Thursday, 5 December 2013

Buying a Flat, Part I

(Blog revival, this time not even going to attempt to say I'll post more often, though there'll probably be a few more sequels to this)

So, in the last month or so I've begun the process of buying a flat. And have created this blog for two things. One is to vent, and the other (perhaps more useful) one is to maybe inform friends reading this, because as far as I know I'm the first person out of my closer friends to actually start buying a place rather than renting. And because I'd assume that they, like me, know basically fuck-all about what the hell it really entails.

I'm 23. I've been to a pretty good secondary school and one of the best universities in the world, and I didn't really know jack-shit about what the process for buying a house actually is. Because that's the kind of useful thing that you just never get taught at school. Ever. Not even like it was mentioned but fuck that shit it's in a general studies period so I don't need to go and can't be arsed. It's just not covered.

We get things like:
  • Histograms - I swear nobody in the real world ever uses these except when they're just using the name to technically describe what everyone else would say is a regular bar-chart [for the record, I'm an engineer. I'm aware there's a technical difference], because a bar-chart where values actually depend on width as well as height and none of the columns are the same width just looks completely derp (though is at least better than keeping the bars the same width when the sample bins aren't the same size).
  • The kind of literary devices you only see in artsy novels and poetry - probably not useful to most people. Especially unnecessarily when an annoyingly high proportion of people leaving school apparently don't understand the fucking difference between "their" and "they're", and "your" and "you're". Or that IT'S FUCKING "SHOULDN'T HAVE" NOT "SHOULDN'T OF".
  • How Ox-bow lakes are formed. Like seriously, I distinctly remember learning this in primary school then early secondary school and then *again* in GCSE Geography. I've spent a fair share of time travelling around the UK and I've yet to actually consciously come across one to my own knowledge - I feel cheated at how rare these bloody things apparently actually are that I had to spend so much damn time learning over and over again how they come to be. 
  • Latin... OK that's probably more product of going to a public school.
Shit we don't get:
  • Anything to do with taxes. That stamp duty is a thing (relevant to the flat buying). What the fuck your P60 form is actually for. If it wasn't for the fact that I'm not self-employed and therefore as far as I know all my required taxes just come out of my salary automatically by some witchcraft stealing a good chunk of my money, then I'd have absolutely no fucking idea how much I owe or how to work it out.  
  • That homeopathy is complete bollocks and a complete waste of money and please people stop keeping these twats in business by buying power bracelets and magic water and other dumb shit.
  • The highway code, so that people who haven't explicitly had driving lessons still have at least a vague idea of what the fuck they're doing and how traffic junctions work when they're twatting about on the road (or pavement) on a bicycle in Cambridge.
  • How to write a CV that isn't complete shit. Or actually, how to write a CV at all. Until I got a solid guide from the university careers service about two years ago when I was seriously looking for jobs, my CV was absolutely fucking garbage. To the extent that when I got around to writing a decent one I actually had to start from scratch because it was too bad to re-forge my existing one into anything that would actually class as passable.
  • How to tie a bloody bow tie. And I got a posh private education an' all.
  • Everything that buying property entails, and how you get a mortgage past the fact that you get them from banks...
 I don't know if it's because we're just expected to have all these fairly key bits of information bestowed upon us by parents or other social elders or something, or if there's just this attitude of "fuck it, you're an adult by the time this stuff matters, figure it out on your own". But either way there's a ton of useful life stuff we don't get taught, and that's way before you start getting into fluffier stuff like how to be good in job interviews or basic cooking or relationships or how to tell when people are actually assholes...

I will admit some responsibility here, because we do live in the world of the internet, and I didn't actually bother to really look much of this shit up. I've actually had the whole house/flat-buying plan for about 18 months ago - that I would rent a place for about a year to settle in with my job and confirm I do actually want to keep working there, and then I'd buy a place. Because as much as having to sell it off if I decide I want to move, renting is pretty shit financially. It's basically pissing away several hundred pounds a month just for the ability to live somewhere, compared to a mortgage where you're at least putting a solid chunk of that into personal equity. So yeah, I've had the best part of a year to research this, and I haven't, so can't place all the blame on schools.

Up until about a month ago, my basic knowledge of the whole house/flat-buying process was this:

1) Find house you want and tell estate agent you want it
2) Go to bank and get mortgage
3) ????
4) Profit!

Will say straight up, that step two is horrendously over-simplified there. But first with step one, because that's not anywhere near as easy as I thought it would be either.

First off, I'm looking for a place in Cambridge, where house prices it turns out are brutally expensive. You can either live in a somewhat expensive place in the Fens somewhere, a fairly expensive place right out on the edge of the city, or a really expensive place some useful distance from the city centre and train station.

