Cheerful little Kafka once described Prague as having claws, and if this is true, they certainly have their grip on a lot of us.
This is fine and convenient up to a point, but the trouble starts when there's no nest or lair for those claws to take you home to.
It was all very well for Franz who had a nice little pad on Old Town Square to mope about in, but what about the rest of us?
There's only a certain amount of time one can put up with sleeping in the back pew of Týn Church, and a man's home is only his castle if you happen to be Emperor f*cking Rudolph. For everyone else it can well be the space under a friend's sink if we're not capable of negotiating the apartment-hunt in Prague.
You could suddenly have your belongings confiscated by an angry land-lord pissed off at an illegal sublet.
Or you could find yourself living with the kind of tosser who puts up ads on an expat online notice boards.
As is the case all over the world, accommodation standards vary enormously, so its best to have time to look around rather than being the victim of desperation.
Think of it as marrying the first person to propose to you. Get hitched immediately, and you'll spend all your time looking at the better options you could have had.
Word of mouth is sometimes a reliable option but one that requires the existence of friends, and how many friends have you got, you homeless piece of sh*t?
If you're reasonably fluent in Czech, the publication Annonce is a good resource. Bargains can be spotted and acted on if you're quick enough, but be wary of typing errors and agents posing as landlords. These are not the only pit-falls to be wary of however. Stupidity is what con men prey on, and misplaced trust can land you in more trouble than an over-turned tram.
I have heard of people paying six months advance rent for a property that was being renovated, and which they only viewed as a building site. The 'agent' they handed their money to was no more than a man trained in the ancient art of taking cash from fools.
The language barrier can also make euphemisms less obvious. "Lively" could mean that your neighbours are a hyperactive rock band, and "progressive" could mean that you're about to live in a brothel.
Errors depend on circumstance, and can either be a slightly naive mistake that 98% of the world would have made in the same situation, or a completely deserved kick in the balls that will hopefully stop you being such a dork in the future.
Keep your wits about you.
Fortunately as ever in these fine hazy days of capitalism, you can always pay someone else to solve the problem on your behalf. Most agencies charge a month's rent as commission on whatever place they find for you, so this can be a considerable added cost, but peace of mind has never come cheap.
The advantages are obvious - you can tell someone how much you want to pay, what area you want to live in, how much space you want etc., and let them do all the donkey work while you go back to your sleeping bag beneath the U-bend.
There are literally hundreds of these agencies in Prague, and again, word of mouth helps in selecting the right one. Nosy b*stards with a particular interest in interior design could look around people's homes for years before word got out that you're a time waster.
DT Rentals (aka Rentals-Reality and Prime Property) is one of the larger ones. It's British owned and only recruits bi-lingual staff which is useful when you want someone to shout at your Czech land-lord about cockroaches.
They also pride themselves on continued contact throughout the lease period and a "Your pain in the arse is Our pain in the arse" attention to customer service.
Dealing with these folk is like doing them a favour. It's as if they came to earth specifically to sort you out with decent accommodation, and failure to make you happy will send them straight for the Prozac.
But size doesn't seem to matter when it comes to the flat-hunting business. Happy House Rentals started by Blažena Polahárová, who used to be a solo home finder for expats, but since has built up the most famous home finder for families of all nationalities.
These guys charge the lowest percentage commission fees in Prague, often times renting units while making the renter pay the fee, which saves you mucho dinero... they do it like that to help out in any way that they can.
You need second-hand furniture? They'll find you some. You need a weekend away in a little cottage near Český Krumlov? They'll sort it out. You need a four-armed house-keeper with a cordon-bleu qualification and a penchant for bizarre sexual practices? I'm sure they'd do their best.
If you're looking for short-term accomodation in Prague, A Nice Place To Stay has some lovely flats for rent at great prices, and a level of service you'd expect to find at places like the Hilton, where the owner, Aksana Sribnyak, worked before starting her own boutique apartment-hotel concept.
Their advice to people entertaining the idea of staying in Prague is to find short-term accommodation and to have a look around. Find your favourite area/price range before committing to anything, and don't make any rash decisions. People are there to help you, so let them; decent places are there for the taking, so take them.
And then let me crash on your floor.
10 Snippets of Advice for the finding an apartment in Prague
Courtesy of DT Rentals and Happy House Rentals
- Always make sure you know who owns the apartment
- Will you have to pay extra for utilities?
- Find out who has access to your home. Then change the locks.
- Do you fully understand the contract you're about to sign?
- Is the neighbourhood a safe one?
- What sort of heating do you have, and will it see you through the winter? Avoid inhaling carbon monoxide
- How long is it going to take you to find a decent beer/laundry/tram?
- Is the landlord a tight git who's going to charge you for wear and tear of the light switches?
- Agree on administrative expectations. Monthly rent receipts... etc.
- Don't be a b*stard. Stick to your side of the bargain.