23 April 2012

Ten Types of Expats in Ukraine

During the ten years I've spent living in Kyiv, Ukraine, I've developed a basic understanding of different types of expats. Maybe you can identify yourself as fitting into one or more of these ‘types’.  Any resemblance to actual expats living and working in Ukraine is purely coincidental. Enjoy.

1. The Depressive

The Depressive lies to himself about the state of his condition. He needs help but is too afraid to ask. He can be a happy person and tries whenever possible with his friends. His depression is too personal to share. He does not complain so much. Sometimes he might disappear for a few days. He enjoys the fact of not being accountable to anyone these days. He has been released from responsibility.
People wonder why he came to Ukraine. What is he running away from?
He could have arrived in this state of mind. Maybe he is divorced and still living the memory. But he could also have previously been a Company Man or Business Type. He will certainly have had negative encounters with many Ukrainian women. The Depressive could be up and gone from Ukraine tomorrow or he could stay here in his own comfort. People are not sure how he makes a living.

2. The Complainer

The Complainer has one of the best qualities of any expat. He knows how to complain about everything but he wants you to hear it. He may have been here for just six months or even six years. He probably started complaining about how things work or don’t work in Ukraine since his first week in the country. He was probably the same complainer back home.
“You just can’t trust these people” is one of his favourites. “The other day I was in a supermarket and do you know what “……….he will tell you everything that is wrong with Ukraine. “Why don’t they do this, why don’t they do that…we would never do that back in (insert name of his country)”
It is a complete mystery to everyone how The Complainer survives in Ukraine. Maybe he has a private source of income or might already be getting a pension from back home. He rents an apartment on the outskirts of the city. He has taken the time to learn the language, which is a surprise to those who tolerate him at one of the expat bars.

3. The Drifter

He decided to take a year abroad, not because he had specific plans to learn Russian or Ukrainian, but because it “looked like an opportunity at the time.” He does not have any particular plan or agenda. He is just as happy to meet a local as another foreigner. He believes in fate and destiny. He hopes that something interesting will just happen. The drifter is your friend, but he is everyone’s friend as well, because he is secretly searching for meaning.
The Drifter usually gets into trouble with the police/militia. In fact he is a magnet for trouble after 2300 each night. He will have been robbed more than once by locals who quickly identified him as an easy picking. Walking late at night he is the one who will be stopped and questioned by the police/militia and readily agrees to pay a bribe for freedom. He takes great delight in telling his friends the next day how he had to pay off the local mafia.
He travels by metro. The Drifter is a survivor and moves on when he hears about opportunities in other countries. But he may also just go back home.

4. The Escape Artist

The Escape Artist may well be escaping from family, wives, friends, legal system or creditors or all of them. He may have enjoyed a successful lifestyle in his own country, but he just got bored. He may have had a comfortable rewarding job, but it was not enough. He longed for something unusual and different.
The Escape Artist enjoys the culture of Ukraine. He just likes living in another country where each day can be a small adventure. He feels free here.  He will turn his hand to doing almost any job which could be writing a column in the local English language newspaper or magazine or he could also be found teaching English.  He first started teaching English working for one of the large English Language Centres, but moved on after six months to find his own clients. 
In late evenings he can be found at the bar of a typical expat hangout, he spends nearly all his money on women and drink these days.
In time, however, the stimulations fade. On the inside, an emptiness is brewing. When the culture no longer fascinates, The Escape Artist longs to escape again. It is his nature.

5. The Company Man

The Company Man has been transferred here by his company. He is housed by his company in a big apartment in the city centre, and is given a company car together with a driver; this is the first time in any country where he has had a driver. The car will probably be a large off road 4 x 4 like a Lexus or Land Rover. The company man makes a load of money but doesn’t have to spend much of it as nearly all his expenses are paid for by the company. He probably has a maid/cook also.
If the company is American or from Western Europe, the HR Director of this company has never been to Ukraine and assumes that living conditions in Kyiv are still harsh like in Soviet Union times. Therefore, The Company Man receives an extra 30% on top of his already western salary for enduring the hard times. He is also protected by VIP class health insurance, but at the same time may demand that he be flown home if he develops a tooth ache.
He started taking lessons in both Russian and Ukrainian from the first week, again because his company picks up the tab. But he rarely mixes with the locals after work. During his first year in Ukraine he launched his own crusade to introduce ‘western management style’ and ‘true teamwork’ within his company as he knew the local staff would appreciate this. After the first year, he abandons his crusade and quickly introduces a strong hands on ‘Theory X’ management style and proclaims to all his expats friends about the locals. ‘Why are they all such thieving b******s.
The Company Man is moved on after 3 years by his company.