Secondly, the market moves stupidly quickly. The first place I viewed went up on Rightmove on a Thursday. I phoned, asked for a viewing on Saturday morning. I viewed it, and then I umm'd and ahhh'd a bit over it. Because it was nice, but I kind of figured if the place was really the right place I'd fall in love with it. But then it was nice... but then it was the first place I'd viewed... but then oh never mind because on Monday I was phoned and told that someone else had already bid the asking price. Literally about half a week after I'd first seen the property on a website that I was checking on a twice-daily basis. Fuck.

So I went to see another place, and it sucked. And then another place, and it was amazing. It had the ~falling in love~ aspect that I was worried I hadn't got from the first place I saw. It was a nice size, really good location (near the train station and a leisure complex and two supermarkets), and financially really good.

The place is actually shared ownership, meaning that I buy a percentage of the property from the company that built and owns the complex, and I pay a chunk of rent on the percentage I don't own. In some instances that rent is actually pretty substantial. In this instance, it's a rate of about 2.5% per year of the value - in comparison to the 4% I'd be losing in interest on a mortgage if I was having to buy the whole thing. And I only need to afford a mortage on something that's about £80k rather than £180k.

I was viewing about 7 flats, with at the very least about 15 people viewing them that morning. And out of those 7 one of them (in my opinion) was clearly the best one, so I panic-phoned the estate agent to try and reserve it.

"Yeah sure, just come and fill in a reservation form and give us a cheque for £250"
"A cheque... it can't be cash or card?"
"Sorry, it has to be a cheque"

Literally stumbling block number one. Not one that I'd expect a lot of people might have, but the last time I used a cheque was over two years ago, and I didn't even have a chequebook for my current account, so this involved some scrambling around to find an old one and actually put money into the account that it was for.

So then I go, and I'm all prepped up to fill this form in and get the place reserved. But the questions on the form are really hard. Questions like:

"Please list the name and address of your solicitor"
"Please list the details for your mortgage providor"
"Please provide copies of your three most recent payslips"

Well fuck. Two of those I've not even properly looked into yet, and the other one sure but it's not something I bloody carry around with me (I actually leave them at work because I figure I'm less likely to lose them there).

I'm told it's OK and I can just leave those bits blank and come back to them later (so like school exams then...?) and that I had the property reserved (FIRST VICTORY!). Though at this point I've gone from not even having found a place at 10am that morning, to suddenly NEED MORTGAGE NOW and NEED SOLICITORS NOW and things have gotten very real. And a lot of paperwork to be required. Lots of paperwork.

Will say at this point that mortgages I kind of had a feel for. Because I'd expected I was going to need one (like seriously, you can't even buy a parking garage in Cambridge for much less than £15,000, let alone a place to actually live). And whilst I knew from having heard that I was going to need solicitors, I still had very little idea what solicitors actually did and why I apparently definitely needed them. But I've since learnt that apparently they do most of the weird magic stuff in the ???? part 3 of my current 4 step plan. And they will charge about the same as you'd expect real fucking fairies and unicorns to cost to do it too.


Thursday, 14 March 2013

CeBIT and IEM 2013

So, last week I went to CeBIT, which is, according to Wikipedia at least, "the world's largest and most international computer expo". It's held in Hannover, so conveniently I could stay with md, skipping the faff and expense of trying to find a hotel to stay in.

Travel was reasonably straightforward, though neither Ryanair nor EasyJet seem to fly from anywhere convenient to Hannover direct, so I had to fly to Bremen and then get the train across. Everything went moderately OK, aside from trying to pay for a tram ticket from the airport to Bremen Hbf, as the ticket machine didn't accept anything bigger than a €10 note and as a fresh-faced tourist I only had twenties. As it happened there was a fairly friendly German guy who swapped me some change and also chatted to me on the tram ride.

CeBIT itself was huge. That said, there was a huge amount of serious business IT stuff that I really didn't care for (CRM software, anything SAP, etc). A lot of it is business-orientated, whilst for the most part we were interested in consumer electronics type stuff, so several of the halls we just breezed through pretty quickly.

There were some interesting items, like a company specialising in bamboo computer peripherals (and bamboo as in the wood, not Wacom tablets)

Lian-Li (PC case manufacture) had some fairly novel stuff too

As well as an absolute behemoth of a PC case

The thing was huge. There was a whole section of it where we had no idea what would actually go in there. Or why you'd ever reasonably need a PC case that big.

Loads of Chinese companies were floating around, selling iPhone cases and really tacky gaming mice/keyboards and the like. Also some more interesting Asian things, like Korean robots:

They danced Gangnam Style, obviously. They also have a super Engrishy website. The expert kits cost $1500 though, which seemed a bit pricey for a Christmas present.

