Getting around Maun is different to other places I’ve lived. There are no addresses. This makes mapping difficult and might be why the mapping utility on realty websites puts properties in the Atlantic Ocean! (Not helpful). Also, Maun is divided into “wards” or neighborhoods, which were totally unfamiliar to me, so not useful in the general house hunt process. The only way to really know where a house is – is to go there yourself.
I began looking for housing in Maun 4 months before I arrived, starting with the same approach I use in the States: the Botswana version of Realtor.com perhaps? Doesn’t exist as far as I know. Next I tried individual realty sites: Okavango Properties and Pam Golding were the two who responded when I emailed. I emailed two or three others, but they never responded. Okavango Properties had several rentals and were the most helpful overall, particularly in person. Over email, they gave limited information. Pam Golding had no “suitable” listings and never answered my follow-up questions (maybe rentals don’t bring in enough commission to make the hassle worthwhile). One big difference between Botswana and the U.S. is that realtors do not have access to each other’s listings, so you will learn about different properties depending on the agent you choose.
The bottom line was – I put a ton of time into looking for a house before I arrived. But, realized I would never reserve a house sight-unseen. Because there are no addresses, it is impossible to know exactly where houses are on a map, relative to other places (like my children’s school, also not on any maps that I could find – had to ask the head mistress). Additionally, housing quality is highly variable. If you are the type of person who expects a ceiling that is separated from the roof, rather than one in the same – you should probably check out the place yourself before you rent.
There are also considerations that aren’t obvious from realty photos – neighborhood, view, security, water source (bore hole (well) or city), parking, and presence of kitchen appliances – a stove, fridge, oven, or clothes washer. The latter are not a given in Botswana rentals, so you need to ask. Because the weather is so hot in the summer, covered or shaded parking is nice to have. Many people fence their properties here and that adds to security overall.
Finally, it’s important to know where your water comes from because sometimes water runs out. We’ve been here for two weeks so far, and the water has stopped running twice. Once because the electricity bill needed to be paid by the landlord and once because the bore hole pumps stopped working. It’s relevant that our water depends on electric pumps because the electricity has also gone out twice since we moved in. City water also has its downside. Last year, the city’s main water pump broke. Maun had no city-sourced tap water for two weeks while they waited for parts from South Africa! The people on bore holes were better off during that time.
But, if you wait until you arrive to find a house, you could end up with a fat hotel bill. We were extremely lucky. We found the most superb rental, furnished, close to the kids’ school, with covered parking, good security, air conditioning, kitchen appliances, and bore hole water. I think it was the only such place in the entire town. We spent only 5 nights in hotels. Like I said – we were very very lucky. I have no idea if I could pull it off again.