Thursday, September 30, 2010

The surprises never end...

Days 5 and 6: Moving in and unpacking

Don’t you just love it when the left hand knows absolutely nothing about what the right hand is doing??

This house, unlike the house in Cape Town, does not have a securely covered patio to shelter doggies from rain, nor does it have a snug dog house like Hell House. We therefore ventured back to the wilds of Four Ways (the traffic was horrific even on Saturday) and bought a dog house, which was scheduled for delivery around 10 am Monday morning. Today is Monday and when the poochie palace hadn’t arrived by 2 this afternoon, I put in a call. “The delivery guys are running late,” the woman explained to me on the phone. “But you will have it this afternoon.” A few minutes later my phone rang…it was another person from the dog house place, calling to inform me that they didn’t have the house I wanted (and have already paid for) in stock, that it won’t be available until later in the week, perhaps not until Wednesday. When I asked about the delivery commitment made at the time of sale, I was told “she doesn’t work on the weekend, she doesn’t know.” Huh? Any way you slice it, no dog house today and there is apparently some serious miscommunication going on at the place that is now holding a big chunk of our money without having provided product in return.

Yesterday, Day 5, was spent running around collecting various bits and bobs necessary to make a life in this house: an extension for the baby gate so that the Yorkie (whom Hubby has recently nicknamed Chewbaba for her penchant for destroying a rawhide chew in short order) can’t slip out into the garden unnoticed. She’s not water safe yet and the pool is disgusting, so I can’t teach her, so the gates stay up. We had to return to the pharmacy because they forgot one of my prescriptions (how does that happen??), pick up a little something for dinner, and find a doorbell and a mailbox, since this house needs both.

The antiques business in this town seems better than in Cape Town: we went to the monthly antiques fair held at Sandton City and I saw some lovely European pieces, things we don’t often get in California and are in short supply in the Western Cape. Johannesburg, after all, was the centre of mining wealth and the gracious living it could provide, so many of the accoutrements of that lifestyle grace the antique fair tables. From Waterford crystal to Wedgwood jasperware to clamshell-shaped silver Victorian biscuit barrels to lovely Royal Albert porcelain tea services, it was all there, beautifully displayed to tempt one’s pocket.

We had lunch at a seafood restaurant called Montego Bay. I had hopes that the name reflected the menu choices, but no such luck. No conch chowder, no stone crab, no tropical fruit salads to appeal to the palate, but the Scottish salmon was tender and delicate, the mashed potatoes surprisingly tasty. I have to admit to being a bit of a Philistine in this regard, however, for as nice as the salmon was, I really couldn’t tell if it was from Scotland, Norway, Cape Town, or even off the Oregon coast. Perhaps because I am not a fish aficionado, they all taste the same to me? Ordinarily I detest fish, salmon being one of the notable exceptions. I grew up with fresh-caught (and subsequently home frozen or smoked) salmon from the Oregon coast and, frankly, this Scottish salmon tasted much the same to me.

Today, Day 6, was another day of unpacking. We have not fully unpacked the kitchen, but the necessity of finding Hubby’s work clothes overshadowed that. By the end of the day, however, we had pretty much located most of his wardrobe and, as a bonus, mine as well. After a few loads of laundry were run through the machine and attacked with an iron, we’re on our way back to normality, at least where the wardrobe is concerned.

The quote from the plumber for replacing the staff quarters toilet and repairing four others was a shocker: R10,000!! That is a substantial sum of money…we are paying R2,000 to have the pool fixed, including digging up the lawn and removing and replacing some of the paving! And no quote for chasing down the electrical problems has even been submitted, so we still have that to deal with. Tomorrow a handyman is coming to assess a myriad of little problems, including the shelf runner that has fallen out of the cupboard wall, and installing the mailbox that seems to have disappeared from the front of the house. The law says you have to leave curtain rods and the sellers did…but apparently the law is silent on the condition of said rods and the rod above a large window is apparently non functional…I can’t even figure out how to hang a curtain on it, so either something is missing from the thing or…well, I dunno, but maybe this handyman fellow can figure it out for me.

And so Day 6 winds down, nothing dramatic to report except the effort to drag my eyebrows back into their normal position after hearing that plumbing quote…maybe the handyman can replace toilets at something more reasonable? Tomorrow, I suppose, will tell.

