Mar 222012
 

I just found out how to do youtube on a PS3. Just simply go to internet search and search for youtube.com/xl. This opens youtube in a specific, maximized view which is perfect for display and navigation on PS3. Sweet. I guess husband and I will watch W. W. Young’s silent movie Alice in Wonderland from 1915 later on the big screen :)

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Feb 292012
 

A while ago I decided to drop out of social networks as the amount of information was just overwhelming and checking facebook, google+, following on twitter did take up more and more time of a day and became quite distracting. Then there were also those other reasons such as I didn’t like that the UI constantly changed so that I didn’t find the information or needed to reconfigure views; in addition the Facebook privacy policy really turned me off. For now I focus on direct contacts in real life, IM or mail and when I think I have something interesting to share I put it on my blog. Less noise, more valuable communication.

Yesterday I found a pretty funny comic here, basically outlining what I felt all along.

(src)

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Feb 272012
 

Husband and I recently went house hunting, after 2 months of search we found the perfect house and are now in the stage between sale is agreed and the house is ours. The post will talk about how to buy as a first-time-buyer, if you are looking for an investment property you might it less helpful. For husband and me is to find something that will be our home for the next 20 years.

Before you start looking for a place make sure that you know what you want, what your budget is and what you don’t want. Jim and I were looking initially at an area we both didn’t know. Later it turned out it was one of the more dodgy areas where we wouldn’t want to live at all. However, it helped us to get started and do all the necessary steps such as mortgage pre-approval, finding a solicitor etc.

Also, as we were looking for our future home, we weren’t willing to take any compromise. If the house it is too small, it’s too small, it won’t grow over time. If the backyard is overseen, it won’t change. If there is a busy road, it won’t go away. If you don’t like it don’t go for the house. If you step into a house and you instantly like it, consider it to be the one. But be careful, nice decoration and a freshly upgraded house might blind you regarding what you want and need. All houses we liked we saw 3 or 4 times at different times during the day.

There were a couple of useful web pages that I used for hunting:

  • myhome.ie is the property website with the most for sale properties. Pretty good search and subscription facilities.
  • daft.ie is the most famous site for rentals, but also good for sales searches. It’s a pity that the API is not available for private users otherwise searching and filtering would have been much easier to me.
  • adverts.ie I subscribed the RSS feeds. Search options aren’t as good, agents usually don’t answer.
  • property.ie Seems to be a clone of daft.ie, I have never seen any house that was only advertised there. 
  • Also, it makes sense to work directly with property agents. Just check any of the house search engines for agents that come up frequently in the search results and contact them directly. Not all houses are put into the portals.

To verify location and maybe gather initial information about the house I had a look at

  • irishpropertywatch.ie gives a good indication how long the house is on the market and what history it had. If you see a house that is available for half a year already and went through 3 price drops you will be in a different position when negotiating than you were if the house is fresh on the market.
  • As I didn’t grow up in Dublin, I didn’t know all the stereotypes for Dublin areas, what good and what bad areas are. I find it very helpful to just walk around during the day, evening and weekend through the desired area. If you like what you see, go for it. If you doubt the social status of the people around, or if you get another bad impression, don’t go for it. If you do your hunt like me – most of the time remotely, then go for thepropertyin.ie, there you’ll find comments on most of the houses and areas. Of course – at the end it doesn’t matter as much, each area has good and bad spots, good and bad people, and the most important people – the direct neighbors – are never reviewed. So be careful not to be too shallow. Husband and I usually had a mutual understand of like/don’t like as soon as we were in a particular area.

Budget for house purchase

  • Know your limits. Don’t go over them. Never. We happened to be in 2 bidding wars where we dropped out once we reached our budget, it wasn’t easy but sensible to do. At the end we got one of the houses anyway because the other bidder pulled back. 
  • If you consider a mortgage, go to your bank and ask what the maximum amount is that you would get. Smile gently, then divide this number by 2 and take this as absolute maximum. Our bank would give us based on our current salaries maximum term mortgage maxing out our incomes as payback. That doesn’t make sense, it’s not realistic. Go for half of it, at most. You don’t want to pay off your mortgage only – all your life.
  • Be aware that the house price isn’t all you are going to pay, you will pay stamp duty (2%), solicitor fees (ca. 0.6%), valuation and survey (ca 500 Euro), modernization cost, maybe extensions and furniture/interior. If you are not sure what to expect, consult an architect/builder/forum/furniture shops/friend who recently upgraded his house. This will give you a feeling for the numbers to think of.
  • We set our total budget based on max house price + max upgrade price. That means at the end we bid on 3 houses in different states, one that had no modernization required, our bid was higher than for the other ones that required lots of work. Furniture is a separate budget.
  • Don’t believe any property agent. Their task is to sell. Don’t let them push you to commitments you are not willing to take. Be honest and accept when your and the owner’s expectations are different. If the agent lied, he’ll be back.

Budget for monthly expenses.