There were plenty of 3D printers on display too. A year ago I'd have probably drooled over them, but most of them were pretty ghetto and cheap replicator-type kits for home use, meaning anything they produced was pretty naff compared to the stuff we get off the Objet at work (I'm a 3D printer elitist now, apparently)

Also touch display everything. EVERYTHING. Even touch display air:

As part of CeBIT there's also the gaming hall, home to stuff like previews of the new Tomb Raider release, eye-tracking gaming control software demos, and also the Intel Extreme Masters World Championships, which is where we spent most of our time once we'd seen everything else.

We almost exclusively paid attention to the StarCraft II section, rather than the League of Legends one (because LoL is for nubs and douchebags, obviously).

With $100k prize money IEM is pretty big as tournaments go, and this was also the first proper tournament to have the Heart of the Swarm expansion (released this week) included. Plus it was the first time I've ever seen major eSports stuff live, rather than on internet streams (or GSL in the tiny studio it's filmed in), so that aspect was cool. My inner nerd was happy.

There's the weird aspect too of the players mingling in the crowd between games. I randomly bumped into Stephano (the best EU player, by earnings if not also general opinion) whilst buying a hot-dog, and the segregation between the crowd and the stage/players areas was pleasantly minimal.

As expected the Koreans dominated, and all of the top four were from the Korean, LG-sponsored Incredible Miracle team. A lot of the games were pretty intense though, and it was cool to see how strategies and gameplay developing through the tournament at a pro level with the new expansion units and abilities.

Outside CeBIT the evenings were mostly spent chilling and watching movies (including Fargo, both Total Recall films, the ridiculous Shaolin Soccer, The Shawshank Redemption - probably my favourite film of all time after Pulp Fiction). And md had a cold and muf had a cold, so naturally by the end of the week I left sniffling and sneezing too.

And there was snow. In fricking March.

But yeah, all in all was a good week. Had fun, and it was also nice to get some time off work and blast through some stuff on my Kindle during travelling too (now just over halfway through the 3rd A Song of Ice and Fire book).

Sunday, 3 March 2013


The last nine months or so have not been the first time that I've not made posts to this thing in a while, but they are almost certainly the longest drought. And after every drought, I'll make a post coyly suggesting that I might make more posts on here, but not promising anything. Well not this time. This time I'm promising stuff. Maybe I'll have to handcuff myself to the desk until I write something (like that would help - I'd still be able to Facebook and play DotA perfectly fine), but more posts will get written.

It's kind of neat that since I stopped posting people have actually picked up on it - it kind of showed to me that people did actually read it. Or maybe they had just noted that it was no longer getting spammed on their Facebook pages and were actually commenting in a "Oh, you've finally decided to give up that rubbish thing?". I don't know.

I mostly stopped writing regularly because Uni life started getting way too hectic. And then a whole bunch of things happened that I wanted to write about (the UK Tetris Open and my trip to Korea, amongst others), but I had too much on at the time to do it, and then three or four weeks later it seemed like the time had gone.

The main problem I have at the moment, or have had for the last few months, is that I feel that the only interesting things going on in my life revolve around relationship stuff and personal feelings (which I won't talk about publicly on here because I don't want to), or my job.

I love my job, and it is something I genuinely find interesting and would love to bore people at length with. I attempt to do science, and that itself is typically interesting* and has a lot of cool aspects to it.

Add an oversized lab coat and this is basically my weekday life

The main issue with my job is that it's all commercially sensitive and covered by Non-Disclosure Agreements and such, and therefore I'm not allowed to talk about it. Or not to any level of detail that would actually be interesting. It also means that my nan thinks that I work developing weaponry (I don't) and that's why I can't talk about it, because she apparently doesn't understand any other reason why I'd have to be so secretive.

So yeah, maybe in two or three years when things I've worked on start getting released to market (or the projects are so dead nobody cares any more), I'll have a ton of interesting shit* that I can talk about, but that's a while off yet. But until then the fact is that I spend 45 hours a week doing something that produces next to zero potential content for this blog.

The reason I'm restarting this right now is that I go to CeBIT next week, which should have a ton of interesting things*, as well as the Intel Extreme Masters World Champs. And then a couple of weeks later I go to Barcelona with my parents (yay for holidays where I don't have to pay for everything!). Both I expect should give me some cool photos and stuff to write about, and hopefully spurn a bit of activity here.

As for beyond that, I don't know. I've recently bought a Kindle and actually started reading again, so there are things I'd potentially like to comment on there. If nothing else, I might use this to start doing things that I'd quite like to do but never actually bother with - like proper cooking/baking, maybe getting out a bit more, and all that sort of thing.

So this time, I'm committing to writing more stuff for this again. I'm not committing to what I write actually being any good, or worth reading, but eh, that's not my problem anyway.

As an aside, I'd also like to work on a new theme, because the banner is old and I'm feeling sensible enough to switch from the dodgy white-on-black theme I used to have. I'll probably slowly get around to it, but if anyone wants to help me on that and/or create graphics, I'd appreciate the support.

*May not actually be interesting to anyone who isn't me