The updates continue...

Doc is scheduling my second surgery for next Wednesday, so a week from today I will be restored to perfect vision, something I have not had since my grade school years. If my right eye's visual acuity is any indication of what it is going to be like, I am wondering why this is not offered as a remedy for plain old near-sightedness, the change is SO dramatic!

Herewith, more of the move:

Day 4: Moving in

Today is Saturday. Thandiswe has the weekend off, but we are headed to Makro (Costco clone) and she’s coming with us so that she can stock up on her staples. The pool looks nasty, white foam floating on the top of green water…and we are discovering that Mr. and Mrs. Seller might not have been the tidiest of householders, that pool being only the tip of the iceberg.

Having found a few pots and pans yesterday, I endeavoured to do a wee bit of cooking at breakfast time, only to discover that the kitchen stove…a fairly new ceramic job…is something less than clean. When cleaning the stove prior to moving out, the knobs on the stove were not removed to clean under them. So, when I turned the stove on, I felt and heard a kind of grittiness that, when I removed a knob to check, revealed a thick build up of brown, sticky, grainy debris…a build up of long standing caused by things overflowed during cooking and not quickly (or thoroughly) cleaned up.

We ran about this morning, got our monthly Makro purchasing done and took a tour through the massive Pick n Pay Hypermart (supermarket on steroids) both to show Thandiswe what it was about and to spend a little money. I got the sheet vinyl for her floor and she picked out a paint colour for her room then, while Hubby lingered in the pharmacy, waiting for them to fill some prescriptions, T and I moseyed over to the appliances section. Yow! The Bosch dishwasher I have been coveting was on sale and Hubby said “use your credit card and buy it.” So, Tuesday, a brand new dishwasher will grace my kitchen, my first since I left the US.

Our new house does not have a securely covered patio like the house in Cape Town nor is there a dog house like Hell House, so we have to provide the Maltese Mafia with some kind of protection from the weather. So, off to a lumber yard in the old neighbourhood which is reputed to carry a well-made line of wood dog houses. Monday, Nash and Candy will have a new house, snug and dry, to protect them from the elements.

This house is flush with windows…the main bedroom and the study have sliding glass doors that lead to the terrace, the lounge (living room) has a sliding glass door that leads to the sunroom which boasts TWO sets of sliding glass doors to the terrace. The sunken lounge has three large windows and the guest bedroom has two and I have no curtains for any of them except the guest room…and for it I don’t have enough! The TV room gets some ferocious sun in the afternoon, so today I bought some draperies for the room, only to discover that, while the sellers left the curtain rods (as required by law…they are a fixture), the one above the largest window is damaged and I can’t hang a curtain from it. Grrr…this gets SO aggravating!

The doorbell doesn’t work, the remote control for the bedroom air conditioner didn’t work until we replaced the battery (so how did the electrician certify the wiring to THAT as being functional??), but the good news is that the ceiling fan in the TV room worked fine, and the batteries for its remote were not corroded and leaking inside their bay like the ones for the ac.

Poor Thandiswe can’t move into her room until we have done the work to it, but the empty rental cottage is turning out to be a blessing. We have given her leave to use the bathroom there (she prefers a tub and the guest room bathroom has only a shower) and the kitchen so that she can resume doing her own cooking (her preference). Yorkie is getting used to the new house, still sniffing and exploring every nook and cranny she can fit her tiny self into, and Nash and Candy seem to like their new quarters…I caught Nash rolling on his back on the grass out there, luxuriating in the warmth of the sun and the cushy surface beneath him.

More work…and purchasing…tomorrow, but if you don’t count the leaking toilets, the green and foamy pool, and the cranky door locks on the Mercedes, today was a pretty good day.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

More updates...

Surgery is over...for the first eye. Some discomfort but nothing to complain about, and when I remove the bandage to put in the prescription eye drops, the difference in the vision between the two eyes is amazing! My left eye looks like I am peering through a brownish-yellow filter, the right eye looks like somebody has over-used the "brightness," "contrast," and "sharpen" filters!!

