Sunday 23 November 2014

My Sunday Photo - Dubai

Hubby and I arrived in Dubai yesterday with the purpose of renting a house from December 16th.

There's going to be a big change in our life style.

Top photo our current house, bottom photo similar to our new house 1 of a row of 4 and double the rent.

Friday 21 November 2014

You can't drink alcohol in Dubai and other myths I'm exploring

When we moved to South Africa, everyone and I mean everyone whether they'd lived here, visited there or watched a programmes about Africa told us all about the negative stuff, mainly the dangers.

We're flying out to Dubai tonight to find somewhere to live and for hubby to process his work and residency visa applications. We will also receive 'localised' training on rules for entering certain places, travel on public transport, which will effect hubby more than me in regards to 'woman only' compartments at certain times and days, as it won't matter if I travel in a 'mixed' carriage on a train, but could end up getting hubby in serious trouble if he fails to follow the laws.

According to other people and the internet the following apply:
  • We can't buy or drink alcohol in Dubai
  • I won't be able to buy a swim suit, let a lone wear one in a public place
  • Hubby cannot go into a department store without me
  • I have to have my head covered when I go out
  • I won't be able to drive
  • I'll have no rights as a woman
  • You can't buy pork products
  • It is illegal to eat, drink, smoke or chew gum in public during Ramadan, inc inside a car
  • You can't take a bible into Dubai, you cannot discuss Christianity in public and there are no churches
I went to Dubai in January and walked around on my own, sat on the beach, swam in the sea and drank alcohol at a bar. I didn't get arrested or even told off.

I spent a day on a public beach wearing my swim suit.
I ordered a glass of wine with my lunch in the hotel.
I wore shorts, T-shirt and sandals and travelled around Dubai on public transport.
I had bacon for breakfast in the hotel.

I need to check about eating in public during Ramadan and I know hubby can enter a department store, I think it's ladies underwear shops that he can't go into (not that he would anyway).

Thursday 20 November 2014

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas

This is the first year I've seen the TV adverts for John Lewis and Marks and Spencer. I've heard all the hype from the previous years but because I'm currently in the UK I've watched to see what all the fuss is about and I've been very disappointed.

Seriously, do you really think the John Lewis #montythepenguin is a tearjerker? I thought the story line was rather lame and not an advert for the magic of christmas but just another marketing idea to sell penguins.

Why not make a sponsor a real penguin rather than buy a soft cuddly toy? Having visited SAMREC  in Port Elizabeth and cuddled a real penguin, let me tell you, they are not soft, not cuddly and geez they don't half stink.

And the Marks and Spencer advert? Magic and Sparkle? It looked like something a Year 6 class put together for an end of term project and I certainly didn't feel the Magic and Sparkle when I visited a branch in Manchester last week.

And as for the Debenhams advert, I'm not sure it's the best message to be sending out that it's ok for a group of unsupervised children to be running freely around a department store, helping themselves to what they want for christmas, do you?

At least with Argos and a couple of other chain stores, they're actually advertising the products they want to shift for christmas and not fooling you into believing the message is all about the spirit of christmas when it's clearly all about making a profit.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Expat advice

Well I've joined every group I can find, from real time meet up groups, there's a British expat community right here where I live in South Africa and then a worldwide expat group that meets locally once a month. I've signed up, logged into expat forums, groups, professionals online on face book, twitter, through google+, in fact you name it, I'm in/on it.

But I don't use any of them anymore. One group lured me in with invites of get togethers to then ask for a monthly fee to access the invites, another group that I met with once and once only and never to be repeated was horrendous, these women (yes they were all women) had no bloody idea about life abroad, they lived in a British community, husbands company had sorted the whole thing, they were here for 2 years only and small children enrolled in British schools and no need to interview or find a maid as one came with the rental property who was also au pair qualified.

The online groups had so many rules and regulations to obey, sign up here, post x amount of comments on other peoples posts, display their badge on your blog, take part in x amount of forum discussions and then you can post a question to ask.

I find the advice offered is too generalised, it also bears little relevance unless it's a advice aimed at Brits moving to South Africa, because there are different processes, procedures to follow depending on where you're from and where you're going to. I prefer the personal touch, I wanted to hear about what went wrong and how it was resolved. I want to hear that it's just as complicated to rent a house, open bank accounts, set up utilities, buy a car, wherever you are in the world and how frustrating it is for everyone else.

