ll Nick's Croatian Adventure! 

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Sun 22 Aug

Things haven't really moved on much this week. We had to transfer the money for Funtana from our deposit to our current account and then to our Euro account in Croatia. Hopefully the money should be on the account by Thursday as we have a meeting with the lawyers that day to complete. They are expecting me to pay cash! So I have to give the bank forewarning that I want to withdraw 117,000 Euros...! They'd better give me a big carrier bag to put it all in... Why I can't just wire it into another account I don't know. Probably some tax fiddle... We're also negotiating to buy Baredine, which is also on the Istrian properties page and which I mentioned in my last report. We managed to get the seller down from the 100,000 Euros he wanted after the news item to 90,000. Pity about the timing of the piece on the telly. The seller bought two thirds (in fact  344/516ths!) from the local council for about 3000 2 years ago so is making a pretty fantastic profit by my reckoning. Because it was only 2 years ago he will have to pay 35% tax on the difference so we have agreed a lower official price! Which also happens to save a bit for us on the Real Estate Transfer Tax of 5%. My lawyer reckons I've picked up Istrian habits as well as the lingo. If we do go ahead with Baredine I'll probably have to set up a company here to facilitate the transfer of ownership and getting building permits. (A company is considered a Croatian legal entity and therefore doesn't have to get permission for ownership from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, which takes about a year normally. You have to have proof of ownership to get building permission, and you need building permission if you want to increase the footprint of the building, raise it or build anything else on the land, including a swimming pool - at least in theory you need permission for this, but in practise most people seem to ignore the regulations!)

I've spent the past week looking into furniture and furnishings. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a great deal of choice. I'm considering getting a local carpenter to make some furniture for me, with a view to marketing it later on as part of the fixtures and fittings business we're thinking about. Just simple stuff, but made to a higher standard than most of the stuff on offer in the shops here. Hopefully Alison will send me some photos of the kind of thing we have at home so I will have something to show people. It's even quite difficult to get plain coloured sheets here - they tend to have hideous flowery patterns on them; and don't even talk to me about curtains... There are quite a few things to take into consideration for the kitchen. Do we have a dishwasher and washing machine? How much crockery and cutlery do we provide? What about a telly and a radio? I'm also considering whether or not to get the phone connected - would be useful to have my own internet connection at home, but am not sure if the costs would outway the benefits. I've been able to use my mobile phone as a modem out here most of the time, but am limited to 25MB a month (which I could get through in a single day's surfing at home!). It's also not a brilliant signal here and has a tendency to cut out. If we get the phone connected are we going to end up with hideous phone bills from people abusing it? Should we provide heating? If we are able to let to the "snowbirds" (that's grannies spending the winter out here!) market, do we need to provide heating and duvets? Any views on this from people with (or even without) experience of letting holiday homes, are welcome. My feeling is that we need to provide a good standard of reliable, brand equipment that isn't likely to break down - the last thing I want is people phoning to complain that something doesn't work when I'm 2,000 kms away.

 We've also got to consider what kind of local agent to use to maintain the place. Obviously it will need to be cleaned, bedding changed etc and someone will have to be around to check people in and out and register them with the local tourist police. They need to speak reasonable English and preferably also German and Italian as a lot of tourists here are from there. I'm considering asking our neighbour, from whom we are buying as he lives next door, speaks a bit of English as well as some German and Italian and has flexible hours (as far as I can tell anyway). Plus it would be very easy for him to do! We also need to decide a pricing structure for the different seasons, choose a website for the marketing of it, get good photos, make a welcome pack with information about the local area and attractions (hopefully in several languages which will keep me occupied for a while) and set up our own website with further information about the house and the local amenities so that people can browse it before they arrive. Which means that I've got to go and visit all the tourist attractions, do all the activities and eat in all the best restaurants as well as some of the cheaper ones so that I can give recommendations... A hard life eh! I think the good restaurant bits can wait until Alison gets here - not so sure that she wants to have to troop round a myriad baroque churches though! Nor do I think she wants to hire a jet-ski or go parascending. The things I have to do for market-research!

I'm still going to see agents but more of a social thing now. Most of the time they take me out in their car, which saves mine and they know all the shortcuts and local roads which is useful. I've also seen a lot of stuff that you just wouldn't get to see otherwise, including absolutely derelict houses in the middle of the countryside, that can't have been lived in for 50 years, with a forest growing through the middle of them. And I might just stumble across an absolute gem. I'm still doing my wandering round villages bit, handing out my business cards willy nilly. I went to a place called Vodnjan the other day. It's down in the south of the province near Pula and will be in spitting distance of the airport for when RyanAir start their flights. It's really not a tourist town and most people just pass by it but I actually quite liked it. It has more of a lived-in feel than most of the hill towns and I get the impression that people live there and work in either Pula or Rovinj. There seemed to be more locals around than in most of the hill towns which tend to be either deserted or overrun with tourists. Given that we've got our portfolio now, I'm going to start looking with a view to what other people might be interested in. So far, although I have been bearing it in mind I've only really made an effort to look at things that we would like. From now on though I'll be geared to a) finding furnishings for the house and considering whether the furnishings business idea is a goer and b) looking at smaller places that offer good rental potential (like Funtana but smaller and cheaper). As I see it there are two viable options. One is a big place in the country with good views and  enough land for a pool (if you don't have immediate access to the sea you need a pool to cool down), which obviously works out more expensive and is probably too much of a challenge for most people. The other is flats or small houses in coastal towns, preferably with a terrace and a sea view and immediately rentable or rentable for the next season. If I find stuff I'll stick some details on the website. But expect to see fewer pictures from now on as I'm nearing my limit on the website! Can I just take this opportunity to lambast Bulldog again. A couple of recent reports have come up garbled immediately after I've painstakingly loaded them. That and a page error every time I open an email on the site have not helped to endear Bulldog to me.

One new development in Croatia has been the introduction of strict new driving regulations. They've introduced a zero-tolerance regime for drink-driving. Which will hit the local wine festivals quite hard I dare say and won't do much for wine-tasting tours either! It is not very popular with most people thinking that the previous regime, which was still quite strict, 0.5mg rather than 0.8mg like in the UK, was strict enough if properly enforced. There was some discussion about how it would affect priests who have to conduct several masses a day. It is also now compulsory to wear a seat belt (about time here - the number of times I've been out in agents' cars where they've driven recklessly without being strapped in is beyond comprehension) and to have your headlights on all day (I can't really see the benefit of that, but there must be a reason behind it - perhaps they need to shift a backlog of headlight bulbs..). One good thing though - my favourite gripe as a cyclist, driving whilst on the phone, has also been banned. Not that I think that will stop people here who seem to text, play games and generally avoid looking at the road in front...

I've spent some time this week working on my cv, with a view to having to find something when I get back, which I now expect to be early October. I'd really like to use my languages as well as computing so if anyone has any ideas, contacts in that direction feel free to send me them. A nice well-paid contract for 6 months in Sybase or MSSQL in Zagreb would be ideal...:-)

Well that's it for now. Time for dinner!


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Last modified: 10/17/04