Tuesday, December 8, 2009

House, clean thyself

This is a rant of a blog, so don't say you weren't warned.

If you have a partner who lounges about merely being ornamental while you do ALL the cleaning and ALL the washing and ALL the dusting and ALL of everything else required to keep the house in order so that mountains of undone work don't collapse on your head over the weekends, I have a tip: start your day early.

I learned this the hard way. A habitual late riser, I realised that if I continued with my old, unmarried routine, I would have the aforementioned mountains of undone work collapsing on me every single evening. Besides, I was still working when I started being married, so that only compounded matters.

If you're one of those harried souls who work and balance a home, the trick is to designate all cleaning jobs to a maid who won't get in your hair the way a lounge-about partner will. If you can't hire a cook as well, do yourself a favour and keep next day's food halfway prepared the moment you get home from work. Of course, you knew that already, but it doesn't do to forget it.

Besides, some of us have babies or adolescent kids needing help with the homework, and since you can't do everything at once without wrecking all, devise a system with the kids. If your child needs help structuring an essay while you cook, spare just a minute over what the topic is, then continue your cutting-chopping-cleaning-cooking routine while you tell the kid what to write. It is a great idea to teach the kids to clean up after themselves, since you're pressed for time. If they don't do it, land a slipper on the seat of their pants.

If possible, do the same to your lazy partner.

I notice that most Indian men are brought up by the devil. Nobody bothers teaching them basic courtesies such as putting the tea cup in the sink after guzzling the contents, so don't expect them to jump up to do the dishes. Most have not heard of doing the beds, folding their own clothes and putting them away, stashing away the dirty laundry for washing, ironing their clothes, putting their shoes in the shoe rack and not outside it, putting their plates away after they've burped over their meal, or even switching off fans, lights, hot water geysers and the like after use. Why bother teaching a man these things, when he has a mother, and later, a wife to clean up after him? Indian men are put into the world to perform such vital tasks as scratching their crotch, lying in bed reading the papers while their wives slave about the house, make babies but not help in their upkeep, and why would such important souls need to know such old-fashioned ways as saying thank you or complimenting a tasty meal?

The point is, men are fortunate to live in houses that clean themselves while they pretend to be decorative items.

If you have such a partner, sigh. Try and discipline the person in small ways; for instance, firmly and kindly refuse to pick up tea cups, dinner plates, socks, shoes, and other things left lying around where they shouldn't be. Be equally polite when making him do such chores as folding up his shirts, ironing his clothes himself and even setting the table for dinner. Insist on good manners being cultivated as early in the marriage as possible, because you don't want your kids learning all the wrong things through no fault of theirs. If a MIL or FIL or any in-law butts in and tells you that "such chores" are not a man's responsibility, tell them to butt right out. If they did not teach their son anything, they should teach themselves to shut up.

In short, plan what needs to be done around the house on a daily and a weekly basis, and agree to split some of those chores with your partner. See to it that both sides stick to the bargain.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Go potty

I am currently in the process of planning the garden layout for the terrace. I don't have a lawn space for a garden, but the terrace opens up many possibilities.

So I am drawing up lists for medicinal herbs like basil and other useful ones like aloe vera, while I want just two flowering varieties, hibiscus and white lily.

When you decide to start your own square of garden, first clear out the designated area. If there is already some soil left over from the previous owner's efforts, clear all of it off if you're thinking of using the same soil bed. Soil left unwatered for a long while has close to no nutritive value for the plants, so remove all of it. Lay in soil thus - one layer of soil, then whatever manure you want to put in, then the top layer of soil. Do not pack the soil in too tight.

Every plant's root system is different, hence seeds may have to be planted either deep or not that much. Take an expert's help when planting seeds. Alternatively, head to the nearest nursery for advice and raw materials. They can tell you which plants to begin with depending on the current season, which plants require what kind of maintenance, how much space each plant needs, what not to plant next to each other, and so on.

If you're planning on getting pots, like I am, the task is quite easy. But be very careful when selecting the plants - most are already potted or ready to plant, and while you may be entranced by the purple hue of one flower or the fragrance of another, most flowering varieties do not yield any flowers after the first bloom. You might want to do some research on taking care of the plants you buy, as regards pest-proofing them and feeding them the best nutrients.

If you want plants inside the house, opt for a fuss-free creeper such as a money plant, or a small variety of pine, which looks simply fantastic in a nice planter box in the living room. For the kitchen window sill, opt for small pots with such plants that yield curry leaves or carrots or even tomatoes. Hardy plants are a must in the kitchen because the heat and the masalas from cooking will kill off most others.

For the bedroom, go for a fragrant variety of plant, but ensure that you arrange to keep it out of the window when you hit the sack at night. Not a good idea to have a plant in close proximity to the bed.

If you have a baby in the house or a toddler who typically puts his hands in everything, place all cacti on a higher shelf.

Have you made a square of green in your home? I'd love to hear how you did it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

How green is your home?

I don’t mean green just by means of the numbers of potted plants, though that is important as well. Let’s talk a bit about using electricity and water to as minimum a level as possible, apart from efficient garbage disposal, pest control and similar without using too many chemicals.

When you select a new house, first study the wind patterns. Throw open all the windows and note the wind direction and velocity. If you’re one of the many who’ve selected a house in a building hemmed in by other buildings, chances are you won’t have much to say with respect to views and wind. Hence, whatever breeze floats in should be maximised to give you the utmost in comfort and usability.

If you’ve purchased a flat, you can easily make a few adjustments such as reducing the width of a particular window which lets in the most air. There is a principle called Venturi Effect, in which a narrow opening placed in the direction of a gust or a moderately strong breeze, causes a pressure situation at the opening itself, hence causing the incoming breeze to gush in with force. The point is not the force of the wind, but that the Venturi Effect causes more breeze to come in due to the pressure build-up.

Here’s a tip: in place of opening the shutters to the widest, try sliding your window shutter leaving only a slit open. If you have wooden shutters, try tying them together leaving only a narrow slit open in between. This last is a better deal for those living on rent and who can’t modify the structure in any way.

Alternatively, try fitting a simple screen comprising a wooden frame and a thin cotton cloth. This is used in some cultures living in hot cultures and where cooling breezes are hard to come by. Simply use this screen by periodically spraying the cloth with water; do not make it dripping wet, moisten it. When any breeze ventures in, the wet screen keeps dust particles out and cools the breeze when it comes in, so do enjoy clearer air from this particular window.

Pest-control is the best option to begin with. Try this when the house is totally empty, or just before you move stuff into your wardrobes and cabinets. If you’re moving stuff from a previous place that may have been infested with pests, wait to call the pest control person till after all the stuff is put into shelves and cupboards. This way, you’ll ensure that any new arrivals are dealt with at the earliest.

