Had you asked me a few years ago where I’d be living a few years hence, Patras probably would have been one of the last places to come to mind. I’d passed through a few times many years ago, and quite enjoyed the place, but had never thought about living there.
Which just goes to show how life loves to throw you a curved ball sometimes, just to keep things interesting. And of course, needs must where the devil drives.
A couple of years ago, I’d been idly browsing the internet looking at property prices in different parts of Greece. Not with any thought of buying anything (I had very little money anyway, certainly not enough to buy even a wreck of a house on Corfu, where I was renting), but just out of mildly bored interest. As I was looking at an agent’s site in Patras, I came across a property that seemed ridiculously, ludicrously cheap. A 130 sq m ‘detached’ (which in Greece means not part of an apartment block, but sitting on its own patch of God’s earth, albeit flanked either side by, and attached to, similar properties). In fact so ridiculously cheap that I immediately assumed it was a mistake, a typo. So I moved on. But I kept thinking about this property, and went back to the page several times. “Nah, it’s got to be a mistake”, I said to myself. Several times.
But it was bugging me, so the next day, I phoned the agent in Patras.
“Is this really the price?” I asked him, fully expecting him to tell me that they’d missed off a zero.
To my surprise, he replied in the affirmative.
“So what’s wrong with it, then?” was my next question.
He assured me that it was structurally sound and had been re-roofed some 10 years ago, but was in need of ‘modernisation’, which is agent-speak for ‘it’s a fucking mess inside and needs just about everything doing’ (it’s a universal language, agent-speak). However, being a carpenter and having done a fair bit of property renovation in my time, it piqued my interest. We were due to fly to Bangkok in about a week’s time, so I told the guy I’d drive down to look at it. It’s not a short journey – about six hours each way including the ferry from Corfu to the mainland, but I wanted to see it before we went away for two months. So off we trundled to meet the agent, who in turn took us to the property where we would meet the owner and view it. It was in fact two separate apartments (one up, one down) in a single house, both with their own entrances. The ground floor was owned by one brother, and the upper floor was owned by the other brother, who was acting as negotiator.
The ground floor was really a mess, with plaster falling off the walls, a ‘kitchen’ that was both medieval and unbelievably filthy, and it was full of horrible, mouldy old falling-apart furniture. And cockroaches. I won’t even begin to describe the toilet / bathroom. My wife was appalled, and couldn’t get out fast enough. For me, as a builder, it looked like it had potential.
The upper floor in fact wasn’t too bad. Aluminium double-glazed windows and french doors to the balcony, light and airy almost, albeit a bit musty from having been closed up for a while. No kitchen to speak of, and a funny layout, but sort of ok.
So I walked round the place, doing my best Greek impression of sucking my teeth (the ‘sharp intake of breath’) and tutting at all the problems for the benefit of the owner. To be honest, even in the state it was in, it was still an absolute steal at the price he was asking, but with all my tutting and pointing out what needed doing, I managed to convince him that dropping the price a further 10% could well end up in a deal. So he dropped the price, we shook hands, and I went to the agent’s office and did a bank transfer (I had the laptop with me) for the deposit there and then. Nobody was more surprised than me that I’d just bought a house in Patras. Talk about an impulse buy!
Anyway, when we got back from Thailand, we went down to Patras again to complete the deal at the notary’s office. The lawyer had checked all the legal stuff, deeds etc while we were away, and all that remained was to sign the contracts (two separate contracts for two separate properties) and pay the money. In cash.
Tellingly, the property transfer tax I had to pay, which is calculated on the value of the property as assessed by the local assessors office, valued the place at nearly four times what I paid.
The next surprise came when we went down to Patras to start sorting out the top floor to make it habitable. We checked into a hotel, and my first job the following morning was to get the electricity and the water changed into my name and connected.
Now, anyone who is slightly familiar with Greece will be aware of the fact that time, as a dimension, has a much more flexible interpretation here than anywhere else, and when a Greek says to you that he will come tomorrow at nine, what he really means is that he might make it at some point tomorrow, but it is far more likely that it will be the day after, or the day after that.
So it was with this understanding of the Greek way that I set out the following morning, anticipating a long and possibly frustrating day (or two) ahead.
I hit the electricity company when the office opened at 7am and got seen fairly quickly. I had all the right paperwork (amazingly), and the name change etc was done both quickly and efficiently – half an hour tops (!). I asked the girl when I could expect to be connected, and she said “Oh, maybe tomorrow – it depends how much work they have on” (the word ‘tomorrow’ [avrio] is, again, a flexible concept in Greek). I pressed a little, and she gave me a room number in the adjoining building where they organise the engineers’ work rotas. So I went there, and asked very nicely if they could perhaps prioritise my connection, to which the woman replied “I’ll see what I can do”.