I don't want to hear 'oh darling, have a G&T, we're expats. let someone else sort it it for you'

We're currently relocating from South Africa to Dubai. It's not straight forward. Dubai seem to assume we're in the UK and this is this process and when we ask for support moving from South Africa, there is an assumption we are South African.

So if anyone can point me in the direction of a blog, individual or company who have moved British Expats from South Africa to Dubai, I'd be really grateful to hear from them.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Are hashtags worth the effort?

I’m not hash tagging anything anymore. Half the time when I do so on instagram it fails to post the comment and I’m left with a #silentsunday post, leaving the reader to guess what the picture is all about, so I stopped doing that and instead joined in with #mysundayphoto with Darren @onedad3girls where words are permitted. Now you’ll notice I’ve included 2 hashtags in the opening paragraph after stating I won’t be using them anymore, but what I’m referring to is the random hashtags such as #travel, #traveltuesday #ttot and various other ones #teens #teenagers and the twitter parties sponsored by various companies usually led by a mums group or a company promoting their products.

Why? Because rarely anything comes of it, I write travel blogs, holidays with teens, solo travel, parenting tips, volunteering and charity work, I hashtag, I link up, I RT others, I interact, I engage and then there’s a monthly round up or an analysis of the twitter party, Do I get mentioned? Does anyone RT me? Does anyone link back to my blog post? Ha, rarely, if ever.

Other than #mysundayphoto, hashtags don’t actually work for me. I can follow a conversation, see RT’s from others and interact and engage with individuals without having to promote mums groups, companies or products. If I’m interested in a subject I see hashtagged, I rarely click on the hashtag to find out what other people are saying about it, I’ll google the subject and check the official news sites anyway as I want facts, rarely opinions, although I have plenty to give.

So from now on the only hashtags you’ll see from me are ones where I’ve asked to be involved, ones where I want to promote the work of others such as #SSB2014 the Santa Shoebox project that I’m a coordinator for or if I’ve entered a competition for where a hashtag forms part of the rules and any campaigns I'm involved with such as SAB18Plus.

Monday 17 November 2014

What can you do when it all goes wrong as a landlord?

I've updated the blog this week (May 31st 2015) as we're in-between tenants and after an unpleasant discussion on face book where I was called selfish.

There's plenty of information available if your a tenant, but very little about your rights as a landlord. I'm fed up as a landlord as being seen as the problem by tenants.
We're not running a business, we're letting out our home, that we still pay a mortgage for, at an additional charge. We pay insurances, fees to the rental agent for managing the property. We have to pay for electrical and gas safety checks every year, maintain the property both inside and out. When a tenant chooses to leave we have to in most cases repaint, pay new fees to find new tenants and usually have the property empty with no rent for around 2 months. 
As a landlord while we're living over seas we have to pay hefty fees to transfer money back to the UK and while the tenant is sitting there paying my mortgage for me, we're not actually making any money off it as don't forget there is tax to be paid also and then money has to be found in our host country to pay our rent to someone else to pay their mortgage.
There have been a few conversations on face book and twitter recently, where I've been called selfish for not siding with someone when the landlord has given notice because he wants to sell the property, that we're raking in money and swanning off to live abroad and might need our house back to pay school fees. So what? it is after all our house, which we've paid for, through hard work.

We appreciate that not all tenants are bad tenants and I'd like to see people accepting that not all landlords are unscrupulous , selfish and not caring, but after our experience with our first tenants, the money we lost and the amount we now have to pay for insurance to protect us should it happen again, we no longer accept tenants who require a guarantor or receive any form of income support support including housing allowance. We are not being selfish, it is our right.

Even more alarmingly and what prompted this update was someone of face book admitting to writing their own references.

My advice is to write the debt off, if you do get anything back it’ll be a long time coming, if at all. I’ve yet to find out if we’ll get any money back from our tenants or guarantor and it’s been an extremely stressful process, but since accepting we will probably never recover our money, we’ve been able to move on, put the past behind us and make sure we take the necessary precautions to ensure it never happens to us, or others if we can be of any use, again.

