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Tartu, Estonia

We made our home in the University town of Tartu, one hundred miles south of the capital city of Tallinn. After renting a flat for a short time, I decided to take the plunge into property ownership. Housing prices were rising weekly, with flats often spending less than a day on the market before selling. I was certain that, even if I only owned my flat for five months, I would at least break even, if not make a profit. But the real reason was, as lovely as my landlord had been, I was unaccustomed to living in other people’s homes and I longed for a place of my own, however temporary it might prove to be.

Finding and signing a contract on a flat was time consuming but enjoyable. I worked with several different real-estate agents since a multiple listing service was unheard of and the average agent had no more than two to five listings.

I dreamt of a turn of the century building with fancy trim adorning the eaves. My dream flat would be on the second floor, overlooking the town square and it would smell like jasmine and beeswax. In the winter I would burn candles on the mantel that would sit above a massive stone fireplace. Tall windows would grace every room, swinging inward to allow for window boxes in the spring. I would polish our wooden floors with cheesecloth and old socks until they reflected every experience of the joyous life lived within my dream flat’s many rooms, like mirrors.

Within a week I’d found a one-bedroom, hot water flat on the ninth floor of a Soviet block building in a bedroom community of Tartu; it had chipped parquet floors and a concrete balcony. It was not the flat of my dreams; it was however, fairly warm, convenient to shops, and had nearby playgrounds and parks for the girls. And perhaps, most importantly, it was within my price range.

Settlement was scheduled the following week. The decision to buy a flat was an objective decision based on research and sound advice. Settlement however was a test of my faith.

The Estonian law required that I have a translator, which was good since I would have opted not to spend the money given a choice, in spite of the fact that I spoke little Estonian language and understood less. Money was tight!

I sat for an hour while my realtor and a notary arranged a stack of papers for the purchase of my flat. Then with the assistance of my translator (who was worth his weight in gold at this point) I hand carried a stack of papers around town, where, after standing in queues for fifteen minutes or so, an overly serious bureaucrat eyed my papers suspiciously, mumble curtly—or snarled—before reluctantly approving and stamping the particular paper presented to him or her and handing it back to me.

Sometime later, the stamped papers in tow, we returned to the notary to continue the settlement.

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