A Place Of Our Own
Our situation as tenants made it imperative to acquire or own accommodation. Finished houses were out of the question, because every single one shown to us by the agents needed Semtex renovation; besides, few Montenegrin houses are finished with all of the construction work completed. Eventually, we found a plot where the owner had started building but ran out of funds, and we had a nice house built there.
Our lawyer had arranged connections to the utilities’ grids.
One day, Crna Gora Telekom disconnected my phone, the reason being that they had lost €500 from my account. It took a letter of complaint to Telekom’s auditors – a quoted company’s failure to keep proper accounts is an offence – to get matters sorted out.
Then everything looked fine until I noticed that we had not yet received a water bill. An official of the water company had taken off my lawyer the connection fee, fitted a meter and had the pipes connected. Anyway, I asked the water company (Vodovod) to issue a bill. They denied all knowledge of me, accused me of having stolen their water, threatened me with a fine in the amount of 3 million litres of water, and announced that they would turn off the supply unless I paid this fine within 24 hours of it being issued. They also charged me for 650,000 litres of water, which I could not possibly have consumed even if I had had all taps fully open 24 hours a day. I reacted by instructing my lawyer to apply for an injunction, to sue the water company for a refund of the over-charge and to institute criminal proceedings against the official who embezzled the connection fee. That was the last I heard from Vodovod, and my lawyer shrugged her shoulders and commented: “It’s Montenegro.”
For my wife and me, this house was for a number of reasons really only a temporary measure to get us out of the rental trap. Hence we sold it last December to three Russian families, who bought one storey each. The sale was handled by one of Montenegro’s leading estate agents, who also provided the sales/purchase contracts in three languages: Serbian, Russian and English. The payment of the purchase price as well as the vacation of the premises was supposed to be a phased operation proceeding in parallel with the construction of my new house, which should suit our requirements better. It turned out that the three versions of the contract differed from each other substantially, to the extent that all four parties ignored them altogether and proceeded with a paperless, “gentlemen’s agreement” transaction.
On our arrival in Montenegro on 12 January 2005, we dreamt of a house by the sea and we looked forward to having dinners with the sound of the waves in the background. We had to change our minds on that subject. A Montenegrin beach in winter looks like a brothel in the daytime. The restaurants on Jaz beach, for instance, closed last year on 15 September (we were swimming well into October), and after the first Yugo (strong south-easterly wind) the beach was covered in flotsam consisting of driftwood, plastic bottles, shoes and even a dead sheep. The dustbin along the access road has not been emptied for five months and the surroundings have presented a real health hazard. A clean-up operation is not expected until the first tourists trickle in for the next summer season. In summer, on the other hand, you are deafened by the music emanating from the cafés and by inebriated holidaymakers who want a good time.
Strong swell may travel 30 ft or more up a shallow beach and produce spray 20 ft high when it hits a rock. As a result, nearby houses suffer erosion and damp problems. Most important, vendors of seaside property are talking Monopoly money and the asking prices have risen sharply since my reconnaissance in 2004.
As a matter of interest, a high percentage of the advertised houses or plots are not really for sale and their owners will only part with them to buyers who pay well over the odds.
I used to contend that swimming in a pool was like running a marathon on a balcony. I had to change my mind on this subject as well. My new house will be on a hill with a sea view, and I shall swim in the sea only before mid-July and after the end of August. In the spell in between I shall use my pool, because there are 450,000 Europeans fighting over a few hundred beaches and in order to get into the water, bathers have to slalom past sun-worshippers and wade through a barrage of cigarette ends and ash, which together with their stench cling to feet and footwear. There seems to be a bias in favour of the marginal-cost mass tourists and the associated big hotels, who get privileged access to beaches, and against the expat retirees, who spend big bucks in Montenegro, and do so also out of season, thereby alleviating the ghost town syndrome.