Once the pest control is done, and depending on what kind you got done, the house should be free of pests for at least three months. In the meantime, get rid of mosquitoes and flies by burning neem agarbattis in a strategic corner of the room every evening. Close all the windows and doors and switch the fan on when you do this, so that the smoke permeates every surface. Flies can be gotten rid of by soaking neem leaves in a plate of water, especially at the dinner table.

Once a week, spray the insides of your cabinets with a bug spray, to remove all breeding sites.

Electricity usage:
These are basics, but please follow them through. Do not forget to switch off appliances the moment you leave the room, use hot water geysers only till such time that you need that much hot water, and do not leave your computers on forever. The appliances taking up the most power are computers, geysers, microwave ovens and such.

If the house is your own, you could install dimmers for your light switches. A great idea to save power is to install CFLs instead of the usual light bulbs. They last longer and cut down on consumption.

Water usage:
In the light of the recent water cuts imposed on the city, it is more than a crime to waste even a drop of water. Storing water is also illegal, but that is the only way we can get through the day if we get water only for a few hours every day.

Some high-end building constructions install household taps with in-built sensors so that water wastage is minimised. Other ways of saving on water is to use waste water well. Dishwater can safely be used for watering plants, since the chemicals in detergents are broken down in the soil. The same applies to water left over from soaking clothes in soapy water. Alternatively, reuse stale water in the toilet or for a cold bucket bath.

Try not to wash your car, kitchen surfaces, bathroom tiles etc. with running water. Instead, spray the surface with a spray bottle, wet a big sponge and pour a few drops of liquid detergent on it. Use the sponge to clean the surface and wipe off the soap with a dry cloth. If there is a film of soap left behind, wipe off the same with a newspaper.

Yes, they’re not very nice, but do have bucket baths, not shower ones.

They’re not just pretty, they’re pretty useful. Put up such medicinal types like basil and kadipatta so that you can brew the same in your food and when making cough medicines. Put a small plant in the kitchen window so that it purifies the air a bit when you cook. Try not to have plants in the bedroom window if your bed is very close by – you should not be breathing in the CO2 coming out of the plants at night.

When you’re looking for manure for your plants, include the leftover parts of vegetables that you cut but cannot use, such as the stalks and rotted parts. Put these in the middle layer of the soil. Also, tea water and water left from soaking meat are good for watering plants.

Air purifying:
There’s no real need for airconditioners, unless you have very little ventilation available. But apart from fans and ACs, you can purify the air available to you by means of incense sticks. Also try keeping a bowl of potpourri. Like I said before, use neem agarbattis and also dhoop sticks – they keep mosquitoes away and purify the air. Even a neem water spray around the house once a day will keep the air pure.

What are your good ideas on the subject? Do write back with your suggestions.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Service with a smile

Right. You’ve just moved in. Next is what?

Next is, apart from putting the house together from scratch, to get essential services from external sources put together at the earliest.

You’ll need your usual newspapers delivered. You’ll require a daily supply of milk. You’ll have to alert the trash man to ring your doorbell every time he passes on his rounds. You’ll need a guy to iron your clothes, somebody to get you the groceries home if you can’t carry them yourself, even a maid servant if you’re not used to doing the household chores yourself.

For my part, I don’t need the maid and the grocery man, but we do need the others. So the very first morning in the new house, the husband and I went out exploring.

Maybe it was the fact that we’d had a cold night following an evening of intense activity brought about by shifting our stuff in one go. Maybe it was the general welcoming vibe from the new place. Maybe it was the fact that despite the mess and the many hours of impending cleaning, I was with the man I love the most in my life and we were heading out to explore the new neighbourhood together.

We went about looking for chai and breakfast. As a piece of fair warning, let me try and talk you out of partaking of breakfast at a zhunka-bhakar Kendra. Thanks to some curious cooking, we got basundi for chai and rocks for idlis. The sambar left us as cold as it was when served. But we laughed and promised to go someplace else the next day. From where we stood, we spied a tapri a fair distance away doing brisk business with breakfast items. Shelving that for the moment, we went to the newspaper guy just next to the zhunka-bhakar guy, and the newspaper stall guy turned out to be the newspaper vendor for the building we currently live in. So the paper issue was solved.

I don’t rely on milk delivered to my doorstep, mostly because I don’t fancy waking up early and groping about for the milk packet. I simply buy Milk tetrapacks. For those who don’t, I would suggest ringing the doorbell of the most approachable neighbour and asking him/her if they would do you a big favour and tell the milkman to ring your doorbell the next morning. In the meantime, stock up on extra milk packets in case the milkman forgets to call on you.

You might need to fix such things as the gas connection and cable TV. Simply enlist your neighbour’s help for the latter and call up the gas agency helpline for the former. If you’re using gas cylinders, you’ll just need to change your address. If you’re depending on Mahanagar Gas, god help you (and I’m being polite). A good idea would be to call their helpline as soon as you decide to shift because they take about 10 days to address your complaint. The wait is long if you need a new connection installed in a building that already has a gas connection. Before they arrive, they will call you but will try and get out of coming at the last minute, so a bit of wheedling is in order. When they come, get the terrace keys from the secretary or watchman, and ask a neighbour if it’s okay to use her kitchen for a brief while when the gas guys need to solder a pipe on a running flame.

The cable guy will charge you for reconnecting a previous connection, and the money thus paid is non-refundable.

Keep an eye out for the guy who irons the clothes. They generally make two trips a day, so decide the time that is most convenient for you. Fix up a schedule with him, depending on how many times a week you do your laundry.

A maid to do the dishes, sweep the floors and even help in such tasks as cutting the vegetables and cleaning out the bathroom once a week is a must if you can’t do these things yourself. Ask around in the building and gauge how much each job will cost you on an average. There is no fixed rate; in fact, the money charged for each chore will depend largely on the area you live in, how many jobs the potential maid already holds, and how many tasks you expect from her daily. Generally, you will get a maid who holds many jobs in the same building. Maids are notorious about scaring other maids trying to get a job in the area where they work.

If you have a small child, research the area for crèches or playgroups. Your job should be about half done if there are kids in the same age group already living there. You might need to arrange transport so consider a crèche that is within walking distance of your home.

In the initial two weeks, your house might be a wreck owing to everything being anywhere but where you need it. It is a good idea to enlist the help of a professional tiffin service provider to get you through meal times. Every area has a woman or a small company providing these services; the yellow pages should help you out.

