After almost 3 months of calling and looking, we have a house rented in Kherson! Well, a duplex, anyway, with a separate little yard of our own, something we have dreamed of for years.
Like many other facets of life, this housing search seemed to be about 50% Divine Providence and 50% legwork and dogged persistence. It was a learning process for me... just when you think that you really know just about everything there is about the culture you're living in, you try something different only to discover a completely new and previously unsuspected field of research and study.
So, I have been learning once again.
First - looking for housing in a larger city in Ukraine becomes more of a challenge the more young children you have.
When I mention that we have children, the first question is "How many?" (FOUR??!!), and the second is "and how old are they?" (TWO to TEN years old??!!)
I literally do not know how many times I tried to convince complete strangers, over the phone, that we aren't a Barbarian Horde or Gypsy Band in miniature. ("What nationality are you?" was the 3rd question...)
I also learned that I got many more serious responses once I went to Kherson and could say "I'm here for a few days, if you have anything at all, I'll come look at it and might even sign the contract and make the down payment." Calling from Dneprorudnoe, I mostly had people offer to find an apartment or just tell me, "You'll never find people that will rent a house to a family with four young children for the price you want... call us back if you want to look at houses from $700-1300 a month."
Even with being in Kherson, it was slow going. The 'good deals' that got published online were snapped up almost immediately, so I spent a lot of time calling through local newspaper ads and contacting local realtors and agencies. At one point, I had at least 4 agencies and 4 freelance realtors searching for houses for me (not to mention the actual home owners or their representatives I was calling.) After I while, I began those conversations with "I'm not sure if I've called you before, so let me remind you, just in case..."
I was in Kherson for 4 full days, not including 1/2 days traveling there and back again. The first "real deal" I was offered was a 3-story unfinished construction project. (At one point it was meant to have been a health complex/hotel.) We were being offered the top floor, which would be 'finished to our specifications." (Using 2-months advance of not-so-low rental payments of $440, not including utilities.) It had sheet rock and windows, but that was about it. I could actually see how it would be very nice... but the rest of the place was something of a mix of a junk warehouse/maze/construction site. The kids would've loved it, but what with the lack of a separate staircase, the completely NON-'kid friendly' setting and the unfinished bathroom and non-functioning 'kitchen' area being down on the construction zone of a 2nd floor; my dear, wise wife said she'd rather not, thank you very much.
The next were 2 twin houses, both empty and unused for 1-2yrs. They reminded me of something you'd see in a decent urban subdivision in Florida. The houses looked HUGE to me... at least 2000 square feet each. They were willing to rent them to us, again, with our down-payment going into doing necessary repairs so we could actually live there. (One place had been completely stripped by the last tenants. They took everything: linoleum, light switches, outlets; heating system - boiler, radiators, and all; toilet, tub, sinks; every scrap of the kitchen furnishings and appliances; all doors, complete with hinges....completely, thoroughly stripped.) However, one place was really out of the way, with bad access to public transport (the 'stripped' house), and the other literally had no yard. It was cemented over and had a huge, DEEP unfinished pool in place of any green space. Both would have been a minimum of $450 per month, not including utilities.
Again, my wonderfully wise wife asked that these be left as a back-up plan if I didn't find anything better.
However, I wasn't coming up with any better options. Well there was one, although it would have been an hour minimum commute on public transport to Agape's office... but by the time I had been to both of the big 'subdivision' houses, that house was rented.
I agreed to talk to Phyllis again that evening and more than likely discuss details of a contract for one of the huge 'subdivision' houses the next morning, barring any better alternatives. Then it was more phone calls, more re-checking with agencies, following up possible leads, checking ads online and in newspapers.
My wonderful, wise, lovely wife (notice the theme here?) called me that evening. "You know that agent guy whose ads you said to ignore? He just put up an ad for a house in the same area of the city as Agape. Maybe it's worth giving him another try..." I had decided not even to bother this guy anymore. He was prolific in getting ads online, but I had called him numerous times from Dneprorudnoe, and he'd finally just said we weren't going to find a place with four little kids. However, at this point, I'd had so much practice at selling our family as good tenants I figured it couldn't hurt to give it a try.
I called him after 9pm. He said "I thought you wanted a NICE place, that's all - sure, you can look at this house!" We agreed to meet the next morning around 9am. By 10:15, I'd signed the contract and paid the down payment.
A man can inherit a house and money from his parents, but only the Lord can give him a sensible wife. Proverbs 19:14
(Except for the last one, photos are just stock images. The last is actually our new home!)