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|   .    v        |:/   jeremy@   |                                           |
|    |   ___,     ||    malcolm   |                                           |
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+--| House and car |----------------------------------------------------------+
|                                                                             |
| The main reason why I moved to San Francisco ahead of Dom and the children  |
| was so that I could establish a house for them to move into when they       |
| arrive.  We decided to buy immediately, because the Bay area is in the      |
| upswing of another housing boom which would push the price of a family      |
| home beyond our means if we spent our first year renting. (In retrospect,   |
| we should have done the same in Kuala Lumpur too.)                          |
|                                                                             |
| Relying on online research and some advice from friends in the area, our    |
| shortlisted areas to buy based on price and commute time were either the    |
| Excelsior district of San Francisco (which is almost the only affordable    |
| area remaining in the city), or Oakland across in the East Bay.  Having     |
| now seen both areas, I am very glad that we chose Oakland. Houses in        |
| Excelsior are cramped, and there is very little green around.  In Oakland   |
| there is more room to breathe, yet commute times are actually comparable    |
| thanks to the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit).                                |
|                                                                             |
| Some areas of Oakland - including those that we were looking at first,      |
| attracted by the low prices - are crime-ridden ghettos, whilst others are   |
| sterile, gentrified white enclaves.  We weren't really keen on either of    |
| those options - Dom, in particular, preferred that we should settle in a    |
| multicultural neighbourhood, but she was also worried about our family's    |
| safety.                                                                     |
|                                                                             |
| There were three properties that we seriously considered.  The property on  |
| which we first put forward an offer was a large, newer house but in a less  |
| desirable neighbourhood.  We missed out on that property due to our         |
| agent's delay in forwarding our offer. Looking around for alternatives, I   |
| put a bid in on a house in a better neighbourhood at an online auction.     |
| The house had been repossessed and there was no option to inspect inside    |
| before purchasing - but in any case, our bid didn't reach the reserve       |
| price, so I dismissed it and continued looking.                             |
|                                                                             |
| The house on which we finally settled was nearby to the first property,     |
| but it was smaller and cheaper - not really a dream home, but at least it   |
| was affordable and near to public transport.  We prepared the offer         |
| documentation and were about to send it, committing ourselves to buy -      |
| when I was surprised to receive a message from the earlier online auction.  |
| Apparently although our bid at action had not reached the reserve, it was   |
| still the highest bid, and we were required to give the seller the option   |
| to accept it.                                                               |
|                                                                             |
| The auction house was certainly the nicest of the three from the outside -  |
| but since we hadn't seen inside, we knew that there was the risk that it    |
| would require a lot of work.  The price, although low for a property in     |
| the area, would also stretch us to the limit of what we could afford.  But  |
| the area was certainly a better one - also close to transit and a good      |
| school, with nearby shops, and an arts community.  With some trepidation,   |
| we made the necessary arrangements to make good on our bid - and when the   |
| seller accepted it, the deal was struck.                                    |
|                                                                             |
| The scheduled settlement date (or "closing" as they say here) would be a    |
| few days after my arrival, so I made interim arrangements to stay with      |
| locals through the CouchSurfing website, which we had previously used to    |
| host guests at our home in Malaysia.  Eventually closing was pushed back    |
| another week, so I moved into an inexpensive hotel in central Oakland       |
| until we could close and the house be made habitable.  (The hotel was       |
| barely habitable itself, with no curtain on the window, a shared bathroom   |
| from which fittings went missing throughout my stay, and a lingering smell  |
| of weed.)                                                                   |
|                                                                             |
| The price that we paid for getting a bargain on the house was that we       |
| accepted certain risks about its condition, and indeed as it transpired     |
| the house had been breached and occupied by squatters. The bank had not     |
| taken many pains to eject them, but I made clear that I would not close on  |
| the property until this happened - so ultimately they boarded up the        |
| windows and secured the back door, which in conjunction with my own         |
| efforts in erecting some "No trespassing" signs, was enough to deter the    |
| squatters from returning.                                                   |
|                                                                             |