I then went to the water company, and went through the same business, again both quickly and efficiently (!!), and asked when they would come and replace the water meter (they remove the meter when the water is cut off). Same answer – maybe tomorrow. So again, I turned on the charm and asked if they could prioritise my re-connection. And again, it was “I’ll see what I can do”.
Amazingly, and very, very unGreekly (is that a word? If not, I just invented it), I’d done all the paperwork and organised connections for both water and electric, and it was still only 9am! Somewhat stunned, I went back to the hotel for breakfast and a shower, and then my wife and I hit the supermarket to buy buckets, mops and gallons of bleach and other cleaning materials. We were (hopefully) expecting a delivery of a fridge at 1.30 pm, so we had to be back at the house by then, on the off chance that they might deliver as promised. Obviously without water and electricity, what we could achieve was limited, but I could at least start taking all the rubbish out and dumping it in the downstairs apartment, so our time wouldn’t be wasted.
We arrived at the house before 1pm, only to find a guy up to his elbows in a (normally covered) hole in the pavement in front of the door. Unbelievably, it was the guy from the water company fitting the meters! You could have knocked me down with a feather! It was only a couple of hours since I’d been at the office to do the paperwork. After we got over the shock, and the guy finished up, we went upstairs to begin cleaning. Ten minutes later, there was a knock at the door. I went down to answer, and the guy said to me “Is this 15B that needs the electric connecting?”
Fuck me, yes, yes, yes! That’s me! That’s me! What the fuck is going on???
So it is by now still only 1.30 pm, and I’ve not only done all the paperwork for change of ownership and paid the connection fees, but I’m also already connected to both electric and water! Is this Greece, I ask myself? And then to just drop the cherry on top of the cake, the van from Electronet (the shop I ordered the fridge from) turns up shortly after 1.30 with the correct fridge/freezer, and the guys carry it up and put it where I ask. Phew! The Gods were truly smiling on me that day!
I spilled a small libation to Zeus that evening. And raised a large glass or three to Dionysus. This was a truly momentous occasion, probably unprecedented in the history of Greece, so demanded getting slightly ratted in celebration.
When I’ve told my Greek friends about how long it took to get the utilities connected, they’ve looked at me with sheer disbelief. “Impossible”, “You’re joking”, “Haha, yeah, sure…”, was the general response. In fact perhaps I should get in touch with the Guinness Book of Records…
We spent a year or so coming down to Patras every month or so for a few days duration each time The top apartment was quickly made habitable (albeit in a sort of ‘camping out’ fashion initially) so we didn’t have hotel expenses, and I gradually progressed from ‘habitable’ to ‘comfortable’. We actually made the move here permanent last November, and although there is still lots of work to do in the place, it remains comfortable. And Patras is great! Not the prettiest of cities, but it has lots of good bars and restaurants (I’ve barely scratched the surface yet), theatres, music, lots and lots of shops (which I’m not too bothered about, but my wife loves), and a good transport (bus) system. In the winter we always take the bus when we go into the centre of the city (parking is a nightmare). The bus stop is less than five minutes walk from home, they run every 10 – 15 minutes, and it takes 10 – 15 minutes to get to the central square. And costs €1.20 each way. Brilliant! In summer, we go in on the scooter, as parking isn’t an issue on two wheels, but I’m a fair-weather rider. Anything less than 20° and it’s the bus.
And so here I am. Slightly bemused at finding myself living in a city that nobody has ever heard of at the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth, but delighted that I don’t have to find €450 rent every month. All I have to worry about now is the bills and the dreaded ENFIA (Greek property tax).
And I like it here. I’m near the end of a cul-de-sac, with an olive / orange grove at the end, so no passing traffic; the neighbours are friendly; I’m five minutes from the port and ten minutes from the city centre; I only have to drive for ten minutes if I want a swim (although there are better beaches further down the coast, 20-30 mins away), so it’s all very convenient. Plus I’ve got several local takeaways that deliver, so in the winter, I just pick up the phone, and ten (ok, maybe twenty) minutes later it’s on the table. Everything I need is within walking distance. It’s quite a contrast to my previous abode, where everything involved motor transport of some kind. Unless you liked walking long distances, that is.
So that’s why.