Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Property, Politics, and No Poker

Since initiating this blog over a year ago, the 'part-time property tycoon' phrase in my About Me section has received little mention.

This was something I got into, along with thousands of others, over the past few years as prices in the UK boomed.

I've always had an eye for the business pages, and a good understanding of how financial products work. One of my earliest jobs was working for a life assurance firm, and that was a good grounding in the ways money can be made to work for - or against - you.

So, by accident more than design, Mrs Div and I found ourselves with two rental flats (apartments to my US friends) and associated mortgages.

One a modern two bedroom in a fairly decent area, the other an older one bedroom tenement in a less salubrious, but very convenient for city centre, area.

Running the two was extremely uneventful. We got lucky in landing tenants for both who paid the bills on time, didn't rile the neighbours, and looked after the properties fairly well.

Late last year, in an unfortunate twist of fate, both tenants gave notice to quit on the same day. Which was something of a hassle.

Fortunately the bigger flat found a new taker within a few days. The smaller one, we initially intended to re-let also - but after some consideration we decided to sell.

The reason for selling is truly depressing to me. Despite being located only ten minutes from the biggest employment centres in the city, the area in which it is located is in a tailspin of decline.

The common areas of the property - known in Scotland as 'the close' are poorly cared for, the secure access is often broken, or purposely left open by other occupiers, and the garden/drying areas are strewn with broken glass and other refuse.

With drunks and junkies roaming the streets, the close was being used by some as a public convenience.

This is not to say the area is a total no-go zone. There are still many decent people running their own businesses, or working in local shops. Very close to the flat is a well attended private gym. So it's hardly an urban wasteland.

We just felt that slowly but surely, the decent people are being subsumed by the neds; the people who don't care a toss about others; those who revel in their own ignorance and take pride in their total lack of contribution to society.

Keeping the flat threatened to be a high maintenance activity.

Bizarrely, as the area has grown visibly worse, the flat value had increased by 25% in two years - a product of the skewed property market rather than desirability of the area. So selling made a lot of sense.

It's such a shame these tenements are being misused in this way. The buildings are from a past age, when construction was much less profit oriented than today.

Whereas modern buildings tend to have small rooms, wooden frames, and a very average build quality, the old tenements are absolutely solid with big rooms, and lots of storage.

The sandstone walls are so thick, a hurricane would feel like a gentle tickle to them. They were built by people who took pride in their craft.

But what use is a great building, when the people within have no respect for themselves or their environment.

Judging by the picture I've painted, you'd imagine the economy in Glasgow must be a real shambles, but this simply isn't the case.

The skyline at present looks more like that of some up-and-coming Far Eastern city - the crane count is so high - as more and more offices and hotels go up.

The problem is, some people just won't work, as this article from The Herald proves - six thousand unfilled vacancies in the Glasgow service sector.

Apparently they reckon service sector jobs are too 'subservient'; but it's not subservient to sign on and claim unemployment or invalidity payments after coming up with a spurious excuse for not working?

Consequently employers are flying in staff from Eastern Europe to fill the vacancies. As I've said before, I welcome these people with open arms.

As do the airlines and airports which are opening up new routes direct from Scotland to Eastern Europe.

A recruitment agent told me how she had two vacancies to fill at a plant just outside Glasgow.

She got an afternoon call from two Polish guys who were in Liverpool - hundreds of miles away. They wanted the job. How soon could they be there? They would start tomorrow morning!

They travelled up overnight and started on time.

That sort of endeavour should shame the people I've referred to, but they'd probably just see the Poles as suckers. Why work when you can sign on?

With that sort of attitude, I'm quite happy to see the government finally getting it's act together.

Predictably, a lot of the back benchers and unions are up in arms about this.

I've always considered myself to have quite a socialist outlook on life. It always amazes me when Labour MPs and unions get upset about measures to get people off benefits and back to work.

To me, socialism has always been identifiable with the needs of the working classes. Not the benefit claiming classes.

Sure, when the economy is in decline and people are being laid off, they should be supported by the state - but when jobs are available, and within easy reach, there's no excuse for not wanting to work.

Anyone who sees themself as a socialist should surely despise those who choose not to work, and who drain the output of those who do work.

To me, the dole cheat who signs on and spends his days hanging around the streets, is just as much an enemy of the working classes as the Robert Maxwells of the world who ruin companies and squander their pension funds, leaving their employees facing a bleak future.

The MPs should get behind the government on this one, and push through the strictest measures they can muster. If they truly believe themselves to be socialists, there is no other justifiable response.

The current Labour government has been far from perfect - and in many ways has been a grave disappointment to me - but when they get it right, they deserve to be supported.

The Tolpuddle Martyrs wanted a fair wage for a fair day's work; not cash in hand for signing on when there was work to be had.

The government delivered a minimum wage early in their term. Now they should be supported in making people work for it when they can.

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