Saturday, 20 November 2010

Shark films and documentaries

This has nothing to do with property but it's entertaining.

This is my favourite shark film. I remember watching it when I was a kid and it was so real I thought they couldn't possibly have faked it and people really did get killed to make this film - they must have chopped a leg off someone to float it in the sea and someone got bitten in half by the shark. Other films I also thought were so real they couldn't possibly have faked it (when I was a child, of course) included Planet of the Apes, American Werewolf in London and Poltergeist. Yep, I did spend my childhood living in fear of being shipped off to ape planets, running into werewolves in central London and being sucked into TVs.

Shark Attack 4
I have not watched Shark Attack 1, 2, or 3 ( but I own the DVDs as they were bought as part of a 10 disc creature feature boxset). "Best film ever made" was one review I read of it. Sadly not true, but quite hard to beat when there is a scene where a man jet-skis into the mouth of a giant prehistoric shark. There is also a scene where people partying on a boat fall off it into the mouth of the shark (in cocktail party wear) in a 1970's-falling-into-a-black-hole style. If you don't know what I mean, either watch the film itself or one of those films where someone is sucked into a black hole in a whirling fashion.

Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus
The title of this film doesn't mess around and neither does the film itself. Best bit is when the mega shark jumps out of the sea and snatches the plane between its teeth. Yee-eah!

Deep Blue Sea
Very entertaining film and I don't understand why they haven't made a sequel (or rather my husband doesn't understand why). The only annoying thing is the lady doctor who would rather protect these intelligence-enhanced sharks to harvest their brain cells to develop a cure for Alzheimer's disease than want to save the people around her that were eaten up by the sharks. But I like the cook and his parrot.

Shark documentary about shark attacks re-enacted using models
This is one of the most bizarre things I have watched. There is a shark researcher (I forget his name, but I am not making this up) who goes around interviewing shark attack victims and then re-enacts the experience with a little mannequin, the wooden ones with articulated joints that artists use, and a shark model. This is ridiculous in many ways. Firstly, the model of the shark he uses is half the size of the wooden mannequin, so yeah right, this is realistic. Then he "performs" the event with his models like a boy would if he was playing with action figures. The best bit is how this guy treats this as very serious research, when in fact all he is doing is waving a wooden figurine and a plastic shark toy around. One would have thought if they could afford to make a TV show about it they would surely beable to afford a more accurately scaled shark model.

I recently watched another shark documentary and this model man was in it. This time he was diving into waters with sharks without a cage. It introduced him as newly-wed (not sure what the relevance of that was) and showed him sitting on a boat with his wife holding hands. His wife worked with him and she also dived but was in a cage and took pictures. She was also interviewed and was prompted to gush about her husband (not sure what the relevance of that was either). Whilst they were interviewing him, or trying to, he kept diving back into the sea because the shark kept returning - wouldn't it have been easier to just stay in the water? This poor guy looked petrified. I don't think he wanted to do it but it looked like he was forcing himself to keep up with his peers as there are other shark researchers now who dive cage-free. Strangely entertaining to watch.

I have high hopes for Jaws 5.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Accidental Landlord

With the current economy and market trends more and more people are finding themselves in situations they don’t want to be or are new to them. One of them is becoming an accidental landlord because they have a property they would have sold but for various reasons have been stuck with it and are therefore renting it out instead. For example, you own a flat, you have gotten married and now live in your new spouse’s home, you would have sold your flat but there is no buyer so you let it out instead. The concept of the accidental landlord isn’t actually a new one but it has become more common recently.

Help! I’ve become an Accidental Landlord.
Don’t panic you haven’t caught an incurable disease. One of the problems of becoming an accidental landlord is that you didn’t plan to come into this business and so you may be less well prepared than those that did. People who purposefully become landlords have probably researched carefully, read books and attended courses. That is not to say that all accidental landlords haven’t done that but the likelihood is that one is not even aware of these things in the first place. Don’t feel bad about it, it’s a massive learning curve and part of the learning is finding out about the things you should know. We are not all the same, how much we want to learn and invest of ourselves into being a landlord varies between each person but what is important is fulfilling the basics.
This isn’t a how-to guide. There are already many well written articles on the internet relating to all the aspects of becoming a successful landlord. This is more of a “pep talk” for those who have become landlords reluctantly. Do you need this? Yes you do.

