Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Housing Game

Our housing search began about three weeks ago when Idrissa first arrived in Bamako. It seems straightforward enough – responsible American/Malian couple with steady income would like to rent a small house for a whole year. For some reason, I thought the prospect of steady rent would be enticing for Bamakoise landlords. I was wrong. After analyzing the rental system here in Bamako, there seem to be little productive incentives for future tenants. First of all, in order to see vacant houses, you need to go through middle men – let’s call them real estate agents. Their job is to show you vacant properties, but their responsibility ends there – they cannot tell you how much the house rents for, who lived there last, if the electricity works, or how to get the keys. All of these questions are greeted with – “well you will have to make an appointment with the owner.” The wacky thing is that these guys make commission not on houses they rent, but on each house they show. So, they have an incentive to show you the dirtiest, most haphazard, misfit houses possible, or worse, houses that have been already rented. On top of all this, cleanup and general maintenance/repair is the responsibility of the new tenants – so the houses tended to be missing crucial appliances (ceiling fans/lighting fixtures) and in complete disarray. This made it very difficult to visualize the Bamako Living headquarters.

After viewing more than 30 houses of all varieties (apartments, multi-level, and ranch) in 5 different neighborhoods, Drissa and I were very frustrated. We made a couple of offers – and in some cases we were denied – or we watched an additional fifty dollars rent appear on top of the initial quote. We were prepared to leave for the desert without any good prospects. Then, my host brother – Alou – spotted a vacancy three houses down the block from my host family in Magnanbougou. While in the desert, we got the news that we had secured the home.

Upon our arrival back in Bamako, we explored our new house. A three bedroom/ 2 bath ranch with a mango tree out front and stair access to the rooftop. All the rooms had been freshly painted with a Miami Beach colored teal. It has tile floors and faux tin patterned ceilings. After a day of scrubbing the whole thing clean, we finally moved in. Drissa had some furniture made – so our house is now complete with a bed, mattress, nightstand, and bamboo couch set. The floor is still littered with suitcases, but with the help of some Ikea organizers we brought over – things are shaping up. Neighbors have been popping in at all hours to check in on our progress. Little kids seem especially fascinated to see how the Malian/toubab couple have set up their house. People are sincere and welcoming.


  1. Now I understand why Idrissa saw over 40 houses! How exciting to set up your new home. Will wait to see pictures.

  2. congrats on your headquarters!

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  4. How much do you pay for a house in Bamako?