desert not long ago.
- Of course the big issue with an unfurnished apartment is the cost of furnishing it, and I am not talking only about beds and sofas. Even if you ship your own furnishings, the major cost will be in appliances: stove, stove vent, refrigerator, combo air conditioners/heaters (usually one per room, sometimes two or more for larger rooms), fans (also usually one per room, but sometimes two or more for larger rooms), washing machine, small appliances, etc.
- For a 3-bedroom apartment, we calculated that it would cost us a minimum of $8,000 US to buy the basics (including furniture and kitchen items which cost about the same here as in the States. Same with furniture.) and could easily go over $15K.
- On the other hand, when we moved into our furnished apartment, it was only missing two air conditioners and three fans. The landlord agreed to install one of the air conditioners at his own expense (a huge favor), and the rest was up to us. We had three very basic overhead fans installed at the surprisingly low cost of 85JD ($120) and a small installation fee of about 10-15JD ($15-20). We haven’t needed a guest room air conditioner yet so we have not had one installed. We will probably leave the fans when we move, and we’ll still feel like we got away cheap!
- You will need your original lease agreement when you apply for residency. You are required to have a signed lease on a dwelling before residency can be granted. (You will also need a signed lease before you will be allowed to receive any containers or pallets that you have shipped.)
- Often the landlord will ask YOU to bring the lease to the final meeting! The ‘standard lease’ can be purchased in certain local book shops. An English translation has recently been made – be sure to ask for a copy from one of the community members and look it over before you even start hunting for an apartment. (I will try to publish it here soon.)
- The agreement must have the original signatures of both owner and renter and must show the amount of rent being paid.
- Be sure to explain to your landlord that you are required to give the ORIGINAL lease to the residency officials (called ASEZA – Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority). The landlord may wish to give you a second ‘original’ copy of the lease to give to ASEZA.
- The lease agreement stipulates that the owner must go over every item in the lease and explain it to the prospective renter. INSIST ON THIS. You should also obtain an English-language version of the lease. If you are unsure of ANYTHING, check with other ex-pats or even hire an attorney to review the lease for you.
We learned in the School of Hard Knocks that even though your Arab landlord may seem to be (and even IS) the nicest guy in the world, the bottom line from his viewpoint is that business is business and you are an infidel. Therefore, from his perspective, he has every moral and ethical right to get whatever he can from you by whatever means he can. He may really LIKE you, but he will be unconsciously affected by this cultural approach, so don’t hold it against him – just be on your guard. 🙂
Still Want to Come to Aqaba??
So now you’ve got an idea of the issues facing you when finding and renting a place to live in Aqaba. It’s probably the most difficult issue you will deal with here, but the good news is that it really isn’t as difficult as it sounds! The process of apartment-hunting was actually a lot of fun – we met some really sweet Arab families and learned a lot about their culture. It was tiring and sometimes frustrating, but it was also fascinating!
Moving anywhere is filled with unexpected challenges, and even more so when moving overseas to a new culture. Don’t let that faze you! It is in the challenges that we learn and grow and even find all the fascinating and inspiring stories that we will tell for years to come as we watch Abba at work clearing the way for us!!
This article is part of a series. Here are the links to the other articles within the series. (Inactive links are for articles that have not yet been published. Sorry – trying not to have to go back in and change twelve articles each time a new article is published!):
Part 1 – Jordan: Getting There
Part 2 – Jordan: We Can’t Live on Air!
Part 3 – (This article) Jordan: First Steps – Housing Will Determine Everything
Part 4 – Jordan: Where Can We Stay Until We Find Housing?
Part 5 – Jordan: To Ship or Not to Ship?
Part 6 – Jordan: So . . . What Did You Take?
Part 7 – Jordan: Replacing Furniture and Appliances?
Part 8 – Jordan: Shopping – What’s Available? What Isn’t?
Part 9 – Jordan: Planes, Trains and Automobiles! (and Buses and Camels, too!)
Part 10 – Jordan: Medical Care
Part 11 – Jordan: Social Life!
Part 12 – Jordan: Kids
Part 13 – Jordan: Pets
© Sue Wyatt and The Lamb’s Servant Blog, 2016. Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Lamb’s Servant Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Wyatt and The Lamb’s Servant Blog, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.