  • List 1: Current expenses: How much can you afford to spend in addition (mortgage payback) and to save?
  • List 2: Overlapping expenses: Our house will require 2-4 months of upgrade work, during that time we will pay rent, mortgage and need to save up for builders. Be aware that your mortgage comes with additional requirements such as
    home insurance and life insurance to cover your mortgage. Plan this into
    your budgets too.
  • List 3: Once our rent contract stopped we won’t have double expenses anymore, also builders won’t be required to be paid off. However, we need to save some money for house maintenance, some for postponed upgrades and some to do lump sum payments against the mortgage.

Costs of a mortgage:

  • Use a mortgage calculator to compare options. I found a helpful one on Google spreadsheet templates. I find it’s better to play with than digging through 15 print outs of the bank that are solely designed for the purpose to confuse you.
  • We decided finally what kind of interest rate we wanted to go for, how much of the mortgage we wanted to finance and what term we’d use. We decided to go for maximum term to give us flexibility and reduce the amount of monthly payment. This will in the first place cause a higher interest; however, we plan on paying in lump sums to reduce the mortgage and the paid interest significantly within the first 5 years. And if anything bad happens… we will still be able to pay off the rates.
  • If you need to do modernization/upgrade work on your house: Compare. Ask multiple architects, builders, solicitors, surveyors etc for fees. Go for the good ones, but check their rates.

Insurances

  • I am very pragmatic when it comes to insurances. I don’t like them, I think insurance sales persons are send from hell to threaten and scare people with risks that are rather unlikely. I got ask to get an insurance for payment protection and income protection to ensure that even if we are sick or without income that we can afford the mortgage. That sounds great in the first place, however, it will add up to additional 100 Euro or more per month that are paid for – at the end – most likely nothing.
  • I think careful budgeting and a reasonable monthly rate is far more recommendable than going for additional insurances. Setting a low mortgage rate to pay back over a long term is more sensible. To reduce it, pay lump sums whenever you can afford it.
  • Don’t compare price only. If you get a home insurance make sure it
    covers the entire property back to front, and not only the house itself.
    You don’t want to find yourself in the situation that your shed and
    garage got broken in and your insurance doesn’t cover for them.
  • Invest separately into other necessary precaution for yourself. Think about pension and how future you would like to spend the rest of your life.

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Aug 082011
 

It’s 6 weeks until the wedding and so far everything went *really* smoothly. We orchestrated our wedding, defined the events, parties, locations, budget etc. The past 8 months of preparations have been also very stressful, considering that there are two different cultures, three languages and a lot of German bureaucracy involved. Jimmy being BNO citizenship didn’t help either – no embassy is taking care of him, he has to sort out everything directly in Hong Kong:

