Moving is stressful anywhere, but doing it in the chaos of Hanoi throws up its own particular set of challenges. It was after intruding on a family dinner, seemingly unannounced, in a small apartment with barely any natural light when Madison Hardy decided there must be a better way. It was her umpteenth rental she had visited that day. No one seemed to know she was coming, and half the rentals were not in the area or even budget she wanted. A few weeks later she founded NEST., a boutique rental agency that is trying to reinvent the way people go about finding new homes in the city.
Hardy moves a lot. She loves the process, finding new decorations, rearranging furniture, making everything just-so. Over a couple of glasses of red wine at a chic maisonette (which she is looking to rent out, naturally) in the heart of Hanoi’s historic Old Quarter, the stylish American breezily tells Chào about her vision for NEST. and helping people lead more stress-free comfortable lives.
“I was always helping my friends with the apartment searches anyway,” she says. “A lot of them were overwhelmed: by the packing, arranging new furniture, visiting places that were not even the same as the pictures they had seen online. I spent half my childhood sailing the ocean on a small sailboat, so am used to moving. I love it, though I know it is not the same for everyone. But I have done it tons throughout my life and always want to turn any place I live in from a house into a home. I hope I can help others to do the same.”
NEST. is focused on changing the entire experience of moving in Vietnam. They aim to take away the hassle and make it easy-going, fun, sexy even. And the process does not simply end when a contract is signed, as they offer a full suite of products to help: a moving company, so you don’t need to lift a finger; as well as a beautiful shop curated with a simple selection of furniture, ranging from coffee tables to couches and rugs, right down to smaller but important details such as quality bedding and beautiful plants. She hopes this bespoke approach will allow people to take a more relaxed approach to setting up a home, knowing so much of it is being taken care of.
“When I was personally searching for apartments, I was surprised by how you have to search for apartments here. I was shown homes where the lighting was poor. There were families eating dinner, and it was not a great experience. I don’t think I really took in the spaces and their potential and how I would feel living them,” she says. “I was dealing with the awkwardness. Instead of thinking, oh this is what I could do here. Or this is a nice corner for a patio. I just wanted to get out and leave. It really made me think about how back home so much focus is put on the experience and presentation.”
“Back home, if you are not thinking about what you are doing with a place, then someone is telling you: ‘Hey you could put a garden here. You could rearrange these couches.’ It really is much more about the potential life you could have, whereas here it was just like, well, take a peek inside and get out. It was not working for me and wasn’t working for other people in the city who expect and want something more.”
“Who wouldn’t want someone to take the stress out of moving, and make sure you find a place that is just right for you?”
For certain properties, Hardy hosts viewing parties for people to see them, inspired by the American open-house concept of showing homes. There’s mood music, everything is beautifully lit, and people sip on fruit juices and eat canapés. For those used to hurriedly viewing 10 rickety properties in a day, the experience is eye-catching. It’s pleasant. House-hunting is not supposed to be like this. Or is it?
“Because of the way we do things, we actually don’t need to go in for a hard sell, which is a relief to some,” Hardy says. “It’s more about learning about what the customer wants, getting to know them and forming a relationship so we can find out how best to help them and work together. All of our agents speak English well and come from backgrounds in interior design or hospitality, so we are really doing things in a different way.”
Another aspect NEST. focuses on is finding unique standout properties that are hard to find anywhere else. Whether it is a four-bedroom colonial house with garden and swimming pool for 4,000 U.S dollars a month, right down to a cozy studio for just 300, all NEST. listings have a little something extra in some way, though Hardy is tight-lipped as to how she finds her spaces, not wishing to give away her secrets.
“Let’s just say we have unique strategies. You are not going to find most of the homes on our roster on a Hanoi housing Facebook group. We are quite particular,” she smiles.
Despite the lifestyle brand only being four months old, NEST. already has over 100 properties, and though based in Hanoi they are already expanding to Danang and Saigon, so soon they might be able to do more than help you move house, but help you set up a home and a life in a brand new city. “Finding a home is an important decision,” Hardy says. “Who wouldn’t want someone to take the stress out of moving, and make sure you find a place that is just right for you? That’s what we want to do, to help people nest.”
Photos by Hoang Anh, and courtesy of NEST.