We arrived in Bali not as tourists, but as potential future residents. It meant travelling the island with a different eye. We spent our days scooting around soaking in the vibe of neighbourhoods rather than sight seeing. The important questions: Can we see ourselves being part of this community? What are our neighbours and landlords like? Does it feel safe here? How long will it take to get to yoga? Is there decent coffee in ‘roll-out-bed’ distance? Finding a house in Bali is one for the explorers. We used two methods with limited success: real estate agents and Facebook groups. However, the most effective was simply getting on a scooter and jetting around neighbourhoods, looking out for “FOR RENT” signs that landlords placed outside their empty houses. Whenever we saw one and the house looked good from the outside, it was usually a matter of calling the accompanying number and waiting 5 to 10 min to be shown the house. No appointments, no missed connections, simple and efficient.
I get the feeling that Bali, at least now is slightly tipped in favour of the renters. There’s so much construction going on and enough vacant houses that we felt we could hold out to find the house that was perfect for us. We saw a lot of houses in Bali over four weeks. I lost count but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was around 30. The thing about looking for a home of course, is that basically every single inspection is on some level, disappointment, until you find the right one. Every time we jumped on the scooter we felt the excitement of hope – that maybe this time, this house, would be the home we’d been searching for. And every time, except the last, we left empty handed.
In Kerobokan we saw our first proper ‘dream’ villa – the type you imagine when you think of Bali. It had an amazing open plan living and kitchen that backed out onto a gorgeous swimming pool. Balinese roofs, modern touches and a tropical garden. It was just stunning… and way over our budget. But it was one of the first places we had seen, and I got a little over-exuberant, caught up in the rush of living in an amazing villa. We negotiated down a little, and considered ‘stretching’ the money to take it on. Then the real estate agent who brought us there wanted 10% of the yearly rental fee, and it was completely out of the question. It was a good outcome in hindsight because Kerobokan was not our favourite neighbourhood.
We loved the vibe of Canguu – much quieter than Seminyak with beautiful rice fields and the lure of the beach – here, we imagined ourselves getting up in the morning, going for a surf (yes a few lessons of surfing on baby waves in Seminyak deluded us into thinking we were regulars), doing yoga and hanging out in cafes. We checked out quite a lot of houses in this area and many were very nice: lap pools, large rooms, tropical gardens – albeit at the top of our budget. But nothing felt exactly right. It didn’t help that we hadn’t been to Ubud yet, so that feeling of ‘maybe there is something better?’ lingered in our minds.
When we got to Ubud, it became quite clear that this was going to be the place for us. While downtown Ubud can be just as bustling and uninspiring as parts of Seminyak, a short ride out in any direction brings you to amazing rice fields, wild hilly landscapes and jungles that we hadn’t seen up until that point. We felt invigorated by the natural environment and it had the vibe we were looking for. And after hitting up some of the nearby yoga spots, the deal was sealed. To our pleasant surprise, houses in Ubud were much cheaper than ones we’d seen in the south of Bali. Basically a win-win-win all around. Then came the challenge of finding the right place.
We knew we wanted a few things: at least two bedrooms so that friends and family could stay; a space to do yoga and in an area that felt safe. We saw lots of dud places – ones where the atmosphere wasn’t quite right, where the rooms were too dark, where the houses were poorly decorated. We also saw a lot of nearly perfect places: a house that was great but where right next door a 3 story hotel was being built for the next year; a house that sat in a beautiful tropical garden compound but where the owner had adopted 12 cats and 3 dogs – and the place smelt like a pet store; One which was absolutely gorgeous – three bedrooms with a pool + 360 rice paddy views but was so isolated that we had absolutely no neighbours for miles and it completely lacked a sense of community.
Finally a few days before we left, we found a great home. Two bedroom house, with a space to build a yoga shala, a tropical garden and as a bonus, a blissful pool. It was awesome and within budget. We settled on a price basically straight away and asked the family who owned the place to take the rent sign down. I quite enjoyed working directly with the owners of the house, rather than through agents. It was much more personal, negotiations had more good-will, and of course, no real estate agent charges for either party. For the place we finally settled into we dealt mainly with the son, who is probably no older than 18 and is a sweet kid. On the day we had to sign the contract, Putu – the son – arrived with a memory stick with the file. It was gloriously basic. The very few terms fit on just a single page. We fine-tuned the contract directly on my laptop, and he rushed away to print and get his father to sign it. When he returned I transferred the money from my account via internet banking and showed him the receipt. That was the arrangement signed, sealed and delivered. So much was left unsaid and put down to trust. If only all business were done this way!
This is how we found our small corner of the world, in Ubud, Bali. Our lease starts in a few weeks and after almost three months of travelling, we can’t wait to settle into our new home.