6. The Embassy Type Man

Not really an expat. But let’s include ‘The Embassy Type Man’, because he thinks he is an expat. The fact that he works for a foreign government and he is now in Ukraine makes The Embassy Type Man a self-declared VIP. He has power now.
One of the ways he displays this power is to totally avoid any contact with persons of his own nationality living in Ukraine. God forbid any of his own nationals who wish to seek his help. He is housed in only the very best accommodation in the city centre or in a newly built special ‘gated community’ for foreigners. What he actually does in his job each day remains strictly confidential.
Anything he does outside the security of the Embassy must be ‘risked assessed’. Anyone who is not employed by his government is considered a potential threat to security and should be avoided. Locals are people to be used for ‘social or business engagement’ provided there is a free lunch involved.
He assumes that all the other embassies together make up the real international community in Ukraine, so spends a considerable amount of time attending lunch meetings, international workshops, dinners and generally having a great time at his tax payers’ expense.
The Embassy Type Man’s friends are his fellow Embassy colleagues, and you will find them occasionally drinking in a well-known bar or restaurant, but they are not the sort that will reach out and include you. The Embassy Type Man moves on after 3 years.

7. The English Teacher

He was already on the ‘TEFL Circuit’. Having done Spain and a few months in Italy he decided to venture into Eastern Europe. Before arriving in Ukraine he did one of those 4 week courses that everyone passes. Years earlier he obtained a First Degree in Fine Art.  Now a fully qualified English Teacher with a CELTA certificate to prove it. He didn’t just arrive empty handed. He already had a job lined up with one of the better known English language schools.
After working for most of the main English language schools he has now settled down. But is thinking about setting up his own English Language School as he knows for sure he can do it much better than all those other w*****s. He needs to find an investor. If he does not find an investor he will move along the TEFL Circuit to another country.

8. The Business Type

The Business Type could have evolved from another type or could have arrived in Ukraine as a fully blown business type from day one. He will have taken advantage of the early year’s right up to the crisis of 2009. He could be the owner of a property company. He could be a joint partner in a restaurant chain, owner of a PR company, advertising company or in publishing. He has used his own money to set up a business or together with other expats. Rarely will the Business Type be in business with a local. He will employ smart locals (usually women) to help him.
The Business Type is here to stay or until he can identify an appropriate secure exit plan. He will not leave without his money. He has learned how to do things the Ukrainian way but continues to do things his way in the background. The Business Type could easily become an Actual Expatriate if he thinks his business will survive here.
The Business Type can be found supporting a Lions Club event. Because he wants to show Ukrainians what charity is all about. He likes to develop his own PR profile.

9. The Trying Entrepreneur

He came in search of opportunity. Not really about money but more about an opportunity to prove he can do something. After all, Ukraine is a land of opportunity, right? He arrived with very little money. With his years of experience in various jobs he is convinced that he can do it here. He will get around the language problem. He is one of the first to find a beautiful Ukrainian woman to be his companion and who quickly becomes his personal assistant and interpreter.
He will usually stay in Kyiv as this is where the main action is to be found. He can be an interesting character and fun at party nights. After setting up a few small businesses to create a small income stream he will survive in Ukraine. He is always on the lookout for the big break through.
He may go back to his own country a few times to check up on what’s happening and make sure he is not missing any opportunities back home. If he becomes successful in Ukraine he knows he can tell everyone he was right. If he fails he can go back home and put it all down to a great experience.

10. The Actual Expatriate

He could have evolved from one of the above nine types. He is more than likely married to a Ukrainian woman. They have an apartment or house which they already own. Maybe with children. He has decided to call Ukraine their home. When he dies his remains shall not be repatriated but stay in Ukraine. He probably has his own business by now or secure employment with a Ukrainian company.
Despite making the decision to stay in Ukraine he still complains about everything when he gets the opportunity. Plus he will become an expert on what is wrong with his old country. In fact it would be difficult for the Actual Expatriate to leave Ukraine. He stepped off the property ladder back home and it would be difficult to get back on it without investing a small fortune.
He ‘gets by’ with his use of basic conversational Russian. He never learned any Ukrainian and doesn’t see the point in learning it any longer. He drives around in his own Ukrainian registered car. His wife is happy that they will stay in Ukraine but maybe, just maybe they might retire in their later years to another country.
The Actual Expatriate is part of a small group of trusted fellow expats who have gone through the same learning experiences. He stopped fighting against the Ukrainian system long ago and knows how to make it work for him and his family.
Despite all its drawbacks, he has decided that Ukraine is his home.

Undecided which type fits me.)))))

If you identify yourself as fitting into one or more of the above Expat types and you think this article was written with you in mind…it is a pure coincidence.

17 April 2012

The State of the Property Market in the United Kingdom

A large number of people in the UK simply cannot afford to move house
according to a survey that is published yesterday. This has an affect on the 
property market just as much as first time buyers not being able to get on 
the housing ladder because it causes things to stall somewhere along the line.

The research commissioned by Countrywide, one of the UK's biggest property
services group is significant. It shows that almost 12% of UK adults are
unable to move home due to financial constraints and for nearly half of 18
to 34 year olds list deposit affordability is the biggest barrier to buying
a property.

And despite the growth in the last 18 months of the private rented sector,
only a third of private rental tenants are happy where they are, indicating
that they are reluctant renters and would probably by a home if they could.

