The Helsinki Apartment Hunt

Open on the HGTV House Hunters International logo. A couple walks down a snowy Helsinki promenade. Voiceover begins.

Megan and Mark have always wanted to live abroad. So when a transfer opportunity popped up with Mark’s job, they jumped at the chance. Now they’re trading their hotdish for pickled herring in Helsinki, Finland. Will things get heated in sauna-land? 

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Bringing my HGTV Dreams to Life

Five days after landing in Finland, Mark and I met up with our girl Katariina again to do a little apartment hunting. FUN FACT. HGTV actually DID reach out about being on House Hunters International. I sent them an email back in September saying we were moving and then, two days after we arrived in Helsinki (…four months later) they replied!! Fast forward to now and I have yet to get any follow up, but WHAT! We were SO CLOSE to living our (read: MY) HGTV dreams.

Now for those of you who’ve been following along on my Instagram, you saw that I did my own little version of HHI the day of apartment hunting and I have to say, I got a lot of positive feedback. Those of you who followed along already got a taste of the process AND know which apartment we ended up going with, but I’m here to tell you the WHOLE story. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Let’s start with THE REQUIREMENTS.

The Requirements

I love how on the real HHI, the two house hunters are almost always on different pages when it comes to things like budget and location. And then there’s this awkward compromise bit at the end where the couple almost always picks the over budget one in city center. And if you’re like me, you think, that doesn’t happen in real life! People can stick to budgets. Couples can be on the same page. Well HAHA! Joke’s on me because I’m here to tell you House Hunters gets it right.

In the weeks leading up to our move, Mark and I had been sending Kat listings that we liked, along with a list of nice-to-haves and areas. On the Instagram story, I only listed a couple “requirements” but in actuality we provided a bit more:

  • In the heart of the city
  • Furnished
  • 2 bedroom
  • Laundry (preferably in-unit)
  • At least 60m²
  • Sauna
  • Decent kitchen & bathroom

As far as budget goes, we were given a lump sum for housing and travel expenses through Mark’s company, and agreed that we should try and stick to that number so we could put our personal money toward weekend travel. Ah, the foreshadowing.

Turns out the amount of available housing in winter is pretty low, so we ended up expanding our search to include unfurnished options and 1 bedrooms. When the day came to actually go on house tours, we had five listings to visit–and boy did they run the gamut. Let’s get started, shall we?

Quiet Midcentury Modern

The first apartment we went to visit was by far my favorite on paper and in pictures. It was modern, stylish, furnished, had two bedrooms, and was UNDER BUDGET with utilities. You’re probably thinking, well this was a short episode. I’m here to say, it was not.

As we drove to the apartment’s location, technically only a 15-minute walk from the city center, it got noticeably quiet (which is saying A LOT since we’re already in the land where no one talks) AND slightly deserted-feeling. Granted it was in the middle of the day, so a lot of people were probably at work. And, I thought, maybe having a home away from the hubbub could be a nice thing. The area had the necessities–a small grocery store, a pub, and access to the tram line. This one was easily and definitely a contender–so we eagerly moved ON TO THE NEXT ONE.

The Spacious Swing and a Miss

You might notice that I said we had five showings set up but I only featured three on my Instagram. That’s because two of them were so unbelievably off-point that I didn’t even bother sharing. This was the first one. We had high hopes. The location was amazing. Multiple tram lines, lots of restaurants nearby, a GYM around the corner. But I’m here to tell you, nothing on the outside could’ve made up for the inside.

This home belonged to an older woman who lived there for decades and now that she had passed her family was looking to rent it out. Makes sense. However, I believe the family should’ve maybe considered I don’t know, updating a few things, or at least clearing it out a bit more? Five steps in and I was ready to move my three suitcases into that quiet midcentury modern.

There was random furniture everywhere. Two desks in one bedroom. So. Many. Curios. And for God’s sake the sauna was being used as a storage closet. COME ON PEOPLE. Set yourself up for rental success!

At the end of the day, this place was a.) not our style and b.) just way too big for us. There’s no way we would’ve used all that space. Or all those desks. After this one, I started to get a little nervous. Did we peak on #1?

Retro Reno

Whereas the first place was amazing on paper and in pictures, this next place was kind of the opposite. It was over budget, the photos didn’t have the furniture that would be included, and the kitchen was a bit dated. Also, the building was going through some renovation and as someone who would be doing a lot of working from home, I was nervous about that.