Pep talk 1: This is only a temporary thing, so I don’t need to take it too seriously.
Wrong, yes you do. Being a landlord means you are running your own business. If you run your business poorly you will lose money. As with any business, there are legal requirements, you need to familiarise yourself with these so you don’t get into trouble and also to protect yourself from those who may cause you trouble.
You don’t know how long you may be in this business for, so you do need to take it seriously.

Pep talk 2: I didn’t become a landlord by choice, and I have many other more important things I need to deal with in my life, so this is not a priority for me.
Unfortunately you are the owner of a property with someone living in it, be responsible for that. The home they have made in your property is just as important as your own home.
If you don’t have the time, delegate; find a good managing agent.
If your property is due to become empty, delegate; there are various services around that will help you find a tenant in good time.
What you should not do is leave things because you have other commitments and you do not see this as your main job. Doing nothing or leaving things to the last minute will cost you more in the long run.

Pep talk 3: There must be an easier way that involves less work and less stress.
Yes and no. There are basic requirements that need to be met with respect to your property (there are many sources on the internet that will tell you what these are).
Again, you can find a good managing agent which will do most of the work for you but it will cost you. Choosing a managing agent is a task in itself and making an informed choice is very important.
It is important to realise that this is a business and things can be unpredictable, being psychologically prepared for this is important especially in coping with the stress.

For those who have truly become landlords accidentally and unwillingly, do it like you mean it. If you feel your motivation waning, refer back to the pep talks above and soldier on until you can find a way out.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

COD Black Ops midnight launch

This has nothing to do with property but it's the funniest story I have listened to for a while.

If you're aware of anything in the gaming world, you'll know about the next big game is Call of Duty Black Ops. The previous release MW2 was a real success and they acquired alot more fans on the back of it . Therefore this latest one in the series has been MUCH anticipated.

My husband is a big fan and so he arranged to go to a midnight release with his brother and brother-in-law. By the way, in the run up to this, he has spent numerous hours on the internet trawling forums, posts, etc so that he can plan the best way to get his hands on a copy because it has been preducted it will sell out very quickly. I'm not really into all of this but it seems alot of others are - there were midnight launches in many of the bigger branches of supermarkets and game stores. People were actually queuing up nationwide (actually internationally, my husband found a world map locator) for this game?

So this is what happened.

Following numerous calls and texts, my husband and his fellow CODders, decided to head to a location with the most supermarkets in close proximity that were doing the midnight launch. Sainsbury's was their first stop. They thought this would be a good place to start as the Sainsbury's offer required £30 worth of groceries to qualify buying the game - they thought this would put off a lot of young men as you couldn't buy alcohol, car fuel, baby product and electricals. Some people on forums commented that they'll be buying enough baked beans for the next 20 years. Other proposed starting points were Tesco Wembley (not easy to get to), Blockbuster North Finchley (not the most obvious place to buy a game) and Asda (but would be very popular and may have long queues).

So, the three amigos drove up to their chosen Sainsbury's at around 10pm last night. When they got there, there wasn't a queue, so they decided to check out Asda down the road. Then when they go there, there was already a reasonable sized queue. Fearing that they had left a favourable situation at Sainsbury's, my husband's brother-in-law exclaimed "NOooooo, we must get back to Sainsbury's" and they made a mad dash back flying over speed humps in my husband's sisters newish Merc. Guess who wants the game more out of the three.

So they got back to Sainsbury's and it was a 2 hour wait in the cold. My husband said it was actually quite enjoyable, his brother-in-law agreed - note, both men have young children under the age of 2 and don't get out much, so this is all relative. Well, he thought it was enjoyable until at around 11pm when someone from Sainsbury's popped out an announced that all these male gamers should get into single file. So they all shuffled in line, but as it was cold, people were jiggling up and down on the spot, and as it was lots of eager men there was a lot of close body contact. Hmmmm, a long line of young men jiggling up and down behind one another - I think that's when the fun stopped for my husband.

