Archive for December, 2008

New Year cancelled in Dubai

30/12/2008

Sheikh Mohammed has cancelled New Year’s celebrations here to show solidarity with the people of Gaza.

This is an interesting one. Abu Dhabi still seems to be going ahead with Shakira’s warbling. I’m expecting venues to remain open but simply play music quietly. The refund issues will doubtless run for months in the local press.

We’ll be going to a friend’s house for a quiet meal.

Scottish Pound is rubbish – official

30/12/2008

Alexander has the info here. According to those figures the ‘Scotland pound’ is actually stronger than the ‘British Pound’, but that would have been a boring blog title.
I had a Scottish friend who lived around the corner from me while I was growing up. On a couple of occasions I’d lent him a tenner or a fiver and each time he insisted on paying me back using Scottish notes instead of the ‘normal’ English/British notes. That shouldn’t have caused a problem, as they are all legal tender, but lots of shops in London wouldn’t take them. Trying to get your local cornershop to accept a Scottish five pound note when I was buying a travelcard or a packet of sweets was always impossible!

More property joy

30/12/2008

A neighbour of ours came around today to warn us what the latest nonsense from our property company will be.

Apparently some documents are ready that give us official title over what we’ve bought. There’s a cost to pay, but this cost was clearly explained when we bought the property, so isn’t too nasty a surprise.

What is a surprise is that the property company won’t issue the deeds unless owners pay their 2009 service fees up front. 12 months’ fees are being asked for. Apparently the property company hasn’t quite decided what to charge us for 2009, so is simply saying ‘don’t worry, just pay what you did last year and if we decide to charge you a bit more, we’ll let you know’.

Readers may remember that we were promised an 8Dh per square foot service fee when we bought, were then charged 26.8Dhs per square foot for the first three months we were in the apartment, followed by having to pay for 2008’s charges in September, at a cost of 35Dhs per square foot.

This means we’re being asked to pay a fortune, upfront, with possible additional charges being levied later, only a few months after having been forced to fork out for the last lot of fees.

We can’t dispute any of this as there is no tenants’ association, something we won’t have until October 2009 as the association can only be created by the property company itself.

Money from service fees is only legally supposed to be spent on maintaining the area. Given that so many apartments in the development are sold but remain empty, my guess is that service fees are not being collected from ‘owners’ who are simply keeping their apartments empty in the hope of selling them on for a profit later. These owners have probably never collected the keys, so have never been obliged to pay their service fees, which means there’s a shortfall that we’re being asked to cover. Or maybe I am completely wrong. Who knows.

If we had a tenants’ association, the developer would have to open their accounts to justify the amount charged as service fees. I would think it reasonable to have to pay a service fee monthly or, at worst, quarterly and for the company to provide that information whether there is an association or not.

In additional news, I recently received an answer from the property company, explaining why the promised barbecue zones were never installed. Apparently they were left out because our development is ‘small and intimate’ and the zones would have created too much of a smell and disturbance. This seems an odd response from a developer that has split the area in two with a three lane road with no traffic calming – this is no access road, but a large ‘through route’, filled with people cutting their way past people’s quiet and intimate apartments, cars racing and revving their engines at night and even a doubledecker tourist bus driving past once every couple of hours. As well as this, the roads are cobbled, which increases traffic noise by a huge amount. Hardly small and intimate and an odd way to design a development.

There is still no update on our leaking roof, either. I have also not received any details on what soundproofing was placed between apartments. Now that our neighbours are using the rooms adjacent to our apartment, I can hear people chatting away, moving chairs, clicking around in high heels and so on. The amount of noise that comes through is far higher than any other apartment I have ever lived in, including budget student accommodation.

The development is lovely and I do enjoy living here. In general, it’s all very attractive and relatively well thought out. What’s ruining my and other tenants’ enjoyment of the area and our investment is a constant erosion of goodwill, thanks to a flow of unexpected and exorbitant fees, reneged promises, bad workmanship, increased traffic and general lack of thought. Goodness know what things will be like when the various towers around the area, which we knew nothing about when we bought, are built.

Richmond’s the most popular

30/12/2008

It appears that my hometown Richmond, in Surrey, is the most widely copied British place name worldwide, according to this article in The Times.

This news gives me an excuse to promote my dad’s blog, Richmond-upon-Thames Daily Photo, which gets better with every post, in my humble, unbiased opinion.

Great British Engineering

19/12/2008

Today’s planned excursion to the East Coast came to a speedy cropper when Mrs Saul’s Range Rover died, half an hour outside of Dubai.

We were whizzing along at 100Kmh when the car began shuddering. I pulled over to the side where it stalled and refused to start – lots of whirring and false starts, but clearly going no further. I was glad this happened on a straight, empty road, rather than on the dangerous, crowded roundabout we’d passed through five minutes previously.

We got a tow truck to take the car to the independent garage we use when we don’t have to have it at the dealer, dropping us off at home on the way. Fortunately the habitually reliable Wrangler saved the day, transporting us to one of Dubai’s parks for a walk later.

I’ve never had a car fail on me so completely in my life. I’m expecting that this is something electronic and simple to fix – possibly related to a recent ignition coil replacement. Taking it back to the dealer and waving technical incompetence in their faces to complement their general customer service incompetence would be some recompense.