Here's another installment of the Saga of the Move from Hell House:

Day 3: Moving in

Ah, things just cannot go smoothly for me…why do I keep expecting each problem to be the last? Poor Hubby woke up this morning with his left foot swollen and tender and gouty…now that is a truly painful condition, akin to my broken foot (but more easily resolved). So, he spent the morning in bed and the rest of the day hobbling about dealing with the horde of workmen who descended on the place.

The news is not good: the pool problem is major, serious, and very, very expensive to fix; the electrical problems are potentially a problem, and one of those toilets not only needs to be replaced, the seller knew it was a problem and concealed it from us by trying to glue together the crack in the toilet base!! The good news is, we’ve reported it to the law firm that handled the transfer of the deed and they apparently will be addressing the problem with the seller.

The pool has a “suction leak” which, to fix, necessitates taking up some of the brickwork around the pool and then digging a trench in the lawn back to the pool pump, and replacing the hose that runs from the pump to the pool. This is neither a cheap nor an easy fix, but it must be done. Did the seller really think he could get away with this? In this country, houses are sold voetstoots (FOOT stu its) or “as is.” What some sellers do not seem to understand is that the voetstoots door swings both ways…not only is the buyer obligated to accept the house in the same condition it was in at the time of sale (i.e., the condition it was in at the time the buyer viewed the house), the seller is obligated to deliver the house to the buyer in that same condition. The only exception to the voetstoots is intentionally concealed defects (like a cracked toilet glued together so it didn’t leak during the showing) and electrical faults.

At the time we viewed the house, none of the toilets were leaking…I suspect the seller turned off the water inlets to the toilets because they all leak noisily…had the water inlets been open, only a deaf person could have missed the sound. The pool was pristine and a pure crystalline blue…it is now not only green, but it has a nasty white foam floating on the top of it, a far cry from the beautiful pool we signed up for. But the electrical is a whole other ball of wax, and this one may come back to bite the seller in the butt.

Before transfer can be effected, the seller of a house must provide an electrical clearance certificate. It is a standardized form and a real, bona fide electrician must inspect the electrical system and certify it compliant with the law and codes. Anything that is not compliant must be replaced or repaired before the certificate is issued and transfer is delayed until the certificate is presented to the conveyancing attorneys. The seller of this house held off on getting the certificate until the last possible minute…we suspected it was because he didn’t want to pay occupational rent (once the certificate was in, transfer occurred within 48 hours, and he became our tenant) but now I am wondering if there was more to it than just that.

Yesterday we had a contractor come in to look at the plumbing and electrical problems. He was the one who discovered the glued toilet but more importantly, he says there is a problem with the electrical certificate: the electrician who issued the certificate obviously did not do what the law requires him to do and he certified the electrical system in this house without knowing if it is in proper operating condition or not. How do we know this? More than half of the light switches in the house do nothing and more than half of the light bulbs in the house are either burnt out or missing…how do you certify the electrical system operational if you flip a switch and it does nothing? How can you certify the electrical system operational if you cannot get a light to turn on?

While the contractor was here, Hubby called the conveyancing attorney and put him on the phone with her. She is not happy with what she heard and told Hubby that the seller was going to have to pay for the fix both to the pool and the electricals. We’ve had to sue a seller after purchase for this kind of shenanigan before and it was neither cheap nor pretty…I guess we’ll have to see what comes up with this one, eh?

The kitchen is almost unpacked. Thandiswe worked her butt off and has done a great job of getting it set up. Tomorrow we go to Makro for the monthly stocking up and we’re going to stop and get some vinyl flooring for her room and some paint so she can put it together. She’s staying in the guest room right now, I can’t expect her to live in a room with a bare cement floor, dirty walls and a leaking toilet…but we’ve got to get her space ready so that the guest room is available at the end of the month when my MIL comes to stay with us while I recuperate from the eye surgery. So, tired as we are, work continues apace…only Thandiswe gets the weekend off!

What I've been up to...

Today I go in for cataract surgery, the first of two. I probably won't be doing a lot of writing over the next couple of days or so, so I'll start publishing the things I wrote chronicling the move from Hell House to our new digs...herewith, installment 1:

Day 2: Moving in

Day 1 was simply unloading the truck…and what a job that was! But I’m gonna have to go on record here saying that if you are packing up a full household and moving anywhere, whether it’s across town or around the world, seriously consider Elliott International. If I ever have to move again, I promise you, I will give them my business. What was an endless nightmare with Biddulphs was almost a pleasure with these guys. So today, Day 2, we begin the task of opening hundreds (literally) of boxes and finding space for everything.