I had a rental agent and a contract and the agent carried out reference and financial checks and got  a guarantor. I thought they were doing us a favour, turns out the guarantor was needed not a ‘just in case’

In January 2013 I was contacted by the gas insurance company who informed me my land lord safety certificate was out of date as the tenants kept missing appointments, so I contacted the agent who said he’d sort it out and added ‘I’ll make sure January’s payment is made promptly. It was mid month, so I checked my bank account to discover no money had been received since October 2012 and that for the previous year it had arrived late every month. On contacting the agent I also discovered they’d received late payments via the guarantor on more than one occasion and that before they had bought the company the first agent had been paying me on time every month out of his own money.

So where now and this was my first mistake I took advice from the agent who said not to issue eviction notice until they’d caught up with missing payments and apologizsd for a ‘computer error’.

My contract states I give 2 months notice which was issued in February and then the agents sold the business and in the process the tenants were given 3 months notice and a date of May 24th 2013 to vacate the property.

The tenants moved out August 8th 2013 having not made a single payment.

I didn’t need a reason to issue a Section 21a eviction notice. I then had to apply to the court, which I did by flying to the UK to sort as my insurance company said I wasn’t covered for eviction. A month later I discovered I was covered and after a lengthy battle they finally agreed to pay back my court costs and appoint a solicitor. Due to the hassles of living in South Africa and managing issues from the other side of the world, it was decided I would remain in the UK until the bailiffs application had been issued and I spent 4 months in the UK sleeping on sofas at friends and family.

The application to the court gives 2 weeks for the tenants to respond as to why they cannot move out, once this date is up notice is given which can be up to 6 months.

The court gave a date mid July and if the tenants didn’t move out by then I could apply for an application from the bailiffs to forcibly remove them from my property. Once the date of August 12th was given I returned to SA for a few weeks until I returned to clean and remarket the property.

I’d received annual inspections, the last one being in February 2013 and it did not state the level of dirt or repairs needed to the property. I also had to replace an oven at the property in the April as the door ‘fell off’ and if I didn’t I would be in breach of contract and legally the tenants could withhold rent…that’s a laugh.

In the meantime I went to the Worcester Hub and Festival Housing for advice, technically I was homeless and what they told me still makes my blood boil. They have advised the tenants to remain in the property until they receive the notice of eviction from the bailiffs before they can be rehoused, if they leave before that date they’ve made themselves homeless and won’t be rehoused.

When I asked what was on offer for me in regards to accommodation as my 14 year old was returning to the UK in August I was told I hadn’t secured housing for myself therefore I’d made myself technically homeless and wouldn’t be offered any accommodation. I had a 6-bed house I was trying to get back into, still paying a mortgage and not receiving any rent.

On completion of the exit inspection we sent local companies in for quotes which totaled over £5000 to clean and redecorate the house, plus the cost of the over grown garden, oven and window cleaning. Both companies that cleaned the oven and windows stated that these were the worst they’d ever seen and when I told the oven cleaning guy the oven was only 4 months old, he nearly passed out.

Having decided it was cheaper to clean the property ourselves I flew to the UK in September 2013 for 3 weeks and with help from friends @stephiemalverns @niffer62 and @brackett1 and my neighbours children and a steam mop from @bissellclean and hubby flying over for the last week we got the house ship shape and back on the rental market, with new agents, no guarantor and indepth reference checks after turning down people on housing benefit, people who had been backrupt and people who needed a guarantor.

In total we spent £2500 on repairs, paint, general DIY and preofessional cleaners, plus £700 on two return flights plus replacing items such as wardrobes, desk and a stolen chest freezer and the new tenants didn’t move in until December 2013, so with lost rent and a mortage to pay we were out of pocket over £8000.

So now to recovering the money from the guarantor and a solicitor who went on maternity leave.

Despite having sent all the receipts to the solicitor and them having the proof of missing payments from the first agent and the exit report. I’ve since had to send detailed photos to justify my need to spend so much on cleaning materials and to illustrate the damage to the walls, doors and ceilings.

I’m still waiting. The contract states the guarantor is liable for rent and damage and it also states that professional cleaning is to be carried out on leaving the property. Oven, carpets, windows, curtains.

I don’t know what the delay is, but when I add this snippet of information you’ll understand why this has gone on so long.

