In life there are the problems that you see coming a mile off and those that just pop up out of no where. As we'll see from this short post culture has a whole lot to do with what you do and don't see coming. This is a condensed version of the tale of our final search and closing on a location for Smokehouse.
provided without comment
So first I will say that this is all in the context of negotiating and eventurally signing a lease for the future location of Smokehouse. The location we chose one that we looked at back in September and were approaching the point of making an offer when we got slapped with massive visa problems that staggered our entire planning effort. Following the resolution of those problems we became focused on a new location that ultimately fell through for a variety of financial issues (upcoming post about Moldovan banks and credit here). We only returned to our final location, at the corner of Stefan Cel Mare and Vasile Alecsandri after taking fresh stock of our situation in over the holidays (and finding that the place was still open putting us in a good negotiating position).
The Problem You Expect (in Moldova)
The landlord didn't want a written contract. Insane as that sounds things here work on handshakes and smiles along with vague assurances that he will totally never screw us over. Such is Moldova's Soviet legacy. As far as I can tell it comes from the dual reasons that a) contracts are ridiculously hard to implement (in paperwork terms and in number of stamps) with weak enforcement mechanisms and b) in the not so recent past anything the state can "see" it could take so it's much better to work between individuals. Obviously this did not fly with us and given that we were Americans (and therefore quite peculiar) our landlord acquiesced. We had to draft the contract which was more or less opposite of the norm but after a few marathon rounds of negotiation, clarification and correcting the occasional typo all was well. We were ready to sign and get this man his money.
The Problem You Least Expect (unless you're Vlad, our Moldovan partner, in which case you're shocked the Americans never saw it coming)
Hmmm... that section title was a little on the long side. Got the point across though. [say that with a graphic?]
This one requires a little background. Of the many real estate agencies in Chisinau the standout winner in terms of listings and responsiveness is Proimobil. Proimobil's (apparent) business model is ideal for renter because for you their services are free. They list properties on their website and you can call up the responsible agent who sets a meeting with the landlord and mediates things. In general they are primarily interested in closing the deal and we found them to be our advocate more often than not. From the landlord they require first month's rent and in return provide a whole lot more exposure than the ubiquitous dingy red sign that says "rent" in Romanian or Russian. In theory everyone wins but naturally there's incentive for the landlord to find some way not to pay them.
This is where our story get's a little complicated. You see we found this location independent of Proimobil AND before they signed a contract with our landlord in November. Furthermore, that contract I mentioned? They never actually signed it.
it is constant struggle for me not to use this in every single post I write
As a side note, Vlad knew there were problems coming from this direction as soon as he realized that since the last time we talked with this building they listed with Proimobil. He warned more than once that there would be problems here. Matt and I responded incredulously "sure there will be but they aren't our problems." How silly we were.
Predictably our landlord informed Proimobil that he didn't feel he owed them anything (not untrue). They responded back that he did. He countered with "how about 1/2 first month's rent?" My feeling here is that the appropriate counter is "this is where you (proimobil) learn a tough life lesson about the importance of contracts because I'm just not paying you." Either way my main feeling was "not my problem." That's when the calls started. Both sides maneuvering to see where we stood on the issue. "Not our problem" and "we have no dog in this fight" and "we literally could not give fewer fucks" seemed to bounce off of people left and right. Finally our landlord decided that we could pay proimobil out of our initial rent payment to him. It turns out he didn't mind paying but he steadfastly refused to sign a contract. We allowed ourselves (foolishly) to be lured in here by agreeing to transfer the money on his behalf. Our lawyer felt the need to tell him though that as this would be outlined in our rental contract and audit would lead to his door not ours with questions about why that money went there. This led all parties to helpfully suggest that WE conclude a contract with Proimobil and pay them.
also provided without comment
Suffice to say "you really don't want to sign a contract requiring you to pay for a service you engaged but did not use while that the same time having no problem paying them the money so long as it isn't inked so you want me to sign this (evidently very frightening) contract AND pay them" was a nonstarter (as well as an epic run on sentence).
I'm not writing this today angry or frustrated. Proimobil was nothing but good to us and we have a really good relationship with our landlord. I'm pointing out what an interesting cultural mess this was. In America "that really doesn't sound like my problem" or, the all time favorite of my 8th grade teacher "poor planning on your part does not constitute and emergency on mine" is a totally valid response to this situation. In Moldova, it's up to everyone to figure something out. Who deserves to be the the mess (*cough* Proimobil) doesn't matter. What negatives might come out in the long run (*cough* us signing a contract for services that we didn't use and actually that the company doesn't even provide) is unimportant. The only important thing is that the "team" get out of this mess alive. This idea of community is one of the weirdest parts about Moldova to me. In American this was a meeting of 3 entities with very divergent interests seeking common ground (in a rental contract). In Moldova it's 3 frenemies caught in a self imposed clusterfuck and adamantly avoiding what, to an American, seem the easiest ways out in favor of ever more complicated (and unnecessary) compromises.
Oh Moldova what great frenemies we are...
If you haven't already taken a look at the above link jump over to our company website to hear more about the future location for Smokehouse!!!