We Made a Mistake Choosing a Home in Ho Chi Minh City

I’ve played casual witness of House Hunters International for years. I’d watch, and sneer, over the buffoonish who disingenuously search for a home around the world – then curiously make a life-altering decision based on the first three options they face. I’d yell at the screen during set-up scenes where you can practically hear the TV producer chiding them, “OK, repeat that with more feeling!” or “talk more about space for entertaining as episodal house-hunters pretend they don’t know which one they’re picking, if they pick one at all.

It’s nice to see homes around the world, but everyone knows how to do this, right?

So when we moved to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam in December, I felt pretty confident we could make the right call. We searched a couple AirBnb options, then found a realtor to show us a handful of options. And then we made a dumb mistake.

This is what we were looking for

  • A house not an apartment in a tower in District 2’s Thao Dien

  • Budget: $900-1000 a month

  • Short-term lease, ideally three to six months

  • Three to five bedrooms, allowing a couple for offices

  • A comfortable common area with AC

  • Didn’t want cookie-cutter layout with bare tiled rooms separated by central stairs

This is what we got

A realtor took us to seven options. And within a couple days, we promptly signed up this:

  • A house in District 2’s Thao Dien (yay)

  • $1250/month, not including Wifi, water or electricity

  • One-year lease

  • Five bedrooms and six bathrooms!

  • A common area with weird sofas and no AC

  • A cookie-cutter layout with bare tiled rooms separated by central stairs

Within a week, it was clear a mistake had been made. We’d hole away in our respective air-conditioned rooms and offices, spending most of the each day in utter solitude in a four-floor home connected by a dusty stairwell that never cooled off. It was sweaty to cook in the kichen, and the living room was never used. We could barely afford it (our electric costs broke $300/month mark, double what we paid in Oregon).

Fortunately, the monsoon saved us.

Our rooftop deck that we loved on inspection – then barely used (a hammock we bought for it, limply sat on the ground for months) – got hit with a deluge of hard rain. It quickly flooded sending torrents of water down the stairs in funnels, eventually flooding all four floors. If we hadn’t been home electric outlets for computers and lights and fans, camera equipment, camera batteries, my record collection would probably have been lost.

We got out of our lease early.

So here’s the obvious thing.

Don’t rush finding a house in a new place. Use AirBnb rentals to settle which neighborhood you’d like to stay in. Then use a realtor, but also allow yourself to keep a DIY open eye for options – using Facebook groups or literally watching for signs on streets you’d like to stay in. Realtors can be very helpful, but are only likely to sign up for longer-term leases, and higher rents, so that landlords can justify their fee to realtors. Find something with the right Feng shui for you, and something you can afford, and that feels like home, not too small and (this I didn’t realize) not too big.

Do not rush.

We moved to a short-term serviced apartment for $650/month on the exact street we want to be on. It’s a wider building, so the layout discourages hermitism. It’s better air-conditioned and cleaner (staff clean our floors and take out the trash thrice weekly!), and the rooms feed into a common living room/kitchen .

Now we finally feel at home in Vietnam.