We knew it wasn't going to be plain sailing making a real estate purchase in Poland, but the trouble with problems is often our attitude to them and the how we're feeling at that point in time.
We're listing our problematic experiences in buying our house in Poland and dealing with the set up and running of the house. Hopefully you will be able to avoid similar mistakes.
The estate agent was given Power of Attorney to arrange bill payment for us. A series of problems with billing ensued due mainly to a lack of communication and misunderstanding along the route with several people.
Our estate agent informed us that we needed to go to the Gas office to sign the agreement. A neighbour showed us on the local map where to find the Gas Office. There was one administrator working there who required proof of purchase of the property and knew nothing of arrangements made by the estate agent. We didn’t have documents from the Notary on that particular trip to Poland. We said that we would be back in Poland again in 3 weeks. The gas administrator told us that there wouldn’t be a problem. The 3 weeks was extended to 4 weeks. On our arrival back in Poland, the lady who cleans the house told us that we had to go down to the gas office as soon as possible because they were threatening to cut off our gas supply.
Down at the gas office we found a man and a woman this time. It transpired that the woman had been the one dealing with the estate agent, the man knew nothing of the arrangements. An agreement had been prepared for me to sign. It’s just a pity that no one informed me about this or contacted me in Britain. The gas company had forms to set up a direct debit for payments which was useful and now appears to be working successfully.
This is one problem we have come across, few companies seem prepared to send mail out to Britain, or even email.
Our next task was to transfer the electricity bill over to ourselves. The first problem to surmount was to find out where to do this. The cleaner told us that it was across from the lunar park, Rabkoland. We went to a parade of shops near the Lunar Park but couldn’t find it. We asked passers by who told us that it was on the other side of the Lunar Park. Ok, off we set for the other side of the Lunar Park, only to still be unable to find it. Again, we asked a passer-by ‘where we could pay for electricity’. She told us that we could pay in the supermarket, any shop really. I then realised that I was asking the wrong question, paying for electricity is different from signing the contract and basically my Polish wasn’t up to it. Eventually we found the building and were directed by someone else round to the back where we found the office.
This is where the fun began. Because I was a foreigner, without the required PESEL ID Number, my details didn’t fit the required template. I was told that the Proof of house purchase from the Notary was essential although have discovered since then that one can apply and obtain a PESEL by regfistering as a foreign visitor with temporary residency. Trying to set up direct debit payments also proved difficult for the man setting everything up. Failure of having an account at the local bank was also problematic. Anyway, he just about got the end of the task when he discovered that an account for all of this had already been set up by the estate agent. I hadn’t asked because I had assumed that nothing had actually been set up after the initial problems at the gas office. Fortunately, he was good humoured about just having wasted an hour of his time setting up a contract that was already in place, awaiting my signature. If only someone had told me that it was there, and even better if I had been given addresses of these places to look up on a map.
It seems that all of these utilities are dealt with very locally, residents of Rabka know where the offices are, but it’s a magical mystery tour for foreigners.
The cleaner also gave me the bill that had come in for water. That was for 6 zlotys for about 2 months. They have a private well, shared between a number of houses in this particular part of Rabka, which keeps the bills low. The water quality is very good. The address I had to go to, to pay the bill is ulica zzzzzz 37, easy enough to find one would think, except that the houses are numbered in order of being built, so that number 2 can be next to number 25 and there is no sequence or logic to the numbering at all. 6 zlotys is a little over £1 every 2 months. We’re planning to arrange to pay for this bill in advance so that we’re not overdue in future. The cleaner’s son told us later that there was an outstanding payment of 48 zlotys on this bill and because it was just a small private co-operative, we decided to pay it. I didn’t receive a receipt and just hope that it actually cleared that bill.
Obtaining receipts and invoices for services is something that can be difficult even when asking for one. I suspect that much work is simply not declared for tax purposes. Since then we have come across various examples of companies and individuals attempting to avoid tax. I have received a stamped postit as proof of purchase for wood instead of an invoice.
Another problems is that some Poles seem to think that anyone from the west is an open cheque book and try to charge a much higher price than they would their fellow Poles. We ended up paying more for a gas boiler service than we would in the UK. The requested invoice never appeared. Needless to say, that services of that gas engineer will not be required again. It is essential to ask the cost in advance or some Poles just try to take advantage. This may be a Roman Catholic country but the religion counts for zilch in daily life - we've met more dishonest people here than anywhere else.