This is a strange house. When we first saw it, we were impressed with the size of it and its open, airy quality. This is a tough market in which to sell a house and this house had two offers on its first open house (show house), despite the fact that from the street it is kind of an ugly house and built of exposed brick, something about 30 years out of fashion here. So, when we got here and looked at the empty rooms, both Hubby and I remarked on how it seemed smaller than we remembered. And yet, yesterday, when Hubby got home from work and walked into a furnished house, he said he thought it was strange because the house now seemed bigger with furniture in it…and I have to agree.

I have yet to figure out what the last owners had against us, but obviously there was something going on in their heads…the house was in considerably less than prime condition and we are going to be spending rather a large amount of money of fixing urgent problems. For example, I don’t know what they did, but all of the toilets leak. I would have noticed toilets running like a full-on faucet when we came through, so either they shut off the water to the toilets while the house was being shown, or they have managed to damage five out of six toilets since March. The toilet in the maid’s quarters actually is leaking onto the floor, and the four toilets in the house run constantly…only the toilet in the cottage seems to be in decent order.

The kitchen has its problems, too…the fridge doesn’t fit the fridge hole, to it’s sitting in the dinette, and the sink was installed backwards (the built-in drain board on the wrong side). Also, there is a cupboard with pull out baskets for potatoes and onions and such, and one of the rails has pulled loose from the side wall of the cupboard. Rather than repair it, the basket was simply removed and put on the bottom of the cupboard. Since we are planning to do an extensive remodel of the kitchen, that’s not so much a problem in and of itself…it is simply evidence of the kinds of neglect and…I dunno…disregard?...the sellers have demonstrated.

For example, three rooms of the house come with “under-carpet” heating. Now, this consists of a felted pad with heated wires running through it, rather like an electric blanket, that goes under the room carpet. This does not plug into the wall, this is hard wired into the house’s electrical system and it is therefore considered a “fixture.” Because the carpets were not installed wall-to-wall carpets, however, because they were cut to fit the under-carpet heating pad, edge-bound, and then laid over the heating pads, apparently the seller did not consider these carpets to be fixtures, they rolled them up and took them away, leaving me with big ugly carpet pads where the carpets should be. Now, I must go have carpets cut and bound to cover the pads because the pads cannot be simply disconnected, rolled up and stored: either I get new carpets to cover them or I cut the wires…thereby destroying one of the house assets. Why couldn’t they have just left the carpets? Taking those carpets is like taking the drawers out of the kitchen because they are not fixed to the wall like the cupboards!!

It gets better. I don’t think I have ever seen so many light switches (78 of them!!) in a single house in my life, light switches (46 of them) that seem to do absolutely nothing. Truth is, more than half the light bulbs in the house are dead, so we cannot figure out which switch goes to which light because more than half of them are dead!

I pride myself on being both practical and prepared, so in packing up for the move, I had T pack a box with paper towels, toilet paper, and other such necessities. Sure enough, we got here and out of six bathrooms, there was a grand total of one…just one!...roll of paper and it was less than half full! Now, I didn’t find empty tubes, indicating the paper had been used and not replaced…no, I found bare spindles, indicating someone had gone around to every bathroom in the house except the guest loo (which was probably being used by the moving crew) and literally removed the toilet paper rolls from the bathrooms! By contrast, I went around Hell House before we left and made sure there was paper in each of the three bathrooms so that the new tenants weren’t grossly inconvenienced by a lack of loo paper during the stressful, tiring process of moving in. How petty can you be, to remove the toilet paper from a house as you move out??

We are going to have to call a pool company, which is not going to be cheap…that glorious sparkling blue pool that invited us to buy the house is now a turgid green stretch of water outside my bedroom window. The pool cleaner doesn’t seem to want to work, the water is green and dirt covers the bottom. We knew the irrigation system was non functional, but we really DID expect the pool to be clean and for the pump and pool cleaner to work.