Also look for places that let out carpenters, plumbers, electricians and such. Here’s a good tip: places selling sanitary bath fittings and such like generally have an in-house plumber or somebody they tie up with. Ask them for their number and let them list your home address. Also, electric and carpentry hardware stores have in-house helpers who can do such things as fixing fans and levelling the doors. Find out where these services are available.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The cleaning lady

I kid you not - a woman's work is never done. Especially if she's just finished waving the carpenters goodbye and it is time to stash stuff away.


The thing to remember when surveying the sea of bags and suitcases with a sour eye, is not to panic. Yes, it's overwhelming not knowing where to begin and the rest of it, but shush. Start by cleaning out the floors - if you've just shifted, and what's more, had carpenters, plumbers and other persons working on the premises - chances are the floors will require two sweepings and may be the same number of washings. Alternatively, you could leave the floors for last. Wear a pair of comfortable and clean slippers or shoes around the house as you set about cleaning.

If it makes better sense, start with putting the clothes, shoes, bags and kitchen utensils away. Put one type of article away at a time, and don't stop till all of the stuff in that category is put away completely. Trust me, it's a big motivator to see the clothes all put away before you start on the kitchen stuff. Setting house is nothing if not a lesson in self-motivation.

Next, dry dust/ sweep all surfaces, vertical and horizontal. Take the duster inside cabinets and in the corners of shelves, inside bathroom traps and inside lofts. Follow this with a liberal amount of pesticide spraying, if you haven't already called the pest-control guys. If you're going to pest-proof the place professionally, I would suggest doing it when the house is empty and the stuff is still inside bags.

After this, start the next stage of cleaning all surfaces with a wet duster. There is nothing more satisfying than gleaming surfaces emerging from under a wet duster. Some surfaces such as the cooking range, sink, tiles around the washbasin, the washbasin, commode, bathroom tiles and so on may require a vigorous soap bath. Use an abrasive powder such as Vim to attack stubborn stains, but protect your hands when doing so. If your skin rebels against cleaning powders, go for detergents like Pril but use a cleaning pad.

Once this is done, sit for a while with a cup of tea/ coffee/ poison of your choice.

It makes sense to start on the tough parts of the job first. Leave such minor tasks as putting detergents and other things away for the end, and include making the beds, putting up the paintings, arranging your books neatly in the book case, going out to buy potted plants and such, for much later. Small things left at the end are very therapeutic and will help you relax from the stresses of all the cleaning.

Do write in if you did things differently or if you have better ideas on setting up the house.

Next: Optimum service.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Oh, what a mess

Nobody said shifting was easy. But you could do yourself a favour and make it easier for yourself.

I've already put up a post about packing sensibly for the move. Wish I'd followed my own advice a bit more closely - due to a strange turn of events, we moved our major furniture a day earlier than planned, which means that three days after shifting into my new home, I am surrounded by a sea of plastic bags and suitcases, wondering where to get the energy to start unpacking.

So folks, plan every move meticulously. And stick to your schedule if you're sure it will save you time.

I can offer you one tip, though, and this was dad's idea. If you're hiring a tempo or a small truck to move your big stuff like beds and wardrobes, try and do so in the evening hours. Not only did we beat the sun and the heat, we also saved the neighbours the trouble of having to put up with bumps and crashes and screams while they were trying to have their afternoon siesta. Look for a suitable quiet time - I would recommend between six pm to eight pm - and try and save the number of trips from new home to old home.

Also, if you have a Godrej cupboard like we do (only yours might not be as 'special' as ours), I would recommend taking off its doors before you try to move it. Generally, mirrors mounted on to door shutters greatly add to the overall weight, so put the shutters aside if you can. Easier to carry, too.

If you have cane furniture, let it be dumped OVER everything else and not under anything, or it will only get bent out of shape. Might break, too, so watch out.

All big suitcases, plastic bags with kitchen utensils and clothes and such items can easily accompany the truck. It makes sense to send these items on also because it helps to insulate such furniture as washing machines and refrigerators from bumps in transit. Apart from your glass and melamine crockery, dump everything else in the truck.

Before you leave the old house, do a thorough final check to see if you've left anything behind. I forgot to pack many things from the kitchen, which shows you what a mess I was in. Just collect everything and keep loads of bags ready. You will also need separate big bags for garbage disposal. Trust me, once you're done, you'll have astounding levels of garbage lying around. See if any of it can go to the raddiwala, apart from newspapers. They also take plastic items, cardboard boxes and glass bottles. It makes sense to dispose off your raddi at this juncture because the money can come in handy for paying off the tempo or covering some expenses related to moving.

Once inside the new property, if you're done the shifting in the evening hours, don't scrabble to set everything in order right away. First make chai and congratulate yourself for moving. Of course, don't be a slob like me, with stuff still waiting to be opened three days after moving, but I figured, I deserve some peace to get over the trauma of moving.

Leave things for an evening, look for such basics as the tea kettle, tea cups, milk pateli and such which you will need the next morning. Also look for snacks and other breakfast stuff you might need the next day. Look for pillows and blanket, too. The only thing you should be actively doing the moment you get in, is to shift all your perishable foodstuffs back into the fridge before they're ruined beyond repair.

Order a take away, look at your house and feel happy, and go to bed. Congrats on moving.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Agree to agree

Probably the most technical aspect of striking a deal is inking the agreement copy.

If you’ve hired an agent, chances are the agreement copy is ready with him. Chances are, the agreement copy largely benefits the seller, not the buyer. Be very careful when reading the agreement. At least two careful readings are a must.

At the outset, let me say clearly that an agreement copy is a document containing matter that BOTH parties mutually agree upon. A good agreement copy will seek to protect both parties, especially if it is a licensor-licensee agreement. Ask for an email or copy of the agreement and sit with a pencil to mark out points you do not agree upon and which will need revision. Do not let the agreement go into final print unless you agree on every point. There is no space for ambiguity in an agreement. What is meant must be stated in writing, not committed verbally.

Also, some people do not make an agreement at all if they know the licensor/ seller. Bad mistake. You are putting yourself up for fraud, at the very least, and if the home owner decides to sell to someone else after striking a deal with you, you will have nothing to help you claim the money you may have already paid. So be wise, get an agreement made and signed by both parties.

Another important thing to do is to get the agreement put down on a Rs 100 stamp paper or get the document franked from a bank that offers the service. The cost for the latter would be Rs 760 (Rs 750 stamp paper + Rs 10 service charge by the bank). Ensure that the agreement has not been put down on blank sheets, it must be on stamp paper.

After this, insist on registering the document. Some people are reluctant to get the document registered because a) It costs some money and b) There is a four-month time period from the date of signing the agreement, so there is a temptation to procrastinate. Do not go by this route, get the document registered. A registered document ensures that you can avoid any legal hassles in case the other side decides to get clever, also many building societies insist on a registered document before granting a final NOC to you. The cost for the process is to be borne equally by both parties.