The solicitor was unable to locate the tenants or the guarantor, she hired a tracing company who came back with zero results.

I turned to google and face book and found them, addresses, emails and contact numbers within a day.

The current situation is we are waiting to hear back from the solicitor to say we will accept the £2,000 offered by the guarantor, without prejudice. He states we received the deposit back which covered the professional cleaning costs and the £2,000 covers the rent outstanding. He has failed to acknowledge the stolen items, the court costs, the damaged items, including a solid wooden door and furniture. Let alone the building work, complete redecorating of all the rooms, new toilet seats, etc, etc, etc.

We are accepting the offer as I fear we won't get any more. I think we are quite lucky that we got off so lightly.

Sunday 16 November 2014

My Sunday Photo - In search of coffee

I've spent so long in South Africa that I'm so used to how coffee should taste, that I'm struggling to find one to my taste in the UK. Even the tea tastes strange.

Sunday 9 November 2014

My Sunday Photo - Documents for Dubai

My week has involved a flight from Johannesburg to Birmingham with a 7 hour stop over in Dubai arriving late Monday night.

Tuesday morning I was in Newport making a passport renewal application for my son, the new passport arrived Thursday.

On Friday morning our GRO copies of birth certificates and marriage licence arrived in Monmouth and Friday evening I drove to Bath to collect hubbies replacement driving licence.

On Monday I shall be seeing a solicitor to have certified copies made of all the above plus our degree certificates and then posting them all to the Foreign Office for verification, I will then be driving back to Birmingham to collect hubby from the airport.

Once that all arrives back it's off to the UAE Embassy in London for them all to be attested, then we fly to Dubai to submit the paperwork for work and residency visas.

On my return to South Africa I have to oversea the packing and shipping of our household goods and obtain export papers for the cat and dog, collect the children from OR Tambo Airport and on December 15th we all move to Dubai. Hubby is staying in Dubai while the applications are processed.

In between all of this, hubby and I are hoping that we can just rest while waiting for our papers to be returned and I hope next weeks My Sunday Photo will be a little more exciting.

Jus Rol puff pastry review

Although I was impressed with the puff pastry ready roll, the cost, the ease of use and the way it cooked, what disappointed me was the total cost and time involved to actually make a dessert.

No wonder people eat so much processed food in the UK. The Jus Rol was £2 for 2 sheets and the apples were £1.51 for 3 or 80p for tinned ones and I would have needed 2 tins. The preparation time was 30 minutes, which included the peeling, chopping, cooking and cleaning up of the apples and a further 25 minutes in the oven.

Although it tasted nice and was a shared experience between my Mother and I in the kitchen, we both agreed that next time we fancied an apple pie we'd be buying a ready made one from the shops for at least half the price.

Quorn food review

I was given the opportunity to review 3 Quorn products. Living in South Africa I don't have a base in the UK so stay with family and friends. I repay their hospitality with a bottle of wine, some baby sitting and cook a meal or two, so when I get an opportunity to review a food product I'm more than happy to oblige. I'm friends with a family with 4 young children who all have different food preferences and their parents are more than happy for me to 'experiment' on their kids in the hope they'll try new and different foods. They love testing and reviewing the food products and do so more than willingly.

I purchased 3 Quorn products, chicken nuggets, cumberland sausages and mince. I assumed the same cooking methods would apply as with real meat and in the case of the chicken nuggets (14 minutes in the oven) and the sausages (in a frying pan or under the grill) it did, however when it came to the mince the instructions were to cook it in a pan with your favourite sauce, so I cooked it in a saucepan with 500mls of onion gravy.

The mince I made into a cottage pie and served to my parents and the sausages and chicken were fed to my 'test family' and I made a salsa dip to accompany it.

The children loved the sausages, but said the chicken nuggets were a bit soggy, but I think that comes down to my cooking and not the product. My parents ate all of the cottage pie after reheating it in the evening and along with the children they were very surprised when I told them that they had been eating Quorn products.

I would buy the Quorn again, particularly for my parents as my dad had a heart attack a couple of years ago and needs to watch his food intake. Compared to normal meat sausages the saturated fat of Quorn is 0.6g per sausage compared to meat sausages with 3.6g per sausage.