Whilst I’ve never had a car let me down so badly, I’ve never owned something that, when it’s working, is so utterly wonderful to drive. Were I not living in Dubai I would never have the chance to own a car like this. I actually look forward to tackling Dubai’s traffic in the car. I can’t wait to get in at the weekend to breeze off in any direction, comfortable, cocooned, relaxed. It’s a crazy vehicle and a once in a lifetime chance to own one. We’ve rattled around in tiny, old cars for years. We love this ridiculous living room on wheels, that does 0-60 in just over 7 seconds, floating us from destination to destination.

Depending on what causes the problem, this is the car’s first or second strike. A five year old vehicle like this should not be failing in such a dramatic fashion. Nothing I’ve read or heard tells me that Land Cruisers, Patrols, X5s, Cayennes or Q5s suffer from ‘questionable’ quality. The Range Rover towers over its competition in terms of looks, comfort, on and offroad ability, but what’s the point of that if Land Rover engineers can’t build something that bloody works as advertised? Yes, I knew what I was getting into when I bought it, but it’s so disappointing when reality bites. Maybe this is a one off, but I suspect it isn’t. Can I trust it to take us on any long trips? Do I really want to continue thinking we’ll use it to head all the way up to Salalah during an Eid break? Do I want the thing failing on Mrs Saul, leaving her to try to veer across to the hard shoulder, hemmed in by Dubai’s average morning rush hour driver?

Much more of this and it will be sold, I will shed a tear for British Engineering and buy a Nissan Patrol. I am hoping against hope that I will not be yet another Land Rover customer who bids goodbye to his dream of owning such a beautiful car, made by a brand he’s admired for years, but which has let him down and forced him to plump for the infinitely dull but infinitely reliable Japanese competition.

It’s lucky Gordon wasn’t on the trip with us, or he definitely wouldn’t think they deserved bailing out.

Dubai rents falling…

19/12/2008

...at last.

I have no idea what kind of people were paying what was being asked previously. Maybe I’m simply out of touch, but I have no idea who can afford to pay between 2,000 to 2,600 UK Pounds a month for a single bedroom apartment and still think it financially worth being over here rather than back in the UK.

Sun’s married person’s housing allowance is generous, but what would have allowed me to rent a nice three bedroom villa five years ago would now not cover a single bedroom apartment in the area where we now live (thank goodness we bought).

The market here is also very distorted. There’s a rent cap in place, which protects existing tenants – a good thing, in general. This means that some of our friends effectively live for free in their villas, paying their rent capped rates but sub-letting a room or two to people at near market rates, whilst the same villa next door might be freshly rented out to someone at four times the price their neighbour is paying.

Long standing, rent capped houseshares might see 5 people sharing a villa for around 120,000Dhs (approx $33,000) a year between them, with garden, splash pool, free gym and community pool. When that houseshare breaks up, for whatever reason, those 5 former tenants might find themselves each paying around 170,000Dhs (approx $46,000) a year to live in a small apartment, with limited parking or facilities.

I can’t see lower rental prices being anything but a good thing for Dubai’s longer term well-being.

Cold

16/12/2008

I have a slight cold. Hardly surprising for this time of year, but I can never get used to feeling like this when in Dubai.

Feeling under the weather amongst palm trees and sunshine never seems right.

Fined again

14/12/2008

Mrs Saul’s got another speeding fine. 600Dhs ($163) for doing 100Kmph in an 80 zone.

Speeding’s wrong, obviously, but what a pain to be fined again. This fine was given on a stretch that used to be a two lane road and has now been enlarged to a four lane road. If you do 80 on it, people come up behind you and flash you out of the way, plus people’s general assumption is that a road that large in Dubai would have a limit of at least 100Kmph.

Still, if 80’s the limit…

Drat.

I hope that the mobile unit who got us are part of the team that recent news reports say are actively pulling over dangerous drivers, regardless of their speed, during rush hour traffic.

How to annoy your customers

14/12/2008

I have a Citibank Visa card which I use for all my work related travel expenses, which means a fair amount goes through it every month.

As it’s not possible to do direct debits from my main current account with HSBC, every month I have to transfer money from my HSCB current account to my Citibank current account, so that Citibank Visa can then debit my Citibank current account to pay off my bill. It’s a pain having to do this manually every month, but there you go.

I’m probably a bad customer, as I always pay my credit card off in full, every month.

Recently I noticed that Citibank were charging me 10Dhs a month ‘relationship charges’ on my current account. I called to ask them what this ‘relationship charge’ is – apparently it’s a charge made every month as I don’t maintain a current account balance of 35,000Dhs or more (about $10,000)! It seems a little unreasonable to charge for a current account in 2008, especially when the bank is making a lot out of my credit card transactions. If I didn’t have a credit card, they’d be charging me 100Dhs a month!

These seems odd to me. Interest on current accounts is minimal anyway and maintaining $10,000 in a current account seems pretty pointless.

I doubt that Citibank apply these fees in European countries, or am I wrong?

Frog jumps off next door neighbour’s roof

14/12/2008

It had to happen at some point.

Article here.

We’re priveledged enough to see the Burj Dubai from our balcony, some pics here.