| The interior of the property had suffered considerably, though mostly at    |
| the hands of the ejected former owner, rather than the squatters.  Amongst  |
| other damage, the air conditioning unit had been ripped from inside the     |
| roof, along with lights, audiovisual equipment, whitegoods and other        |
| fixtures. Doors, the driveway gate and garage door, and screen windows had  |
| been removed. A glass wall in one bathroom had been smashed, along with     |
| basins and counter tops, and holes had been driven into several walls and   |
| the ceiling of the master bedroom.                                          |
|                                                                             |
| As some of this damage seemed to have been done following our offer, due    |
| to the bank's failure to adequately secure the property, we have            |
| negotiated with them for a credit on the purchase price.  But most of the   |
| remediation will be our responsibility, and this will be taking up much of  |
| my time over the coming weeks as I prepare for the family's arrival (with   |
| help from a house sitter who is with me). Already a plumber, cleaner,       |
| floor polisher and other tradesmen have been booked, and bedding and        |
| furniture are on order.                                                     |
|                                                                             |
| Once repaired and furnished, the house will be very nice and despite the    |
| work involved, will still represent good value - particularly compared      |
| with Perth, where a similar house within an equivalent commuting distance   |
| might cost about double. It is a large two-storey residence containing      |
| four bedrooms with walk-in robes, three bathrooms, inlaid hardwood floors,  |
| a whole-house sound system with ceiling-mounted speakers, and a back        |
| garden complete with a treehouse for the children! The general area is      |
| quiet and suburban, with a school, shops and BART station all within        |
| walking distance.                                                           |
|                                                                             |
| Because we allocated so much of our savings towards the house, I had        |
| little left for a car - but I chanced to find one at a very low price near  |
| to one of my couch surfing hosts, and I took the risk to buy it, so that I  |
| wouldn't be limited to public transport. Negotiating the price down to      |
| only $1000 due to an engine light warning, I drove the car away only a few  |
| days after my arrival. As of now the car is still being repaired, but it    |
| seems likely that it can be fixed up for less than the difference in cost   |
| of a car without engine light trouble.                                      |
|                                                                             |
| Not all has gone smoothly, though. Because the driver's side door of the    |
| car doesn't unlock from the outside, I managed to lock the car keys inside  |
| on the very same day that I bought the car, requiring a mechanic to be      |
| called out at a cost of $140! No sooner had he left than I parked the car   |
| on a hill, and found another fault with it - the parking brake (or          |
| emergency brake as they say here) wouldn't hold it, and it started to roll  |
| down the hill...                                                            |
|                                                                             |
| Admittedly this was probably my own fault, as I hadn't been able to locate  |
| the brake when driving it earlier in the day, so I had driven the car with  |
| the brake engaged, probably wearing it down (it is not a lever but a        |
| pedal, which I hadn't encountered before). In any case, I was now faced     |
| with my $1000 car rolling back towards a considerably more expensive car    |
| parked behind it.                                                           |
|                                                                             |
| Panicking, I ran behind the car and put my weight to it. Knowing that I     |
| couldn't hold it for long, I called back the mechanic for help, and after   |
| an agonising wait during which the car continued to inch backward (I still  |
| bear the bruises), the mechanic arrived and parked his car up behind mine   |
| to arrest its descent down the hill. Flustered, I drove back home, but my   |
| troubles were not over yet.                                                 |
|                                                                             |
| When driving the car home, I stopped at a red light and when starting up    |
| again in first gear, the car stalled (I was still getting used to the       |
| gears). But as I had earlier noticed, sometimes the car refuses to start    |
| again after a stall.  This happened now, and someone behind me started      |
| tooting.  Once she figured out that I was stuck, she shouted at me to put   |
| on the hazard light.  But the car didn't have one!                          |
|                                                                             |
| Then the police came. Note that I was driving without insurance, without    |
| my international driver's licence on me, and without the registration       |
| documents for the vehicle - which, anyway, weren't yet in my name!  After   |
| asking me if I had been drinking (I hadn't been) and checking my            |
| Australian licence, it was to my great relief that the car finally started  |
| and they allowed me to go.                                                  |
|                                                                             |
+---------------------| posted 1298 days ago via news | reply (2 comments) |--+
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