Thursday, December 06, 2007

Sorry to have neglected you...

Sorry to have been gone for so long, but sometimes life takes precedence over blogging…blasphemous sentiment, I know, but there you have it.

We are desperately trying to get our cottage rented. You see, we have a mortgage on the rental property and if two of the three units aren’t rented, those mortgage payments come out of our personal pockets, which are a bit on the flat side since we took our fabulous holiday to Durbs. The big two bedroom flat is coming vacant on March 1 so it’s important to get the flat rented so we have enough income to make the mortgage.

Two of the three flats went vacant on December 1, so we’ve been scrambling since we got back from Durban to get them advertised and shown to prospective tenants. We did manage to get the 2 bedroom flat rented and the tenants moved in Saturday, but the cottage still needed cleaning and showing and hard work makes me too tired to think, let alone blog, hence my prolonged absence.

Anyway, I just got back from showing the cottage…we’ve decided to rely on rental agents to a large degree this time because we’ve just not had good luck finding honest, reliable tenants on our own. Last year at this time we were scrambling to repair the damages and replace the furnishings as a result of inadvertently renting to a crackhead. What furnishings he did not sell (including the bed, the refrigerator and even the pots & pans!) he destroyed. We had to repair plumbing, carpets, walls, and even replace the custom-made blinds he destroyed. His six-week tenancy…at R2500 per month…cost us R20,000+ in damages. Had we the facilities to run a credit check we might have picked up on the dodgy nature of this guy, but we couldn’t and we didn’t and we paid for it…literally.

Another reason we are using rental agents is that I am sick and tired of wasting time and gas driving over to show the cottage to people who just can’t be bothered to keep their appointments. It’s only 2km to the place, but that’s 4km round trip and as much as I love my Bertha, I have no illusions about her…she is a gas hog. More important, however, is that I invest time…I drive over, unlock the place, open the blinds and windows and turn on the fan and then sit and wait…and wait…and wait…for people who don’t even have the manners to call and cancel their appointment. The agent, who stands to make a fat commission on renting out my cottage, doesn’t want to piss me off by being a no show…it’s a very competitive business and if she stiffs me, I’ll never list with her again.

Because I live so close to the rental property, it is tempting to tell these prospects to go to the cottage and call me when they get there, but my cell phone service seems to have gone to H-E-double toothpicks the last few weeks. It’s never been good and we’ve called the provider out before, but this time it just sucks. I get “missed call” messages when I’ve physically had the phone on my person and it didn’t ring. It’s not the phone…I’ve had three phones since I moved into this house and it was a problem with all of them. My friend Sally cannot use her phone at my house (same provider) and Hubby has the same problem with his. Yesterday I got a voicemail from the provider…he called and the phone never rang at my end, so he had to leave a message. The SMS notifying me of his call came several hours later when I was away from home…in a place where I have signal.

So, they send a technician out and he agrees (like the last technician) that I have crappy signal here. He wants to put a signal booster on my roof (Hubby’s solution when he tried to resolve this two years ago). Problem is, we don’t spend enough money on their crappy service! Seems our R400 per month usage is about one third of what the cell phone provider requires in order to put in this booster. Hello? So it is OK for me to spend almost R5000 per year on a service that is unavailable to me half the time and substandard the other half? What part of this equation am I not getting???

The local telephone (landline) company is called Telkom…but subscribers universally refer to it as Hellkom. And with good reason. This is the epitome of a company that exists for the benefit of their shareholders and to hell with its customers. There are never enough employees for anything you wish to accomplish with them, whether it is a simple inquiry into your bill, reporting a fault, or ordering new service. You can expect to be in a queue of no less than thirty minutes and then be served by someone who is a) clueless, b) apathetic, c) unable to think…and sometimes all three. Oh…and don’t forget rude…if you don’t accept their bulldust line “Oh, your line is fine…I know your ADSL is dead, but my computer says your line is fine!” then they get mad at you and get rude. My friend Sally moved recently and it took three weeks for her telephone line to be installed…and even longer for her internet connection. Hiring more people (there is more than 20% unemployment in this country…there are lots of people willing and able to work if someone would just give them a job!) could only improve the situation: more installers means lines installed more quickly, more customer service reps and shorter queues and both add up to greater customer satisfaction. But who in Hellkom cares when they are a monopoly and their enraged customer base doesn’t have anywhere to go? As long as the shareholders are happy with their ever-increasing dividends, who cares if the phone service is crap and the phone company is universally reviled?

If you are tempted to say “Well, it’s Africa, what do you expect?” well…don’t! The problem is not our location, it is that pernicious mindset that has crept into the country from the First World: screw the customers and f*ck the employees, just maximize profit. Telkom posts obscene profits every year without bothering to upgrade its infrastructure, improve its service, or increase its headcount. In fact, a couple of years ago, it made deep cuts in the headcount, improving profits at the expense of service. A little piece of American culture that I do not miss at all.

On a lighter note, we have had a little excitement on the block this week. Ferrets are not native to any part of Africa, so Thandiswe can be forgiven for her wide-eyed panic at seeing a ferret drinking out of one of the basins beneath the courtyard fountains the other day. She was convinced it was the biggest rat on the continent!

I found some pics on the internet of ferrets and showed them to her and she identified the animal she saw as a ferret. Once I explained to her that it probably was feeding on the mice and moles that plague us, she was a bit relieved…”It’s not dangerous?” she asked me. I am sure she was thinking of the two-month-old baby boy she brings to work, tied to her back, every day.

How did I know it was a ferret? Well, it’s been hanging around our block for a couple of months now. I suspect a neighbour had it as a pet and it escaped. Sally, who lives a block away, has seen it in her garden and I’ve seen it in the street at least twice, as my neighbour across the street. Since I’m not farming chickens and the vacant lot up the road is farming moles, I’m happy for the little varmint to stay.

Speaking of varmints…I’m deathly allergic to bees and in South Africa, nobody has window or door screens. Go figure…the mosquito capital of the planet and there are no screens! So, a bee got into the house yesterday and Hubby is on a business trip so he can’t come rescue me…what to do? Well, as luck would have it, the nasty little creature buzzed his way into the retreat, where the air conditioning doesn’t reach because I have the heavy curtains pulled. It doesn’t seem to be here today so either it found a way out or the heat baked it dead…I am hoping for the latter.

But, this morning one of my neighbours, whose back garden wall touches part of my garden wall, came by to tell me that there is a huge swarm of bees in one of the trees at the back of our property! I sent Thandiswe out to see if she could spot it (not something I am willing to risk with my allergy) and she came back saying the garden shed was full of hundreds of bees! Lord, what do I do now? Hubby is out of town and I don’t dare go out there and try to do something about it myself. Thank goodness he had the excellent foresight to install air conditioning in the bedroom last summer so I don’t have to open the windows!

Well, duty calls…must go show the cottage again…hopefully this one will show up!

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