The Agreement itself:
- Look for any unnamed/ unexplained elements, especially if you’re renting the place. If there are mentions of licence fees being deducted and dues being subtracted from the security deposit anywhere in the agreement, study these carefully. Normally, any deductions will happen only if you damage the flat during the period of your stay, or make any alterations without permissions and so on. Deductions might also happen if you fail to pay the monthly outgoing on electricity, gas and cable connections before leaving.

- If the licensor expects you to forfeit rent amount, deposit money or anything else in case you terminate the agreement prematurely, tell them to fuck off. For your part, you are expected to give a one-month notice in writing informing the other side of your intention to leave, and with the guarantee that you will settle all bills before you go. If there is any demand for deductions over and above this, the licensor is free to take a walk.

- Normally, a licensor would like to have a window period of six months before the agreement is terminated by you. He/she might be worried about not finding another licensee quickly, but try and work around this. Ideally, if you’re giving a notice, there should be no window period.

- Clearly state, if you are renting, that the cheque for the deposit money is to be handed to you at the same time that you hand over the house keys on the last day of your stay. Allow the licensor a thorough inspection of the house but do not agree to promises that the cheque will come later. Agree to not hand over possession till the cheque is handed over.

- Some licensors have an issue with you putting your own locks on the doors. Be very firm about putting your own lock for your safety, and do not change the existing locks without permission. Some licensors insist on a duplicate key to the detachable locks you fit after moving in; tell them to sit on the building terrace and think about their lives. Also put the fear of burglary in their minds – tell them clearly that you will be compelled to name them as a suspect in case anything is stolen from the house.

- Clearly mention that while the owner has the right to inspect the property from time to time, the same cannot interfere with your right of peaceful possession. Discourage any attempts at surprise visits.

- There are cases when the licensor may leave extra furniture lying around and expect you to be okay with it. See if you can use the furniture. If you can’t, ask them to move the same or else agree to pack it and keep safely. It is not binding on you to live with such items as religious artifacts, furniture items, curtains and similar simply because the owner/ licensor cannot be arsed to take them away. Any items left behind by the seller/ licensor must be clearly stated in the schedule for fitting, fixtures and other items. This list must be checked and signed by you.

- Ideally, the broker must not expect to get paid for his services before the entire deal is sealed.

- If you’re purchasing and if the owner still has an unpaid loan amount pending, agree to transfer the amount to your name via the bank. Put the same down in the agreement clearly.

- The agreement must clearly mention your name and residential details, as well as the owner’s/ licensor’s, on the first page of the document.

- While signing, you might have to carry the following with you: passport size pics, photo ID, identification used at the workplace and similar. These are used in police verification processes.

- If there is a power of attorney angle to the deal, carefully study the POA document. The same should be notarised and registered. If the POA is going to execute the agreement with you, the document cannot be registered unless the POA deed is registered first.

- Once the agreement is signed, first take a photocopy for yourself and insist on a true copy being given to you within two days. Proceed for registration in the meantime.

- Be wary of demands for bearer cheques. Insist on a receipt if you do agree to such a request, but try and maintain all payments via account payee cheques only. A bearer cheque does not leave a trail. All receipts are to be given the moment cheques are handed over, not later.

- Clearly state that all construction and maintenance expenses are to be borne by the licensor.

Do write in if you have tips/ suggestions on what constitutes a good agreement. And if you decide to do it on your own, right from inking the copy to registering it, it’s easy and costs less, though it will take some time.

Next: Outgoings

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Keep it to a minimum

The following is for people looking to settle into a rented apartment, so all the others can come back another time.

Like I’ve said before, the husband and I are in the middle of striking a deal on a new rental place in Borivli. It’s a great house, made more so because the owner has just got it painted. However, there is not much in the house by way of existing shelves or extra cupboard space and the like, so we’ll have to do it ourselves.

Sounds easy, right? It should be, if you get it stated expressly that you will cause minimum intervention in the house by way of poking holes in the walls and tiles for paintings and cabinets and mirrors. By ‘minimum intervention’, the owners generally mean carrying out any new modification in such a way that the house can be restored at the least possible cost and effort, in the shortest time possible.

For holes in the walls, clever use of white cement is all that is generally needed. Do not puncture the walls in such a way that the paint cracks, because THAT repair will be charged to you. Also, do not go overboard putting up paintings and the like, because you will only end up defacing a lot of surfaces, which will also be charged to you. The trick is, to convince the home owner, preferably through a written note, of the stuff you will need to put as a point of necessity, such as storage shelves in the kitchen and a mirror above the wash basin.

To know exactly what you will have to do, take a clipboard and note down all the things that are not already fitted in the flat. For instance, overhead cabinets in the kitchen, or a wall mirror in the bedroom or a water geyser in the bathroom. Many houses we saw recently had no inlets or outlets provided for the washing machine and water filter, so you might consider modifying your kitchen sink tap to a two-way one. Make an itinerary and approach the owner with the same, asking for permission to make the necessary changes. Do not EVER do anything without the owner's permission. Luckily, my husband and I readily got permission from this particular home owner, but others are not always this fortunate. When we struck our first deal, the home owner expressly forbade us from making ANY changes to the house, even to drive one nail in any wall. In fact, he wanted all existing holes to be retained and actually made a list of the house in the condition he was handing it to us, room by room, which both parties signed.

In such a case, go one up. Take a camera with you when the time comes to draw up such a list, and actually make a note of such things as ‘hole in the door frame next to the safety latch’. Sounds comical? It is, but secure yourself. Make a note of every hole, crack in the paint, peeling roof in the toilet, scratch or palm print, broken appliances/ fixtures, nails driven in the wall and not removed, etc, and take photographs of each room as documentary evidence. That way, any claims made at the time of settling your deposit that “you damaged this” and “you changed that” will not arise. Also, if there are any pressing concerns, such as a portion of the paint consistently collapsing in any part of the house through external leakages and such, take pictures and notify the owner immediately.

For your sake and the owners’, try and curb your fanciful urges to have water fountains and millions of plants in every surface in a rented place. Ultimately, it pays to remember that it is not your house, though you are paying to stay there and are maintaining it daily. You’ll have to be doubly careful when it comes to cleaning and reducing damage, but that’s part of the package.