  • Bureaucracy. Most of the countries require additional documents for a bi-national marriage, such as birth certificates with apostille, certificates of no impediments (which requires a lot of additional documents and expires usually within a couple of months), if countries do not require these documents it’s most likely that the marriage will not be acknowledged by authorities:
    • In Europe Denmark allows to get married within 10 work days, it’s the easiest way for couples like us. If you happen to live in Ireland or if you are free to travel, plan for a preparation appointment ca 4 months prior the wedding with the desired registration office. In both countries a birth certificate with apostille is required – nothing else. All other EU-country’s instructions weren’t clear or involved more documents, such as the certificate of no impediment. 
    • For a marriage in Germany I got an advice to contact a lawyer as e.g. usually a 3-month marriage visa is required which wouldn’t make sense to us as we are not living in Germany. Foreseeing more “challenges” like this I didn’t bother to have a closer look.
    • In Asia Hong Kong seems to be easy to get married too, we didn’t choose the location because my parents would have not been able to attend there because of the long travel. 
    • In America Las Vegas is the obvious option… if it is your style.
    • Bahamas, Fidschi and other far distant countries allow to get married there just with a passport within a couple of days but most of these marriages are not legally acknowledged in Europe.
  • Name change is a difficult decision and it comes with a lot of bureaucracy, especially if you can’t go to your local registration office to sort it out. In Germany there is the international Standesamt (German registration institution) which can help understanding name laws, but they can’t give any legally binding advice. The German embassy neither, so we are only partially sure what name rules will apply to us. We prefer a combined name (although for Jim it would be a bit strange as he then would hold undeniably German, English and Chinese name parts). So no decision on this one yet, but as there is no time pressure we don’t care too much. Actually, as Ireland is allowing people to rename themselves as they want it it’s kind of a running gag to call Jim with his Irish name: Seamusin Mac An Teanga :)
  • Families. Our families can’t be united as the most important parts are either too old or in an unstable health shape so that we would be too worried to put them on a long haule flight. We appreciate that some of our relatives would ignore their health and just follow us whereever we’d go but concerning health and considering worst case scenarios shouldn’t be part of marriage planning. So we decided on having a private, tiny ceremony for the legalization of our marriage and giving the families local experiences matching cultures and individual wishes and traditions. We were very open in that point and left planning to the families, so in Germany e.g. we will repeat the ceremony for my parents, in Hong Kong planning is not finalized yet. So we will have four dates for our wedding: the legalization, the Irish reception, the German wedding celebration and the Hong Kong wedding banquet. All four dates will equally count as our wedding date for us (hurray – 4 times flowers a year for me :))
  • Mothers… for most probably not a surprise that it can be challenging to please them especially as in our case they won’t attend the legalization. We tried to find satisfying solutions for them but it is tricky as we have three languages involved, and can’t talk to the future in-laws and vice versa. In heinseight I would have changed a few things how we handled this, first of all I would have given us more than a year to organize the wedding to allow us an on-site chat with each mother to explain our ideas, what we want, and what we are not going to do. We faced (and sometimes are still facing) a lot of misunderstandings which are caused by a lack of proper communication. 
  • Budget. We decided to fund our wedding ourselves and set pretty early an appropriate budget. In preparation I did do a lot of reading to understand what needs to be planned for etc. Soon it was clear to us, that a traditional budget and it’s proportions would not apply to us, as we need to plan on travelling and we both aren’t the romantic couple who wants to plan on how many doves are released or what theme our wedding will have or how to punish bridesmaids with unique color schemes. So we re-invented the entire idea and setup our own budget tracker/calculation. I will release a google sheet after the wedding.
  • Expectations and traditions. Soon we recognized whatever wedding trend was currently going on, it’s not like us. Also, traditional weddings don’t apply as our legalization is separate to the celebrations and we just decided to have this day for ourselves, to celebrate with our witnesses, getting a photographer to get nice materials for the families and for us. This has two downsides: One the one hand parts of our families are having issues to accept this decision on the other hand lot of the traditional facilities and services we can’t use because we are a too small or unusual party. 
  • Travelling – remote organization. Organizing one wedding might be stressful, now imagine, you are organizing 3 in 3 different locations… and that you do most from when you are on the road – and this year I have made trips to California, Malaysia and around Europe. I remember call-backs waking me up at 3.30 AM in the morning, sorting out a few things via facebook, mail and other online communication tools. Keeping track of all the single stages requires a lot of attention. My main duty during the day is doing my full-time job – I asked a while ago for challenges at work to avoid boredom which is in the current situation a slight draw back. Having long work days when on-site with clients, travels, wedding preparations and stress with one of the reception organizations I ended by being close to a burnout mid June this year. I was tempted to cancel / postpone the wedding and for over almost a month I didn’t want to hear a word about getting married at all.
  • Clothes. What a pain! If you have never worn a dress and didn’t give much about looks at all, finding something appropriate for a wedding is the toughest challenge of all. Trust me on that one. If one looks for a dress one will find nice, reasonably priced dresses. As soon as it is prepended with ‘wedding’ prices just increase dramatically. Why would I go for a 2kEUR dress which I am going to wear one day at most? Same applies for shoes, accessories. Also, standardization of sizes might simplify production process but certainly increases the pain of the bride to be. Hence, one can get tailored dresses which then are usually insanely priced. Thankfully I was lucky and found something wonderful in California for the receptions, a creative tailor with a good reputation in Dublin and I had a lucky find for a second dress for the legalization in Dublin.

All this trouble will end soon, our wedding is just 6 weeks ahead. Despite all the challenges from the past months I know it’s going to be awesome. It’s well prepared and there have been so many occasions where we just felt lucky as things occurred and events happened exactly when we needed it:

  • Jacq was awesome to help me on the entire clothes issue. Without her I would be still desperate and would not know what to wear. 
  • Jose and his dad: we do not only get perfect rings (which we saw initially in a Jewelery) but we will have rings with a story :)
  • Jim’s friend’s friend’s photo shoot trial with make up and some nice pics which allowed me to understand how I want to look at my wedding day and what is important for us when hiring a photographer. Also we got a few nice shots for our wedding stationary.
  • My work which happen to organize my last 5 weeks prior wedding as remote or on-site in Dublin engagements which allow me to have an almost daily life and opportunity to organize the last bits and pieces from Dublin with Jimmy.
  • A personal shopper service in a shopping mall I usually never go to. I just spotted it on the way, walked in, made an appointment and met a few days later a personal shopper who was able to ignore everything what I had said and selected something nice and sweet to wear for our legalization.
  • We have had support all the time from our friends and most of our families. I learned in the past months that my parents rock, that my brother is fantastic and probably the best brother/friend one could wish for.

Finally I want to share a really good advice I got a few months ago: “Remember, it’s not the most important day of your life”. This helps a lot when it comes to negotiating with venues and vendors as well as when trying to meet family’s expectations. 

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Jun 262011
 

We had quite some fun with the lensebaby kit we got a while ago. Since then we were considering getting the aperture kit with shaped disks. It never happened, but recently Jim found a blog post similar to this one giving instructions how to do custom shapes yourself. We created hearts and stars and started for a nightly walk through Dublin. I am quite impressed by the results. 

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