The next payment to arrange was for sewerage. I was given very vague directions by the cleaner, with no actual directions given except that it was up past the church, and ended up being another treasure trail. Clues we gathered en-route was that the name Zaryte’ somehow applied to it. Whether this was a place, name of building or what, I hadn’t the foggiest. Someone else told us to head for Sacz (on the map Nowy Sacz) that it was down a small road that goes down a hill. Another woman told us to look out for the Polish for ‘sewage farm’, although at the time I didn’t know what that phrase meant. On asking some men working, they said to ‘go a kilometre up the road, turn left down the asphalt road, across the bridge and you’ll find it’. We indeed found it and indeed it closed at 3 pm so that we would need to return the next day. We now pay for sewerage through a direct debit from the bank.
Many offices in Poland close early at around 3 pm. Some shops close around 3 or 4 pm on Saturdays.
Telephone Billing and Internet
Another bill to transfer is that of the telephone. I rang the telephone people who informed me that the previous owners have to initially revoke or cancel their account, I would then be able to take it over. I rang the estate agent, who called the previous owners. There was apparently something to do with a 90 day notice of cancellation but they would send a fax to the phone people.
The Polish Telcomms office nearest to us is in Nowy Targ. Polish Telecomms is a monopoly rather like BT used to be which makes things simpler. Their offices are very modern – no different from walking into a phone shop in the UK. Apparently, for a quick transfer, the previous owner would need to go with me in person to the office and perform a ‘paper’ handover. I would then be allowed to retain th same number. Alternatively, I could pay an extra 10 zloty, obtain a new number but it would take longer. I opted to pay the extra 10 zloty. In Britain this would be complete nonsense- many people move house to distant parts of the country and are hardly likely to travel a considerable distance to change a phone bill Even in this case, the previous owner, a wealthy businessman who travels internationally is hardly likely to be pleased about taking most of a day off work.
I couldn’t sign up for the Internet which I desperately want until the line is made over to me. We were to await an engineer who would come to the house with the actual contract to sign.
Good News and Bad News. The telephone engineer arrived but because the telephone line was still working, the number still hadn’t been revoked, they wouldn’t change the number. I got a story of how they had once changed a number that someone had wanted to retain which caused problems. The previous owners were not contactable for verification by phone – away abroad. Another month to wait. Business would come to a standstill in the UK with this kind of carry on, but the good news is that 4 months after purchasing the house we eventually obtained our own phone number.
One thing in favour of Telecomms Polska is that they do have people you can speak to in English. I am very grateful to the man who eventually sorted this out for us.
A year later I am still a great fan of TP - Telkommunikacja Polska. I had difffculty in setting up a web account, parttly because the telephone number provided to obtain a PIN did not work from Britain. Anyway, I sent them an email asking them to call me in the U which they subsequently did and sorted out myPIN. I just cannot imagine British BT doing the same. TP should be put in charge teaching the rest of Polish businesses what 'customer service' means.
Obtaining Neostrada Internet.
Equipment for the Internet is delivered in person, and signed for (another indication of low personal honesty in Poland!).
Instructions are obviously in Polish but running the software has an English option. I had to use the help line to connect to wireless broadband; the technical support person was extremely patient. There was no wait or cost in obtaining this service. Let's hope they don't find call centres in India attractive in the future.
Garbage removal in this area used to be accomplished via small private companies. They used a variety of methods of taking away private rubbish, either in bins or in bags. One needs to sign a contract and then a payment is made for the number of times rubbish is collected so that essentially people are paying according to the amount of rubbish they personally generate. We were going to sign up for the bin service. I’ve been told that one calls them when the bin requires emptying and that is costs 7 zlotys each time. . Anyway, that was the theory – my time in Poland has taught me so far that nothing, absolutely nothing, is straightforward and without problems, apart from shopping. That works exactly the same as in the UK.
Written contracts - a written and personally signed contract appears to be required for every regular service one signs up for.