There was also an announcement that anyone who looked younger than 25 would not be sold a game. My husband overheard some adolescents in the queue panicking, fearing they would lose their place in the queue if they left to go get some ID - they decided to ring up their parents to come drop off their passports. Comments like "are you buying a game or going on holiday?" were heard. Remember, this is nearing midnight at a local supermarket.

Another announcement was that there was only 50 of the PS3 version and 75 of the Xbox 360 version. Apparently there were about 100 people waiting to buy the PS3 one and 7 for the Xbox. My husband managed to get his hands on a game (PS3) and left promptly, fearing attack from some game-hungry young males. He was home by quarter-past-midnight. I always thought it took 20 minutes to drive to that local Sainsbury's, but now I know it doesn't when you want to get home to play a game.

Some might say it's just a game but many out there would disagree.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Bringing it home

"Marketplace" type websites have been a phenomenal success in the last few years. Look at Amazon, price comparison websites, expedia,, to name a few. Although they are all different, they all essentially bring services or products to you in your own home via your computer. Apart from the very young and very old, there are very few people who don't use a service or who don't buy something online. By the way, I'm talking about the developed countries here, so don't be a smarty pants and say "but what about the people in Outer Mongolia"? (I could have picked a bad example, they probably all have ipads and iphones out there).

Why is this? Is it because we are all so lazy we are uncapable of doing anything other than tapping and clicking motions with our fingers (like in the Disney cartoon Wall-E)? Have we all moved to places where it is impossible to go to any shops? Shall I make some more stupid suggestions? No, I'll get on with it.

Thinking about the way we live now, everything happens a lot more quickly and we expect things to. I remember in the old days, booking a holiday meant finding the time to go down to the local travel agents, where they discussed my preferences and needs. Then the holiday would be booked and I had to wait ages for the tickets to be sent to me. Or I would walk into five different shops in my local shopping centre or high street to make sure I  got the best price for a toaster. Actually, I still do that, but I also check online for the best deals and book my holidays online where I get the tickets emailed to me virtually instantly. I also use online banking as I find it difficult to get to a bank during opening hours. I also pay my bills online so I don't have to pay at a bank/post office/paypoint or even walk to the post box to send a cheque. Ha, I don't even write cheques now. I type my credit card details in so much that I can recall from memory the 16-digit number, start and expiry date and the security code.

It's great, I get about 10 things done in an hour, when I used to have to ear-mark a day just to perform one task. At the same time, we are expected to do things much quicker. For example, if bills are paid on time I am offered a prompt payment discount from British Gas and if they are paid late we are speedily sent reminders. I recently paid my British Gas bill late by a few days and I received a reminder in the post that said I my bill was "really overdue" - their idea of really overdue differs significantly from mine, but if I was owed money I might feel the same way too I suppose.

One of the main reasons why doing things on the internet is so much quicker, aside from removing the bottleneck of not finding the time to actually do it, is the fact that it doesn't require the time to walk down the street and physically go through the process of whatever it is one needs to do. Going back to my first example, if I wanted to book a holiday and I had to go to the travel agents, I wouldn't even get as far as walking out of my home because I wouldn't have the free time in the first place - which is annoying because I would book annual leave at work but not have the time to book a holiday abroad for this leave. Yes, I am that busy.

Doing things on the internet also takes away the tedious task of repeating the same process several times over just to check for the best price. For example using price comparison websites rather than making lots of calls to various companies.

So can everything be done online? That depends, obviously there are some things that can never be replaced. Can this apply to letting a property out? Yes and no. There are already online lettings agents that find tenants for you through the property portals but they cannot replace the traditional high street agents as they do not conduct viewings (which is a real deal-breaker for me as I cannot do my own viewings). There are online estate agent directories so you don't have to physically turn the pages of your Yellow Pages. A happy medium would be using Property Leaders UK to find you lettings agents who will then call you up (there is no obligation on your part) to market your property. This would combine the best of both worlds, offering you a very personalised service to meet your needs. It also means another task can be done without leaving your home like all the other things we do now from our homes quite routinely.