When it’s time to restore, try these tricks:
- Generally, you’ll make an agreement for 11 months. During that time, there is every likelihood of the flush conking off or the front door latch not cooperating. The fans might not work like they used to and the geyser switch may bust a spring. Get these repaired before the owner comes for the final inspection.
- If you can’t do it yourself, get a carpenter to remove your pelmets/ curtain rods, cabinets for you. Also get him to plug any holes you may have put in the walls with white cement.
- Tighten all nuts/screws on fixtures, switchboards, door latches before the final inspection.
- It is completely okay to take away light bulbs or other things you may have installed for your use if they were not provided by the owner.
- Turn off gas mains before you leave.
- It is good manners to clean the house one last time before you go. That includes cleaning the bathroom, toilets, kitchen surfaces, and in corners.
- When the house is finally vacated, the paint will look slightly shabby but that is known as ‘reasonable wear and tear’. Contest any claims that the paint looks a year older because of you.

Next: Inking the agreement copy.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Who's thy neighbour?

Ideally, a face that smiles in passing, a pleasant enough garden or small patch of green outside the building, a grocer, a small supermarket, a place that sells trinkets and other browse-worthy items, a shop selling eggs and salami, a stationer’s and a photocopy place should form part of your neighbourhood.

Not everyone can have all of these, while some may have more. When you shortlist a particular property, prepare the following general checklist for the neighbourhood:

- How must one reach the house from the railway station?
- How will this property change your commuting patterns? If for worse, how much worse?
- Is there a share-auto/ share-cab service from station to home?
- How far are the shops that matter? I would be more interested in shops selling general stuff like toothpaste and pest cleaners, than a jeweller’s and gift centre.
- What are the nearest landmarks? Is it necessary to include them in the new postal address?
- What options will you have for eating? Are there any restaurants close to home? What about home delivery services if you want a take-away?
- Also, is there a home delivery service for groceries?
- Make a trip to the area at night. Does the place creep you out or do you actually like how it appears in the dark? Is the darkness safe or scary?
- Is transportation available in the night hours in case you have a medical emergency?
- Is there a hospital close by? Also, is there a general practitioner in the vicinity?
- How far is your bank? Also check for the nearest ATM.
- Is there a Skypak facility to pay your bills?
- Is there a local fruits and vegetables market?
- How many families reside in the neighbourhood? What is their general profile?

You can add any other questions that occur to you. Once you’ve checked out about one kilometer or more around the chosen property, you need to check the building itself for other parameters such as:

- Who are the people living on the same floor? How willingly do they part with information?
- How well-lit is the building at night?
- Is there enough water and uninterrupted piped gas supply whenever you visit?
- Does the building look like it needs general repairs? Find out when the last repairs were done.
- What are the maintenance charges?
- What is the car/bike parking schedule like?
- Are there any incidental expenses you might be charged in lieu of repairs/ installing security?
- Does the building have a watchman or any form of protection from intruders? If not, is the house equipped with enough security?
- Are there any health/ recreational facilities in the society? What are the charges?
- Is there a baby-sitting service run by anybody in the building itself?
- Is it okay for you to run a small business, like say, take tuitions or computer classes in your home, of course with adequate permissions from the society?
- Is the managing committee okay with you carrying out certain modifications, such as widening a window or adding a wall? Find out what permissions are required for the same.
- Is there a strict anti-non-vegetarian/people of opposite sex coming to stay and visit/ partying with music and guests code?
- Does the building celebrate festivals and such? How much are you expected to contribute to the same?
- Does the building have its own handyman to carry out plumbing/electrical/carpentry repairs?
- What is the building’s policy on allowing courier boys/repair men enter the premises?

These are just general pointers; every place comes with its own challenges so you’ll have to add or deduct a few questions. But be sure to survey the place inside and out in detail – you don’t want any upsets later, trust me. Good luck!

Next: Minimum intervention and how to restore a house

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Good agents, bad agents

We all need them at some point of time. And they know it, but that doesn’t mean they take advantage of your (near total) dependence on them. In fact, a little clever work on your part can keep the agent’s work to a minimum while helping you select the right property at a good price.

But knowing who you are dealing with is not always easy, and several times, you realise you’ve been had only after the deal is struck and you’re committed. Most of the million agents we approached, both when we were looking to purchase and finally came back to renting, needed a swift kick in the seat of their pants. A tiny majority were thorough professionals, while just one gave us the confidence to broker a deal with him. Here’s how you get a good agent who will work for you:

#1: The agent must know which places to show
It works like this: you approach an agent and tell him/her your requirements. After which, if the agent is sincere and willing to work hard, he/she will consult his/her database and immediately give you about five options. Unless you’re proposing something totally outlandish, a good agent should be able to give you a good eight-ten options to choose from at the very first meeting.

#2: The agent must be willing to cover a lot of ground
Nobody expects house-hunting to be an easy, pleasurable experience, but it can be made so if your agent is well-organised and arranges site visits in direct accordance with the time at your disposal and your location of interest. I’ve seen agents not lining up the visits properly – with the result that you’re literally going around in circles and revisiting the same areas over and over, instead of finishing one locality completely before moving on the next.

Your agent must also be patient and willing to show you houses till his stock runs out. That you did not like anything showed to you does you no discredit, so don’t be afraid to state what displeased you about a certain house or if the price is too steep.

#3: The agent must never take sides
An unpleasant experience was had by one and all on two occasions early this year, when we were looking to purchase a house. We saw a house in the building that we currently live in, but the lady who owned the flat had some amount of loan she had not yet repaid. Besides, some vital documents were missing from the file she gave us through the agent, and that would have resulted in the bank not processing our application anyway. So imagine our surprise when, instead of telling the lady to give all the papers at her disposal, the agent told us off for asking for too many documents!

In the second instance, we had almost finalised a deal and went to visit the home owner, also a woman, with a cheque for the token amount. However, we realised on perusing the papers that the building did not have an Occupation Certificate (OC) despite being about thirteen years old. Now, that’s okay as long as you know the exact reason why the OC is not available. When we raised this query, the lady flared up and started giving us ‘gyaan’ about us not trusting her and whatever else. When we turned to our agent, he told us to stop fussing since most buildings don’t have an OC, which was not the point in the first place.

An agent must NEVER take sides. If I get the feeling that the agent is favouring the other party more than me, I am simply not going to deal with him, especially since he is going to charge me for his services.

#4: The agent must have a good network
Most agents work with other agents in showing houses and cracking deals. It is not always possible for one agent to cover an entire locality, so he/she enlists the help of other agents, and vice versa. However, be wary of paying to support this network: for instance, if an agent charges two brokerages for cracking a deal, ask immediately why you are being charged so. It is possible that instead of splitting his brokerage with the other agent, your agent is trying to help the other agent through your money.

