Agatha Christie is quoted as having once said , “Where large sums of money are concerned, it is advisable to trust nobody.” Unfortunately, many people selling flats and homes in Poland seem to disagree.
My wife and I recently decided that we wanted to move out of our 39m2 flat at the edge of Nowa Huta in Krakow and into something a bit bigger in a slightly nicer neighbourhood. We’ve looked a number of places and have made (or tried to make) a few offers. None of those have worked out very well, though.
Offer #1: Beautiful place, recently remodelled, 420,000 PLN. The catch? The sellers wanted us to give them 100,000 PLN up front. Not in an escrow account, not for the Pope to hold on to, not even to be frozen in our bank account – they just wanted a LOT of cash up front. My immediate reaction wasn’t even an expletive explosively uttered – it was more along the lines of, “…Huh?” The concept of someone asking for roughly a quarter of the cost of a home or flat up front was a concept so foreign to me that the sellers might as well have been from Mars or beyond. There was absolutely no way we had this kind of cash so it was a moot point and we decided to move on.
Offer #2: Nice place, great location. The guy had been trying to sell it for two years – he originally started out at 600,000 PLN and had, over time, dropped the price down to 470,000 PLN. We told the real estate guy that we wouldn’t bother looking at it unless the seller dropped it further to 450,000. The real estate guy talked to the seller and, huzzah, the seller agreed. We went, we looked, we liked. On the spot, we made an offer – 450,000 PLN – and asked how much he wanted up front. The seller, with a slightly confused look on his face, said “Up front, uhhhh… I don’t know.” …Long pause… “I’ll have to think about it.” I assumed that he was so shocked that someone had finally made an offer after two years that he’d never thought about the second step. A few days passed and finally later the real estate guy came back and said, “he wants 30,000 PLN up front.”
This time the expletives were flying fast and furious. After a great deal of ranting, fist shaking and yet more cursing, I took a very deep breath and decided that I would pursue a logical line of inquiry. My wife and I questioned the real estate agent about this request a bit further:
Us: surely the seller means he wants 30,000 PLN in an escrow (trusted, independent, third party) account, yes?
Real estate guy: no. Cash or in his bank account.
Us: What’s to prevent him from taking our cash to France and having a nice weekend?
Real estate guy: Uh… you could sue him. In court.
Us: We’ve seen how fast the courts move here. Is there anything that physically prevents him from running with the cash?
Real estate guy: …No.
What is it about selling a home or flat in Poland that makes someone think that they are suddenly as trustworthy as, say, Jesus H. Christ himself? I don’t even think I’d give The Pope (note capitalised “T” (meaning JP2)) 30,000 PLN up front for a place, much less 100,000 PLN so why does some random person I met yesterday for 30 minutes assume that I implicitly trust them with my cash? What would make ANYONE here think that the courts are a reasonable barrier against abuse/misuse of that money? And what, in any god’s name, possesses anyone to ask for that kind of cash up front? What are they hoping to prevent and/or do with that cash?
These are questions to which I do not have answers. Polandian readers and commenters, I seek your council and I issue the following challenge: using logic and fact, explain why asking for anything more than one or two percent of the cost of a flat/home is reasonable. Any answers that involve “that’s how it’s always been”, “communism” or “alcohol” will not be be kindly looked upon.