With the UK government having just introduced initiatives like NewBuy in an
attempt to stimulate the housing market, the fact that people can't afford
to move is a bit of a blow.

It is a fairly deep piece of research with over 6,000 UK adults, including
private rental tenants, home owners with mortgages, shared equity stakes,
owner occupiers and those living rent free taking part in the survey.

Asked about their reasons for not moving home, 62% claimed they were happy
where they live, 21% were unable to afford a deposit, 16% could afford
mortgage repayments, 16% list moving costs and fees (e.g. stamp duty) as a
barrier to moving and 12% cited job insecurity as a concern.

Market uncertainty also played less of a part, with only 5% of survey
respondents listing the anticipation of house prices falling as a factor
preventing them from buying a property at this time.

Some 45% of those aged 18 to 34 cited deposit affordability as a barrier to
buying a property, indicating that that deposit affordability is a primary
issue but not the solitary factor preventing house sales. The youngest
respondents also stated that they felt less confident when it came to their
employment prospects, with 18% listing job insecurity as an obstacle. Also,
nearly a third, some 31%, of 18 to 24 olds highlight mortgage repayments as
a reason for not buying.

Encouragingly, homeownership aspirations remain high throughout the UK and
across all ages, with only a third of private rental tenants referencing
happiness with their current property as a reason for not moving. Of those
renting, over half, 56%, of tenants cited deposit affordability as a
barrier to getting on to the property ladder.

This survey suggests that it is not just first time buyers being unable to
get a mortgage and failing to save enough of a deposit that are the issues.
Based on current levels of activity, the average home owner will move house
once every 25 years as opposed to once in every 12 years. Anyone can see
that these levels are unsustainable and with the growth outlook for the UK
economy not good, although a double dip recession is likely to be avoided,
it all leaves the property market stalled and even the government
incentives are not enough at present to raise the game.

Will we ever see another property boom?

02 April 2012

Standards MUST improve in the property sector

I know a lot about the so called 'property business' in Ukraine. What I do know is that it's operating in an outdated manner compared to the rest of the civilised world. The property market in Ukraine is currently experiencing a down turn. For the first time in many years we now have a buyers market. But the sellers still fail to understand this.

Banks in Ukraine have already stopped providing mortgages for property purchase unless the client has a deposit of about 40% of the purchase price. So, the only buyers in the market right now are people who have cash available.

Many apartment blocks and 'village houses' in Ukraine remain empty as a result of the downturn/financial crisis. Many properties are for sale and on the market. Unfortunately the majority of these properties are for sale under what is called 'shell and core'. This is where the property is offered for sale as a 'completed' property, but in reality the property still needs a significant amount of investment before it can be classified as   'habitable'.  Here lies the major problem in Ukraine.

I have viewed many many properties for sale in Ukraine that need almost as much money to be spent on them in order for them to become available for living. Moreover, many of these properties have been 'constructed' by gentlemen from the low skills sector of the economy. Time and time again I see walls that have been built, that if they had been constructed in my own country, they would have been condemned by the local Health and Safety Executive as 'Unsafe for Living'. I have seen brick work and plaster work that looks as if it was completed by a 10 year old boy doing the job for the first time. I have seen electrical systems that would bring on a heart attack for many a true 'inspector of buildings'.

But the main problem is that properties are 'completed' leaving the new owner to undertake a massive 'remont' project to make the property available for human habitation. The acceptable norm in Ukraine is that an apartment or house is completed when the walls and roof have been built. Leaving the new owner to finish the property. This finishing usually includes the installation of all plaster work, ceilings, doors, electrical sockets, water plumbing, flooring etc. It usually involves the installation of an external door as the first door was just a temporary structure.

Moreover, a buyer can expect that there will be no new roads to the property until a few years afterwards.
Maybe gas and electricity will also be added extras to the property. In apartment blocks, the property purchased will not have a working lift and may have the added problem of an unfinished reception area.
The developer/builder will be under no pressure to complete any of these outstanding works and probably never will complete them, leaving the owners with the added tasks of sorting out all the unfinished work.

In exchange for all this the developers of these properties still expect to demand and be paid the so called going market rate for a property in Ukraine. They still think it is OK to demand USD 100,000 plus for a 65 metre apartment on the outskirts of Kyiv that needs approximately another USD 80,000 spending on it to make it liveable.. Plus they still do not understand the normal practice that takes place in most developed countries....the practice of negotiation. For example.....OK you are asking for USD 120,000 for this apartment, but we are only prepared to pay USD 110,000 as we will have to spend another USD 50,000 to make it possible to live in. The answer to which is usually........It's your problem.....The price is still USD 120,000. These people clearly understand nothing about negotiating. But very soon....they will be FORCED to understand it.

There are far too many Ukrainian people and mainly Ukrainian developers/builders that are living in 'cloud cockoo land'. They need to wake up and realise that prices are NOT going up anymore, but are going down and down and they need to strike a deal with any potential buyer while they can.