#5: The agent must clearly state his terms
I find that some agents spring unpleasant surprises as the house hunt progresses. For example, he/she may insist on doing the stamp duty and registration process for you, naturally at a price. You will find that you can do the same for free if you take the trouble to find where the registrar in your locality is. You can know what to do simply by asking around there. If you do it yourself, you will only have to pay the registration fee.

The agent must also not bullshit you about the brokerage. Ask clearly what his expectations are and ensure that they are stuck to. Other terms such as taking possession of the flat, ensuring that all pending repairs are carried out before you move in and cheques cleared on time and receipts made out, are also tasks that agents must look into.

I respect agents who clearly state how much they will charge for services rendered, without being too open to negotiate.

#6: The agent must listen and work on your behalf
A good agent first starts the process by taking down all your relevant details. A good agent also calls the moment he/she hears of a good property on the market. If an agent does not know about a property on sale/ lease in the locality where he/she functions (even if that property is listed with another agent), I would not be very confident of his abilities. Reverting back to the point about an agent networking well, the agent must know within a few hours of a new property coming up for transaction, and inform you at once.

#7: The agent must not be nosy
This is tricky; agents must not be too aloof either. They are clearly told by their clients what they expect from the person they will deal with. For example, one building we saw a house in insisted on letting only vegetarians buy houses there, so our agent was obliged to ask us about our food habits. Another agent cocked an eyebrow at us when my husband said he was an Ashar and that I was a Lad; clearly he did not much like the mixed marriage aspect of the deal. That could explain the sniff.

One agent asked why I had not changed my maiden name after marriage, but he was merely trying to make conversation, I suppose. Many others looked at us quite offensively when we said we were married – probably looking for signs such as a mangalsutra or wedding rings – before telling us they would like to see our marriage certificate.

The idea is to not be offended, because the agent is only doing his job. Tell the agent to jack off if he/she crosses the line with a query that neither he nor his client has any business raising in the first place. How much money you make and what you propose to do with the house once you buy/ rent it is nobody’s business but your own.

#8: The agent must not nurse a grudge
It makes sense to enlist the help of more than one agent at a time, because that way you see a lot of places faster. However, I’ve seen some agents lose interest the moment they realise you’ve approached someone else simultaneously. I’m okay with them losing interest, but I cannot accept them not showing me enough houses after that. A good agent will also be smart enough to realise that he/she can’t have a happy ending for every person who approaches him/ her, and will not hold it against you if you approach him/her again later for another deal. If the agent seems cold or indifferent when you approach him/her a second time, don’t expect him to exert himself on your behalf.

Next: Why recce the new neighbourhood?

Money money...

A good thing to happen today was that some money due to me from the company I used to work for, was credited to my account. In the midst of hectic budgeting and keeping track of how much to pull from other accounts and how much to borrow and return, this was just great. At least a bulk of my financial fix is remedied while we struggled to get cash together for the new house.

In a week, I’ll be set to pay the deposit and relax a bit knowing the rent money is there, at least a big chunk of it.

I’m not saying all of us should wait around for windfalls, but people, if you’re making the move to a new house, please ensure all outstandings owed to you are settled now. This takes the pressure off in a big way; all of your earnings after that will only cushion you further.

In the absence of any outstanding cash inflow, however, there are still ways to manage your finances before you start signing cheques.

First, get the latest bank statements from all the accounts you have. I have three, of which just one is really active. I had no idea one of the remaining two had some cash in it, while the third used to be a salary account. Get a correct picture of how much money you have on you. You might also consider using a passive account to handle only the house money, so you don’t end up mixing those payments with daily living expenses. Ask your partner (if there is one) or a co-investor (if there is one) to do the same. Write down exactly how much money you can spare immediately.

Second, look for sources that will yield money right away. Maybe now is the time to tactfully remind that friend/ family member/ whoever else who mooched off you recently, to return your money since you need it desperately. Keep a track of how much you get through these channels.

Third, and this is a good idea if you’re purchasing your own property and need to keep cash in ‘black’, is to make a list of about twenty people who you can ask for money. This is a workable solution my husband’s boss told him to consider when we were looking to purchase. Don’t be flabbergasted when I say ‘twenty’; go ahead and put in as many names as you can. Why so many? Because you can ask for small loans which they might not refuse. You do the math: are twenty people you know well likely to refuse you a loan of Rs 5,000 (or a bit more) each? Twenty times five is 100, so that’s Rs 1,00,000 arranged just like that. If it’s a close friend, you can maximise the inflow by asking for Rs 10,000 or even more. This is a lot easier than asking big loans off about two people.

Fourth, make a list of people who will be able to float a big loan for you. A close friend who’s got the cash stashed away, a family member who wouldn’t hound you for the loan…don’t just sit there reading, make a list.

Fifth, if you’re purchasing a house, approach your bank with all the documents at your disposal to know your exact loan eligibility. Try and work out an in-principal approval (which is valid for three months) so you know how much you owe the bank as well.

Sixth, and this is not always easy to do, but try it anyway. Set aside all those clothes, utensils, furniture, sometimes electronic goods, and see if you can sell them off. Sell off all the newspapers, magazines, books nobody reads, empty glass and plastic bottles to the raddiwala. Gold jewellery you are not about to use can also help, but I would hang on to the gold just yet. It’s really your call, though. The money you raise can help in smaller payments, or simply tuck it away till you can put it to good use.

Seventh, and this is something I would do, is to try and work from home for extra cash. In fact, the money you can make from this source can help you a lot when making your monthly EMI payments to the bank, or settling a loan, or simply to pay the rent. This way, your regular job can help you live comfortably.

Eighth, get cracking.

Next: Getting a good estate agent.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pack up

The worst part of anything is always the packing up.

It’s not nice, but it’s important, so step one is: Get organised. I am a list person, so I start my step one by making a list.

#1: The can-use-later clothes
These come under the head of clothes you don’t use often, and include party wear, formal wear not immediately required, clothes to be worn about the house, extra pairs of socks, underwear and so on. Pack these items in considering the time gap between moving them to the new house and settling in.

#2: Books, CDs, cassette tapes
Generally, I find that if you’re going to use the same bookcase and CD drawer/unit in the new home too, pack your books and CDs in the same order in which you’ve put them in right now. Tie up each batch firmly with string inside newspapers. In case of CDs, it would be a good idea to throw in a silica packet in each package.

#3: Crockery, kitchen utensils
I would put the cups and dishes I use every day in a separate bag to be transported last. The rest of the stuff you don’t need immediately, pack it all in and send it on the new house for setting up first. Setting up the kitchen takes a really long time, so it is wiser to get this chore out of the way. Pack all glass items in bubble wrap; hopefully, you may have retained the boxes your glass items came in. I find that such items as tawas get scratches while transporting, so pack all pans in newspaper or plastic before you send them on.