Since then, the local authority has intoruduced a rubbish disposal service which it runs very efficiently. A charge is made separately for collection. One fee is paid monthly and they collect twice a month. If a bin is put out twice a month, an additional charge is made. There are two bins, one for recycling plastics, tins and glass which are sorted locally in the town.
Polish Satellite TV
The previous owners had left a Polish satellite system in the house which belonged to a company similar to Sky in Britain, called Cyfra+. This hadn’t worked since we moved into the house. The lady on the phone initially wanted the phone number of the previous owner which I don’t actually have. She asked whether we would be taking it over - I said I might. She then told me in Polish that I must pay the outstanding 181 zloty and then send them a fax to let them know it had been done. I informed her that it hadn’t worked in all the time we had been there. Because the bill hadn’t been paid, the service had been blocked. She was really quite rude, insisting that this had to be paid. By this time, I was feeling quite annoyed. I didn’t have a contract with them and didn’t have to do anything. At the moment, as far as I am concerned, I will take out a contract with any other satellite company than theirs.
There seems to be much of the old communist 'high and mighty' attitude left over in Poland. I come from Britain where I feel that I have choice and sales people speak nicely to me because they want my business. In Poland it seems to be a choice between Cyfra and Polsat. We have decided to obtain Sky via satellite digibox and bring it over which I’ve heard is possible although a larger microwave dish is required. More about this soon. I’d prefer to have British TV anyway because the rest of my family don't currently speak any Polish.
Summary of the billing experience
Our experience at the office for arranging to pay for sewerage services was the most pleasant and efficient of all. The person in charge was very helpful and friendly. The lack of local bank account was a problem again – he told me that they had an agreement with the local bank for payment of bills by direct debit. That one I’ll need to pay over the internet. It’s a minimal charge for arranging that type of transfer, the equivalent of around 50p. The sewage works offices are adorned with healthy lush green plants thanks to the enriched water there I guess.
On the whole though, the Polish people have been nice and helpful in the utility offices. The electricity guy was extremely patient and good humoured and the sewerage one absolutely delightful.
It has been stressful trying to arrange for payment of utilities, even though the estate agent had already written to the gas and electricity people, but it has given me an insight into how things operate in Poland. It’s still very much a very local economy and cash society, with people paying bills in person at the local office. They’re not geared up for foreigners either – we don’t possess the right numbers and details for their forms. They don’t quite know what to do with us. In retrospect, we did mange to arrange for all utilites on the strength of a passport number rather than PESEL. It's easy to obtain a PESEL if you are registered for a permanent stay in Poland.
Poland still has its post offices and these are invaluable for the payment of bills and even speeding fines. They also sell the TV and radio licenses which can be paid for monthly if wished, phone cards for cheaper calls, plus a small stock of everyday goods such as magazines, newspapers, greetings cards.
Dealing with bill payment again
If anyone else had to do this, especially if they didn’t speak any Polish at all, I would strongly suggest that they pay an English speaking Polish person for the day to interpret and arrange on their behalf. They will know the ropes, where the various offices are, and would make the whole procedure painless. We’re setting up a free register of Polish English speaking people to act as informal translators who will hopefully volunteer for this service. It’s what I would do if I had to do it all again.
The estate agent would have made life easier if he had supplied me with the addresses of the places to go where he had made arrangements, but it’s probably a learning experience for both of us. One thing I’m finding is that people seem to think that I understand and know more than I actually do. I shall certainly be kinder and more patient with foreigners in the UK in future because it is difficult and frustrating dealing with a foreign culture in their language.
The systems and attitudes in both countries are different. I get annoyed with some of the high and mighty official attitudes, such as the satellite TV company telling me what I must do and that they cannot remove the box and other equipment of theirs except on the request of the previous owner. I feel like charging them rent for occupying space in my house, or telling them that I will leave it on the pavement and to collect it before it rains.
In many respects, household bills are much lower. There is little council tax to pay. People with large plots are required to pay some sort of land tax but we’ve got only an average sized plot. Best of all; there is no inheritance tax or death duties.
I’ve realised that ideally I need a friend out here, someone who speaks some English and can introduce me to the ways and customs of Rabka. I’m going to advertise for someone who would like to improve their spoken English. I could talk to them in English and they could tell me about this town and how things work. There’s a local website for Rabka with a personal ad section. More about that when it happens.. .
More about ongoing problems ....