The beautiful garden is dry and brown and littered with at least a month’s worth of unraked leaves. There are supposed to be garden lights, but we can’t find them…hopefully the sellers didn’t think THOSE were not fixtures and absconded with them, considering they have proven themselves to be the kind of people who will make off with custom cut carpets and toilet paper rolls!

The white wall-to-wall carpets are still wet…they shampooed them the day before we were to move in…they KNEW there would be a horde of men in dirty boots hauling furniture into the rooms, but chose to shampoo the white bedroom carpets the very night before anyway. I don’t understand why these people left everything to the last bloody minute. They have known since March that they were moving, and they have known since June that they had to be out 1 September. So, what made them think that they could wait and, just weeks before The Date, ask for a 3 day extension? Did it not occur to them that WE had made plans for moving, that our landlord might have found new tenants, that there is a whole world out there that spins on its axis and gets on with its business despite their own personal disorganization? The secured driveway for the cottage on the property was full of their potted plants and garden furniture when we arrived, so they weren’t even fully moved out when we started moving in!

Hubby is dealing with the alarm system now. The house has a fully fitted alarm, but we can’t use it because we don’t have the alarm code…and Mr. Seller claims to have forgotten it. This means the alarm company must do something to reset the code…at a cost of R385…and even though the seller is the one who “forgot” the code, WE are the ones who have to fork over the bucks to get the code reset so that we can activate the alarm. Seems like he should be the one to pony up the bucks, but this is the guy who steals away with the toilet paper, remember?

Hubby says it doesn’t matter, but I am a person who is needs to have reasons for things…especially if something doesn’t make sense. I’ve been trying to make sense of this guy and his apparent antipathy towards us for a couple of months now…when Hubby’s family came to visit we wanted to show them the house and the seller refused to make an appointment with us to show them…not only did he refuse to allow us to come over, according to the estate agent, his refusal was none too polite. No reason for the refusal was offered, even though such a request is not uncommon and is generally accommodated.

When we bought our rental property in Cape Town we went through a similar situation, but it was, we believe, in retaliation for Hubby refusing to give the Seller the wendy houses (wooden garden sheds) that were on the property. We wrote them into the contract and, because the house had no garage, they were essential for storage. The Seller agreed to the contract, but later changed her mind and was extremely unhappy that we would not just hand them over to her. So, she did damage to the property, stopped watering the garden, neglected the pool, actually dug up trees and other plants and carried them off to her new house and, during the 6 weeks or so that this was going on, refused to allow us on the property (so we couldn’t see what she was up to). Since there has been no such failed “negotiation” in this instance, we are baffled, especially since the estate agent told me, by his standards we were being extremely forbearing and accommodation and the Seller was one of the most difficult he had ever encountered.

I really hate it when people play the race card, but in the absence of everything else, I am reluctantly coming to the conclusion that the Sellers are not happy about their house being sold to a mixed couple. Sadly, that kind of attitude has not died out here…you can mandate changes in law, but you can’t mandate changes in people's hearts…we actually experienced an egregious display of blatant racism directed against us a couple of years ago when we had to engage workmen to do repairs caused by a burst hot water heater (geyser) and one company demanded full payment in advance because, in their own words, “we know what you people are like.” The Sellers of this house are white Zimbabweans (formerly Rhodesia) who were amongst those driven out by Mad Bob Mugabe. South Africa offered them refuge and a chance to start over, which they did. Unfortunately, like many older white people of this region, they may not have adjusted their thinking about race relations as they adjusted to their new lives here. I hesitate to accuse them of being difficult because we are a mixed-race couple and they feel they had to sell to a less than optimal buyer, but at this stage, I’m not finding any other rational explanation, particularly in view of their attitude that their wants supersede both common courtesy and their contractual obligations.

All things considered, though, it wasn’t a bad move and so far nothing wrong with the house is a train smash, but it’s gonna be a truckload of work to get this place in shape.

---I'll have more tomorrow, I hope.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hello---I'm back!

It took Telkom (not-so-fondly known as "Hellkom" hereabouts) two weeks to get my phone and internet lines installed, and then the internet line failed after a few hours. It took them an entire week to get a technician out here to fix what turns out to have been a faulty installation.

So, as of late yesterday I am back on line, but right now I am up to my eyeballs in alligators, so I won't be able to post all the stuff I wrote while I was off line...but I will get to it soon, I promise!!