#4: Beddings, pillow cases, pillows
Never, EVER tie up your pillows together with a string because they will get bent out of shape. Instead, place one over the other and wrap inside a single bed sheet. Better still, put all your bedding in one or two suitcases and send them along. In fact, it is wise to keep just the one bed sheet currently in use on your bed, and pack everything else. Put in a lot of mothballs in the bags containing these items.

#5: Toiletries
I have a large number of handbags, so I keep one of them aside for such items that I will use till the last moment of moving: toothbrush, dental floss, toothpaste, face wash, shampoo, soap and such. Similarly, the husband will require a separate bag for such items as shaving cream, his toothbrush, razor, and similar. This bag will also carry deodorants, cosmetics, hairpins, moisturisers, face creams, hair brushes and combs and other things you will need the moment you move in.

#6: Handbags, suitcases
This one’s easy: you just have to fit one in the other and carry the biggest one. It is a good idea to pack small items such as bedside lamps and medicines inside the smaller bags, instead of making separate bags for the same.

#7: Newspapers and magazines
If you’re done with everything else, it makes sense to get your raddiwala to the flat on possibly the second to last day of moving. That way, you will have only the day’s papers on you, and everything else is disposed off and paid for. Discard all glass bottles, deo cans and other such items if he’ll take them. Saves a lot of garbage bags too.

#8: Electronic goods
Pack these carefully, with liberal amounts of thermocol and bubble wrap and whatever else you can use to pad these items inside their boxes. It is a good idea to hire one tempo for your TV set, DVD player, refrigerator, washing machine, bed and wardrobe, instead of sending these along at separate times. Generally finish washing all your clothes at least a day before you pack the washing machine so you won’t have piles of laundry to do the moment you move in. Also, systematically empty your fridge off the perishable items starting a week from the move. On the day of moving, you should ideally have nothing in the fridge. Set up the fridge the moment you get to the new place to avoid spoiling such items as eggs, jam, vegetables and so on. Since my mum lives close by, I might dump a few items in her fridge. See if you can ask somebody to keep your stuff for you till you move.

#9: Shoes
Put your shoes in one bag after tying them together so they don’t get bent out of shape.

#10: Get going
So first draw up a list and decide where you want to start from. Be quick about it, moving day will be here before you know it.

Next: Gather your finances

Monday, October 26, 2009

Every little thing...

It’s not amusing, but it’s got to be done.

The paint in my current house is so fragile, if I sneeze in the living room, a mark shows up on the bedroom wall. The flat owner is allergic to any damages his home will incur, so it’s been a fun year keeping all furniture a good one inch away from the wall and not slamming doors when angry because the bathroom plaster is falling like snow.

When you decide to buy/ rent, make sure the owner gets the place painted if the house needs it. The charges for the same are NOT to be adjusted against your rent. In fact, any repairs the owner carries out, if you’re renting the house, are to be seen as enhancing the value of his/her house and are not a concession to you. If purchasing, you will naturally do the painting yourself.

When examining the house, check if all faucets, door knobs, latches, commode flush are in working condition. This is very important in case you’re renting, so point out any ill-functioning taps and appliances after a thorough check. The owner must get these repaired before you move in, and after you take possession. I actually took photographs of the house before moving in, compiled a list of minor damages here and there which the owner had not addressed, and got the list signed from him. Keep yourself safe on all counts; the owner must not have a window of opportunity to carry out repairs against any damages you might have caused from the deposit money you paid up.

Also, put the terms for recovering your deposit in the clearest language in your agreement. Generally, the owner hands over the deposit after a last inspection of the house. Agree that the house keys and deposit money will be exchanged on the same day.

What you will have to check for:
- Leakages in external/ internal walls.
- If the walls are too defaced to put up curtain rods, paintings and such.
- If the fans, lights, hot water geysers, intercom point are installed and in working condition.
- If door handles, knobs, latches have come unstuck/ are jammed.
- If there are plug points for your washing machine, refrigerator. These require special points, you cannot plug these appliances into your normal ones.
- If there is an inlet for a water filter. Also check for inlet and outlet for your washing machine.
- If there is a TV cable connection already provided.
- What the arrangement for gas supply to the kitchen is.
- If there is space to hang mirrors, bathroom cabinet/ shelf in the bathroom.
- If the window grilles, door shutters are in good working condition, and how secure the house is from burglaries/ forced entry.
- If there is enough storage space for kitchen utensils. Also check for additional storage space in the form of lofts.
- If there are cockroach infestations anywhere in the house. Look for these under kitchen sinks, unused room corners, kitchen cabinets and other places affording breeding sites.
- If there are cleaning ladies frequenting other flats in the building.

Start with these basics and you might discover many other things you need to look at while you’re still checking. Once these are done, you can start shifting your furniture. Leave actual beautification for the last – putting up plants, setting up planter boxes, wall hangings and wind chimes, wall paintings and flower vases – but get your house thoroughly cleaned, sprayed for pests, and painted before you start moving in.

Do write in if you have any tips to share.

Next: Packing for the move.

This is it!

You’ll know you want a house the moment you walk into it.

Every house, like people, has a personality. Of course you knew that, but keep it in mind when making the final choice. Some houses I’ve been to see were friendly in a superficial kind of way (the place was roomy but they had almost no running water, the paint was scraped off by some vindictive soul), some were grumpy and uncommunicative, some were ugly but habitable, some were rejected through no fault of their own because the building was embroiled in some kind of dispute.

Whether buying a house or renting one, be sure you like not just the house but also its surrounds. Even if it's just a rental place you will move out of a year later, make sure its personality matches yours. No, I don’t mean it should like chocolate milk shakes and walks on the beach. Try and match the house in front of you with the house in your head. The closer the match, the closer you are to making a wise choice.

When we were looking for houses, we rejected many more houses than we shortlisted, and that’s normal. We saw the whole works – dump holes, jazzy painted spaces, houses hemmed in from all sides by other buildings, a leaky ceiling – and drove several agents up the wall by demanding to see more. Some houses were great but I vetoed them for a variety of reasons – a neighbourhood comprising people of just one community, a series of slums leading to the main building, improper approach roads, a garbage dumpster right in front of the building entrance, building secretaries nosy beyond all reason. But these reasons should not necessarily stop you. You might have your own set of no-nos. However huge the temptation, do NOT compromise on factors that you are fundamentally against.

For instance, I would NEVER take up a house in, say, a building full of senior citizens or an all-Gujarati, all-Marathi, all-something else neighbourhood. I would also not be interested in a house that is now inside a tower block made by rehabilitating a chawl. Do not show me houses where the building is crumbling before my eyes. I am also not looking at places that are in the middle of nothing, and I have to trek one kilometer just to buy a loaf of bread.