But as we toured it, we realized that although it was a bit dated, it was really well taken care of. The bathrooms had just been redone and it had full laundry (washer AND dryer). Yes, the appliances in the kitchen were a little old, but the dishwasher and microwave were new and the stove and fridge were in good condition. It wasn’t exactly my style but I did appreciate the character. And the location was sweet–a block away from the sea, a few restaurants nearby, and right next to a tram line.

 

This place had two bedrooms, would be furnished, and I must say, great closet systems. I could see us living there. After this one, I definitely started to feel a bit better, but now I was a little torn. Maybe the next two would help define a clear winner.

All White Everything

This next apartment wasn’t too far from the Retro Reno above, and was located in the Eira neighborhood aka the fancy ‘hood. The pictures looked promising and very white. And well, the apartment did not disappoint in the lack of color. The living room/dining room was roomy enough and the two bedrooms were fine, but the bathrooms and kitchen were TIGHT. I tried sitting down on both toilets and both times I hit my knees. I’m 5’3″. And Finns are giants, so I don’t know who built this place.

But the view was the main selling point of this place. Granted it was a snowy, gray day, but the Baltic Sea was right out our balcony! Come summer, we’d be smelling the salt air on the reg. On the other hand summer is only like two months long here, so we couldn’t give that feature TOO MUCH weight. Also, I shouldn’t judge a place by its owner, but sometimes you just get a vibe, a gut feeling, and the woman who owned this place (she showed it to us) was just giving me some weird anxiety that I was not feeling. This woman also owned the last apartment we saw so let’s just roll right on to that one!

Finland Flatiron

The last apartment was the other one that I didn’t even bother mentioning on Instagram because again, it just wasn’t our style, and whereas the other outlier was too big, this one was soooo small.

I only took one picture of the small second bedroom, but funny enough, the apartment is still available, so the other two photos I snagged from the listing. In addition to the weird vibes I was getting from the owner, this place also had an odor, that I’m sure could be remedied but nonetheless, didn’t do a great job selling it to us. So… this one was off the list.

Decisions, decisions

So, after touring all five places we told Katariina we’d take the night to think about it. Our immediate gut reactions were as follows:

Mark’s Top 3:

  1. All White Everything
  2. Quiet Midcentury
  3. Retro Reno

My Top 3:

  1. Quiet Midcentury
  2. Retro Reno
  3. All White Everything

Honestly, I was SHOCKED Mark ranked “All White Everything” first. I can’t remember his reasoning. And to be fair, my #1 and #2 were really tied. I was being super wishy-washy about which one I liked more, but since we both had “Quiet Midcentury” in our top two, we decided that’s the one we should go with.

ALAS, when Katariina called the owner to tell them we wanted to sign, a family that had viewed the place mere HOURS after us offered to sign a 2-year contract. We could not compete.

We were a bit bummed, but I took it as a sign that it was not meant to be and the powers were telling us to go with Retro Reno. I was not pumped about going over budget, but Mark did the math and we could actually swing it if we were smart about our return flights to the States. So that’s where we landed!

WINNER: RETRO RENO

It’s been almost a month since we moved in and honestly, I love the place. The furniture ended up being great–some of it is actually from artek, a kingpin in Finnish design. We actually have this table and these chairs as our dining set! We’ve adopted a few plants and have really started to settle in.

Perhaps one of the best things was when I did the walk-through with the owner. He was the sweetest old man, and came carrying a leather briefcase (so proper!) and a brand new bedspread that he wanted to make sure fit my style (it did). I also later found out that him and his wife had purchased the apartment to downsize from their large home in the suburbs, but his wife was currently in the hospital so they decided to rent it out until she became well again. MY HEART. If that doesn’t give you good vibes, what kind of curmudgeon are you?

Anyway, beyond the plants, we’ve added a few touches from home–family photos and a Faribault blanket–and are in the hunt for some artwork for the walls. The construction is a lovely wake up call right now, but they’ve already started taking down some of the scaffolding so fingers crossed it won’t last too much longer (we were told end of February).

Living in the St. George was nice, but it feels oh so good to have our own place now. It was a wild roller coaster, but I’m happy where we landed. The most important feature: we have a second bedroom for guests so book your flights and head our way!

I’ll let you know if House Hunters ever calls back.

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