Having said that, it is also not wise to reject something on first appearances alone, especially if you are looking to purchase. Find out the future of a particular house. For instance, buildings close to such important sites as the metro rail will see a staggering upswing in prices in the future. Also look to invest in a house that is liable for redevelopment, since you will get a bigger house courtesy the builder. Look for such fundamentals as grocery shops, restaurants and chemists near the building you select.

Next, the building itself. Once you’ve decided to purchase/ rent a property, insist on meeting the building secretary or chairman. Be friendly, not flattering. Tell him/her that you would move in soon and point out why you chose this particular house. Before asking him/her details about the building, slip in a request that you will require an NOC to submit at the registrar’s. Before he/she asks, tell them to list out the documents he/she would require from your end to prove your credentials. The most basic ones they will need are marriage certificates, passport copies and PAN card copies. Also keep aside extra photographs, ration card copies and once prepared, a copy of the agreement between yourself and the present owner of the house.

If you’re purchasing, find out such things as whether the building is involved in any legal wrangles, if the water connections perform as promised, if there are power outages, if the neighbourhood is friendly. These might matter even when you’re renting a place, so make enquiries before committing yourself.

Also, find out from at least three different sources, the correct market rate of the property. This applies also to rental homes. Some agents and homeowners quote funny prices, so find out what the deal is before you laugh. Property sites on the internet can help with this, if you search each area diligently.

When you take possession of the house keys, talk to the neighbours. In fact, it is a good idea to sometimes talk to the neighbours before you finalise a deal. You will know what to expect from the person next door and you might get an accurate assessment of your purchase.

As for me, I butt into the house-hunting process only twice: first to veto or shortlist a property, and next, when it is time to move in. I understand nothing of the monetary part of the deal, so the husband handles that. He is not allowed a say in the other things. If you’re looking with a partner, decide which specific parts of the process either of you will handle. If single, all the best and have fun.

Next: What to really look for in a house.

Token love

Well, so the house is final.

First thing you have to do is pay the token amount. This is an exercise purely to get the flat owner leasing out his flat to you, to shut up and stop dropping hints about “other buyers” queuing up to get the house you have already finalised. After several rounds of discussion. I have known some people to go to extreme lengths merely to snooter the prospective buyer – in the hope that the more desperate the buyer, the more the eventual price. There was once a home owner who made a deal with another party after accepting the token amount.

So first things first. The moment the token amount is given, insist on a receipt mentioning all the relevant details. Tell the home owner/ agent clearly that you will require subsequent receipts for monthly rents paid, the deposit sum and any other compensation from your end. After they have meekly agreed, do a dance to rub their faces in it.

I trekked to the agents’ today to give the token amount for the new house. There was a form to sign and I had to put down my father’s home address and the husband’s home address (“for police procedures, heh heh heh” said the agent) and I traipsed out with the knowledge that the deal is finally through. Of course, the husband put the spanner in the works by asking me a) Why I had paid the token amount (when it had been discussed yesterday that we were going to) and b) What is the guarantee that the money will not be misused?

After issuing dire threats and ordering him off my phone, I fumed all the way home and cooled down only much later. But let me tell you this: gauge your agent, if there is one. After you decide you trust him, that you like his face and the fragrance of his deodorant, try and determine how well his business his doing. Also keep an ear open for whether he listens to you. For instance, one of the agents we hired was such a prat, he kept showing us fully furnished homes after we specifically told him we wanted empty houses, and then insisted that we take up a shady-looking accommodation that nobody seemed to want.

Second, your agent is not likely to run off with your money unless he is a complete berk and if you have every transaction in writing and signed. Do not be taken in with promises of “Pay now, we’ll issue all the receipts together.” Insist on the receipt at the time of handing over your money. Keep all your receipts carefully and check for any spelling errors of your name; this might complicate matters somewhat if your HR gives you house rent allowance and finds your name spelled wrongly.

Third, assess how much cash you have in paper form at home, and how much you have in the bank. The general rule of thumb is that you make an agreement for at least 11 months, so multiply the monthly rent you agreed on by 11. Add the deposit money (refundable) to this amount. To this, add such sums as stamp duty and registration charges, brokerage for the agent (generally equivalent to two rents, but some charge just one rent if they know the party), and items of immediate concern that you might have to pay for, such as fixing some furniture or getting some minor repairs done if the owner does not do them. Try and insist on the owner carrying out any repairs – after all, whatever they do to make the house as habitable as possible is an investment in their own home and is not to be construed as a special favour on you, the licensee.

However, before you make noughts and crosses on the walls to mark the spot where your kitchen cabinet goes or where the bedroom mirror affixes itself, ask your owner if it is possible to punch holes in the walls if you promise to restore the house before you leave. Some owners are notoriously touchy about people even touching their walls, so any hole-punching is out of the question. Ask me; I spent all my eleven months in the present house tiptoeing about not touching anything.

Once you’ve set aside your money, try and put a bulk of the amount in a bank account that is not as frequently used as maybe the account that has an ATM card. This way, you know you are not defaulting on your monthly rent payments and you don’t have to constantly juggle between the house money and cash for daily living. Having learnt the hard way, I will now use a hitherto neglected account for the rent money and keep my HDFC one for daily expenses.

Tomorrow, I am following up on the piped gas connection with the agent. I expect to get the receipt after I have made a trip to the bank to track an extra payment I made to my current homeowner (yeah, that happens too). Let’s talk about selecting the right location for your house tomorrow, which I now realise should have been topic number one. Do write in if you have a tip to share or a point to make.

Before I begin

This blog is meant as a place for education and interaction, between home owners and licensors, licensees and other people vaguely interested in the business of setting up home.

Ah, who am I kidding, it's a place to help me let off some steam and write down the things that strike me as rude to say to somebody's face but which I can put down here because, as every idiot knows, setting up house is a harrowing business which necessitates letting off some steam.

So my husband and I are in the process of moving a second time. The lease on the current flat goes poof on November 15, and we've homed in on a dear little house which comes with a terrace, thus opening up a whole lot of possibilities involving pottering about with spades and plants. Also, I love the process of moving in. Last time was fun, and though most parties will not admit it, I did it ALONE.

I will largely do it alone this time, too. Anything and everything related to the move will be found here, right from the faffing one must do at the agents' to the slow disintegration of your most comfortable pair of slippers as you trek the neighbourhood seeing dreary and delightful homes, to the process itself, right down to the pottering about with spades and plants. Suggestions and tips are most welcome, because as much as I brag about it, I have done this just once.